Crabioule Peak

Rolfe Oostra

Across the valley from my house and behind the 2,800m Savegarde lies a peak whose two summits are joined by an extremely hairy 400m ridge. I can’t see it from where I live but the occasional glimpse I have had of it whilst skiing or climbing in the area has often caused me to stop and stare and to dream of one day having a crack at it. Now imagine my mate Ian: from his house located in the lofty village of Artigue the entire Pyrenean range spreads out before him, and centre piece is the mountain in question: Peak Crabioules (3,118m) with its east summit linked to its west summit by that ridge! There in all its glory, every day beckoning, whispering and calling for him… but you know how the story goes he never had the time to have a crack at it.

That is until his lovely wife Helen decided to give it to him as a birthday present and I got the phone call to partner him up on it.

We spent an afternoon climbing to the Maupas hut from which the peak (amongst many others) can be climbed. The warden kissed his rosary when we told him our plans and told us he’d pray for us. We took his dramatics with a pinch of salt but did get the hint that a full traverse is rarely achieved and that we’d be in for an interesting adventure.

An Alpine start saw us with head-torches on, climbing the enormous slabs leading up to the ridge. A frost had locked away a tiny stream that I had counted on being there and in the back of my mind a nag began to form about where we were going to fill up with water. Still, I had a litre and so did Ian. And as is always the case these things appear trivial when the day has only begun.

We geared up under the ridge, the plan was to simul-climb as much as possible, with me leading and Ian coming second and retrieving any pro I could get in. This plan sounded fine over a beer in the hut but as we actually climbed to the top of the ridge we found that the thing was razor sharp. It literally was a case of holding the very edge of the ridge and doing arm over arm moves whilst our legs skated about on insignificant holds, the rope dangling useless between us.

Still, this nonsense didn’t last and soon the ridge became wider and we could get in pro to set up proper belays. Then we encountered a large pinnacle too smooth to climb and hold-less to move around. I set up an abseil with the aim of dropping below this thing to get onto a ledge below and traverse underneath it. I watched Ian descend first and disappear below an overhang, his shout of “ok!” Indicating things were cool for me to do the same. I leant back weighed the rope and began to descend then heard a loud crash above me and to my horror saw that the rope had flicked off a huge block from the ridge, and was hurtling towards me. I managed to give a yelp and duck out the way. It splintered into a hundred pieces just above where Ian was hiding below the overhang.

The only damage was that it had cut the rope at 15 meters. I got down to Ian and removed the first aid kit from my rucksack. “You ok man?” he said as the dust cleared and the sharp smell of cordite dissipated. “Not for me mate… it’s the rope” and Ian looked on astonished as I put a neat Band-Aid over the severed rope. Still this is what alpinism is all about, right?

We traversed and regained the ridge which had once again become seriously hairy. An enormous north face on one side… and an enormous south face on the other… literally separating France and Spain. We shuffled, tight-rope walked, slid on our backsides, down-climbed, re-climbed, bouldered and moved hand over hand across this most amazing feature…

Then at around the mid-point a chopper appeared and hovered meters away. The pilot and a passenger waving madly and us not being able to wave back in fear of letting go of the ridge. It seemed that word had got out that there were climbers on the ridge and they had come to check it out. “So much for our wilderness experience” we laughed but enjoyed the attention.

The climb finished all too soon and as we abseiled and down climbed from the western summit we naturally began to plan for another trip. This little mission had certainly opened our eyes to the huge climbing potential this area has. It is regrettable that with our hectic lives an opportunity to push the boat out that little bit further comes along so infrequently. Still as long as we are planning, there’s hope and I know that from Ian’s lofty vantage point he will soon be eyeing up another peak: I just hope that phone will ring sooner rather than later!

For information about all the expeditions I head out on 360 Expeditions.  I am always up for a challenge so if you can’t see something there then ping me or the office an email. The next expedition in the Pyrenees will be the winter skills course.

Adios. Rolfe.

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