The earliest train back arrived at 13:20 so, although the Bésines hostel was only three hours away, it was later in the day than I would have liked. Inevitably this was one of only two days on the Haute Route that I got caught in a thunderstorm.
I had originally planned to walk along the frontier, just in France, heading for the Rulhe hostel but the more I investigated, the more difficult it seemed. So I crossed into Andorra to El Serrat, a village almost entirely made up of hotels and holiday apartments.
The Andorran meteorologists forecast thunderstorms every afternoon so I re-planned for shorter days. After El Serrat (Hotel Bringué), staying at the new Sorteny hostel, the Cabaña Sorda hut, and the Juclar hostel. In the event there were no storms at all. On the other hand the claim that even the unmanned huts had mobile phone coverage turned out to be true. Not far from Sorteny, a botanical garden is very useful for identifying the plants seen in the mountains.
Although there is plenty of water at the Cabanya Sorda, the outflow from the reservoir was dry. A filter or water purifying tablets are a must.
I had chosen this route to avoid Pas de la Case, one of Andorra’s many towns in this country “dedicated to shopping” as the tourist leaflets proudly proclaim.
From L’Hospitalet près l’Andorre I went home for a week’s rest.
“The accelerated rhythm of life today is not just confined to the cities. It has been moving into the mountains, and is making them a focus of competition too. But not everyone sees the peaks in this way. Juanjo Garbizu hikes to slow down, creating moments when time is suspended (he walks without a watch). So he can enjoy everything the landscape has to offer, sharpening his senses by observing nature and immersing himself in the stimuli unique to mountains. This is the Slow Mountain, mountaineering at a leisurely pace, which Garbizu has made his own in this book: a manifesto for a return to the original spirit of mountaineering and hiking.” (Free translation of the synopsis; the book is in Spanish.)
I am reminded of Gordon Wilson’s Space for Wonder, a personal take on trekking in the Pyrenees. A highly readable guide to crossing the Pyrenees combining the three classic trails, it emphasises the importance of taking “the time to stand and stare”. Full of anecdotes, it shows that long-distance walking doesn’t have to be a hard slog.
Returning to Bagnères-de-Luchon, I hitched to the car park at the head of the Lys valley. The afternoon’s walk took me up to the Maupas hostel, 1300m above. Again this was my personal variant: it was my first time at Maupas.
I’ve now walked the length of the Pyrenees three times on different routes. 2700km, Atlantic to Mediterranean: 164 days hiking. I’ve been asked which route I liked best. Is it the Pyrenean Way (GR 10) [guide and forum] in France, the Senda Pirenaica (GR 11) [guide and forum] in Spain and Andorra, or this year’s trek, the Pyrenean Haute Route [Cicerone guide] (Haute Route Pyrénéenne, HRP, in French; Alta Ruta Pirenaica in Spanish) which flits across the border every second day?
Like all the other walkers in the Orreaga/Roncevaux Pilgrim’s hostel we were woken by the sound of monks singing. But unlike them the four of us were the only ones heading north, still on the Camino, but in the wrong direction. Once we had climbed up to the ridge we were in France – but only just – passing by frontier markers 200 to 204. This is where the Pyrenees really start, although they are still clothed in grass. We saw very few other walkers.
The official route of the Senda Pirenaica (Spanish GR11) is being changed in order to conform to new safety standards. Although it is true that the passage in France to the west of Candanchú is often damaged by avalanches, the new route has other failings. It drops down into the Canfranc valley creating a long detour in a valley blighted by road traffic. See Aragon Mountaineering Club‘s page on the subject.