Haute Route Pyrenean Stage 4 Salardu to Hospitalet pres de l’Andorre – 118.5k in 5.5 days

Day 16 – Salardu to Alos d’isil – lost my hiking mojo – a wall of grass, an exposed ridge and a neverending boulder field

24k hiked, c.1800m ascent, pitched near the river, discreetly, ten minutes up the road from Alos

In total 454.5 walked, 2.6kg cheese consumed

Hubby dropped me off at the trail head and it was a heavy and unremarkable grunt up to the estany de bacivers damn. My pack is the heaviest it will be in this trip with six days of food – I am not moving fast.

After the three baciver lakes, the trail disappeared and I had to find my way up a steep boulder slope, followed by an even steeper grass slope (another hiker later referred to this as the f’ing wall of grass :-)) to the Tuc de Marimanya at 2662m. There was the odd cairn and yellow mark, but no trail to speak of. The climb took forever, and I was happy when I got to the top until I saw the ridge in front of me to the Tuc deth Rosari de Baciver, and I considered turning around

Getting over the ridge was slow, I was careful with my feet and to not unbalance the weight on my back. After the next Tuc, there was no path and the guide said ‘walk east’. ‘Clamber’ would have been a more apt instruction as there were lots of boulders.

I made it to the Col Airoto – still not really a path and was thrilled to see an huge c2km boulder stretch on the other side down to Lac Airoto. I won’t labour the point but those 2k probably took me two hours. Some of the boulders were bigger than me. And the stream was dry. Hmmmmm, definitely getting toughened up on this stretch.

I was so excited when we hit the trail from the refuge to Collado del Clot de Moredo! An actual trail. I slowly walked up the hill and down the other side and decided to stop at the Basseta tarn for a proper lunch and a rest at 3pm. A quick dip, some food and I read my book for an hour. Zen was restored

Most of the three hour wander down to Alos d’isil was straightforward after the morning, apart where the guide says to improvise. After hanging off trees and skidding down through thorns, I finally found a path to get down. That path bore no relation to the gpx track I had . Oh well.

The trail gods were tough today! I was pretty tired when I rolled into the tiny village of Alos D’isil. I didn’t want to share a dorm in the refuge so continued walking up the quiet road out of town and found a discreet pitch site. Am not entirely sure of the bivouac rules here, so fingers crossed all ok. I made curry for dinner, had two hot chocolates and finished the excellent bone clocks by David Mitchell.

Day 17 – Alos d’isil to past Noarre – recovering my hiking mojo, a glorious day of lakes

19k hiked, c.2000m ascent, pitched next to Riu Noarre at 2020m

In total 473.5k walked, 2.7kg cheese consumed

I woke up early and stayed snuggled in the sleeping bag until the sun came up. It was nice to be under the trees – it created a nice dappled pattern on the tent roof.

It was nice and cool, just as well as the morning started with 1300m of climbing. I had a coffee break at 9 after about 800m of ascent as the guide book had scared the shit out of me about the ascent to the col and the descent the other side. As it turns out Col de Cornella was perfectly reasonable – a bouldery but well cairned ascent and a steep descent but with plenty of things to hold on to

I stopped again at the Tartera lakes for breakfast (yay pack getting lighter), and then meandered up to the Coll de curios, enjoying the fact that the trails were visible and marked with yellow bars, which wasn’t what the guidebook had said (it is a little ore covid)

The wander down through the four stunning Gallina lakes was wonderful and I will definitely be back to pitch here on another trip. I arrived at the unmanned Refuge Pujol around 1.30 and it looked like someone had dropped a shipping container on the rock. It apparently sleeps nine but would have been roasting today

From Pujol it was an easy 2.5 hour descent to the lovely Noarre village, although I stopped for some shade and a cup of tea on the way down

By the time I got to Noarre at 4pm it was roasting hot but I summoned the courage to drag myself up 400m of ascent to pitch in a high valley next to the Riu Noarre – as a bonus it had a private waterfall and pond for me to swim in. A swim, tent up, cooked dinner, dried clothes and then checked weather for tomorrow – drat 50% chance of afternoon storms, will need to figure out some shelter spots just in case

It was a glorious day of lakes and my hiking mojo is restored after yesterdays bouldery hell

Day 18 – Noarre to the Barbote lakes – wonderful day with a storm threatening, too many spaniards in my bivouac

20k hiked, c.1900m ascent, pitched at Barbote lakes

In total 493.5k walked, 2.85kg cheese consumed

I woke up early and had a nice calf warm up with the first steep uphill climb. All was silent and calm, and I passed two tents around 7.30 am at the Guerosso lakes where the occupants were still sound asleep.

The ascent to the Coll Certascan was a well graded easy stroll from the lakes and I was at the top by 8.15. I stopped for a chat with an HRP hiker (Valentin – photo below) coming the other direction – warning him to try to do the boulder hell section in the morning so at least the heat was not radiating off the rocks. In return he told me he had had to get up in the middle of the night to walk to Refuge Certascan as he had heard bear noises (he arrived and the refuge was closed so slept on the porch until morning). Hmmmm – definitely won’t be hanging around between certascan and boavi (there are wild bears up here but seeing them is rare)

Walking past the stunning certascan lake, I arrived at the certascan refuge at 9.20am, and blessed the goddess of Catalan Refugios as they were happy to make me coffee, a sandwich for now and one to take away. Plus I could charge a bit and use their free wifi (French refuges never feed you outside the hours of 12-2 or 3, and are not nice about it).

The guidebook had suggested descending to Boavi via a ‘wilderness walk’ but both blogs I had read said that section was a pathless, trail-mark less nightmare. So I scanned the map and found an alternate route down on a marked trail which was the same distance but saved me swearing at the guide book owner while looking for a trail (I honestly bear no ill will against Tom but may have cursed him a few times on some of the trail sections)

Boavi was lovely with lots of day hikers and I was tempted to stop for a swim but it was noon and storm was forecast for 1pm or after so I thought wise to get up the hill. It was a hot and sweaty 1100m ascent (climbs are so much easier in the morning). As I came over the Col the wind started howling and the grey clouds were very threatening.

I made for the unmanned refuge Barboty (like a Bothy), arriving at 2.45, and made lunch and had coffee while deciding what I thought the weather might do. While I was there two groups of hikers showed up, and thus all nine beds were claimed (I had baggsed a bed on arrival with my pack). The thought of spending the night in a tiny space with 8 strangers, at least two of whom would snore did not appeal, so I packed up and pitched my tent at the most sheltered spot possible. 4pm and still no rain. Though we got a few spots at 5pm, and I read a whole (uninspiring) novel called annihilation while watching the skies

I had a peaceful three hours and then was invaded in my spot by seven loud rude f’ing Spaniards. Seriously, no manners. They pitched up loudly about six metres from me. The sole thing was I did have the best flat spot and the best wind cover. Then they decided to cook dinner two metres from my tent. I did lose my patience at 10pm and told them to go to bed, and to their credit they did. So odd that they don’t understand basic hiking etiquette. (Side note – incredible skies here, I saw three shooting stars when I went for a pee at 2am, and a very clear view of the Milky Way)

Day 19 – Barbote lakes to El Serrat – stunning morning, crappy ski resort with excellent burger and a four star hotel

23k hiked, c.1900m ascent, lux-ing it at a four star hotel in El Serrat

In total 516.5k walked, 2.95kg cheese consumed

I made no effort to be quiet this morning when I woke up at 6.30, I even let my alarm ring for a whole minute. But I restrained myself from shouting out ‘good morning to rude Spaniards!’. Coffee, pack squared away (I have my pack up dialled very well, 25 mins from eyes open to pack on and walking), and I was off just before 7.

I walked the first hour with a young French man who had ‘quit his life’ two years ago (in order he said he quit his job, his apartment, his car and his girlfriend- poor girl, rated below the car), and he has been hiking since. He stopped for a break and I didn’t see him again.

It was cool and the trails were well waymarked, a nice forest stretch, a lovely plateau at boet, and then and 800m ascent to the Col du boet to get back to France. From the Col a short stroll down to the Soucaranne lakes. I had made good time – the guide said 5h20m and I made it in 3h45m. I was amused to see at least 8 tents still up. It would have been busy last night (turns out it is a long weekend in Spain hence the volume of campers). I stopped and made breakfast – two coffees, lentils and ham, some cheese and some lomo.

Then off down the hill and around a bit and up another climb to the groovily named Port de rat. It was another 600m or so of ascent but the path was easy and the mountain aircon was on, so I got to the top at 1.40pm. I had passed some day hikers on the way up, and they smelt like soap. I, however, did not smell lovely. I got some signal at the pass (on the border with Andorra), and booked a hotel in the small village I would get to in three hours. Yay – a shower.

The descent into Andorra was not lovely. The first bit was through a ski field. However the upside was there were lifts running for day for hikers and the restaurant at the lift station was open (the guide had said it was closed in summers). I momentarily considered skipping food, and then realised I was starving. The hamburger was delicious. And it fortified me for the last 6-7km, including a trek up the hill past lots of day hikers to see the Tristaina lakes and then an easy stroll along a stream and a dirt road to get to El Serrat.

Ahhhhh – a long excellent shower, clean(er) clothes (I am not great at hand washing) and a huge dinner (21 euros for stuffed aubergine, turkey milanesa and apple pie)

Day 20 – El Serrat to Etang de l’albe – a glorious long day with a celebrity viewing

23k hiked, c.2800m ascent, lovely bivvy spot next to Albe lake about 1.5 hours past refugio Juclar

In total 539.5k walked, 3.1kg cheese consumed

The hotel were delightful and gave me early access to the extensive (cold) breakfast buffet at 6.30 and made me two coffees (hot food and official breakfast didn’t start until 7.45). I, of course, had lots of fruit and yogurt and also had my ziplock bag at the ready to make my lunch (two excellent sandwiches and three pieces of fruit)

The first stretch up to Refuge Souteny was already warm through the forest and I passed by there at 8am, just in time to start picking up the hikers who had overnighted there.

I made it to the top of Collada de Meners at 9.30 and met three solo HRP hikers who had been walking together for several days. They were friendly and had a nice rhythm so I ended up walking with them until they stopped for a break at the Cabana Sorda pass around 11.45. En route, we were talking about the guidebook and they mentioned they had had dinner with Tom the author at souteny the night before and I recognised him when we passed by Cabana Coms de Jan. I confessed to having cursed him badly and he confirmed there were a few changes to the route in the next book. He was utterly delightful. I think I want his job :-).

I reached the Sorda lake at 12.30, so stopped for lunch and coffee. It was busy with day hikers but a lovely spot.

From there it was a very hot stroll that seemed endless to Refugio Juclar. The highlight of that stretch was meeting Jose and Alicia – who congratulated me on walking the HRP. Alicia hugged me, it was adorable, and when I said it was my first hug in three weeks, Jose hugged me too. A wonderful couple to run into. That joy did sustain me for the endless up and down to Juclar – it was hot, and steep, and had far too many stretches descending for 50m when we were supposed to be going up. I eventually got there at 3pm after a sweaty two hours, and waited for 30 mins while they made me a takeaway sandwich

I headed out, planning to walk for another 1-2 hours but my legs were not cooperating. I realised I was hungry so stopped, had a cuppa, some nuts, some dark chocolate and 1/3 of the sandwich and that gave me the mojo for the final 300m of ascent (of a 2800m ascent day) to the Col Albe

I had a slow descent down the Col, first stopping to chat to a guy on his first day of the HRP, and then chatting to Ewan for a good 20 minutes who was 2400km into the hexatrek (a new route which starts in Alsace)…. Super interesting, and more trekking inspiration.

I had spied a bivouac spot from the pass, and also spied some people getting close to it, but managed to nab it. Hopefully I don’t get invaded. Time for the rest of my sandwich, some hot chocolate and some cheese fondue

Day 21 – Etang de l’albe to Ruisseau de la grave – a sleepy day with a lot of carbs, and finished stage 4.

27.5 hiked, c.1715m ascent, bivvied on a flat spot above the stream en route to Bouilliouse lake

In total 567k walked, 3.2kg cheese consumed

What a night! I went to sleep with the tent doors open it was so calm. At 3am I was woken up by the wind so I shut the doors and tried to go back to sleep. Then the wind started howling and about ten minutes later a peg went flying and the side of the tent came down on me. Just as well I was awake. It was too gusty to get out and fix it so I just held on for dear life for ten minutes and then managed to get another peg in. Ten minutes later it fell again. Arse. To be fair I hadn’t properly pegged the tent for wind. Headlamp on, went out, properly staked everything, got back into tent. The winds were ferocious though so for parts of the next two hours I literally held on to the poles hopping the tent wouldn’t fly away (and hoping the lightening wouldn’t come back – no one wants to hold metal poles when lightening strikes). Eventually either the wind abated or I passed out, and I woke up to a red breezy sunrise

I was very tired but packed up and left at 7.10 regardless – meeting the man who had pitched nearby taking water from the stream. He said he didn’t sleep all night.

The descent down was slow – in part cos I wasn’t awake, in part because there was a lot of boulders. There were lots of tents on the way down, and some tired faces. I was super happy to roll into Hospitalet pres de l’andorre, the official stage end at 10.30. The ‘shop’ literally had nothing worth buying, so I went to the well recommended bakery – breakfast was three coffees, a croque monsieur, half a mini pizza, a slice of flan, and then I had a pain au raisin as was still hungry. I took two quiches and the rest of the pizza for the road. Fortunately there is a supermarket on the route tomorrow – I have food but would like some fruit and am a bit over Refugio sandwiches. I hung out in the bakery for an hour, catching up on mail and reading the news. This is officially the end of stage 4 !!!!

I then carried my full tummy up to refuge bessines on a nice shaded trail. I overtook a lot of day hikers, who always seem shocked you want to pass them. I had a swim in the lake bessines and then two cans of drink at the Refugio

The weather forecast had been for more strong winds and a risk of a storm, so I decided I better take the bad weather variant and leave Pic Carlit for next time, so I followed the GR10 over two passes and continued down to a valley where I sound a flat enough spot next to a stream with the musical sound of cows. My tent is now very securely pitched (the poles double staked), and I am eating the rest of my baked goods bootie, fingers crossed for a quiet night.

Hmmmm, five minutes after writing this the cows decided to relocate to me :-), I closed the tent doors and sat quietly for about 30 minutes as I was surrounded on all sides by munching – less than a metre from the tent. My biggest conundrum was what would I do if they started eating the tent – probably nothing – startling a herd of cows feels like a bad idea! They eventually wandered off and I made a hot chocolate and went back to reading my book.

Next update from the Mediterranean Sea!!!!

August 16, 2023, Hospitalet Pres de l’Andorre

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