âIf it's still not clear, I'm talking about sleeping on top of the Pyrenees; spending the night on the highest peaks to ensure you get a front row seat in a play starring Helios and Selene. It's impossible not to tremble and feel moved by these two hypnotic natural phenomenon as they stain the landscape red and orange and provide a back light for the shapes and forms, letting your imagination roam free, taking you back to places long forgotten. This is scientific evidence of the passing of time, a metaphor for the passion we feel for the mountains, portrayed by a bright red light, an allegory of the natural and impossible love between Helios and Selene and a dream-like experience that, if planned well, will present us with some of the most marvellous moments we have ever lived in the mountains.â
Since they were formed, the Pyrenees have been an inspiration for all kinds of people; explorers, adventurers, geographers, geologists, biologists, anthropologists, musicians, painters and a many writers who have left us a magnificent legacy of Pyrenean literature. All this scientific, human and social inspiration possibly stems from the poetical character of the mountains. The maximum expression of the aesthetic and harmonic combined with the wild and epic mountains, valleys, rivers and glaciers.
From my humble opinion, the maximum poetical interpretation of the Pyrenees is expressed twice a day. We will start at the end of the day, at sunset, that special moment when twilight tells us to say farewell, announces our time of rest and says goodbye to the light and warmth as it gives way to the moon and stars covering a magical sky to the delight of anyone who dares to look at the gods. Sunrise, daybreak or dawn represent the beginning of a new day, set us off to achieve our dreams, a starting point for a new game, the joyful arrival of daylight that opens our eyes to soak in every detail and the warmth of the sun that strokes our face as we are woken from our night on top of the world.
If it's still not clear, I'm talking about sleeping on top of the Pyrenees; spending the night on the highest peaks to ensure you get a front row seat in a play starring Helios and Selene. It's impossible not to tremble and feel moved by these two hypnotic natural phenomenon as they stain the landscape red and orange and provide a back light for the shapes and forms, letting your imagination roam free, taking you back to places long forgotten This is scientific evidence of the passing of time, a metaphor for the passion we feel for the mountains, portrayed by a bright red light, an allegory of the natural and impossible love between Helios and Selene and a dream-like experience that, if planned well, will present us with some of the most marvellous moments we have ever lived in the mountains.
PLANNING A SUMMER'S NIGHT ON A MOUNTAIN TOP
Planning a bivy on a Pyrenean summit partly depends on the level of comfort you require. Bearing in mind that the first day is only the ascent and consequently splits in two what you'd normally undertake in one day, you can carry more gear in your pack to make it an experience you'll never forget.
For safety and for your enjoyment it's essential to check the weather forecast and choose a clear, cloudless day to avoid being exposed to the danger of high mountain thunderstorms. And cloudy weather would also prevent you from seeing sunrise and sunset, leaving you with a memory of a just a cold and possibly wet night stuck on a mountain.
The summer nights can be warm but temperatures can also suddenly drop to below 0ÂºC. The weather forecast is not an exact science and we should always be prepared for unpredictable situations. I wouldn't skimp on a good down sleeping bag to keep out the cold with an approximate comfort temperature of -10 to -5ÂºC, a good bivy bag to shed rain and wind and a good sleeping mat for insulation and comfort. I've managed to puncture several inflatable mats and I now prefer to use a classic mat, although a combination of the two would be best and only slightly heavier. A rain shower on the top of the mountain is not uncommon, but if it turns into an unexpected storm you'll have to pack up, put on your headlamp and get off the mountain as quickly as possible.
Clothing is personal, but for greater comfort, I would suggest taking an exchange of clothes so that you can stay dry and snug. Apart from that, you'll need the usual mountain clothes for a 2 day trek, such as a waterproof jacket and you'll probably also appreciate a lightweight down jacket. However there's no need to stuff your pack full of extra layers as you'll have a good sleeping bag to keep you warm and snug.
Food & drink
Another important matter is food and drink. This depends on your personal likes and dislikes. In my case I like to sleep with a bottle of water next to me, so I make sure I fill up at the last water point on the trail. As a guideline I'd suggest you reach the peak with 1 or 2 litres of water per person so that you have enough for supper, during the night, breakfast and getting back to the water point. I have occasionally carried up to 6 litres of water in my pack to ensure I don't run out, but as I said, this is a personal choice.
As far as food is concerned, we can opt for a fast menu based on sandwiches, nuts, chocolate and something for breakfast or go for a more luxurious touch and carry up your gas stove to make something hot, like pasta, lentils or a nice bowl of soup to ensure you get a warm start to your night and awake on the summit to the smell of coffee.
Other important questions
It's essential to control the time of sunset and sunrise so that you reach the peak and wake up on time. Nothing is more frustrating than reaching the summit too late because of a bad calculation or forgetting to set your alarm clock and waking up when the sun is already high and hot. A good camera will immortalise these marvellous moments and reaching the peak without a battery will be a real let down, so that's something else to check. Many of the ascents are in the high mountains so you may need to take crampons, an ice-axe or specific gear that isn't mentioned in this article. Once these details are under control, all you need to do is get out there and enjoy.
PEAKS FOR BIVYING
Can you sleep on any peak? The answer is no. A night can be spent on most peaks, but the concept of sleep implies a good night's rest and many peaks are just not suitable for this. You need a peak with a more or less horizontal surface so that you can extend your sleeping mats without the risk of rolling off the edge in your sleep. For example, the Pala de Ip is a peak with marvellous views but it's so steep that it's too uncomfortable and you'd have to spend the night sitting up, which would soon turn what should have been a great night into tedious torture as you count the hours till sunlight.
It goes without saying that everyone likes to reach a peak that's nice and clean. For this reason, we stress the importance of picking up even more rubbish than you take with you. That way you'll help compensate the negative action of litter-louts who don't take other mountaineers into account.
Here we describe some of the Pyrenean peaks with a bivy either on the actual peak or a few metres away.
ANETO 3.404m (Valle de Benasque)
The king of the Pyrenees, this is the highest peak in our mountain range and at 3,404m there's nothing blocking the view from the top. Sunset takes place over the Posets Massif and sunrise over Salvaguardia massif. In spite of being one of the highest bivies and certainly not one to miss, it isn't the most stunning or spectacular, but it's certainly a wonderful experience and a great place to spend a summer's night.
Route: Besurta-Renclusa Hut-PortillÃ³n Superior-Glacier-Collado de Coronas. A good bivouac on the summit.
SALVAGUARDIA 2.758m (Valle de Benasque)
On this beautiful summit, you'll find a spectacular sunrise over the area of LuchÃ³n and a perfectly balanced combination of height gain, time and effort make it one of the most comfortable. The glaciers on the north face of the Maladeta & Aneto massif provide some amazing contrasts of light. You certainly won't be disappointed and it's easy to evacuate quickly if need be, so it's ideal for beginners.
A good bivouac on the summit.
POSETS 3.375m (Valle de Benasque)
The second highest peak in the Pyrenees. Posets or Llardana as the locals call it. A truly spectacular red made richer by the red tones of the rock. The ascent is long but highly recommendable and with a varied trail which is fairly easy in spite of the height gain.
Route: Espigantosa-Ãngel Orus Hut-Canal Fonda. A good bivouac on the summit.
MONTE PERDIDO 3.355 (Ordesa)
This peak is one of the most legendary and is rich in Pyrenean history. It is also the third highest in the mountain range. The ascent is long and steep and takes a whole day but gives exceptional views of the National Park. A scandalous sunrise and sunset on a luxurious balcony.
Route: Pradera de Ordesa-Cola de caballo-GÃ³riz Hut-Ibon chelau-Escupidera. A good bivouac on the summit.
TAILLÃN 3.144m (Bujaruelo)
This mountain stands on the border between Ordesa and Gavarnie, on the dividing line between France and Aragon and the summit boasts a magnificent panoramic view. The peak is quite windy but a good bivy will offer protection against the elements.
Route: MesÃ³n de Bujaruelo-collado de Bujaruelo-Serradets Hut-Brecha de Rolando. A good bivouac on the summit.
GRAN VIGNEMALE 3.298m (Gavarnie Francia)
This peak has also made its mark in history over the years and has filled the pages of literature by Count Russell-Killough. The last part of the ascent is a bit technical, but the setting is spectacular and the huge glacier plateau is stunning. A beautiful giant with outstanding features.
Route: Lago de Ossoue-Oulettes de Ossoue-Baysellance Hut-Glaciar de Ossoue. Bivouac on the summit.
MIDI DÂ´OSSAU 2.885m (Portalet-Formigal)
A volcanic Matterhorn of the Pyrenees, it's essential to have the technical know-how to climb this mountain. It doesn't reach 3000m but the Midi dÂ´Ossau is one of the most difficult peaks for the classic mountaineer. The difficulty is increased by the weight of the pack, so it's recommendable to be extremely careful and take a rope. You can't bivy on the very top, but there's a good place about 50 m lower down. To see the sunset (more beautiful than the sunrise from this peak) you should stay on the top but sunrise can be seen from your bivouac.
Route: Portalet-Pombie Hut-Collado de SuzÃ³n. A good bivouac on the summit.
OROEL 1.769m (Jaca)
This small peak is perfect for beginners, thanks to its easy & comfortable ascent, descent and evacuation if something doesn't go to plan. You don't really have to sleep there to see sunrise or sunset as it doesn't take long to climb to the top from the Parador de Oroel. A beautiful sunset can be seen from the rounded peak. The low height gain makes for a comfortable climb.
Route: Parador de Oroel- No bivouac but it's very horizontal.
COLLARADA 2.886m (Canfranc VillanÃºa)
In my point of view, this is one of the most marvellous peaks for this kind of adventure. In the heart of the Pyrenees, this peak offers an exquisite sunset and fantastic sunrise. A delight and highly enjoyable. The ascent has a high height gain and there's aren't many places for filling your water bottle on the route, but it's more than worth the effort when you reach the top.
Route: VillanÃºa-la Trapa Hut-Fuente de los Campanales (dry spring). A good bivouac on the summit.
A beautiful and legendary summit for its winter climbs and ski slopes but not as well known for being the Hotel of a thousand stars. It's not one of the most comfortable peaks but it has one of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the BisaurÃn and Collarada mountains. A hot climb and there's no water on the way although if you're lucky, you'll find some snow to melt at the end on the col, but don't count on it.
Route: AÃsa-RigÃ¼elo-Paso estrecho-Gran Lapiaz las llanas-Collado de la garganta del Aspe - 2 single bivouacs 20m south of the summit.