Above: Storms build as we descend the valley on day 3.
A recent trip to the Spanish Pyrenees saw me blowing off the cobwebs from my very dusty hiking gear in order to refresh my Mountain Leadership Skills by guiding a number of young adults (yes that makes me feel old) along the GR11 Route of this amazing mountain range. The views were amazing and the weather even more dramatic.
It had been quite some time since my previous trip up any mountain as a leader/guide, let alone any Spanish ones; in fact I'd never been up any Spanish Mountains so I was a little unsure about what to expect. Luckily I wasn't alone and there were three other mountain leaders, two of whome had been to the Pyrenees before. I've always enjoyed taking groups up into the hills and I didn't expect my first leader trip abroad to be any different. I wasn't dissapointed, regardless of who you have in your group and regardless of how tough people find it, how much they whine and moan during some tough sections. They always end up smiling.
A lengthy journey to the very first camp site had us all quite tired before we even started trekking and the first few days were quite relentless in the punishing heat and sun. Temperatures did ease a little as various weather fronts swept across the whole region. I've always liked dramatic skies for my photography and never minded rain when outdoors, but the thunderstorms that we experienced just put a dampener on everything (excuse the pun). Too wet for the camera, too electric to take people on the big hills (the dangers of high peaks and trekking poles during electric storms is often underestimated).
However we had other options, in the way of low level valley walks along beautiful rivers amongst Spanish farmland, smaller more remote hills that don't attract the same kind of orographic rain that the ridges and bigger peaks tend to attract. There was also shopping, drinking coffee, drinking beer, eating chorizo (yum) & of course ice creams. It's a hard life I know.
The last few days of trekking were simply beautiful along the Ordesa Valley up to Refugio Goriz where we were hoping to summit the 3354m peak of Monte Perdido. Unfortunately it wasn't to be due to the snow still lingering (and even being added to whilst we were there), with inexperienced and under-equipped groups it wasn't worth the risk. However I'm sure all that were there would agree, the Refugio experience was simply brilliant, with people from all corners of the earth sharing their experiences of the mountains together whilst sitting out bad weather playing cards, board games, eating and drinking. Not a road in sight!!!!
The big weather fronts and storms did however create some amazing photographic skies full of drama and despite my other responsibilities I did manage to capture some of them.
Above: A weather front is accelerated high into the air at sunset from bouncing off the back of the high peaks above the Spanish Town of Jaca.
Above: My group and I with another group from the trip enjoying a break in the clouds on a rather exposed summit.
Above: Enjoying a Cafe con Leche (Latte/coffee with milk)! Some of the other Mountain Leaders after a relatively easy day. On the harder days we would be mostly cooking pasta and lots of it.
Above: A steep climb greeted us at the end this amazing valley walk on route to Refugio Goriz.
Above: Mountain Leader Bill enjoying the views.
Above: Monte Perdido, the summit we never made, too much snow for the experience level of the groups we had led to us returning from the refugio without a real attempt at climbing it.
In summary the Spanish Pyrenees and the GR11 is a very enjoyable route, it's certainly not for the faint hearted but these exposed sections are clearly highlighted in the guide books and can be avoided easily. At times the weather can change plans very quickly but there is plenty to see and many towns worth exploring should it get too bad. If you love trekking and mountains it's a must see beautiful region.
For more information on the Spanish Pyrenees GR11 route follow this very informative site Blogging from the Pyrenees.
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