samedi 5 juillet 2008

Pic de Lasaugede

The upper part of the route viewed from Pic Soubirou last winter

As the weather forecast for at least the first half of today was good (rain arriving in the late afternoon) I decided another day in the mountains was called for. Three peaks to the west of Certescan were the targets - Pic de Lasaugede 2760m (the Spanish call it Tuc de l'Estany Blanc), Pointe 2696m, and Pointe 2771m which appears to be called Pic de la Une locally (the Spanish call it Tuc de la Lleia) though it has no name on the IGN map.
Starting from Ossese I climbed above the Cascade Lastien, but I failed to find the path to the Cabane de Bonrepos - in fact there is no path, only some red paint marks to show the way traversing the steep slopes above the cliffs, and occasional cables to protect the route. Knowing that I'd gone too far I decided to head straight up the mountainside, hoping to intercept the correct route. It was precariously steep and I was just beginning to think that it was a foolish idea when I came across a good path traversing the slope, there were no red paint marks but it appeared to be going the right way. Alas, it became clear that this wasn't the path when I eventually rejoined the stream at Fonta. Oh well, nothing for it but to climb the mountainside again. After much searching for red paint marks I decided I might as well use the map, compass and my nose to find my own route to the cabane. The tiny cabane (about 4 feet high) was within sight when the red paint marks miraculously appeared. I was met by a berger (shepherd) and his dog who were staying there - transpired he was a mountaineer and ski tourer too (he skied down Cap de Ruhos when he was 15!) - we exchanged a few stories before I pushed on.
The going for the next part was easy, now I had the paint to follow, though there was no path and the going was fairly rough. Some fantastic granite spires loomed overhead, if they were in the Alps every part would have a climbing route on it - I doubt they've been climbed here.
All too soon it was time to leave the paint marks behind and just use the map to find a route up through 'Aliot' to 'the prison' the local name for the upper cirque. The going was similar to the nearby french route to Certescan, a mixture of bilberry, roche moutonées, snow and large blocks of granite. I scrambled up onto the rim of the cirque over snow and compact granite slabs. The ridge was very narrow and the final climb to Pic de Lasaugede over a chaotic mass of huge granite blocks. The views to nearby Pic de Montabone and Certescan were fantastic and below on the Spanish side was Estany Blanc (wrongly called Lac Gueroso on the IGN map) with its ice just beginning to melt.

The Spanish sides of Pic de Montabone (left) and Certescan (right) viewed from Pic de la Une. I climbed along the horseshoe ridge on the left.

Estany Blanc
I spotted two walkers (tiny specks) climbing to the Col de Certescan - I crossed it many years ago with Ollie on the HRP.
The ridge to the next two peaks was narrow and exposed, but once I'd got my head used to it, it was a very enjoyable scramble which took about an hour.

The first section of the ridge from Pic de Lasaugede (left) to Pointe 2696m (right)
From Pic de la Une I descended the huge scree slopes on the Spanish side before crossing back through the Col de l'Aliot and into France.
The view over Pic Marterat to Mont Rouch (middle of the picture with the obvious snow couloir running diagonally upwards to split the French and Spanish summits)
By now the cloud was nearly upon me - The day had started without a cloud in the sky, but all day I had been watching a sea of cloud, slowly advancing towards the mountains. I checked my position on the map, set the altimeter then I was engulfed. Visibility was about 10m. No paths, no markers, difficult terrain. With just map, compass and altimeter I managed to navigate all the way back to the red paint markers once more. By a combination of luck and skill I arrived at one of the few additional cairns between the paint marks (otherwise I could have easily missed them). I was pleased,but the going now was desperately slow. Even though I had the paint marks to guide me safely down, they were at 15-20m spacing and with 10m visibility it often became a trial and error search in the mist to find the next mark. After the hut, I had no prior knowledge of the route (having failed to find it on the way up) and things were even slower - especially as here a wrong turn might send me over a cliff! Eventually I made it down and regained the path to the car but it had been another long day (10 hours) with more than 2000m of height gain - again.

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