Saturday, 10 August 2013

Picked clean by Vulturo


El Querforadat

It is so crumbly, I am surprised that there is anything left of the Sierra del Cadi and its highest point Vulturo/Canal Baridana. It is not just the small scree stones that move. Rocks as big as loaves of bread readily roll under your feet and occasionally so do ones the size of supermarket shopping baskets. And, when I was displacing rocks as large as supermarket trolleys I knew it was time to get away, slowly and carefully.

There was no point in trying to get away by scrambling up the escarpment face, in the few places it looked possible, as solid looking handholds came away and footholds too.

My first attempt at Vulturo (Major, 2647m, P872, JMH52, N42.28591 E1.63580) went wrong at an early stage as I missed a turn in the pista. When I realised, instead of returning to the turn, I bushwhacked my way through the pine trees in the hope of finding the right trail higher up.

In his book, JMH includes sketch maps of the routes that I copied on to pieces of paper, if I did not have a map. Usually, if the route includes a collado he depicts it with a = symbol – in this case he doesn't, misleading me into thinking that the way up was to the east of the collado between Vulturo and Puig de Les Gralleres.

When I came out of the trees I came upon the stone filled slopes as described above. With difficulty I managed to traverse around to where I thought the path would be and picked up a faint trail. This brought me to the foot of the escarpment – and I did manage to climb up to the top of a knobbly stack.
I managed to stand on that knobbly thing in the middle - yikes

I could see that others had managed to climb the next section, but it looked beyond my abilities (later when I could see what was above there, I knew I made the right decision to reverse). I was only 500 metres from the summit and about 250m below it. I traversed the difficult slope some more and tried another likely and futile way up. From this vantage point I could see that there was a ‘path’ that went up the canal to the collado. However, it was too hot, I was too exhausted and it was too late to go for it. I managed to work my way down to the foot of the canal and pick up the voie normale as a descent route.

16.61km 1407m total ascent.

Overnight at El Querforadat (1393m) – I was too tired to worry about whether I was irritating the villagers by using up one of their very limited parking spots or not. I fell asleep debating whether I was going to have another go at Vulturo.
No parking here, then
On the second day there was a bit of a breeze and patches of cloud which meant it was, thankfully, a bit cooler. I do not think I really made a conscious decision to have a second go, I just set off. There is a tiny car park (1393m) N42.32427 E1.63619 at the entrance to the pueblo. There is no point driving past here as there is virtually no more authorised parking and within a short distance there is a no entry sign on the pista.

And, no entry here
The pista goes past a large house with a walled garden and electric gates and then comes to an area of scrubland with various cattle tracks which can be used as a short cut if you know where you are heading. The easiest short cut to find starts at (1448m) N42.31857 E1.63582 and all you do is keep on the pista, and ignore any cattle tracks, until you reach the main track (1538m) N42.31448 E1.63377. Turn right and then right again at (1636m) N42.30944 E1.63144. The pista soon deteriorates into a rough path that comes out on the broad grassy Collado de Josana (with a pointy memorial stone to Jaume Mata 1952-1970) (1746m) N42.30402 E1.63247.
From here there is a choice of paths east and west. The one on the west side is better engineered, but it bypasses Collado Superior de Josana and results in having to find your own way up the lower part of the canal.
The path to the east side is intermittent and poorly marked, but gets you to the Collado Superior de Josana (1890m) N42.30083 E1.63355. From here the path improves and switches to the west side of the ridge and into the canal.

From (2095m) N42.29254 E1.63174 the ordeal begins. The collado ahead looks impossibly steep-sided. Obviously, it isn’t impossible – after all, even I made it, with only limited swearing and weeping. At the top – (2469m) N42.28673 N163013 – I ate the banana I had promised myself and then walked up the final, mercifully, easy slope to the summit ridge.
The final bit, phew.
There is some easy scrambling on this ridge that can be avoided. The summit is marked with a sign that names it as Baridana, not Vulturo and there was no sign of any vultures either. However, there were splendid views of Andorra to the north and Pedraforca to the east.

Now all I had to do was get down. Some sections of the scree were fun, some were not. Just occasionally you get scree where the stones are the size (and colour) of almonds and the slope is just right and you get a ride that feels silky and sensual – the earth moves for you. However, most of the time the stones are too big, too few or the slope is too steep/not steep enough.

16.55km 1854m total ascent.

My advice to anyone else wishing to bag Vulturo:
1.       Buy a map
2.       Find a different route up – why not arrange transport and/or take a bivvy or tent and do the full ridge of Sierra del Cadi?
3.       Bag another mountain instead – like Cap de Gallina Pelada or Pedro de Quatre Batlles.

Overnight by the N260 at La Collado des Toses (1791m)

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