A relatively short but interesting climb to the ‘Pic de Sacroux; on the Spanish/ French border. Passing a mountain lake and a high pass, this less well trodden route is a perfect day hike from spring to autumn.
The Pic de Sacroux is a hidden gem, with access high in the Spanish Pyrenees. In the Benasque valley, the peaks of the Aneto, Posets and the Salvaguardia are much more popular. Even when you have reached the start of the climb, the peak of the Pic de Sacroux is far from visible!
So, head north out of Benasque on the A139; following signs for the ‘Hospital de Benasque’. After approximately ten kilometres, the hospital will be signed off to the right; on a concrete road. Stay on the main road, passing a yellow snow barrier and a dead-end sign. After another kilometre, the road will end with two red and white barriers. There is hope by some of tunnelling a road from here to Bagneres de Luchon in France. Although the local tourist trade may see an increase in business; will it be worth the extra traffic and pollution in this naturally serene place?
Park your car anywhere here on the side of the road; then walk past the red and white barriers. The beginning of the trail is not marked and unclear. After about five metres from the barriers, look to your left for an opening in the trees and bushes. It will appear as though you are walking up the path of a stream. The ground is all rock here, so you cannot see old footprints, yet within a few metres you will clearly see a trodden path.
The path climbs fairly gently through the trees; zigzagging to gain height. Very soon you will leave the treeline and look back over the higher Benasque Valley, the hospital hotel and the grand range of the Maladeta mountain range.
Gentle green slopes
As you leave the treeline; the path goes up one side of a small stream until you come to a broken wooden bridge. Do not worry, there are many points to cross using stepping stones. I paused here for a while and listened to the relaxing sound of the babbling water whilst looking at the landscape.
After leaving the stream, you cross a lush green meadow, sprinkled with many different wildflowers. The path then climbs up to the right over a wide but gentle grassy slope. When you reach a ridge, the path turns back to the left as you pass a small lake. There are a few steep sections over small ridges; yet the path is clearly marked and not too steep.
Ibon de Gorgutes
Cresting a small ridge; the calm mountain lake called the ‘Ibon de Gorgutes’ will come into view. At an altitude of 2,339 metres above sea level; it is the ideal place to rest your legs. In the past, I have climbed only to here and spent an afternoon in the long grass on the shores of the lake; whilst enjoying a hearty picnic and reading a book.
If you can draw yourself away from this little paradise, in the photo below, you can see on the left of the picture where the path leads on up. From here on, the path crosses bare broken rock in places, so watch your step on the uneven ground.
The picture below was taken on that earlier ascent. It is looking north, which shows the path climbing to the gap in the mountains called the Puerto de Glera. This pass along with the Port de Benas just a mile to the east, has been used for centuries to pass between France and Spain in the high Pyrenees. With most largescale movements of people, such as: Hannibal and his army over two thousand years, using the flatter ground towards the Mediterranean. These higher, more difficult passes were probably used by locals and the clandestine actions of smugglers and refugees.
Another sobering story is the plight of the Jews escaping Nazi occupied Europe to Portugal. Crossing the high Pyrenees at night and sometimes in the depths of winter with inadequate clothing. As well as the natural dangers, they had to also avoid: Nazi patrols, French gendarmes, Spanish guards and informers and robbers too. Even the local priests were known to have extorted money from these poor souls. However, all hope was not lost for humanity, for some decent local folk guided the Jews over the Pyrenees at a great risk to themselves. You can find out more here: https://chemindelaliberte.fr/the-freedom-trail?showall=1
Reaching the Puerto de Glera, I could see down over a steep valley into France. I took a moment, to take in the view as a cool breeze blew up from below me. Turning to the left here, you can see the border ridge soaring into the sky. To the left of this ridge, on the Spanish side, you can see a grassy side valley rise up above you. The path is not clear to begin with; yet you will soon see a trodden path and you can make out the occasional cairn far above.
Unclear higher slopes
I climbed up this steep, but grass covered valley towards the summit cliffs looming overhead. Distances can be deceptive, for when I reached a false ridge, a huge rock field lay before me. The path was completely unclear now, with no painted path markers and random cairns placed almost everywhere.
Using the photo above as an example, the yellow line shows my approximate route across the rock field. Luckily it was a long clear day in midsummer. So I had time to keep stopping to check my direction of travel. For this reason alone, I would strongly advise against attempting this climb in wet or foggy conditions. It would be easy to become disorientated and possibly lost. With the real risk of climbing into an area, from which it would be difficult to escape.
Reaching the sheer rock face in the middle of the photo above, look for very small blue arrows painted on the rocks. They are incredibly small; yet once you have found the first one, it is easier to follow a line between them. The route here, becomes more of a scramble, with the use of your hands absolutely necessary. Some people use trekking poles, yet I prefer the guaranteed grip of my own two hands.
This section of scrambling is only about 50 metres in length; yet it is a serious obstacle on this route. Some smaller children and small dogs may struggle with the steep steps in this section, so maybe they are best left in the care of aunty!
The view from the top!
Before you know it, the steep wall section ends, and you can once again walk upright on a steep gravel path. You then pass through a gap in the rocks where you can see into France. Looking to the right, you will see a final summit cone made almost entirely of broken rock. The path is clear to follow here, and you will soon be on the summit!
What sets this apart from many other peaks, is that there are clear views in all directions. You can clearly see Bagneres de Luchon in France as well as many of the surrounding peaks of the high Pyrenees.
So come on a clear day, for the views and for your safety. I climbed the Pic de Sacroux in a few hours with just a litre of water and a few cereal bars yet bring a picnic and enjoy your day. If you are climbing alone; there are normally other climbers taking the same route. A friendly local advised on a route across the rock field and up the sheer rock face and I had a great conversation with a French/ English couple on the summit.
Yet if the weather forecast is not for clear skies; then remember the Pic de Sacroux will always be here to be enjoyed on another day.
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