Millions of British ramblers walk up Snowdon (1085m), Scafell Pike (960m) or Ben Nevis (1344m) each year. But on holiday, driving around, across or in the Pyrenees, they will look at Aneto (3404m), Posets (3377m) or Perdido (3355m) and say “No”.
Yet all the major Pyrenean peaks are within the range of difficulty and vertical climb of the great British peaks. Climbs of 1200m a day, sometimes with a night at altitude in a refuge, are no harder than those experienced by climbers in Glencoe. The French have known this for years and there is a wealth of information for French-based climbers and walkers. As such, it focuses on the French side of the mountains, and assumes a great familiarity with the geography of the region.
But for the many British tourists who live, holiday or visit in the south of France, the Spanish Pyrenees are within range and should be an object for rewarding expeditions. An evening drive across the border; a night in a hotel, refuge or campsite, or even a carpark; a climb - all this is possible, for those who know.
The Pyrenean peaks over 3000m are higher than all the mountains in the British Isles; they are also higher than all those in such mountainous countries as Norway, Sweden, all the Yugoslav republics, the Balkans, Greece, Romania, Poland, Czech and Slovakia, Hungary, Crete, Cyprus, Corsica. In Europe, only the Alps and Mount Etna provide other 3000m peaks, or the Caucasus in Asia Minor.
For those who don’t know where to begin, this guide is designed to motivate and guide walkers up the easiest, biggest and best climbs in the Pyrenees.
The high Pyrenees stretch from just inside the Spanish province of Huesca at its north-western limit, to just over the border into Cataluña. Of the 212 recognised peaks that are over 3000m high, almost all are either wholly in, or on the border of, the province of Huesca. The three highest peaks - Aneto, Posets and Perdido - are all wholly in the Spanish side
The effects of glaciation and erosion also mean that there is a huge difference between the north-facing French side and the southerly-facing Spanish side. The rapid erosion of the north faces means that to climb a mountain from that side requires a much greater, and steeper, climb. The climb itself is often in the shade, in the damp and in the fog of a northern valley. And if the weather is coming in from the Atlantic, it will rise up the valley all the way to the Spanish border, dropping its load on the climbers.
The wide open Spanish valleys are much gentler, offering sunshine all day long, and the dry heat of the valleys pushes any humidity out of reach. Although, as with most mountains, there is always the risk of a storm, especially in the evenings, of snow even in summer, and the hot sun can sometimes be a problem, overall the Spanish Pyrenees offer a quieter, cleaner, more savage and desolate, more isolated experience than the heavily-populated and more frequented French side.