Pic d’Ansabere – and up the Wardrobe

The Aiguille d’Ansabere

HAD another strange dream last night. Must really lay off the red wine and cheese. I was in the Olympic climbing team and we had to get on top of a wardrobe. This bloke tried scaling the side and fell off. Then this woman jumped on a chair, then onto an upturned table, then onto the top of the wardrobe. I thought this was a bloody cheek. She made it look so easy and obvious. The rest of us cheered half-heartedly then took the same route. I don’t think we won any medals.

Anyway, today is another classic day. Now when I say classic, I am making comparisons with fell-walking in the Lake District and Munro-bagging in Scotland. Perhaps, to the local French and Spanish climbers here in the Pyrenees, today’s route is a Sunday stroll.

The Aiguille d’Ansabere

Up at 6.40am and out to Lescun, but this time I drive along the little roads above the village to shave one-and-a-half hours off my journey. So I’m walking for 8.40am and heading up a good track to Cabanes d’Ansabere, which is a collection of shepherds’ huts tucked in a high fold of the mountains. Actually, I discover I could have driven up a forest road and cut my journey even more. But what the heck. You have to retain a sense of adventure.

The walk up to the Cabanes d’Ansabere is pleasant. It’s the sort of track you could drive a quad bike up – easy walking – and passes through scented alpine meadows with herds of cows with clanking bells, and even a herd of horses with bells, before emerging from woodland in an elevated glade beneath the screes of the frontier ridge.

The Aiguille d’Ansabere

The Aiguille d’Ansabere are something else. I have had glimpses of them since leaving the car, but now they tower above me – great shark fins of limestone. The guidebook says they are like a piece of the Dolomites transported to the Pyrenees. This reminds me of a historical feature I once wrote for The North-West Evening Mail about Askam-in-Furness, describing it as a piece of Rotherham that had been pulled up by the chimney pots and set down in a salt marsh. News Editor Mike Rushton liked it, even if nobody else did.

The Cabanes d’Ansabere is a collection of cabins, one locked up and reserved for the bergers – the shepherds – another two being bog-standard bothies, and a third shelter being a cleft between two huge boulders that has been walled up and a doorway made into the interior. One cabane has a makeshift veranda and looks quite cosy, but three French chaps are having their bait there on a timber bench and I do not wish to intrude. I inspect the other, which is cold and draughty, and wait till the French chaps have departed before settling down on their veranda to eat my cheese and saucison bagette.

I’m heading for the Col de Petragerne, which looks like a bit of a nightmare. It’s a frontier pass sandwiched between grim walls of rock. There are great banks of scree fanning out of its narrow gully, and its right-hand flank is totally overshadowed by the towering walls of Le Petit Aiguille d’Ansabere (yes, I know petit means small – but this is only in relation to the hulking great thing standing next to it). The trek up is a struggle, but not as bad as I anticipated, and in a way it reminds me of the hike up Mickledore with the backdrop of Scafell Buttress – but on a far mightier scale.

On the border (in more ways than one)

On the col I step into Spain then step back again. I do this several times because it amuses me in a very childish way. In front of me now is another slog up steep, shattered limestone ridges to the summit. This mountain is like mountains in a lot of places. One side is all rock pinnacles and vertical buttresses, the other – like the side facing me now – is rough sloping ground. Like Helvellyn or Lochnagar: sort of friendly one side, bloody murderous the other.

I puff up through the boulders of the sloping side, which I must admit becomes quite steep in places. Rather

Aspe Valley, from Aiguille d’Ansabere

dangerous-looking sink-holes plummet into the shattered limestone, and zigzagging cracks give the impression that chunks of the mountain are in the process of breaking away. In places the path skirts the ridge between sloping side and vertical side, offering views over the Aspe valley which I am obliged to observe on all-fours to ensure I don’t become a statistic.

The summit, when it comes, is unexpected and not very interesting. It is actually lower than Grande Aiguille d’Ansabere, which towers a few metres to the east like the Old Man of Hoy – only many times more terrible and without the puffins.

I sit there on the Pic d’Ansabere with one leg in Spain and the other in France. The panorama, again, is uplifting. I cannot see my previous summit, Pic d’Anie, because there is a mountain in between called Table de Trois Rois – which does in fact have the appearance of a table, though turned on edge like the one that bloody woman climbed up last night. Which reminds me. Must buy some cheese and wine on the way back to the campsite.

About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
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