Friday, September 07, 2007

Pyrenees Day 15: Lago de Gias -> Refuge du Portillon

This was a day of stops and starts as the adventure of Lago de Gias continued...

The morning is clear, cold, and a lot less windy than the night (but still damn gusty). We set out at in long underwear and coats at 9:00. The idea is to take the "easy" route, ascend the Portal d'Oo, and descend to meet the HRP. For our first attempt we follow some stonemen over the boulders to the right central bit of the wall then climb. We scramble to the valley rim (2900m) pretty quickly (10:30) and look over the edge to find a ~100m sheer cliff on the other side. oops. The view is nice, but that's not an "easy" descent. There's also a nice plaque memorializing someone who died up here, but Greg chooses to believe that they died climbing one of the nearby peaks. We look around for a bit and see a possible route down the left side of the porte. Unfortunately, we have to descend 100m or so to get there. No problem, we scramble down.

Along the way we lose our nerve with the whole adventure thing a bit, change our minds, and decide that it's more sensible to just go back down to Estos and to re-enter France via Benasque. Decision made, Greg commences to change out of his long underwear. Pretty much immediately a couple of Spanish guys appear. Andrea talks to them a bit and they tell us that the actual Puerto is the left side of the wall and that it's easy to get over. Ok... no problem, we'll do it. Off to the left side.

We scramble up the 100m, behind the two Spanish guys, and reach a lovely col with a clear, steep path down through the scree and boulders. From here we can see the central path and it's clear that it never would have worked without climbing gear and skills we don't have. There's also a little nook with a wall of stones that clearly at least one person has used as a bivvy. Holy crap, a bivvy in a windy col at 2900m. They must have been highly motivated to get up the mountain the next morning or very tired when coming down one night.

We head down the steep path, reach the bowl bottom (~2800m, 12:05), and have a short rest. Greg finally changes out of his long underwear (whew!). After the break we follow a fantasy of a path over rocks (rocks of many colors!) and over and around boulders (of many colors!), ...

...across the bowl, past some lakes, past the sad remains of a glacier, and up the other side to a col looking down on the Lac du Portillon. It's a beautiful lake in a great setting.

We follow some stonemen down a bit until we find a good lunch spot with a view (1:15). After lunch we follow contradictory stonemen as we walk across rocks and over and around boulders in a series of stops and starts and stops and starts. It's another one of those stoneman civil wars, this time with many factions and no clear leader. Eventually we find our way down the Refuge du Portillon (2570m, 3:30). Getting here from above is like solving a puzzle (the answer to which seems to be: "don't turn towards the Refuge...").

We thought about continuing the 1.5-2 hours down to Espingo but at least 95% of the day's walking was either uphill or downhill on loose stones, scree, or over and around boulders, and our joints are tired. Our enthusiasm for camping is very, very limited so we cross our fingers that there won't be any snorers and opt to stay in the Refuge.

Later we see the two HRP hikers we originally met back at Barroude and talk to them for a while. They're also a bit bemused about the stoneman chaos about the Refuge; we have a good laugh about that.

Random notes:
  1. The electricity in the hut is out and has apparently been so all season. The hut keeper seems to be resigned to this.
  2. The food is really good.
  3. There are less than 20 people staying this night, but the hut keeper says that he has reservations for around 100 people for the following night (Saturday, good weather forecast). I hope someone is going to come help him... dealing with that mob alone (without electricity!) doesn't seem particularly fun.

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