The first time I crossed the mountain pass of Urkiola and saw the parched white lime-stone peaks of the Duranguesado I figured, «yup, this is a place I could happily spend some time». That gut feeling lead to a decision and today almost fifteen years later, my passion for this singular land known as Euskal Herria has only deepened.
Euskal Herria (The Basque Country) is a jumble of craggy peaks forming the western edge of the Pyrenees. The Basque mountains are around 1000m in height, the ideal size for a day trip and there are enough to keep any hill-walker or Munro bagger happy for many life times.
Of all the Basque mountains the three best known are Gorbea (1481m) Anboto (1331m) and Aitzkori (1550m). I’ve climbed them all many times but with little else to do this Christmas figured on doing all three in as many days.
As you might expect there are those who do all three in a day. The itinerary covers just over 100km, 5000m of ascent and 5000m of descent. This year was the eighteenth edition and 1560 runners set out at midnight on a Friday. The fastest ones were crossing the finishing line at 10.30am the next morning.
But that’s just being silly really. I climb mountains because I love them. Other than climbing the only thing I do that would come close to training would be standing as opposed to sitting at my local bar.
Our expedition started on December 23 with an easy ascent of Anboto from Urkiola. It’s a five hour round trip with 700m of ascent. Beautiful day although the wind was blowing at well over 100km per hour. Made for some hair raising moments on the ridge and I had to rope up with Tximis.
Two figures struggling with the wind on a steep descent
The «Buzon» (letter box). Mountaineers leave cards here which others then send back to the club to vouch for the ascent. This one has the form of an axe.
Christmas day on Gorbea and a turn in the weather. I ventured out nonetheless enjoyed deserted roads and a festive tin of sardines on the summit with Tximis
A reasonable day though. Five hour round trip and 900m of ascent.
Day 3 Aitzkori I chose a less frequented route here up the east face ascending 1000m in a very short distance and was seven hours on the hill.
Here’s a 360º panorama of Euskal Herria from the summit of Aitzkori.
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