Heading for the Aneto (I): Pierre Barrau

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The walk on Google Earth

The walk on Google Earth

[Day 1: purple – Day 2: green – Day 3 yellow]

[GPX files 1 Mb]

We are going to climb the Aneto, the highest mountain in the Pyrenees (3404m), but there are a couple of things we want to see before we put our boots on.

Our first stop is in Bagnères de Luchon, at the shrine devoted to Pierre Barrau. Barrau was one of the first guides to attempt the glaciers surrounding the Aneto; his untimely death was to put its conquest back by 20 years. Subsequently one of his legs became an object of veneration. It is not to be missed.

Barrau died in 1824. He had been engaged to take two clients up the nearby Maladeta, but he fell into a crevasse at the top of the glacier. For ten minutes he cried: “I’ve had it,” before disappearing. He was highly respected for his mountaineering skills and his death shocked locals. For generations they would point to the mountain saying “He’s there, poor Barrau.”

The miracle which led to his canonization and the construction of the shrine is that he continued to walk even after his death, heading slowly home. After 107 years he had progressed 1400m when walkers discovered him lying at the bottom edge of the glacier. He was brought back and buried, or at least most of him was. The leg bone appeared three years later. It now lies, finally at rest, along with one of his crampons in a glass case in the Luchon museum.

So that’s what happens when you fall into a crevasse…

Barrau’s leg and crampons (left) with other early mountaineering equipmen

Barrau’s leg and crampon (left) with other early mountaineering equipment



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