12.12.12

Conangles to Andorra




Me (glasses and hat) with some very helpful Spanish walkers.
I'm now into the second half of the trip having covered about 250 miles and climbed a lot of very high hills. I wasn't peak bagging but often the climb to a col would be the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis. Think of the cols as Munros and you get the idea.
During the walk I took many pictures for the purpose of constructing panoramas. None of these appear in the bolg but can be viewed on my Flickr page. or here.

In planning my trip I paid close attention to the blogs of other walkers. I aspire to making this as useful as I found them.
Cross Gentian
The main ones are:
HRP essential
Travelling on foot
Writes of Way
Selfpowered, David used his walk to raise money for charity.For a donation you get loads more.
Touching the Light
Amy Lauterbach where I picked up the tip to carry an umbrella.
Sedgely
Tilly and Martin  I love this site.
Andy Howell
GR10 Pyrenees Walk
Gordon's Pyrenees Challenge
Judith Hind    Judith Hind walked the route photographing and identifying every flower she found.  I bought a Pyrenean flora that she referred to on her site but left it at home as it is bigger than a phonebook.
Pyrenean Haute Route 2011 This guy  did the HRP in 23 days and took time to keep a useful record.


Day 22, Wild camp to wild camp (Val de Conangles)
It was a short walk to the road and it didn’t take long to hitch a lift into Vielha. I was there before the shops opened at 10-30am so had a pleasant kerbside breakfast. I had a choice of shops and went into one that took my fancy. The owner was very helpful. I tried on a few pairs before buying. I told the owner that the shoes I was asking him to bin were literally 4 weeks old and had only done three weeks hiking. He was reluctant to believe me but agreed to old the shoes outside so that I could photograph them.
I hung around town for a while looking for an internet connection but couldn’t find one. Wi-Fi was easily available but only useful if you had your own computer. I bought some self adhesive bandage for my feet, had a pizza and headed back to the road to hike back to where I’d left the trail.
I saw a large snake by the road as I walked away from the town. It took a while to get a lift as the road was not an easy one to stop on. When I got back I walked toward the Hospital de Vielha refuge. I was met by a fairly shirty guy with a dog who informed me it was no longer a refuge. It was late afternoon so I headed out the route toward Port de Rius to a level place near trees and a river to camp. The ground here was well churned up by sanglier (wild pigs).
The sky had been threatening a weather change for a couple of days. After I had set up camp hundreds of sheep started pouring down the hill and I wondered if they had heard a forecast that I had missed. During the night world war three broke out. Thunder was continuous and overhead. The lightening was flashing like paparazzi flashguns at the Oscars. The rain was threatening to flatten my tent  I was reassuring myself that nothing I could do would make me any safer than I was. I half expected when I poked my head out in the morning to see charred trees, sheep and sanglier but apart from a low mist and some light rain all was well, though I was uncertain whether I would be able to cross the port.



Day 23 Val de Conangles to Arties.
Arties
I watched the weather rather than set off uphill.  I saw another walker approaching and asked him if he had heard a forecast. He told me he expected the clouds to clear and not to have difficulty on the hills. I quickly packed up and proceded along the path. I was soon in mist with poor visibility but able to find the reassuring red and white stripes marking the route. I met another couple of guys coming down carrying a lamb they had found on its own. The sheep in their hurry to get to low ground had left it behind. BAD BAD mothers. The path divided between a direct route uphill to the port and a longer variant route via Estany Redo. I mistook the marking for the turn uphill as a signal to go straight on. I soon realised my mistake but as I was on a path leading eventually to the port I continued.
It started to rain heavily and blow harder. I got close to the lake when visibility became an academic concept. I was totally dependent on my GPS to tell me where I was. I climbed a rocky slope to a small building overlooking the lake. Except I could see the lake. I tried the door but it was locked. I was now out on the hill in a gale.
I sat in the lee of the building confident that I could put up my tent if necessary and sit out the storm for a day or two if necessary. I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and waited. Then a group of local Spanish walkers turned up. They knew the area well and insisted on escorting back down. I was not keen to go back to the valley. By the time we reached the turn uphill that I had passed the weather had eased considerably so I said my goodbyes to my new friends and crossed my fingers that I would at least get over the col before the weather broke again. My helpers had said the forecast was bad.
Font at Sobira
I cleared to col and followed the GR11 to Refugi de la Restanca. According to my map the GR11 would drop into the valley and take me to the road to Arties. My plan was to give Restanca a miss. The path that I should have taken had the red and white ‘X’ marking indicating that it wasn’t the GR11 so I stayed  on the path I was on. This led up to Restanca by a loathsome excuse for a path. The refuge is a large building by a dammed reservoir. It had been originally built to accommodate worker building the dam. A fairly steep unpleasant path took me back down and connected me to the Arties road.
I now had about 5 miles of road walking to do. Soon I was dining on copious raspberries and redcurrants  along the side of the road. But the plod was long and the plod was slow.
I eventually found the campsite and it was a good one. As soon as my tent was up the skies opened again, but while the thunder roared and the lightening cracked I was enjoying a very fine pizza and a litre of San Miguel. Much of the campsite was under water when I returned to my tent but my pitch was dry...ish.
Pipe cemented into crack in the rock to catch rainwater.
I had told Dave that I would be in Arties if he wanted to join me again though I was there sooner than I had planned. I would have one rest day here but wanted to get away again after that. I phoned home from the campsite asking my partner to talk to Dave’s partner to find out his plans. I said I would phone home again the following night. That was the only time on my trip that I had specified exactly when I would phone. But the storm knocked out the phones and the next evening calling was impossible. I was worried about scaring my partner and did manage to get a call through at 7-00am the following morning.
Arties is a tourist town. Very little exists of the original hamlet, all is modern ski lodge type buildings. It also has two captive bears on display in a caged enclosure. I didn’t like that. I shopped in a posh delicatessen. The only tea I could buy was Twinings ‘Prince of Wales’ tea. Yes I know you have never heard of it. It is a  tea that you can’t buy in England except on the internet. The pack lasted almost to the end of my walk and I grew quite fond of it.
Having heard that Dave wouldn’t be joining me again I hit the road.


Day 24 Arties to Espot.
There is a carpark a couple of miles out ofArties where walkers park before going into the hills. The track I was taken started from the carpark. As I had already walked to the carpark and indeed beyond it I felt justified in hitching a lift back to it.
The walk to Espot was long and tiring and I was soon back amidst soulless granite.
I took the circuit around Colomers rather than over the col. The track had been severely damaged by the rains and it was officially closed. I met a couple of mountain bikers coming the other way who asked me if it was safe to proceed. I warned them about a couple of spots where the floods had cut through the track but where bikes could be got through.  Refuge de Colomers and the lakes were a bit of a tourist trap. The crowds were gathering.  The higher I rose towards Port de Ratera the fewer people I saw. I was entering a barren landscape of broken tumbled granite and mountain lakes. The view back down the valley was breathtaking.
Els Encantats
The decent to Espot was slow and rough. It was a hot sunny day but fortunately no shortage of water which is the saving grace of granite.
 Espot is a centre for visiting the popular sights of Estany San Maurici and the Catentats. This is the busiest part of the Parc National de Aiquestortes. It was a place I knew from previous visits but which had developed substantially since. A continuous stream of vehicles ferried people to and from the lake. I resisted the temptation to take a ride into town. But I was tired and footsore when I reached the Voraparc campsite which was packed to the gunnels. So packed they packed me off to find somewhere else. Fortunately there was another campsite in the town itself. This one had space and was very welcoming. The owner was curious about my Irish passport and introduced me to her daughter who had worked in Bray for a while. I met a hiker doing the GR11. He was heading to La Guingueta D’Aneu the next day. My plan was to reach Estaon.

Day 25 Espot to Estaon
Dorve
 I was able to buy meths and bread before leaving Espot. It was clearly going to be a hot day. The route to Guingueta is mostly on road and not very interesting. I watched two elderly gentlemen walking at a leisurely pace ahead of me but was surprised at how long it took me to catch them. They in turn were bemused by my umbrella. La Guingueta sits on a main road and I saw nothing to recommend it. I ordered lunch at the Gite and then ordered second. They clearly weren’t accustomed to the dietary requirements of hikers. I headed off uphill to Dorve in the midday heat. I was out of the granite now and passed a series of dried up stream beds and hoped that reports of water at Dorve weren’t wrong.
Dorve was fascinating. I don’t know if anyone lives there still though someone keeps a garden. Otherwise it looks totally deserted. The buildings are disintegrating and bullet holes are visible. It is easy to imagine that this was the sight of conflict under Franco.
Water was plentiful and I rested in the shade for an hour.
The track uphill is not clear and I had to check maps and GPS a couple of times. The problem is that there are too many tracks and too few GR11 signs so I ended up doubling back. I was looking for a gap in the ridge that takes you onto a path that rises through woodland.
Dorve
Again at the top the variety of options confused me for a while. I met a couple with a young child at the top and asked them about the route. I too them for day trippers picnicking but they told me they were about to set up their tent. They were doing the GR11, east to west, with their child. Sure,  they told me,  progress was slow but who cares. There was no water to be had between Dorve and Estaon but they had carried enough.
It was a long decent into Estaon. I was keeping an eye out for suitable places to camp for the night but didn’t find any. The flat grassy  summit would have been ideal but I wanted to cover more distance. It was another one of those occasions when you find the best site earlier than you want to stop but then have to keep going because there is nowhere else.
It was about 8-30 when I reached Estaon. Quaint or what. This is an extraordinary little hamlet of old buildings huddled together in a tight little valley. Too small to get lost in but too complex not to. I asked a woman in the street if she knew of somewhere I could camp and she offered me her back yard. The yard was tiled with broken slate and I was nervous of my groundsheet. I was able to find enough gaps between the slates to get tent pegs in. I cooked some pasta and sardines and had a lovely night’s sleep. If I had walked on another 30 minutes I could have found suitable spots along the river. There is a refuge in Estaon which was closed when I passed through.

Day 26 Estaon to Camping Serra
Two overly long days had left me tired again. I would try to make this a short day. I was up early and away before any sign of life in the town so didn’t get to thank my host. The route skirts the valley side eventually dropping to the riverside due north to Bordes de Nibros.  Here it zig zags up the valley dise and over the Col de Jou. The decent on the other side is heavily eroded but not to difficult. By now, mid morning the heat of the day was becoming oppressive. I met a couple walking with a dog. The dog was carrying its own panniers. They were doing the GR11 from the Mediterranean and had come through Tavascan. They told me there was nowhere to camp there.
I decided to skip Tavascan and drop down to Camping Serra south of Lladorre. I reached it about 1-00am. At reception the owner put my rucksack in a golf buggy and drove me around the site to choose a pitch.
Electric fence on crash barrier
I set up and was soon approached by my Spanish neighbour, Carlos. This was a very hospitable site. It appeared that everyone knew everyone else and were mostly Barcelonans decanted for the summer. I was introduced to someone else whose English was very good. We were soon talking politics at the site cafe. Once again my Irishness attracted attention and I was assumed to be a fellow struggler for the freedom of small nations. If anyone on this site wasn’t a Catalan nationalist, I’m sure they weren’t letting on.
I stocked up at the site shop which was small but adequate, had coffee with Carlos and back to the cafe for a pizza, which I’m sure I forgot to pay for. Carlos asked me what Time I was leaving in the morning and I told him I would be up at 6-00am. He insisted that he to would be up at 6 and make me a coffee before I left. He told me we were in a heatwave butthe weather would be cooler in a couple of days.

Day 27 Camping Serra to Plat de Boet.

This was to be a long day starting with a big climb to Coll de Tudela.
 At 6 it was still dark and the site was dead quiet. True to his word, Carlos was ready with the coffee. I packed  up in silence and was hoisting my heavy sack on my back when  Carlos presented me with a bag of groceries which I could neither refuse nor find room for in my sack.
I waited until I was clear of the site to have a look at what I had and decide what to do. Bread was always welcome, but I had a number of peaches, some tomatoes, a toilet roll, a packet of salt and more. I decided to eat the peaches and tomatoes straight away.  By the time I reached Boldis Sobera they were gone. Fruit and veg were always in short supply, and to heavy to carry. My usual custom was to make sure I had plenty when stopping at a village but not to carry any. 

Water font at Boldis
The route to Boldis was on the road and I noticed that a farmer had incorporated his electric fence into the crash barrier. Metal rods supporting the fence had been inserted into the hollow uprights supporting the barrier. I warned myself not to rest on the barrier. I have rarely seen anything so stupid and funny at the same time. A cyclist landing against the barrier and touching the electric fence would be perfectly earthed. I suppose you could think of it as instant defibrillation.

I was met by a couple of large dogs at Boldis where there was a water font enabling me to refill. This would be one of the hottest days yet so I was happy that the route to the coll would be mostly through woodland. The ascent was through forest tracks which contoured  along the slope before rising. GR11 signs were few and far between so I was anxious at one stage that I had somehow gone off the route. But there were no other tracks to follow. The crest of the col was unshaded and on the short climb over I was glad of my umbrella. I would use it a lot today.
Boldis Sobera
It was a 1000m drop to Areu, a decent into stifling heat. There was one bar open where I decided to sit for a couple of hours hoping the day would cool. A group of young people sat near me. They were a mix of nationalities so were using English as a common language. Conversation ranged from sex to skiing;  philosophy to responsibilities for elderly parents.
At about 4-00pm I set off again though the day was still very hot. I was walking on the road for the first mile or so and able to replenish my water from streams. The path was rising through  the valley. The road ran out and dirt tracks took me up the valley side into the welcome shade of the woods.  I still had a long way to go to reach the Pla de Boet where I intended to camp. At one point I was worried that I’d climbed to high and was on another track but I was fine.  As I approached the Refuge de Val Ferrera about eight o’clock I met a woman hiker. We exchanged pleasantries, I asked her how from my destination I was.  She was in the area climbing peaks and had just come down from Pica D’Estats which she highly recommended. When I told her I had walked from the Atlantic she commented on how much I must have to eat to fuel such exertions.
The guide book warns that Pla de Boet is a popular camping spot and that I might even have to pay a small fee to camp there. In fact I had the plain to myself. It is a very fine place to stop. The cattle were welcoming but so also were a few midges. I think this is the only place in the Pyrenees where I did get bitten by the little blighters but in reality they were not a deterrent to camping, merely an echo of experiences in Ireland and Scotland.
I was able to wash some clothes in the stream, photograph the sunset and enjoy an evening meal of pasta and sardines.

Camped at Pla de Boet

Day 28 Pla de Boet to Camping D'Ancalonga (Andorra)
Today would take me over the probably the steepest col of my trip, Port de Baiau (2760m). I had a choice of entry points into Andorra. The easier Port de Bouet would have taken me into a ski station but positioned me better for crossing Andorra.
It was a long uphill climb to Refuge de Baiau though much of it through pleasant woodland and open grassland. My starting point at Pla de Boet was well under 2000m. I rose eventually into the wasteland. Wonderful lakes sit under an intimidating wall of crags. It was difficult to look up at them and think there might be a sensible route through. The refuge at 2,500m was an iron shed bolted to the rock and held down with steel hawsers. One didn’t want to experience the type of weather this was built to resist.
A Spanish mountaineering group were using the refuge and planning their own ascent of the col. I had lunch and made myself sociable seeing the opportunity to keep company on this difficult climb. Clouds were gathering and rain looked likely later. I was sure (correctly) that we would get over the col dry but thought that rain on those gravelly slopes would be a much greater hazard that wind or mist.
Refuge de Baiau
The climb was, in the end, pleasant and it was reassuring to be in the company of a group who were looking out for each other. The main disadvantage was that I had to watch out for stones being set rolling by people in front.  At one point the gradient was at the limit of what I could climb and I struggled to get purchase on broken rock. We all made it up to the col and rested there. I was continuing down into Andorra towards refuge Comapedrosa and the group were climbing higher. The decent was every bit as barren as the ascent but not as steep but I had nearly 600m to shed before I could dine in comfort.
Looking back from Col de Baiau


Refuge Comapedrosa was a welcome stop and the food was good. I arrived about 4-00 pm. I walked on further along the GR11 which carries on down the valley before climbing again over Col de les Cases and dropping down to a campsite. By the time I reached the turning it was raining heavily. I could see nowhere to camp as I was entering an urban area near Arsinal and decided to hitch a lift. The lift took me to Pont D’Ordino from where I walked another few miles on the road to the campsite at, the wonderfully named,  D’Ansalonga.
The campsite was good except for a few idiot Englishmen partying all night.

Day 29 D’Ansalonga to l’Hospitalet Pres l’ Andorra
I was not enjoying Andorra. I should have stuck to the northern regions and avoided the urban areas. But now I decided to leave the place as expeditiously as possible and got the bus to Pas de la Casa on the border with France. This took two buses, the first into Andorra city itself. This made for a fairly miserable alternative to hiking the cols.
Pas de la Casa was a real shock. I may not have found it attractive but the hundreds of drivers queuing to get in clearly did. It was a shopping mall of ginormous proportions.  It is at 2000m, the mist was down and it was cold. I walked the road to l’Hospitalet and it was the most unpleasant part of my trip. However the campsite at l’Hospitalet, despite comments I have read elsewhere, was a gem. A family site rather than a trekkers site but very relaxed. The reception had free coffee, toys for children and a computer for the free use of people like me. I ate the food that I had left and walked back into the town later to buy more. The shop is a very small appendix to a small cafe but it met my needs. The cheese was expensive but delicious.
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