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Pic de Comapedrosa: Andorra's highest mountain

Pic de Comapedrosa: Andorra's highest mountain


Postby Pointless Parasite » Mon Feb 10, 2020 7:36 pm

Date walked: 06/02/2020

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I've been wanting to visit Andorra for a while now and getting a job in Barcelona gave me the ideal opportunity. I was particularly interested in climbing Andorra's highest mountain, Pic de Comapedrosa (2942 m), especially after reading Crolla and McKeating's book Europe's High Points. Comapedrosa (sometimes written as Coma Pedrosa) can be climbed without any technical difficulty, but is a long, tiring climb, even in summer. In February, it was likely to be a serious challenge.

Getting to Andorra:
There are no trains in Andorra, although some Spanish and French lines get close. Most people either drive or get the ALSA coach from Barcelona. A return ticket costs about 35 Euros (the outbound ticket is 30 Euros, and the return 5). There are also direct buses from Barcelona airport, Toulouse and Lleida.

Day 1: Pic de Comapedrosa
I was in Andorra for 3 nights, giving me 2 full days of walking plus a half day at the end. I decided to go for Comapedrosa on the first day. The weather was perfect and if I failed I would have another day for a second try.

Comapedrosa0.JPG
Comapedrosa is the large pyramid shaped peak in the centre


The starting point is the village of Arinsal, at about 1500 m. There are buses from Andorra la Vella (opposite the Holiday Inn) to Arinsal leaving every half an hour (route L5) and take about 30 minutes. A return ticket costs 5 Euros and is cheaper than two singles.

Once at Arinsal, go through the tunnel through a huge dyke structure (there are pavements on each side) then turn right, pass the houses seen in the photo below and take the track on the left. Simple. Except I managed to screw up and got lost before I found the proper route, wasting half an hour lost in the woods. Same old story :roll:

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Comapedrosa as seen from down below


After a short while, the going was entirely on deep snow. Fortunately it was frozen hard enough to prevent sinking with each footstep.

Comapedrosa3.JPG


About halfway up, I passed the Refugi de Comapedrosa (closed at this time). After that, the snow became softer although I was able to follow the consolidated trails left by a skier. It was like a drink driving sobriety test, trying to walk along a straight line. Stepping either side of the ski tracks resulted in sinking down into the snow.

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The route then turns to the right, up a steep snow slope. I initially missed this and walked too far up the valley towards Pic de Sanfonts. I then made an awkward traverse to the right to try and rejoin the correct route. For some reason I felt more comfortable sticking close to the rocks, but this turned out to be a mistake. The snow became increasingly steep and I was getting further and further away from the correct route. The photo below was taken on the descent. My route followed the rock band on the right. I needed to make a long, delicate traverse East to get back onto easier ground. This poor route finding was to have other consequences; unknown to me at the time, I was being followed. More on this later.

Comapedrosa14.JPG


Once back on safer ground, I had a clear view of the final section ahead. There appeared to be a number of possible routes. I considered a traverse along the whole ridge but decided to go further along the valley, passing a small frozen lake (Estany Negre).

Comapedrosa13.JPG


After a while I got fed up of the valley and decided to take a direct line to the summit, just after the lower craggy section seen on the photo below.

Comapedrosa6.JPG


It was absolutely exhausting stuff, although I suppose that's to be expected considering I'd gone from sea level to 2900 m in one day :lol:

Eventually I was on the summit. There were a few skiers up there as well, although they'd descended to one of the lower summits by the time I got to the top, leaving me to enjoy Comapedrosa by myself.

Comapedrosa7.JPG


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Montcalm massif on the right, including Pica d'Estats (3143 m), the highest mountain in Catalonia.


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The peak in the distance is Pico Aneto (3404 m), the highest mountain in the Pyrenees.


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A rare summit selfie


On the descent, I was joined by a guy in running gear who'd followed me down. He was wearing running shoes with long microspikes and had a good ice axe. He asked if the snow slopes lower down were safe to descend. Yes, I said, but just don't follow my tracks as I'd gone too far to the side. It turned out he'd already done so on the way up and he described his difficulty in following my tracks, using his ice axe with each step of the traverse. So my poor choice of route finding had led somebody else into a dangerous situation :roll: Thankfully no harm was done. We agreed that it would be better to avoid the rock band for the descent and stick to the snow slope. He departed with a high five (at which point I fell over) and shot off down the valley.

Comapedrosa11.JPG
Pic de Sanfonts (2885 m)


Looking along the valley, with the frozen lake buried under snow. The runner can be seen on the right.

Comapedrosa12.JPG


After descending the steep snow slope, this time avoiding the rocks (much better!), I made it safely down into the main valley. I could see a couple of climbers coming up towards me. One of them looked familiar. Remarkably, the runner was coming back up again. It appears he'd started out with a friend who was wearing normal walking boots and crampons and had gone ahead, reached the summit, descended, met the friend halfway up, and was now going back to the top for a second time. Maybe he'd read the story of Kurt Diemburger who climbed Broad Peak then re-climbed the final section with the much slower Herman Buhl. One of the greatest high altitude expeditions of all time, though with a tragic end.

Day 2
The next day I wanted to climb something directly from Andorra la Vella, without needing to catch a bus.There is a long chain of mountains along the southern border of Andorra, a whole ridge entirely over 2500 m, reaching a high point at Tossa Plana de Lles (2905 m). I considered trying to climb this but it was too far. Even in summer it would require an overnight stay in a mountain hut. Instead, I decided to head up the small valley of the Riu de la Comella, up towards the Prat de Primer hut.

Claror1.JPG


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Once here, I followed some snowmobile tracks for a while before making my own way up the steep slopes on the right. I figured that once I was up here, the going would be easy, with rich pickings of 2600 m peaks.

Claror3.JPG


Well it wasn't so easy. In fact I came close to disaster. The snow slope started off as an exhausting but otherwise easy plod up steep, soft snow. About halfway up I became aware of a layer of ice under the snow. I needed crampons but they were in my bag. I fought on, burying the shaft of my ice axe all the way down to the head and using it to pull myself up and clear of the dangerous icy area. I then continued up the rest of the snow slope, which steepened right at the top, before leveling off. Then, just as thought it was over, things started to turn seriously nasty. The soft snow suddenly turned to ice. I was immediately aware of the danger of the situation. One slip and I would go straight over the edge, then god knows what. I swung the pick of my axe at the ice. It dug in beautifully, giving a very secure hold. But my feet, without crampons, were anything but secure. I was sliding all over the place and unable to get any purchase on the ice. I managed to kick enough of a step to be able to take my weight and allow another swing with my axe. Again, it bit the ice perfectly, but this time I just couldn't get any purchase with my feet.This was now getting ridiculous. A fall seemed inevitable. I slowly reached forward and managed to grab a tiny tuft of dead grass poking up through the ice. I was afraid to use my ice axe as even the slightest sudden movement would send me sliding back down and over the edge. Somehow I managed to inch forward until I was away from the most dangerous section and took the first opportunity to stop and put my crampons on.

Talk about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted! From now on, it was very easy going over tracks made by a snowmobile. Hardly any need for crampons at all now :roll:

Claror4.JPG


It was an easy walk to the first summit of the day, Pic Negre de Claror (2642 m), seen in the photo above with black rocks on the top.

Claror5.JPG


Decending to the shallow col, Port Negre, I then climbed Pic Negre d'Urgell (2698 m). From here, the next peak along the chain was Monturull (2759 m), which is the dominant mountain in the vicinity. I was tempted, but I had limited food and wasn't keen on adding any more to the long descent back to Andorra la Vella. I walked a short way along the ridge to get a better look at Monturull, but then decided to turn back, returning over the sprawling multi-summited Camp de Claror and descending via the Collada da la Caulla.

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Monturull, seen from Pic Negre d'Urgell


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One of the summits of Camp de Claror (2604 m) The high point (at 2607 m) is the one with the mast, straight ahead.


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A Pyrenean chamois, or Isard


The descent from Camp de Claror was an ordeal. There are signposts marking the way back down, but the deep snow had completely obliterated any sign of a path. There was little choice but to head straight down through a steep wooded valley and hope the way wouldn't be blocked off by crags. Indeed, there were no major crags to worry about, but the slope became steeper and steeper while the forest became denser. After a while, the descent became a horrible fight through thick vegetation. It seemed to go on for an eternity.

Claror11.JPG


Finally I made it back down to a forestry track to be greeted by a ridiculous sight:

Claror12.JPG


What the hell was that? Whatever. I was back to civilization, and just needed to follow the track back down. Easy. I was already thinking of dinner (Burger King, again). But somehow I ended up getting lost in the woods again. Soon I was stuck at a kind of wire dam used to contain debris from floods. I found away over that, passed through some sort of recycling centre, then Andorra's prison (it looked like a Swiss chalet with barbed wire) and the Belgian consulate, and eventually made it back to Andorra la Vella.

The photo below shows where I'd been, up the valley behind the heavily forested mountain (called 'Pico'), then up the snow slopes onto the plateau behind. The 2604 m summit of Camp de Claror is the high point seen on the right. Pic Negre d'Urgell is hidden out of view.

Claror13.JPG


Day 3: Pic de Padern
My bus didn't leave until 3 pm, giving me time to fit in one more walk. I'd considered climbing Bony de la Pica (2402 m), which is the highest point of a long ridge lying directly north of Andorra la Vella. It looked potentially difficult in the snow though, and I was in no mood for anything dangerous after the previous day's antics. I decided to climb Pic de Padern (1859 m) instead. A nice, easy walk in the woods.

Padern1.JPG
Pic de Padern


Padern2.JPG


Seriously? Why did I ever trick myself into believing this would be a easy stroll? Right from the very beginning, this promised to be a steep, scrambly climb up through thick vegetation. After a while, the path ended up in a dry stream bed. Not the usual way up a mountain I thought, but continued up regardless.

Padern3.JPG


It was a complete nightmare. The gully was steep and full of loose rock. My hands were becoming a bloody mess after grabbing at various prickly/spiky/thorny plants.It was clear I'd taken the wrong turn. No signposted path would involve climbing up a stream gully. And there were none of the yellow dot waymarkers I'd seen earlier on.

Padern4.JPG


Eventually, I found something wonderful: the path. This time I took special care to follow the yellow dot markers. The route is complex, steep and involves occasional scrambling, but it's objectively fairly safe. If you can manage to keep to the path, this is a great mountain route.

Padern5.JPG


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Around here, I saw an enormous bird of prey, dark feathers and white underneath. My best guess is that it was a Egyptian vulture, or possibly a bearded vulture. Either way, it was huge, and definitely not a buzzard!

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Finally I reached the summit, marked by some sort of monitoring station. I considered continuing on the the higher summit of Bony de las Neres (2212 m) but there wasn't enough time. I descended down the NW side of the mountain, towards Anyos, then took the bus back to Andorra la Vella.

Padern9.JPG
Pic de Padern summit


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Pic de Carroi from Anyos


That was it. Overall a very nice trip, and cheap too. I don't think I paid any more than about 200 Euros for the bus, hotel and food (obviously you need to get the Barcelona first, but that's usually cheap as well).
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Pointless Parasite
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Re: Pic de Comapedrosa: Andorra's highest mountain

Postby maxie23 » Wed Feb 12, 2020 8:02 pm

Fantastic trip mate, well done.
Thoroughly enjoyed reading your report and looking at your photos.
Very entertaining and informative.
Regards.
Robert.
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Re: Pic de Comapedrosa: Andorra's highest mountain

Postby gld73 » Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:33 am

I'm hoping to get to Andorra for some walking later this year, I'll be re-reading your report for useful tips before I go, cheers :D
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