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Pyrenees Lake District Visit
Following the GR11 & HRP into Spain's Aiguestortes lake district
The S end of the Vielha tunnel is a good starting point for trips into the central Pyrenees, at 1600m altitude. My plan was to follow the GR11 which climbs up to the Port de Rius at 2350m. From which you gain access to the spanish lake district ‘Aiguestortes ‘.
I quit the car late, at 10h, making good progress to the port by 11h30. It was not the 1st such visit - time enough to reflect why it had taken me 21 years to return ! My 1st trip up here was in 2002, while trekking the Haute Route Pyrenees with my then wife. You can read the account of the day-stage here at hrp-essential.com ( select from the menu: Stage 25 : Ref Vielha to Ref Restanca)
I’d forgotten exactly which route we took that day, but having refreshed memory, am at a loss why we judged it not worthwhile to follow the full HRP ‘extra’ which branches off the GR11 after Lac de Rius. So this day I discovered what I missed out on, or at least in part. Namely, Lac Tort de Rius, and Lac de Mar, plus a host of un-named smaller lakes; some no bigger than a puddle - but all adding to the journey pleasurably with musical tricklings or wavelets slapping on the granite shoreline.
Sculpted granite holds a message for every traveller in time and space, but you must deploy your sixth sense to decode it.
Two hours after Port de Rius I arrived at the Col (colhada) de Lac de Mar at 2500m. From the N end of the Lac de Tort Rius, I had sighted on my destination peaks, which subsequently disappeared from view below the shoulder of Tossau de Mar 2739m. At the col I gained better visual access to these destination peaks : Tumeneia 2783m, Pa de Sucre (Sugarloaf) 2863m, El Drac de Tumenia 2809m & Punta d’Harle 2885m.
The col was my vantage point for a snack-lunch, but also where I crossed paths with a fellow traveller coming up from Lac de Mar. This was Radick from Czeckia - weighted with a heavier pack than mine, out for several days - and so with kit to pass a night or two.
Focus ! El Pa de Sucre, my day’s objective … how to get there, and in how much time ? From here I was off the beaten path, but with many clues from Phillippe Quéinnec ( aka philrando ) and also from the spanish topo writer Luichy whose prolific works include details of climbing routes which scale the Pa de Sucre. If it were possible I would contour dead level to access the lake in Aubaga de Lac de Mar at 2413m; but cliffs and bluffs blocked this option. I scrambled up until a broken grassy gully opened a passage downwards. Not trivial, with various steps and gullies to negotiate, hidden in the folds of landscape.
Then followed boulder fields and by pleasant relief a grassy ramp - before the boulders resumed. After much effort I entered the encircling walls which defined The Hall of the Mountain Kings ( my given name ) with El Drac de Tumenia on the LHS and the NW spur of Punta d’Harlé to the RHS. Not forgetting the owl - ‘mussol’ in catalan. It’s full title is El Mussol de Tumeneia - the 2-horned pinnacle just L of centre in the photo.
In this great amphitheatre the smallest sound was captured and amplified and thus I was made aware of human presence from way higher - the shouts of two spanish climbers descending from Pa de Sucre. Then they were gone, and the silence thickened, I was alone amongst the granite spires, and not a soul knew my whereabouts.
I finally found the climber’s footprints in recent fresh snow. More clues, along with scattered cairns. What concerned me now was time, or possibly energy; it was 15h30, did I have time enough to discover the summit access and return ? The heart said yes! Much scrambling later and with more than a few technical steps, I was on the summit just before 16h00. Views southward lead the eye repeatedly to the guest star rising on the granite stage - Besiberi North was unmistakable, being the highest at 3008m.
So the day’s objective achieved, no more unknown terrain; reverse moves to get out all memorised. Now wearing helmet, trouser legs and fingerless gloves. It’s too easy to rush the descent, or relax attention; such protection from knocks and scrapes is a small insurance to pay.
The cairn trail held good. Back to the squeeze-chimney col where El Drac meets the main spine, then with glissading steps on shale and light screes in the broader gully, before exit into The Great Hall. I paused there to marvel yet again at an obvious and impressive corner line splitting the steep SW wall of El Drac. That *has* to be a known climbing route. QED & Bravo chaps !
Approx 1hr later I was out below the Aubaga de Lac de Mar, where I got good sights out across the lower Lac de Mar - to spot another marvel of climbing interest. Excalibur ! Restanca: sector Mare Nostrum
Did I say ‘no more unknown terrain’ ? Not quite. I decided the upwards contouring was at least equal to downwards contouring - and so a new variant adopted. With much height lost I finally gained the well trodden trace coming up from Lac de Mar, and a stiff climb on heavy legs to regain the Col de Lac de Mar 2500m. Four hours had elapsed since I was last here for my lunch stop in the company of Radick. My earlier snack consisted of 3 apple-jacks; I now gratefully consumed 2 more. Those little cakes are my home-made alternative to cereal bars - they work wonders :)
I was longing for easier trails where you can lengthen your stride. At 17h30 I had only 3hrs of daylight left. The trail opened up at times, quickly alternating with technical interest - if you’re not too weary to notice.
Overall I made good speed, and after the length of Lac Tort de Rius was behind, benefitted from a short cut, and thus bypassing Lac de Rius by the south I returned to Port de Rius at 19h00, 7h30 since the morning ascent.
Descent from there was frankly not a pleasure, and I even lost time missing the well marked path. But suddenly a figure was there waving and calling to me - it was my trail companion; Radick had chosen his night’s pitch about half an hour up from the tunnel mouth. He related to me how - twenty minutes earlier, he was tending a pan balanced on the gas burner, when a 200-strong herd of sheep had bustled past, urged on by the shepherds whistling and calling to their dogs. We were delighted to exchange such plesantries, names and well-wishes for the morrow, before distant thunder claps warned me back into action.
Final efforts made, and all downhill now anyway; the mental effort needed was not how to goad sore muscles - but rather, how to persuade sore toes to take more punishment. And so it was a huge relief when the car was finally in sight and was I ever so glad to exchange boots for sandals at 20h30 !
Do you have an Aiguestortes experience to share ? If you have trekked these trails, scrambled or climbed on any of the peaks in this zone - then please leave your commentary below, or link through to any relevant articles. Thanks !
Key terms: Spain, Pyrenees, Aiguestortes, lakes, GR11, HRP, climbing, granite, topos, boots, helmet, rando
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