At last, a high pressure system over the UK, leading to simply perfect walking conditions in the Highlands. I was lucky enough to be working for Steven Fallon Mountain Guides on the munros to the East of the ever more popular Glen Etive. Full blog at http://www.stevenfallon.co.uk/blog.html
Paul and I continued the quest for all the highest points in every European country with the Principality of Andorra this week. For those of you not aware, (and you won't be alone), Andorra is an independent principality sandwiched between Spain and France, high in the Pyrenees. It is famous mainly for being a tax-free shopping haven, and having been a few times before, I have never been impressed with the hustle and bustle of shoppers stocking up on all manner of tat. Going in winter at least promised that there would be less people, and the snow would soften the view of a lot of the ski apartments that also blight the area. To be honest, I enjoy the lively apres-piste atmosphere once down off the mountain, so I would be hypocritical to criticise further!
Accessed from the ski resort of Arinsal, the mountain is the Pic Comapedrosa, at 2942m not the highest in the Pyrenees, (which is the Pic d'Aneto at 3404m), but it is still 'not a gimme' as Paul muttered as we slogged up the 1400m of relentless ascent. I suspect in summer it is a pleasant if long stroll amongst beautiful pines and Alpine meadows, as well as a couple of high tarns, but for us, it was deep snow from the off. We reasoned with the freezing temperatures overnight that our snow shoes would be more of a hindrance, and were proved right, as we managed to crampon the whole way, using previously frozen footprints to our advantage. There is certainly very little traffic up there at this time of year, and we only saw two other people all day, and they were on skis.
The whole area was at the end of a high pressure weather system, forecast to break down for the Tuesday afternoon, so we had to take our chances and go early on day 1, having arrived late on Monday evening after having driven from Barcelona. The morning was freezing, rising slowly, with gradually clouding over skies. Wind was a light Westerly, never more than 15mph. We took the way-marked GR11, which leads over into France, (although the marks were more than often lost in the snow of course), and then steeply up the excellent South ridge. The cramponing here was often front-pointing up excellent neve, and I was having a ball. It was then crampons off on the rocky ridge, which led straight to the flag-adorned summit. What views, and just in time as the clouds thickened.
Greeting the ascending skiers, we descended by a steep snow slope, carefully skirting the evidence of the frozen lake, which was snow covered, then down over (and into) increasingly softer snow, making it hard work for the afternoon. We took our time, huffing, puffing and cursing as we sank up to our knees regularly, and often deeper. There was some great bum-sliding to break up the toil, and we whooped and hollered like big kids.
Eventually we got back to the track and down to Arinsal, which we did in summer guidebook time, so a good effort in crampons for 1400m of ascent, 7.5hrs. All that was left to do then was to commence the apres-ski, which we did with gusto ;) A great midweek trip, made even better by getting back to a high pressure system her for the weekend. Happy days!