Category Archives: Europe

Arete du Diable

Sharper needles with Jorasses behind

The Arete du Diable is the ESE ridge of Mont Blanc du Tacul, with five short spires rising over 4000 meters. They are far more technical than any other peaks on the UIAA list of 82 4000m peaks, and none has anywhere close to the 100m or 300ft of prominence that define a “peak” in the Lower 48 and elsewhere. They are a major reason that, when I first thought about the project of climbing the Alps’ 4000 meter peaks in 2020, I only planned to climb the ones with sufficient prominence. Other minor Mont Blanc area summits have further convinced me that I would have lost little experience and had more fun climbing the prominent list, and that the French were over represented on the UIAA committee.

But here I am. Several people I know are in the Mont Blanc region, and I managed to convince Kyle to take a day out of his vacation to rope up for these peaks. I had thought of scrambling them in rock shoes, but in retrospect that would not have worked. I felt comfortable climbing all the pitches roped, but the traverse feels unidirectional, and I do not think I could have up- or down-climbed all of the rappels, some of which were partly free-hanging.

It was an amazing day of alpine climbing outside my normal range, and good to meet in person someone I had only known online, but it felt like an interlude from my main project over here. Fortunately, once I am done with the Mont Blanc region, none of the UIAA minor peaks will be more than minor detours.

Plus Grandes Jorasses

Jorasses from Val Ferret


(Since I have trapped myself in “hurry up and wait” hell, you get more words.)

The stretch from the Grandes Jorasses to the Dent du Géant is one of the long, hard parts of this project. I had originally planned to do it in the normal, downhill direction from the Torino hut, then hoped to do so from the Boccalatte hut. The latter being closed added only a couple of hours which, with a 3:30 AM start, worked out well.

The first part, through Pointe Whymper, was familiar and, with clear skies, I could easily follow the bootpack on the normal route. The descent off Whymper was uber-choss, then things got interesting. Pointe Elena is a knife-edge on both sides, and Marguerite is also challenging. I passed a soloist going the other direction, moving incredibly fast in retrospect, and a Swiss pair.

The no-peak-points stretch between Marguerite and the Dome de Rochefort was surprisingly hard and cost me a lot of time. The descent toward Pointe Young follows a choss-gully to the left before regaining the ridge. The route from Young to the Canzio bivouac is not obvious from this direction, and I went too low to the right. I got back on track with some shenanigans climbing the seam between glacier and rock, then climbed out of the gap past several rappelling parties.

The pain continued on the way to the Dome, which is not at all dome-shaped, with one overhanging gap requiring a downclimb left followed by a strenuous corner back to the ridge. The Aiguille de Rochefort, on the other hand, was easy, although the descent involved more annoying choss. Most of the rock less steep than the central Jorasses and the Dent du Géant seems to be garbage, probably thanks to receding glaciers and unusual warmth.

I finally reached the Dent du Géant, and was surprised to find several parties still going up and down. I learned that the climb receives afternoon sun, and people prefer to climb it warm. It is the peak of Euro-sketch, with a series of fixed ropes leading around the corner to the left, and a famous fat one on the slab to the summit. I doubt I could have soloed it even in its original, unpolished state, and I didn’t even try, pulling on everything that I could. I got stuck in a bottleneck near the top, with one party climbing through another that was stopped for no apparent reason. They were all Italian, though one woman, Sara, was uncharacteristically friendly and English-speaking. She seemed impressed that I was “free soloing” the route, though I’m not sure I would describe hauling on a boat rope that way.

I tagged the summit quickly, then climbed back through the jumble to get down. Unlike rock, descending a fixed rope is always easier, though I made a bit a mess of it and ripped one of the baffles of my down jacket. I still beat the roped parties to the base, and cruised the rubble down to the glacier, where I followed a well-worn track to the hut. I was worn down, but glad to be done with one of the project’s most uncertain days.

Oulx to Courmayeur


This project starts and ends with two easy outliers: the Barre des Écrins and Piz Bernina. So after my warmup peak, I had a 100+-mile commute to reach the Mont Blanc summit mother lode. Choosing the best route is incredibly hard, since there are many roads linking the two places. Existing mapping programs are useless: the fastest car route follows controlled-access highways, which are closed to bikes and expensive. So-called “bike” routes from Google and maps.me are arbitrary, leading through towns and sometimes even on trails. The information is out there to write a program computing the minimum-wattage paved legal route, but no one has written it yet. I found it easier to just eyeball something and go for it.

The flattest route goes down to Turin, then up the Aosta Valley, but it is about 50 miles longer than going through the mountains, and hot and boring. The mountain route I chose goes over the Col de l’Iseran, famous as one of the biggest Hors Categorie climbs on the Tour de France. (To be fair, I think I went up the short side, only climbing about 4000 feet from Lanslevillard.) On either side of that, I had to climb the big side of the Col du Mont Cenis from Susa (~5000 feet), and the small side of the Col du Petit Saint Bernard.

I started as early as I could force myself from Oulx, my dread increasing as I coasted down the Dora Riparia, losing precious elevation. I saw only a few other cyclists on the long climb, a couple of commuters (!)on their way down, an older guy on a e-bike who drafted me for awhile, and a loaded tourist near the top. I climbed with the temperatures, so it remained warm but not unpleasant the whole way.

At the top, I stopped for a sad French ham sandwich (a bit of thin ham on a half baguette) and a tasty pain chcocolat. I continued past a long lake and some weird monuments including some elephants (did Hannibal pass this way?), then bombed the other, steeper side through a ski area. I stopped at a mini-mart to buy as much of the worst food as I could carry in my pockets, then set out up the Iseran.

The pass is long, but surprisingly steady and gentle. According to the signs for cyclists every kilometer, only one stretch reaches 10% grade, with most averaging 8% or less. I saw a few more cyclists on the lower part, but the crowds really only started at Bonneval. I must have seen around 100 cyclists on this stretch, alone and in pairs, and enjoyed the communal suffering despite being passed several times. I passed a fully loaded tourist walking the steep part near the top, but managed to grind it out in my lowest gear.

The top was cold, windy, and crowded, so I joined some other cyclists in the lee of a closed hotel to eat and layer up. Then I carefully made my way down the big side of the pass, through ski lifts into the spectacular Val d’Isère. Somewhere below Tignes, I turned onto a side road that climbs to join the Petit Saint Bernard route, avoiding a drop to Séez. This looked like a residential street on the map, but signs every kilometer proudly proclaimed it the final climb of a former Tour stage.

Feeling wrecked, I stopped at a campground to have a Coke and consider my options, but I was not about to pay $20 for a spot next to an RV, so I continued to the next town, grabbed more food, and found a flat pullout below the pass. I suppose I could have continued to Courmayeur, but I was hurting after 90 miles and 14,000 feet of climbing, and did not think it would save me a day. As it turned out, the hut I was hoping to hike to the next day is closed, so I get to sit around and write this, then do an early valley start tomorrow.

Barre des Écrins

Barre on approach

The Barre des Écrins is one of the easier 4000m peaks, and I had done it before, so it served as a good warmup. This writeup will unfortunately be brief, as I am tired and will busy for the next few days.

I started from the campground around 4:00 biking by headlamp, and locked my bike to the trailhead sign. I continued hiking, catching one pair of dayhikers shortly after headlamp time. I started on the bare, gritty glacier without crampons, but thought better of that as I tried to pass a rope of five.

There were a reasonable number of parties on the upper route, most ahead of me but a few behind. The bootpack took a circuitous route very high left before a long traverse right to the saddle with the Dome du Neige. I quickly went over to tag that, then returned to wait for a couple guided groups on the crux transition to the upper rock scramble. One of the clients didn’t trust his crampons, but the other handles it well. I had a chance to talk to her, and she turned out to be a professional Nordic ski racer. She seemed impressed by my speed, as I was by her natural mountain skill despite a lack of experience.

Last time I did this, I was scrambling wet rock in fog, and saw nothing. This time it was clear and dry, and I enjoyed both the steep, positive rock and the views of Mont Pelvoux and the Ailefroide to one side, and La Meije to the other. I sat on the summit for a few minutes, then returned before the snow softened up too much. There had been a couple of crevasse crossings with a disturbing number of leg-shaped holes in them, and I wanted to get past that. Euros are good at sketchy snow bridges, but fortunately the ones just ahead of me were mostly heavier when including their gear, so the crossings were freshly tested.

I felt no need to run below, so I just fast-walked back to work trailhead. I passed several large groups from the French army on my way, presumably headed up for mountain warfare training. Once back at the campground, I quickly checked out to avoid being charged for another day, then sat around recovering for awhile. The days are long, though, so I had time to put in 35 miles on the bike before stopping in Oulx (pron?). This is the model I hope to follow on many days: alpine start, climb a peak, then ride a few hours in the warm afternoon and evening.

Escape from the Lower 48

Doing it my way


Reaching the place you want to be is always one of the most brutal parts of international travel. Airports are invariably dehumanizing, airlines indifferent to their customers, airplanes crowded and late. Foreign transit has unfamiliar rules you learn only by making time-consuming mistakes. And this increasing strangeness is met with increasing sleep deprivation, so that by the end you find yourself trying to read a bus schedule or check into a hotel in a foreign language when your brain is barely working well enough to do so in your own. The misery of the ordeal is yet another reason to stay as long as possible.

This trip began at 2:00 AM in Denver, when I woke an hour too early and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was already packed, so I puttered around and ate “breakfast,” or whatever you call the last meal before extended transportation hell at a time that will soon be “dinner.”

I drove to some long-term parking near the airport, dragged my boxed bike out of the car, and shoved it onto the shuttle, where it annoyed the driver and most of the other passengers. There was a family with a confused baby, a professional woman, and some Asian tourists politely masked (I had forgotten mine in the rush). Once at the airport, I dragged the box around for awhile until I found the right counter, then had to open it and add the smallest, heaviest, least threatening items to my carry-on to avoid the $100 overweight baggage fee. Thus burdened, I wound my way through security, which fulfilled my dream of being groped by a rent-a-cop despite having pre-check status and no metal objects. At least the flight was on time and I had a window seat, so I could watch the sunrise, some interesting clouds, and a lot of cornfields on my way to DC. The guy next to me emitted more farts than words, but the plane’s HEPA filters took care of that fairly quickly.

Expecting at least one flight to be late, I had a long layover scheduled in DC. All of the accessible lounges were in other terminals, and the airport requires more walking than most, so I would get some exercise between bouts of sitting. I met an interesting Canadian couple in the Turkish lounge. I talked to him because he was taking dozens of photos of a Lego couple in front of the window. Expecting this to be some hashtag-desperate play for Instagram fame, I was overjoyed to hear that he was just practicing with his camera, and that the Legos were a way to put a subject in his photos without turning them into selfies. Very Canadian. He and his partner had both left jobs in Nunavut to travel the world, and this was the first leg of theirs journey.

After talking with the Canadians for awhile, I left to proceed to my gate, only to learn that my flight was delayed by an hour, which soon became three. I guess an engine had fallen off to original plane or something, because the eventually located a replacement and pulled it around. Fortunately and uncharacteristically, the new plane was both fader and bigger than the old one, so I had two window seats to myself, and we hit ground speeds over 600 MPH. Also, flying directly over New York City at night, I got to watch a dozens of small fireworks displays from 20,000 feet.

This flight was shorter and farther south than my last one from Seattle to Dublin, so it got dark and I had no Greenland to see. I may have slept an hour or so, but the double seat was just a bit too small to get comfortable, and others had taken the middle rows. I was half-awake as I went through Swiss customs, but they didn’t ask me any questions. The surveillance state seems more overt than in the States: my European cell plan required a photo of my passport, and the airport Wi-Fi demanded a scan of my boarding pass. Of course, in the States the government simply buys this information from a private data broker.

Because of the late flight, I only made it as far as Grenoble on transit, where I finally turned my bike from an awkward box to a useful machine. I booked the closest cheap hotel to shower, organize my gear, and try to sleep for some normal hours. Things started to look better at the Carrefour, where I picked up a baguette ($1), a half-pound of Camembert ($1.30), and other sundries. In my search for cheap, dense, durable local calories, I went for a bag of pain chocolat and a large chocolate bar. I will need to carry multiple days of calories in a daypack at times, and it looks like chocolate bars and perhaps sausage may fill that role.

A half-day of trains and buses later, I finally got going under my own power at the turnoff to Ailefroide, riding about ten miles up a wooded valley to a cute town that happens to be a bouldering destination. I must have passed 100 cyclists on the climb, a few even going my way, and none passed me, so I was feeling pretty good despite my heavy and awkwardly-loaded bike. I checked into the campground, then headed into town to forage and find a way to make my load more stable. The weather looks good for the forecast window, so there’s no good reason not to get this thing started.

Silent Spring and Alps again

Finsteraarhorn from Lauteraarhorn


I have now been on the road for about three months — less time than I had planned, but still quite awhile. Though I have done a few moderately interesting things, I have not visited a major destination like the Canadian Rockies, or done much in the way of “real” outings. However, as those who follow me on Strava know, I have not been idle. This Winter was a time for consolidation, and Spring has been one for building on that foundation. Rather than adventuring, I have been turning my body and mind into the tools necessary for my larger summer objectives. I came out of the winter more interested in preparation than exploration, and that attitude has held on the road. My goal has been to improve my skills and cardiovascular fitness as much as possible while minimizing risk and wear. In other words, I have been trying to embody some level of professionalism, rather than just indulging my enthusiasm.

As some of you may remember, back before the pandemic I was planning to return to the Alps to climb the 4000-meter peaks while riding between them. With international travel reopening, and cognizant of my limited window for such athletic goals in advancing middle age, I have decided to revive that plan. Unlike last time, I have hewn closer to the principle of autonomy that has guided most of my past mountaineering. While I have not been particularly secretive, I have not sought sponsorship, publicity, or other outside aid with its concomitant constraints and obligations. The tickets are booked (thanks, Ted!), the money has been set aside, and I will be starting next week.

I plan to climb all 82 UIAA-recognized points, not just the 50-some with 100 meters of prominence I had previously planned. This adds a little time and a significant amount of technical difficulty, primarily in the Aiguilles du Diable in the Mont Blanc massif. My main concerns are having the technical skill for the cruxes, and not succumbing to overuse injury. To address them, I have spent most of May climbing in a gym as much as possible without tendon damage, and engaged in a variety of aerobic activities with an emphasis on cycling for its lower impact. This has come at the expense of longer days on my feet and harder scrambling, but I have found that those things come back quickly thanks to years of experience.

My optimal timeline is forty days, moving at a steady but sustainable pace. Some of the mountain days are ambitious, particularly in the Mont Blanc area where the huts are awkwardly placed and sometimes costly or reservation-only. However, many of the longer days are similar to ones I did four years ago, and none of the cycling days is longer than a hundred miles. In reality, with weather and improvisation, I expect the effort to take me closer to fifty days. This will leave me with a feeling of incompleteness, knowing that the route will go faster if done “right,” but I will be satisfied by setting down a mark for others to surpass.

I have always enjoyed bringing my mountaineering adventures back to inspire and share with others, so I still hope to write at length about this tour of the Alps. However, I will only have my phone with me, and just time for cursory updates between climbing the peaks, so any detailed account will have to be written afterward. What emerges will depend upon how much of my time is taken by other obligations, and how well I am able to organize my thoughts on a prolonged and intense activity. It is easy to write a book’s worth of trip reports, since they are self-contained, describe recent events, and have a natural sequential structure — I do this every year. It is much harder to write a book, even broken into chapters, as one feels obligated to add some sort of unifying structure and deeper insight. I won’t know until afterwards what that will be, or even if I will have some honest larger thing to say. I appreciate those of you who have come along for the ride so far. Onward and upward!

Human-powered Alpine 4000m peaks FKT

I am hoping to climb the Alps’ 50 prominent 4000-meter peaks as quickly as possible this summer, and have started a fundraiser to help cover the cost of this expensive project. I will write a book about the attempt, available in electronic and print format to backers. If you have already contributed, thank you! If not, please consider doing so and/or telling your friends.

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Doing the Alps the Dr. Dirtbag way

Just a homeless guy with an axe…


By the numbers, my two months in Europe and seven weeks in the Alps were more successful than I expected: 52 summits, 43 of those in the Alps, including 26 of the 49 4000-meter peaks. This was in no small part thanks to the abnormally hot and dry weather which, while terrible for the glaciers, allowed me to only fight the weather or take a forced break on a few days. But I can also credit some of the choices I made in my approach.

The most important choice by far was to rent a car. As good as public transit may be, it would be next to impossible to do back-to-back peaks from different trailheads while riding trains and buses between them. This was painfully expensive — a bit over $1300 for the rental, plus gas that ranged from 1.20€/l in Spain to 1.60€/l in France. These two things together probably cost more than the whole rest of the trip, including food, airfare, tolls, and Zermatt-area parking. However, this big chunk of cash did a lot of things. First, while public transit may be great in Europe, it is not cheap: a Eurail pass alone would have cost me around $800, and then there are buses. Second, the car was a free place to store gear I was not using, such as town clothes, laundry, and heavy/light mountain gear. Most importantly, the car was also my lodging: it turns out that a Citroën C3 is almost one Dirtbag long diagonally if you slide the driver’s seat forward, and with a fat air mattress, was both comfortable and discreet. Staying in huts or hostels would have cost at least as much as the rental, and camping seems frowned upon, though often tolerated.

Second, I did all but two outings (the Grandes Jorasses and Tasch-Dom traverse) with my Alpine fast-and-light setup: trail runners, wool socks, hiking pants, t-shirt, hoodie, shell, poncho, ice axe, and running-shoe crampons. Wearing trail runners made it possible to do summits requiring 2000 to 3000+ meters of gain in a day without destroying my knees and feet in boots. I jogged some descents, but mostly just walked quickly, since I was not trying to set any speed records. Expecting the Alps to be cold, I brought most of my winter gear, including mountain boots, softshell pants, down parka, goggles, and long underwear. I brought the parka for the Tasch-Dom, where I expected bad weather, but did not end up needing it. The only reason I used mountain boots on two occasions was for short sections of steep glacier travel for which I needed to front-point. In the future, I may be able to upgrade my fast-and-light setup to cover this sort of terrain.

Third, I did absolutely no roped glacier travel, which requires gear and partners, and dooms most Alpine climbers to heavy packs and a plodding pace. I did this with a mixture of conservative route choice and a small amount of calculated risk. Many of the large stretches of glacier travel, particularly in the late summer in the Bernese Alps, are mostly dry. A dry glacier is just about the opposite of threatening, since you can see all the holes. A mostly-dry glacier is similar, since you can just stick to the bare parts. Slightly riskier are snow-covered glaciers on popular routes. Starting from the trailhead, I was always behind the hordes starting from the hut, who put in a clear boot-pack while carrying more gear. An established boot-pack is not as safe as bare ice, but still quite low-risk if you are paying attention. Finally, on Mont Blanc, somewhat on the Finsteraarhorn, and weirdly on Monte Cevedale, I cautiously made my own way. I generally tried to do the route-finding early in the day, before snow bridges deteriorated too much, and took a cautious line at the expense of some wandering. Other than putting a leg into a small crack on a side-trip to see the artillery near Monte Cevedale, I had no glacial mishaps.

As expected, this trip was expensive, though nowhere near the insane costs of the seemingly-common guided ascents. A two-day guided climb of the Matterhorn alone costs at least 1200€; add in transportation, lodging, and a couple of restaurant meals, and such a climb could end up costing half the price of my whole trip. Food-wise, my usual trail staple of PB&H sandwiches does not work in Europe, where large jars of peanut butter are impossible to find. The best substitute I found was store-brand Nutella on wheat sandwich bread, all of which is available for around 1000 cal/$ everywhere. I supplemented this with baguette and cheese sandwiches, which are also fairly cheap, and better than anything you can buy in most of the United States. I almost entirely avoided eating in restaurants, since while groceries cost around American prices (less in Spain and Italy), restaurants are generally more, especially in Switzerland.

Perdiguero

While I was enjoying the relaxed, Sierra-like wandering around Aneto, I had some driving to do in the afternoon and evening, so after looking around the map a bit, I chose to hike Perdiguero, a fairly prominent peak with some form of “trail” leading to the summit. The trail starts at a roadside parking area just uphill of the Baños turnoff, climbing steadily out of the woods into some meadows with an old hut. I saw a shepherd and his flock, much smaller than the terrifying horde of sheep I had seen being driven down the road upon my arrival.

Perdiguero’s eastern false summit is visible from most of the trail, which climbs along a pleasant cascade before passing through a narrow slot and descending slightly to Ibonet de Literola, a small, sheltered lake. Once again demonstrating that “no camping” doesn’t mean no camping, I passed through a group packing up their tent at mid-morning right on the trail. There seem to be multiple routes up from the Ibonet, and I chose one to the left, following cairns up a steep path to the saddle with Pico Perdigueret, a small, sharp fin south of the main peak.

From the saddle, I traversed up and around on slabs, grass, and talus, then climbed some steeper but fairly stable talus to the summit ridge. The ridge goes on for over a third of a mile, slightly gaining elevation over several talus bumps. I reached the summit, on the French-Spanish border, just as three Frenchmen began descending to the north, toward the Lac du Portillon and an unknown trailhead. The crowds were coming from Spain, but I still had 10 minutes or so to enjoy the views and watch them as I ate. To the west, a small glacier clings to the slopes above Lac du Portillon, while the border continues north of Ibon Blanco de Literola over Pico Crabioles and Pico de Maupas.

I more or less followed the same path on the return, through I found it easier to stay on the ridge longer before dropping down the talus to its north. Done with my half-day outing, I went back to town for some WiFi, then realized that I still had seven hours of driving to reach Fuenta De. Ugh. The rest of the afternoon and evening was a sun-ward slog, ending with a blinding 120 kph drive away from Bilbao into the setting sun, and a slow, dark drive back into the mountains. Unfortunately the next two causal days ended up summitless hikes, but at least the scenery was nice. That is all for Dr. Dirtbag’s European adventure. There will be more climbing before winter, and probably some retrospective writing about the trip, as time allows.

Posets

Posets, the Pyrenees’ second-highest peak, is just across the Rio Esera from Aneto. It has always been a bit tough to reach, and now that the old route up the Rio Eriste is subject to an unfortunate gate-and-bus system, the best approach seems to be via the Rio Estos. (Yes, all of these E-names are confusing.) Summitpost describes a hike most of the way up the Estos, then across the La Paul and Posets Glaciers, finishing on the peak’s north ridge. I did something similar, but instead took the trail up to the col near Tuca des Corbets, then a cross-country route to Ibon Alto and the Posets Glacier. On the return, I followed the standard route partway, then cut down via Ibon de Posets o Negro and back to the col. The marked trails are not very good in the high country, so this cross-country route is not much more difficult.

I started up the Rio Estos road by headlamp, passing a small, ugly dam and reservoir. I eventually left the road on a trail to the Ibon Grande de Batisielles, a large lake around 2250m. The trail starts out broad and well-defined, then fades to a line of painted marks and bits of wear above the lake. Though there is “no camping” in the Posets-Maladeta Park, there were a couple of guys milling around a tent at one lake, who had even brought a folding chair. This seems to be a general thing in Europe: while you are technically not supposed to camp in most places, either in your car or in a tent, people seem to do it anyways without getting in trouble.

From the Tuca des Corbets col, the “trail” drops below the Ibon de Eriste to join the standard route above the hut. Instead, I made a descending traverse to Ibon Alto, then side-hilled up toward Posets’ east face. This being a non-standard route, I saw a small herd of chamois and no people. The small patches of snow were rock-hard, but easily avoided.

Nearing the face, I could see the crowds on the standard route on the left skyline, and thought I might be able to join them via the ridge left of the small glacier. Things started out encouragingly, with a cairn and bivy site, but the last bit of the ridge turned narrow and steep. I might have been able to figure it out, but was not in the mood, so I retreated to the glacier and looked for the purported ramp from it to the north ridge. I eventually spotted it, climbing left-to-right at the boundary between the gray choss of the lower ridge and the red rock making up Posets’ summit. I (barely) managed to kick steps up the snow-covered glacier secured by my ice axe, then climbed a bit of slabby rock to reach the ramp.

The red upper rock looked chossy from a distance, but was surprisingly solid under the surface scree. There seem to be a number of paths to the ridge, and I took some random fourth class line that went more straight up than right. Reaching the ridge, I saw that there is an easier trail from the next valley to the west, accounting for the handful of people I had seen on the north ridge from below. A bit of scrambling and some exposed walking led easily to the summit cross. There was a steady half-dozen people, with those leaving being replaced by a steady stream coming up the standard route. I ate my sandwich off to the side, taking in views extending west as far as Monte Perdido and Pic Vignemale.

I followed the standard trail down as far as the saddle near Tuca Alta, then dropped down mixed slopes to Ibon de Posets, where I got some probably-safe water well away from human traffic. From there, it was easy cross-country travel to the head of Ibon de Eriste, and a painful 250m climb back to the col, where I met a couple of loud groups possibly bound for the refuge. It was a weekend, so I met a few dozen more people, mostly day-hikers, on the trail back to the car. I went down to Benasque to use the pleasant internet spot under a large tree in the town square, then found a suitable spot to camp, probably illegally.