Getting ready for the big ones

Expedition: Pyrenees: Pic Aneto: Pyrenees Highest Peak (5 day)

Rolfe Oostra

I climb my local high point Pico Aneto (3,404m) usually with clients who aspire to higher things. My folk get used to wearing crampons and perfect the art of bum sliding on the descent. Sometimes they freak out crossing the 40m long Mohammad ridge. It is always a mean mission. In fact, my last clients for this year hit the nail on the head when they said: “this little pecker sure packs a mean punch”. They came to train for a mountain more than double its height: Aconcagua.

Aneto is a mountain best climbed in winter. The glacier and boulder fields are covered by meters of snow. There are few people and the hut wardens will come and share wine and chat. But the snowfall never let up this winter. Every week another record was set. More snow building up to more extreme conditions. As February had passed, I went up looking for that first signs of spring. Nothing happened until summer.

My first Aneto ascent this year was with a very strong Irish guy. Due to heavy snow, we parked 7 kms away from the normal car park but we nailed the Malladeta (3,280m AD) and Aneto (3,304m PD) in a 5:20 ascent. In fact, this guy was so good he reached the summit of Mount Everest only 3 months later.

My next attempts were with my friend and co-pilot Marco. First up was an alpine skills course for 5 guys with big plans and then a climb with 2 ladies who had trekked last year with me in Nepal. My 5 guys got bogged down in a record snowfall. This winter the Pyrenees stole the title from Siberia and Alaska for the most recorded amount of snowfall recorded anywhere on our planet ever: 8.3m in one week. It took us 2 days to reach the hut (a mission usually completed in 45 minutes!!) and we climbed for 2 hours above it before calling it quits. Wading on snow-shoes through thigh deep, 30-degree snow which is ready to rock and roll will easily fray the steeliest of nerves. The ladies reached the summit in great conditions. We hit the highest point in the Pyrenees in a balmy -8 c and only lingered because one of the girls decided to kiss the aluminum summit cross. It took us a while to peel her lips from the metal.

Then came the Airbus crew with some experienced dudes on board. We flew up after ditching a bit of heavy luggage and the mountain smiled. The only snags were one hundred Lycra clad ski-mountaineers and the spaghetti of ropes covering the Mohammed ridge.

Next to climb was my 2013 Manaslu crew. All been there and done that. Truly a fun day out 12 hours of climbing and 6 hours of driving to get over the snow-free passes. The winter still hadn’t let up and we got to experience a big mountain day out. Storming, forming and norming. Eight thousand meters with a strong team like this is beginning to look possible.

And just in the last few days an Aneto ascent with my Aconcagua boys. They’d done Kilimanjaro and wanted to do something a bit spicier plus get used to moving in crampons. At first, they were worried about being late in the season. Had the snow already melted? Nope, there was plenty. At least 2 meters of it still covered the glacier and boulder fields.

Another great ascent followed and on the descent spring finally sprung and came in the guise of hot air, warm rain, and huge slab avalanches. The Aco boys learned a lot this trip. Primarily that even small mountains can have big teeth.

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