There is at least one great benefit for being an ultrarunner. When going on holiday adventures, we have great range to explore a lot. We just spent a few days in the Pyreness in the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park. I was pretty much able to explore the whole place and run through all the major trails and sights.
Having the ability to run easily for 10 hours and 40+ kilometers without having to really think about it too seriously helps keep things flexible. So I had an open plan going there, with a vague idea of what I wanted to do. This is how it shaped up.
Day 1 – check in
We drove to this place in Aragon about 3hrs from home. We left right after work and the trip was smooth. We checked in and had a nice dinner at the hotel. Several nice vegan or vegetarian options in addition to the usual ones. Then just get the gear ready for the next day and go to bed. After a bottle of wine, of course.
Day 2 – Getting a feel
So the plan for the first day was to go hit the bases of the key high peaks, but not go all the way up and just scout stuff and plan for a nice fast trip for the next day. I still wanted to do a good amount of kms and vertical, so wanted to go to 3,000m+. I especially wanted to check out one of the peaks where it was said that it’s not doable without ropes. (I thought it looked doable, but difficult and not something to try alone).
This is the difficult peak … but this is not the route that looked doable. The path to the left from here looked easier.
Ok not quite 3000m, but close enough 🙂
It was a good day, I made good time up the mountain and it was beautiful. I did feel a bit dizzy when powering up after 2,500m and had to slow down and even stop a few times to get rid of it. It was good to know for the next day. Some of the sections above 2,200m started to get quite technical and slow too. Went up to 3,000m, stopped where the sign said “dangerous path” (which didn’t look too dangerous). Then turned around and went back down before this big group of teenage explorers coming down the mountain …
Looking down into the Ordesa Valley
Closer to the valley
Probably the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen
But really there were waterfalls everywhere
It ended up being 32km or so and 1,800m+. Mission accomplished and I had a plan for the next day.
Day 3 – Monte Perdido
So now I knew how to get to the top of the big mountain, Monte Perdido, the third highest in the Pyrenees at 3,355m. I didn’t expect any challenges with it, but knew the final climbs would be hard based on the previous days experience. I wanted to take it easy, but still made it to the refugi in 2,200m in exactly the same time as the previous day. It was explained for not stopping to take any photos and speaking to Katri for 10 minutes…
Marmots started making an appearance above 2,000m+
Glacier going up to Perdido
The higher sections went a lot better than the first day and overall I was feeling great, much better than the first day. The final climb was fun, it was super steep 45 degree climb in loose rock, so it was 1 step up, 1/2 steps back. Some other groups were having tough time getting up there and I was gliding past everyone … Great views at the top, where I enjoyed my picnic. There was a family with some very brave little kids of maybe 8-10 years old that had made it up also and looked like they do that every day …
It was a glorious bright day
Coming down was the highlight of the day… the steep rock downhill was great, I was sliding on the rocks, past all the people going up or down and made super fast time down and hit the glacier below. The glacier was also 45+ degree angle and coated with nice soft snow.. I could see some tracks on the snow and jumped in there and slid down some 400 meters and 150 vertical in about 30 seconds. It was great, went so fast that had do slow down with the shoes and this shot up tons of snow. People probably though I was a bit mad. Nobody else took this route… 🙂
Here’s a bonus, my conversation with a marmot
I then met Katri a bit below. We had kept contact all day with our radios, which worked great in the mountains. Even though we were at times 7 or so kilometers apart, me at the top of the mountain, Katri somewhere in the middle, we were able to talk all day. I had been encouraging her to make her way with the dogs up to the refugi at 2,200m. We finally made it there both at the same time and had a bit of lunch together. I wanted to get some more kilometers, so I went exploring one part of the mountain that looked interesting and did a couple more kilometers and an extra hour and then ran back down to meet Katri down the mountain. We then walked back to the parking lot together, which took absolutely forever and the day ended up being 8h 23 min and 37,5km and 2,300m+.
Day 4 – “Rest Day”
As an old man, I wanted to take it easy and not break myself by playing in the mountains too hard. I wanted to have an easy day and then another bigger day. So the previous day I came across another “dangerous trail” that I had planned to take. It also said not to start if after 15:00 in the afternoon. I was a bit tired the previous day and decided not to go there that day as I didn’t really have a clue what I’d encounter, but of course it sounded interesting. So today I wanted to explore that section. It started with a 650m climb in 2,5km. My plan was to go easy, but I felt quite good and once I got started with the climb, my speed just accelerated. At some point I thought that this climb is probably a Strava segment, so I wanted to try to rank a good time (I ended up 4th ranked time overall in that climb). The trail was absolutely great, really nice views, fun trail to run in and far less people than in many other parts of the park. There wasn’t anything dangerous, although the trail is a bit difficult in the other direction with the big downhill which was slightly technical. I ran up to the nicest waterfall in the park, had quick snack and ran back the other side of the valley. Otherwise the day was great, but the downhill was getting a bit boring and legs didn’t feel that great at the end. 20km and 823m+.
Day 5 – Round Trip
I had planned to do a long day and had scouted a route of 55km and 5,000m+. In the end, looking at the route more closely, it had a few parts that looked quite hard and I didn’t want to go into the unknown and try to bite too much in terrain that I don’t know that well. So I decided to cut it a bit.. Katri gave me a ride to a trailhead that allowed me to cut a few kms from the beginning and start with a big 1,500m+ climb. I also cut two round trips to some high peaks, one which I had done already.
Easy part of the 1st climb
The first climb went really well, it was long but it felt easy and nice. The path crossed into France and on the french side, there was a parking lot close by in around 2,000 meters and quite a lot of people were coming from there. The path went quite high for a long time and the views were great and the trail was fun. It was pretty crowded so where I could, I climbed up different sections from everyone else and at one point climbed a big waterfall which was fun. The trail went to another refugi, which was in a magical valley with a great waterfall at the other end and a big glacier at the other.
Nice valley, with the waterfall that’s hard to see
The path then crossed over to the Spanish side, over the highest ridge where all of the french hikers stayed for their picnics.
Up another glacier
I was the only one who crossed to the other side, where there were no real paths, big rocks, very technical. The next couple of kilometers, although downhill, took me probably around 20 mins / km and I wasn’t trying to be slow. In this whole 10km section I encountered 3 other people. The area was like a big open desert in the middle of the big mountains. Very tough, rugged and empty. It was great, just me and the marmots.
Yeah, that’s a my kind of place
Soon I saw the refugi where I had met Katri earlier the other day and knew exactly where I was again. I now decided to take the “dangerous path” and do it in the other direction and face the hard downhill. It was hard and I felt a bit like in an ultra trail race. I now only had an easy section along the canyon with easy trail and really amazing waterfalls. Towards the end I started to feel like I was bonking a bit (running out of energy) and realized I had not eaten anything in 3 hours and 20 kms and even then my snack had been two oreo cookies and two fruit loops. No wonder I felt a bit weak. In the end it was 7 hours, 36kms and 2,000m+.
Trail running didn’t seem to be a big thing in this place. I just wonder why … with running, you can see so much more. I also took a lot of time to just chill, walk around and stare at the mountains, have snacks in great places and really get a very good picture of a place by just running around everywhere. Most people like to hike around and they cover a fraction of the place like that. A good plan is to just run sections that are not so interesting, then take it easier when it’s great. Then you can start linking together peaks, valleys, waterfalls etc. And when you are in shape, all the exercise feels great and not so hard that some people might expect from the numbers. After the trip, with so many kilometers and hours, my legs and body didn’t really feel tired at all. Highly recommended.