This blog describes my 24-day traverse of the Pyrenees from Atlantic to Mediterranean, July 2011.
The Pyrenean Haute Route is around 800km with 42,000 metres of ascent.

Map of the route | Schedule

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 12 - Lac des Isclots to Hospital de Benasque

12th July 2011

HRP - Day 12

Probably the toughest, and certainly the most daunting day of the route so far. This is where the Haute Route really earns its name and reputation, by passing through some of the highest and wildest territory in the Pyrenees.

I was quite glad of some company when I teamed up with a young French guy who'd also been camping beside Lac des Isclots. We hiked together up the snow slopes to Col des Gourgs-Blancs 2877m, and met another couple of Frenchmen right on the col travelling in the opposite direction.

There was a fair bit of snow and some rocky patches to negotiate to get across to the Col du Pluviometre 2860m. We climbed up to the rain gauge just above the pass, but then I made a bit of a mistake by aiming straight towards Lac du Portillon without checking the map or guidebook. I got almost down to the hut before I realised that there was a massive crag and deep canyon blocking the passage, so I needed to climb most of the way back up again, which was a bit frustrating. However it made me realise that you should never attempt short cuts in the Pyrenees.

At took a break at the Refuge du Portillon for about half an hour, before heading back out for the 400m climb to the notorious Col Inferieur de Literole which at 2983m is the highest point on the haute route. It also has the most daunting descent on the other side, with a large steep permanent snowfield. This is the reason I'd been carrying an ice axe for the past 11 days, and I was certainly glad of it as I stepped out onto the steep snow. I teetered away rightwards (facing in) using the shallow footsteps and planting the axe firmly. Once the trail switched back, the angle quickly eased and I could turn to face outwards and semi-glissade the rest of the slope.

I tried to stay on the snow for as long as possible to get across to the Portal de Remune a bit quicker, and then began the really tough and rocky descent into the Valle de Remune. It was not easy going and the weather was starting to look pretty unsettled. As I got lower it started really hammering down with rain and hail, with thunder rumbling around the peaks.

I slithered and almost jogged down through the forest and tree roots to try to reach the road a bit faster. Once onto the road there was a shortcut across pastures to reach the Hospital de Benasque. It didn't take long to decide to check in for the night, and enjoy the luxury of a proper bed and shower, and listen to the storm from the comfort of my hotel room.

View HRP - Day 12 in a larger map

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