My trip along the Pyrenean Haute Route (HRP) covering nine stages from Renclusa (stage 23) to Coma Pedrosa (stage 31)
In July 2018 I spent 6 day trekking alone, along nine stages of the Pyreneen Haute Route (Stages stages 23 to 31 as described in the Cicerone guide).
Having decided to walk a section of the Haute Route (and purchased the Cicerone Guide), the big questions was which stages. With a set amount of time, logistics became a bit more complicated as I needed an entry and exit point to the trail. I went through various ideas from starting at the beginning, with the idea of trekking the whole route over a few years holidays to just diving into the middle and doing the most interesting looking stages. It's a long trail and the options are numerous, so I started by booking an affordable return flight to Beziers in the SW of France, it seemed to have the best transport links to numerous access points in the Pyrenees. Over the next few week between buying new kit and sourcing maps, I decided on the stages I was going to do: Renclusa (stage 23) to Comapedrosa (stage 31).
It started with early flight from Bristol airport; and delays even before we took off. While sat on the tarmac, it was announced that the aircraft engineer was trying to get a square peg in a round hole, I later overhead another passenger say the engineer had a can of WD40 in one hand and some gaffa tape in the other.
Our late departure and subsequent late arrival had a knock on effect. The public bus at Beziers airport left on time, meaning I had to take a taxi to the train station. It appeared Bezieres airport wasn't the busiest in the world & there were no taxis available. After finding a couple of other people who were also going to the train station we had to call for a taxi twice and wait for over an hour before one finally turned up. I arrived late at the train station; luckily my train was also delayed so managed to catch it. This did however leave very little time for me to buy a gas canister in Toulouse (as when I was due to arrive in Luchon everything would be closed). I ended up running through the 30°C streets of Toulouse with a 15kg rucsac on my back to make it to the camping store. I was lucky enough to have a till opened for me to expedite my purchase (top marks Decathlon!) & made it back to the station with 3 minutes to spare to catch my next train to Saint Gaudens for the bus to Luchon. On arrival in Luchon the taxi I had booked two days previously didn't turn up. I ended up walking the 12 km's to the start of the trail at Hospice de France (with a lift for the last 2 km's), before finding a nice flat grassy spot to camp at 10pm.
|To||Luchon / Hospice de France|
It rained during the night. I packed up my wet tent and was away by 7.40am. The sun was shining and it felt amazing to be back in the mountains after not having stepped foot in any for over two years! The first part of the morning was a 1000m of ascent; past the Vanasque refuge to the pass of the same name where I entered Spain. On crossing the pass, the views were breathtaking alpine scenery and I could see as far as the Pic de Molieres where later in the day I would be put through my first test. On joining the HRP near the Renclusa refuge I continued up the valley and by 11am was not to see anyone else until early evening; it was a reminder of how isolated you can be in the mountains and trekking alone made me conscious of every step and decision I made. If I was to slip, fall or get lost, there would potentially not be anyone passing for 24 hours or more. The ascent to Pic de Molieres was slow, the late season snow fields towards the summit were sugar like snow that made the going hard. As I header higher, the peak became shrouded in cloud and a short sharp hail storm set in. It was the descent from the pass that was a bit of an eye opener. I hadn't actually read the guide book by this point but was to later find out it describe the descent as "in early summer snow could be lying close to the pass, which makes the descent rather precarious" it was indeed rather precarious. After lowering myself down a 2m rock face with the fixed ropes, there were more fixed ropes traversing the snow covered slope, before descending down the steeper snowy section. When the ropes ran out, the snow fields were still quite steep and it took me about 2 hours to carefully negotiate them before arriving at the safety of the lower slopes. The trail continued down the valley, quite rocky at times until arriving at beautiful flower covered meadows. After a short ascent up the Vall de Conangles I found a nice grassy spot by the stream and set up camp for the night at 20:15.
|From||Hospice de France|
|To||Hospital de Vielha|
A 7:20 departure and a cloudy start as I ascended the zig-zagging trail to Lac d'Arrius. By now the sun was out, and again it was going to be another hot day. The trail became less and less distinct as I followed cairns along the East shore of Lac Tort d'Arrius and climbed to the Colhada deth Lac de Mar. Looking back down the valley I enjoyed what would be some of my favorite views of my whole trip. A steep descent to Lac de Mar and as I dropped down the rocky trail to the Restanca refuge. I could see it was a popular trekking area as I passed many day trippers. The scenery continued to please as I ascended the Col de Crestada, the Port de Caldes and dropped down to the Colomers lake. It is here that I deviated from the Cicerone guide route, instead of heading down the valley to the village of Salardu I headed east over the pass at 1480m before dropping down to the Saboredo Refuge and continuing down the valley to find a camping spot by the side of the trail at about 1800m at 19:20 in the evening.
|From||Hospital de Vielha|
A 7.30 start. I continued down the rough vehicle track, past a small parking area where the track improved and was passed by a convoy of 5 trekker filled vehicles before taking the very poorly marked trail up the East side of the Ruda valley that lead to the Port de la Bonaigua, the road pass at 2072m. A short 500m stint on the road, crossing it at one point to avoid the cows; then up a steep, faintly marked trail that would lead me over a small pass and down to the Garrabea lake. It was on this next section that I was grateful for the Maps.me app on my phone, not only did it help me find the start of the trail from the outlet of the lake (marked by a single cairn that I passed without seeing), but it reassured me that the trail marked on the map had no relation to any marking or trails on the ground. I tried at all times to keep to the trail in case of an accident, but for the next hour or so I battled through undergrowth and over large boulder fields before eventually seeing another cairn but no path. I decided to just follow the map at this point as the valley opened up and brought me to the Sup. del Rosari lake. Continuing over a small pass and down towards the Refuge d'Airoto where I again lost the path. I eventually made it to the refuge only to be greeted by a man wearing just a t-shirt and underpants... I swiftly continued along the trail.
The 1100m descent to Alos was long and hot. I again lost the trail as I neared Alos and ended up zig-zagging through long grass fields and weaving around stone walls before eventually finding my way into the village. I sat down exhausted on a bench in the village square by the church and contemplated where to spend the night. I didn't think the steep lower Comamala valley would have any suitable camping spots and wasn't ready for another 500m + of ascent today to get into the higher but flatter section of the valley. After walking along the road for 30 minutes through the National Reserve to find a suitable spot to camp and not finding much, I decided to backtrack to Alos and see if there was room in the Refugi d'Alos. At first it appeared closed, but after connecting to their WiFi network and Skyping to make a reservation I managed to gain entry and it turned out I was the only person there, it was even unstaffed. After a hot shower & washing some clothes I had a early night.
Another early start at 7:20. After a gentle stroll back up the road, the trail climbed steeply, first through forest then out above the tree line through an open valley. It was quite a steep ascent to Coll de la Cornella, an even steeper descent down the other side, before a more pleasant ascent over Coll de Curios to Calberante.
The outflow of lake Gallina was quite high, giving my feet a good wash. Past the Enric Pujol refuge, the lake de Llavera was a spectacular sight (see photo). The descent to Noarre was pleasant but the heat of the lower valley took its toll and I stopped by a small stream as I ascended up the Noarre valley to cook some food before the 700m of ascent to the Coll de Certascan. Both the approach to the Coll and the descent from it, were snow covered, but didn't present any technical difficulty. A pleasant descent to the Certascan lake where I set up my tent at 19:20 close to the shore and watched the impressive storm clouds gather over the ridge to the north. The thunderstorm hit me during the night and lasted about an hour.
|To||Refugi de Certascan|
There was still some light rain in the morning, so I delayed my departure until 8:30 by which time it has stopped. It took about 20 minutes to reach the Certascan refuge. I heard some voices inside, but didn't stop. The cloud level dropped as I reached the first small pass, again my phone app help keep me on a non existent trail. As I dropped down to the Punturri lake I quickly passed a group of about 20 walkers and after a small scramble as the trail skirted the edge of Romedo de Baix lake the heavens opened and I donned my waterproof jacket. The rain didn't help with my enjoyment of the next section of the route, nor did the fact that my waterproof leaked. The trail was non existent, cairns few and far between. My phone app showed the Haute Route head north via a different mountain range, I was following the guidebook on a different trail to the south. The distinct lack of trail and tough going made me think it wasn't a popular route. There appeared to be a perfectly sensible trail marked on the map from the Certascan refuge in the next valley over, why had the guide book brought me this way?. After dropping info the forest and losing the trail every few meter I was fed up. As I reached the valley bottom and a possible diversion to civilisation, the skies cleared and some nourishment bolstered my mood; I decided to carry on. Note to self: never walk that valley again. The rest of the route was uneventful and an early finish at the pleasant Pla de Boet. Here I dried my kit on a picnic bench and ate dinner before pitching my tent. On studying my maps and guide book in the evening I realised I had one more stage to complete in the next two days than I originally thought. I wasn't going to be able to get to my finish point to catch my train on time!
|From||Refugi de Certascan|
|To||Pla de Boet|
A dry night and clear skies encouraged me to get up and leave by 7:25. This was again a very scenic section of the trail as I climbed towards the Baiau Refuge. The guidebook had suggest the next possible camping spot along the trail was at the refuge but there were plenty of great options in and around the Pla de Baiau and I wished I had pushed on to here the evening before. It it would probably have been the most picturesque camping spot of the whole trip. As I neared the Baiau pass the route got steeper, passing over large boulders and small snowfields. Still in the morning shade the snow was frozen and as I watching a couple of people slide down one of the icy snowfields I made a small detour to walk around it.
The sun was beating down strongly as I emerged from the shade on the Baiau pass, there was no wind, it was a great welcome into Andorra! The descent past the icy Negre lake and onto the Coma Pedrosa refuge was very hot and it only got hotter as I continued my descent into the valley below. It was here that I was to leave the HRP as I needed to find a quicker route in order to catch my train. My guidebook had been very sparse on escape routes from the trail, it seemed to be written on the basis of walking the whole trail in one go and not doing it in sections over a number of years, so there was very little information of transport options if you needed to leave the trail. However, after speaking with a guy who had just walked up the valley he assured me there was a regular bus in the ski resort just 15 minutes from the trail. He was correct and I was to find that Andorra has a fantastic, frequent & reliable bus service to every village in the country! I took a bus to Andorra de Vella, the capital where I was to find a hotel, hot shower and good food.
|From||Pla de Boet|
|To||Refugi Coma Pedrosa / Arinsal village|
A sightseeing day in Andorra. I visited the village of Soldeu and took the cable car up the mountain. The website for the fantastic public bus system in Andorra can be found here: http://www.interurbana.ad, with a downloadable route map here:
|From||Day in Andorra la Vella|
|To||Day in Andorra la Vella|
After a morning lazing in the capital, I took the international bus across the border to France to l'Hopsitalet Pres-l'Andorra where I camped at a nice Camping Municipal to wait from my train the following morning.
|From||Andorra la Vella|
I caught the 5:38 train from l'Hopsitalet Pres-l'Andorra to Toulouse, where I changed trains to Beziers for my flight home.