The Route

Having visited the Pyrenees 4 times already, including 2 complete traverses of the GR11 and HRP, my trip in 2013 was all about filling in a few blanks, and bagging a few summits along the way. The 15-day route covered about 400km from Eyne-Bolquere train station to Gavarnie, with 25,000 metres of ascent. The route largely followed the GR11 once I'd reached Andorra, but also climbed the following 7 summits:

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Day 3 - Across Andorra from Upper Madriu Valley to Arinsal

Distance: 27km, Ascent: 1900m, Descent: 2680m

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Day 3 started out with a long descent to Encamp that took longer than I expected, so it was around 11am and scorching hot when I dropped into the town, and was struggling to remember where the supermarket was.  I felt a bit time-pressured since I had originally planned to reach the Coma Pedrosa Refuge today, but that was already looking unlikely, so I decided to have a proper early lunch stop in the park at Encamp.

It's always difficult seeing people lazing around a swimming pool when you've set yourself a challenging hike.  I didn't want to dilly dally too long in Encamp but found it hard to get going again in the full mid-day heat, with a 900m climb to Coll d'Ordino.

The section through to Arans was all quite hot and tiring, and the col over to Arinsal has a steep rough trail on both sides that lacks any nice graded zig-zags, making it feel hard work.  So I felt fairly jaded when I reached Arinsal, and was disappointed but not entirely surprised to find the supermarket shut on a Sunday evening.  I needed food pretty much straight away, so dived into the bar next door to order burger and chips.  It was about to get dark and the options for camping did not look great, so I booked into a hotel on the main street with the plan of a super-early start tomorrow to make up the time on not reaching the Coma Pedrosa hut this evening.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 2 - Refuge des Bouillouses to Upper Madriu Valley via Pic Carlit

Distance: 39km, Ascent: 2410m, Descent: 2135m

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Day 2 began bright but cold.  The usual stale bread and coffee that passes for breakfast at French (and Spanish) refuges, and I was soon on the trail above the Bouillouses dam passing through scrubby vegetation and small lakes with Pic Carlit looming ahead.

The going was pretty quick and easy until the final snow slope which reared up enough to warrant trying out the new Kahtoola KTS steel crampons and Camp Corsa ice axe. The axe and crampons were perfect, but I could have done with bringing some thin technical gloves.

I was soon on the 2921m summit of Pic Carlit, with nobody else around.  The views were of course extensive and uninterrupted, given that this is the highest peak in the Eastern Pyrenees.

The traverse took me down steep rough scree on the west side of the hill, which provided a rapid descent before the angle eased to lead out to trail junctions below the Estany de Lanós dam, which linked me onto the GR7.

I took a short but much-needed rest for lunch just beside the bridge across the Rec de Lanós  before picking up the long contouring trail which lead down to Porté-Puymorens.

The temperature was rising as I dropped down into the valley, so I took another short rest in bar at Porté-Puymorens to buy a cold drink and get out of the sun for a few minutes.

The next section linked past the Puymorens road tunnel entrance, then turned back uphill for the long drag up the Campcardos valley to the Portella Blanca d'Andorra 2517m which is one of 2 places where France, Spain and Andorra all meet.  I my case I took the trail down into Spain rather than Andorra, and would not return into France again until Day 13 at the Breche de Roland.

Time was marching on, and all the distances seemed longer than they looked on the map, but I eventually reached the Cabana dels Esparvers crossroads of trails, where I linked onto the GR11 for the climb up to Col d'Illa 2543m to cross into Andorra.  By this time it was after 9pm and getting quite cold and chilly.  I stopped briefly to put on a jacket and to find my headtorch.

I thought I may need to stop at the next refuge, but there were a few people around and I didn't fancy the look of it, so I just walked straight past and started dropping down zig-zags through rugged terrain.

The light was fading fast, so as soon as I saw the first decent area of flat ground, I threw up the tent at just after 10pm and crashed out for the night, thinking it would be a short walk down to Encamp for breakfast in the morning.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 1 - Gare de Bolquère-Eyne to Refuge des Bouillouses

Distance: 13km, Ascent: 500m, Descent: 100m

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Day 1 began with a 5am alarm call in Glasgow, followed by a quick taxi ride to Glasgow for a 6:30am Easyjet flight to Stansted, then a Ryanair flight to Perpignan which arrived sufficiently early to make me think it might be possible to catch the earlier train into the Pyrenees, if they were swift with unloading the baggage.

Whilst waiting for the bags to appear, I scoped out the line to the taxi rank so that I could leg it as soon as I grabbed my bag.  The taxi driver was up for the challenge of making the earlier train, which would save me 2 hours at Perpignan and get me to Bolquere-Eyne almost 4 hours earlier. I jumped out of the taxi in the road by the station and made the train to Villefranche with about 5 minutes to spare.  The fare was an incredible 1 Euro for a journey that lasted the best part of an hour.

Once at Villefranche I needed to switch to the famous Petit Train Jaune which worryingly looked mobbed with Japanese and other tourists, and even more worryingly had a sign up saying it was full.  I had the usual scenario at the ticket booth with some guy in front making the most protracted and complicated transaction you could imagine, whilst the minutes were ticking away, and the Little Yellow Train was about to depart at any minute.  I just made it onto the train, with no minutes to spare in a tiny packed carriage with no functioning toilets and incredibly slow but scenic journey up into the wild Pyrenean landscape.

Only 3 of us disembarked at Eyne-Bolquere, like something out of a spaghetti western. Deserted, and in the middle of nowhere.  The other 2 were hiking southwards on the GR10 towards Eyne, so we soon parted company as I headed north through Bolquere where the shop was not not surprisingly closed, making me glad I'd brought a few provisions to last the first couple of days.

It felt good to enter the calm forest trails after all the frantic travelling, and to be several hours ahead of where I expected to be given the early flight arrival and luck with taxi and trains.

I had originally planned to camp on the first evening, either just before or after the dam at Bouillouses, however given that I had hardly any food, and had missed having any lunch, and was also getting quite chilled with a cold wind blowing off the lake, there wasn't much of a decision to make once I reached the Refuge des Bouillouses.

I was given a very quiet little room on my own, and had to put on every item of clothing I'd brought to try to warm up.  The evening meal was spent chatting with a group of Germans who seemed extremely nervous about attempting Pic Carlit the following day without axe and crampons.