|Me (glasses and hat) with some very helpful Spanish walkers.|
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.
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.
Tilly and Martin I love this site.
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.
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.
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 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.|
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.
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 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.
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 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|
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.
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.
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|
|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.