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Pic de l'Estanyo

Date: 29 July 1993

Company: SBWC

Length: 10 miles


Dead easy: straight up the mountain and back down again.


The first half of 1992 was not a good time for me (divorce, insolvency etc) but things started looking up when I sank my pride and accepted the offer of a virtually free car from work. This meant that I got something of a holiday because I had a vehicle that was sufficiently reliable to get me to Edinburgh to see my old mate, David, and take in the Festival. Whilst I was there I popped into a shop that specialised in adventure holidays. 

It had long been one of my cliches that I had been going to go on a walking holiday in the Himalayas but I got married instead. The outcome to it all was that the following year I ended up on holiday in Andorra walking the Pyrenees and a wonderful time was had by all. Most people would probably quote the final day's climb to Coma Pedrosa as being the best walk. Good it undoubtedly was but my personal favourite was l'Estanyo.

The first few days were spent getting used to the heat and the altitude and allowing the guide to suss us out. On the fourth day we were on to our first real ridge and peaks and we were raring to get going by then. However the next day was a rest day on the programme. What to do? There was the offer of a trip to Carcassonne; it's a place that I'd really like to visit. However Roger the guide suggested l'Estanyo which is the second highest peak in Andorra. 

There was a group in favour of this and we set off on the bus the next morning. The start involved a slog of a climb. The Tour de France had been through during the previous week but even the bike riders were allowed a zig-zag route whereas we just went straight up. It then leveled out as we had a long walk up a mountain valley. Then the start of the serious climbing came at the end. We stopped for a drink after the first pull and savoured the mountains. We had been told that there were Gryphon Vultures about but we hadn't seen any until then. Someone spotted a group gliding on the thermals very high in the sky, much higher than buzzards for example.

I was leading on the next section. Roger had warned about a traverse that could be disconcerting if you had never done one. Well I was half way across it before I realised this was it (I was very inexperienced at mountain walking then) We picked up the back ridge and stopped for dinner. Again stunning views including Serara, the third highest peak which we tackled the following week. Les, a bit of a poser had his lunch on a rock just off the ridge; very exposed but he looks totally unfazed by this. 

On up the ridge to the summit; we got a bit strung out here as fitness told. I was third to the summit, following Martin and Les at a bit of a distance. They were just reaching the top when this vulture glided just above them. Truly spectacular. The ridge did involve a bit of scrambling on some narrow sections. Again a new experience for me and the start of a love affair with rock.

Coming down we decided to do the scree run into the next valley to our upward route. Yet another first and I loved it. Ride the rock and let go. The only slightly worrying part was where the angle of the slope changed and we could not tell whether there was a sheer drop below. Discretion prevailed and we let Martin, the most experienced walker, take a look. No problem there as it turned out. It might have been a mistake going into this valley as it was a long way round back to the bus. So we climbed out and then had one of those knee-shuddering descents back on to our original route. Quick walking followed to make sure we caught the bus: there was a long gap until the next one.

So why the name of the group? It stemmed from a comment at dinner time. We were all clearly loving the walk and someone (quite probably me) said "We are going to be such smug bastards when we get back to the hotel and tell the others what we have been doing" And we were too. But we adopted the title SBWC for the ten who made the trip. That is how we signed ourselves into the book at the top of the hill. We also made a rather disparaging comment about Carcassonne in the book. We devised the concept of SB ratings for the group according to one's skill at getting to the top of this and all the succeeding hills (I remained SB3). A wonderful day and I kept going on about the hill (eg picking it out on every succeeding walk) to the extent that I was banned from mentioning it by name. It became simply the Andorran mountain in the style of the Scottish play.


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