lundi 1 septembre 2014

Mont Rouch Exploration

Meteo france got it wrong again and the day dawned with dense low cloud. I set off anyway, albeit a little later than planned. The climb upto the Cabane Leziou was extremely wet and by the time I arrived I was soaked below the waist. Occasional breaks in the swirling mists gave me glimpses of the way ahead. The path to Mont Rouch has deteriorated over recent years, avalanches have removed sections of path and the cable protecting the waterslide traverse at the end of the woods, some fallen trees block the path and generally it is more and more overgrown. In the wet conditions I had to exercise extreme care on the slippery rocks and narrow exposed path.


 Looking upto the cirque containing the Cabane Leziou

 A fleeting glimpses of Mont Rouch far overhead

At the cabane, I was met by a marmot, who seemed not at all afraid of me, usually you hear a whistle and see them scampering away into their burrows before you are within 100 meters.


Cabane Leziou

I pressed on for Mont Rouch, longer than I remembered and seeming much steeper in the swirling mists. at the shoulder before the final summit ridge, the deference between the Spanish and French sides of the frontier became clear - the Spanish side was basked in sunshine! I pressed onto the summit (2857m) before deciding to return to the shoulder.

French side in cloud (Pic Maubermé in the distance)

 Spanish side in sun, Ventolau in the distance

The ridge to Ventolau which had been my objective, was much further than I had imagined and I had had enough of the wet slippery rock. The heat on the Spanish side drew me and I decided to explore. I descended steeply to the Mont Roig Refuge passing a couple of shepherds. The hut is much nicer inside than I had imagined. 


 Inside the hut

It was three o'clock and the french side was still deep in cloud, tomorrow's objective (the ridge to Cap de Ruhos) was also in doubt, but I had a plan. I had often thought making a trip to link the Mont Rouch hut with the Cabane de Marterat perhaps over 3 days. Now was my chance to explore. There were two problems: I only had a day and bit to get back to the car, I didn't have a map of the route.

I decided to go for it. I had a rough idea of where I was going. A path descended from the hut heading for Noarre. I knew that it was possible to get to Noarre from the Port de Materat but it was a long way. All I had to do was to try to quit the path and head upto the Estany de Mariola (lake) or Port de Materat long before I was at Noarre. This meant taking the second or third valley descending from the frontier. 


The path was lovely, following a geological fault line down through open mountainside then soon hot pine forest. The mountains of the frontier were soon left behind as I got deeper into Spain passing a pretty cabane (well maintained and open).


As I got lower and lower I began to get a little concerned. I could no longer see the frontier mountains so it became difficult to measure my progress. At last after descending to 1700m I reached a small wooden bridge across a stream descending from the frontier. Either this was coming from the Estany de Mariola or from the Estany del Port below the Port de Materat. I searched both sides of the bridge but couldn't find a path heading up. This was strange as I was sure there was a path descending from the Port de Materat ( I'd followed it 20 years ago with Oliver Woodward when doing this part of the HRP).

I had two choices:

1. Ignore the stream and press onto to the next one (which surely must be from the Port de Materat complete with path), or
2. Follow the stream without any path and so reach the Estany de Mariola (from which I could eventually climb over a shoulder to reach the Port de Materat).

The first choice seemed logical but if this was the valley leading to the Port de Materat afterall and I pressed on, the next valley would take me to Certescan, a very long way from the car and no hope of making it back in time for me flight home! I decided to play it safe and struck off up into the woods trying as best I could to follow the stream. the going was tough with rock outcrops and tangled pines but after 30 mins I reached the treeline. There on the other side of the valley was a path coming from a car park at end of a track emerging from the forest! I headed across and yes this was the road head for the Port de Materat!

In 35 minutes I was at the Estany del Port and 20minutes later at the Port de Materat (2217m).

 Estany del Port with the Port de Materat and France beyond

A few hundred meters below the Port on the french side was the Cabane de Materat. It was 7.00pm and after 11 or 12 miles of walking and nearly 8000ft of ascent I was tired. The sting in the tail was that I had to descend a further 150m to fetch water, then carry it back up to the hut!

 Cabane de Materat

The clouds were still boiling on the French side and after some dinner I soon hit the sack. I had a poor nights sleep and in the morning was on my way by 8.00am. 

After some descent from the cabin, the way home involved climbing once again to reach and cross the Col de Crusous (2217m) steep on both sides. from here I descended to the Mines d'Anglade and then follow the road back to the car, which I reached without incident by 12.00.

Col de Crusous with it's crazy pinnacle

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