Haute Route Pyrenean stage 3 – Gavarnie to Salardu (150k in 5.5 days)

Day 10 – Gavarnie to Lac Barroude – two rolled ankles, a skinned knee, a great lunch, and a misty afternoon

30k hiked, c.2900m ascent, bivouacked next to Lac Barroude

In total 306.5k walked, 1.8kg cheese consumed

I didn’t have much of a plan today. I had hoped to sleep in as was planning on taking advantage of breakfast as had paid for it (normally I don’t bother). Sadly I woke up at 6 anyway so had to wait until 7.30 for petit dejeuner. After two yogurts, some fruit, baguette and butter, croissant and jam and three cafe au laits I headed out into a misty but not too wet morning. Ok so I had no views at all for four hours including the entirety of the 1100m ascent up to Hourquette d’Alan but at least it was cool and not too wet (though I did have to get out the raincoat and gloves as I started the descent). I entertained myself with my back catalogue of super cheesy songs including lots of musical numbers, some Dolly, Bruce, John Denver.

The sun came out at the bottom of the gloriette valley and I was so happy (and I was singing) so I forgot to watch my feet and fell badly, rolling my ankle. Arse! Nothing for it but to get up and walk on it in my experience, otherwise it swells and hurts too much. It was pretty wobbly, so I was a mite grumpy when I rolled it again about 15 minutes later this time skinning my knee. I looked a right dork hobbling around the lake at the dam with blood pouring down my leg. Arse!

I cheered myself up with the thought of lunch at the Auberge de La munia – I was on track to make it on time, I just had to endure 5km of tarmac. Nothing for it but to sing, no one else was on the road except cars who wouldn’t hear my singing anyway. I got to La Munia at 1.30 and had a fantastic lunch (photo below).

I continued up the valley, ascending another 700m to the cabane aguilous, arriving at 4pm in very misty conditions . I had a choice of camping there (as there was water albeit you had to look for it as the stream was quite dry) or continuing for another 3 hours to the lovely lac barroude . I checked the weather forecast and there was no storm coming but rain was forecast for tomorrow. My legs were feeling ok, so I had a cup of tea and kept going

The last three hours were very quiet and misty, I didn’t see a soul traversing the slightly hairy Hourquette ridge and the scree slope up to the barroude wall. It was pretty misty when I arrived at the lakes but I could see enough to find a nice (albeit windy) pitch. A solid 11 hour day. My skinned knee looks a bit gross and the ankle is wobbly, fingers crossed it all feels better tomorrow. It was bloody cold (garmin said 3 degrees with 40 km winds) and it took me three cups of tea to warm up. A solid gratin dauphinois for dinner, and apple, some more cheese and a hot chocolate and to sleep

Day 11 – Lac Barroude to near Urdiceto Power station – rain kept me in the tent for 6 hours

25 hiked, c.1100m ascent, bivouacked next to the stream after the power station

In total 331.5k walked, 2kg cheese consumed

Given yesterdays solid outing, I decided to try for another sleep in, and made it to 7.10am – whoop whoop. I woke up to torrential rain and mist. It had taken me a long time to warm up yesterday evening, and the weather said it was 1 degree outside my tent so i wasn’t keen to get soaking. Garmins weather said it would clear around 11 so I made a few coffees and read Human by Matt Haig. By 12 it was still torrenting down. I updated the weather on the garmin who assured me there was zero chance it was raining, and no rain expected.

Hmmmm. That meant I could probably walk my way out of the weather if I headed down. Oh well, by then I had tent fever anyway (a duplex is a palace for a hiker but not to spend a day in), so I put on all my layers and headed out. I was rewarded by some sun which came accompanied with fierce winds and hail. I assured myself the wind would drop when I got over the top of the Port barroude to descend the other side. Nope! It got worse. Oh well, nothing for it but to plod on through the weather and not fall over. I eventually made it to the refuge at the valley floor where there were other day hikers. And another hour later to the car park on the main road through the valley. The HRP then requires you to walk 3.5km on a super busy narrow highway to get to the next section. Bugger that. Like a lot of HRp-ers, I asked a lovely Spanish couple for a ride. And they were super friendly and dropped me off safely.

In other great news a restaurant has opened at where they dropped me off, so I stopped for a 3.30pm steak and cheesecake (literally the best cheesecake I have ever eaten, including versus the famous basque cheesecake at Lurra in London). I cleared a few emails and then headed up the hill to camp. I could have stayed at the restaurant (they let you camp for free), but the next 12k is a boring slog up a forest road so I figured I may as well get a head start on it.

The weather closed in again as I got higher (the restaurant was at 1200m in the valley). By 2000 m it was alternating rain, wind and sun, or all three. I found an ok pitch down by the stream, not ideal as it was visible from the road and I was technically bivoacking early at 7pm vs the Spanish rules or 8.30, but it was getting cold and I wanted to get in the tent before it bucketed down.

A not particularly inspiring day but I got a hitch, a steak and a cheese cake…. And I didn’t freeze my butt off. So that’s got to be a win

Day 12 – Near Urdiceto Power station to Camping aneto – a long, fun and hot day, ending in a weird campsite

32k hiked, c.1900m ascent, camped in hell but got a shower and some fruit !

In total 362.5k walked, 2.3kg cheese consumed

It was a blustery night and I woke up at 6am feeling the breeze. I stayed snuggled up until 6.30 then packed up and headed out at 7. It was an easy cool stroll up to the Collada de Urdiceto and an easy descent on decent paths to the valley except for an encounter with an exceptionally large herd of cows who all had tiny babies. I endeavoured to get around then and got some heather scratches and a bit of a bush bash. They were mighty pissed off but they didn’t trample me

I arrived at the Refugio de Viados at 10.45 too early for food, so cooked my own breakfast on the terrace and gossiped with Clelea from France who is hiking the HRO in the opposite direction. We exchanged notes on food and good places to pitch.

I headed out in the heat at 11.30 for the 900m grunt up to the Puerto Gistain which was a stunning walk (last year I did it in the mist), and I stopped for a gossip there with Dita from the Czech Republic who is also hiking solo. (If you weren’t aware as a female long distance hiker you are obliged to stop and chat to other solo female hikers – it’s a rule :-))

The descent down to Refugio de Estos was hot but solitary so I sang along to whatever was on my Deezer and stopped for the odd dance break (I really can’t sing but I enjoy it so much and up here noone can hear me). I arrived at 4, and assumed I was too late for food but got fried eggs and ham – not bad

Then it was a 2 hour 10km stroll to the valley on my wobbly ankle. I had stopped at Camping Aneto last year for lunch and the food was good. There was apparently another campsite 30mins further, and no free or scenic bivouacking for another three hours.

By this time I had done what the guidebook said would take 13 hours in about 9.5, it was 6.30pm and I was sunburnt and tired and my legs were done. I went to reception and got a pitch and am now surrounded by weird noisy people for whom communal camping is a holiday. But the bright side is that I could stop walking, I got a shower, and they had a shop so bought and ate three organic yogurts, a kiwi, a nectarine, an apple and a whole goats cheese. Time for bed

Day 13 – Camping aneto to Estany gran (near Refugio Anglos) – a stunning day with lake swims

24.5k hiked, c.2250m ascent,

In total 387k walked, 2.4kg cheese consumed

So the man in the tent next to me last night had the worst and most varied snore of any I have ever heard. Truly an orchestra with many instruments, grunting, wheezing, classic snore noises, he had it all. It didn’t help me sleep, but at one point I resorted to trying to outsnore him to see if I could wake him up. It didn’t work. Oh well

I dragged myself up at 6.30, ate the rest of my fruit and yogurt and headed out. The first 13.5k to refugio coronas was a bit dull, a forest road up through a ravine, climbing 800m, but at least it was cool. The only small challenge was watching three bus loads of hikers drive by…….

Once at the Refugio coronas the real hiking started. It was a glorious morning and the wild flowers were stunning. I overtook a bunch of day hikers and then stopped around 10.30 to make some coffee and eat some cheese (the last of the brebis from Gavarnie, let’s hope it’s ok), some saucisson and nuts and lather on the sun screen. (I am getting really hungry these days!)

I then slowly meandered my way up and around the lovely vallebierna lakes and navigated the boulder field to the collada, stopping to take lots and lots of photos. The Col is stunning and has signal so I sent a good morning to my lovely husband who is kindly bringing my resupply to vielha in a couple of days.

From the top it was a 45 minute boulder bounce (carefully on wobbly ankle) to the Refugio cap de llauset. I remember last year I was too early for food, so I was delighted I had timed it right for coffee, sausage and fried potatoes and some chocolate mousse – outstanding. Plus they have a full bar (not that I drink, but quite unusual for a refuge). Oh and flushing loos and hot showers and small rooms vs big dorms (if you like staying in Refugios this would be a good one) .

I meandered slowly up to the next Col enjoying the views of lac estanyet and down the other side with lovely views of the four lakes of the cap de anglios. I met the lovely Rasul (Iranian) and David (Catalan) on the way down and we gossiped about life, marriage and politics. They left me at the lakes at Anglos with some fresh eggs they hadn’t used on their trip :-).

I had a swim in the warmer lake (ubaga ) and given I had time scouted all the lakes and the cabin for the best place to bivouac. (It was only 4pm but I was ahead of schedule for my resupply so I may as well stay in the nicest spots). I found a small private island (reached by crossing a little ford) at the north end of the estany gran. It had been used before (some bugger left pistachio shells), but still a delightful spot (and certainly there was nothing as nice for at least the next five hours).

I made tea, ate nuts, and was already hungry again at 6.30 so had dinner (I added the eggs to a ready meal – stirring them in directly – not bad). Continued reading bone clock by David Mitchell and fell asleep late at 10pm

Day 14 – Estany gran (near Refugio Anglos) to Lac deth cap deth port (Near Refugio Restanca)

25k hiked, c.1700m ascent, pitched by the tiny lake at Cap deth Port

In total 412k walked, 2.5kg cheese consumed

I had a lovely nights sleep on my private island, it did occur to me that no amount of money in the world could have reserved that spot :-). I have another relatively easy day, although the guide book says it is about 11 hours walking.

I headed out at 7.15 for the memorable descent to the road. There is about an hour of it which is quite the work out, bouldery hopping and hanging off trees to descend. I got a sweat up and then surprised an old German man who had camped at the bottom of the hill (no tent, just had his mattress on a bench). It took just under two hours to the road, and then it was a 3k walk to the Refugio conangles – which is an odd place as it is a refuge on a highway. But the lovely man made me two cafe con leches and a ham and cheese sandwich at 9.30 for breakfast.

From conangles a lovely uphill climb to Port du Ruis. The highlight of the climb was meeting a group of c.40 scouts. Nothing like overtaking 40 fifteen year olds to motivate me to some speed. They were all quite lovely.

The ruis lakes are delightful and you meander through several of them, up and down, en route to Collada del Mar. I only saw two large groups of hikers up there (both sitting eating) so it felt like I had the place to myself. I had a hot chocolate before the final climb to the Col with my feet in the water.

The view from the collada del lac del mar is one of my favourite views in the Pyrenees. Stunning! I meandered down the other side, had a big potato based lunch and contemplated swimming but i wasn’t quite hot enough. There were two mad people who swam to the big rock in the middle and one jumped off (I met them later in Restanca, unsurprisingly they were kiwis).

I then boulder bounced my way down to Restanca, arriving a couple of hours before I expected, so I bought a chorizo and cheese sandwich to supplement my dinner (I really am hungry), sat in the shade, used the free WiFi and chatted to Rowena and Jacob (the mad kiwis).

Eventually at six I moved my butt up to Lac deth cap deth port, where I had had a lovely bivouac last year, and reclaimed the spot. Mushroom pasta, huge sandwich and hot chocolate. Yum.

Day 15 – Lac deth cap deth port (Near Refugio Restanca) to Salardu

18.5k hiked, c.850m ascent,

In total 430.5k walked, 2.5kg cheese consumed

It’s a half day today, as am meeting the worlds best husband in Salardu for a resupply and for a nights eating!

I set off at 7.15 after having a chat with Jacob and Rowena who had pitched not far off – and of course posing for a classic Charlie’s angels (they taught me how to use the timer on the phone camera – duh). It was a lovely morning and I had the ascent to the Col de Crestada and the meander through the lakes and up to the Port de Caldes entirely to myself. Bliss!

I started hitting big groups of hikers on the descent down to refuge colomiers. The refuge came in sight and I was contemplating a sandwich from the refuge or waiting until a ‘stuff my face’ in Vielha when I blimmen rolled my ankle again – at least it was on soft ground so my butt had a soft landing. Duh – so annoying, whenever I stop concentrating on my feet I fall over.

That decided for me, I better keep moving on it, so onwards to the damn and then down to the road to Banhs de Tredos which was heaving with day hikers being shuttled up from the car park to the trail head. I walked down to Arties and then got a cab to Vielha.

Hubby hadn’t arrived so I managed to find gas (at the secret spot mountain shop or the marmot shop), buy the rest of my resupply and scoff some chicken, potatoes, berries and yogurt from the temple of food known as mercadona (they kindly also have an area where you can scoff the food you just bought with cutlery and seats). Amazing. Fortunately I got access to my room before hubby arrived, so he didn’t have to endure full stinkiness. And when he did arrive he came with a change of clothes for me to wear while I washed everything in my pack. We popped next door to a local cafeteria for a three course lunch for 12 euros each (chickpeas and chorizo, sausage and chips, and flan). Then hubby had a nap while I went to the laundromat (I am far too cheap to pay for hotel laundry). And then we had another three course dinner!!!

A lovely easy day

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Tuesday 8 August, 2023

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