The HRP / GR11 blog series
The Ascent of Pimene
Total miles walked: 41.5
HRP stage: Pimene (Ten Classic Summits)
Location: Point 2232 beneath the Hourquette d’Alans
Frustrated that I didn’t get to climb Vignemale, I have been scouring the guidebook for another summit objective. Pimene is the obvious choice: at 2,801m, it isn’t one of the biggest mountains around, but its location gives it grandstand views in all direction. And there are no glacial hazards here. When I woke once again to unbroken sunshine this morning, I formulated a plan.
Happily, Pimene is only a short diversion from the HRP. The first part of the ascent is actually shared with the first part of Stage 17, my next HRP section, so I decided to do the initial hike up to a likely camping spot in the morning, rest through the hottest part of the day, climb the mountain in the cool of the evening, then return to my little knoll to camp. As a bonus, this strategy places me within easy striking distance of my next col. Happy days.
The first part of the ascent took place, once again, under a roasting sun – in fact, I think today has been even hotter than usual. Gavarnie is crawling with hikers and tourists at the moment, and I shared the path up through the woods with dozens of other people. Most were walking up to the refuge, which offers superb views of the Cirque de Gavarnie, but many also had Pimene in mind.
The map showed many streams so I thought I would be able to fill my bottle up almost at will as I climbed. However, most of these streams turned out to be dry, and the mountain as a whole is strikingly arid (probably because it has no snow patches left, and no glacier). So above 2,000m I found myself thirsty and wishing I’d filled my second bottle up at the last stream. However, when I arrived at the knoll that had looked so inviting on the map, I found that it was not too far away from the only flowing stream (it seemed) on that entire part of the mountain flank. I filled up both bottles (total 2 litres) and sat down on my knoll to wait out the hottest part of the day.
I spent six hours there, partly dozing, partly listening to audiobooks, and partly watching the amazing mountain cliffs just beyond. But I also attracted many puzzled looks from hikers sweating up the path in the hot noon sun. I’d laid my tarp and bivy bag out to dry (they were still wet from last night’s dew) and I think that attracted more attention than I might otherwise have done.
Nobody else seemed to have considered my strategy of dividing the ascent in two and having a siesta in the middle, but it seems obvious to me. Climbing endless dusty switchbacks in an arid, waterless landscape with the sun beating down from directly overhead isn’t much fun when you can do it in the cool evening.
I departed at 16.00 with about 600m left to climb to the summit. Unfortunately I had forgotten to go back to the water source to fill my bottles up again, so – having drunk a litre during my rest – I only had a litre for the ascent. As soon as I discovered my error I immediately started rationing the water.
The ascent is in three parts. The first is a continuation of the switchbacks up the mountainside I’d been climbing earlier during the day. The second is a long traverse on the other side of the mountain after reaching the ridge. The third is a loose ridge scramble to the summit.
I’d been watching people coming back down the switchbacks for hours, so I was fairly confident that I was the last person on the mountain. It was with that thought that I noticed the vultures – dozens of them, lazily circling on thermals overhead. These monsters make Golden Eagles look like sparrows, and I found it a bit unnerving how they followed me during my ascent, as if they knew I had a dwindling water supply.
Pimene is all about the views; the climb itself is a bit scrappy, although that final scramble was a bit more exciting than expected, and reminded me a little of Sharp Edge on Blencathra. But the views, over the Cirque de Gavarnie and back to distant Vignemale, were stunning – and of course the rich evening light made everything look even better. On the other side of the mountain, I could look ahead and see the terrain I’d be tackling over the coming days.
I tagged the summit about 30 minutes before sunset and made haste back down the ridge. Soon the alpenglow burst over the Cirque de Gavarnie and mountains in all directions faded into the orange sunset haze. The moon rose and supplied enough light for walking when the sun had faded, and I drained the last drop from my water bottle just as I made it back to the stream near my planned camping spot. Job done.
This is probably one of the most magnificent locations I’ve ever camped. I can see wild, glaciated 3,000m peaks directly through the door of my Trailstar. I can’t wait until sunrise to see the colour show over the mountains from up here!