A walk in the Pyrenees in snowy mid winter
“…I pray this winter be gentle and kind – a season of rest from the wheel of the mind…” – John Geddes
What ever the weather; walking is fun and free!
I was spending a week in the Spanish Pyrenees; to ski at the resort of Baqueira and Beret near Vielha. After just three days, I was absolutely exhausted from skiing; so decided on a more relaxing form of exercise. After reading up on the area and asking local advice; I decided on an easy walk up into the Aiguestortes National Park from the Boi Valley, in Catalonia. I will try to explain in words my experience; yet the pictures I took can paint a thousand words and a picture can never capture what the eye can see, so come and see for your self!
Getting to the start
So staying in Vielha, in the Aran valley; I had to drive for an hour to reach the car park at the start of the footpath. The N230 road I took is one of the most important crossing routes between France and Spain. Climbing out of the Aran Valley on a steep main road, I passed many lorries taking one of the few passes through this natural border of the mountainous Pyrenees.
When the road climbed up into the higher Nere valley; the slopes steepened so the road builders had no choice but to tunnel through the hard rock! Nowerdays, the Vielha tunnel is an impressive three lane tunnel at over five kilometres in length. However, this is a second tunnel through this mountain; with the first one being too small and dangerous because of the risk of fire. When the first Vielha tunnel opened in 1948; it was the longest tunnel in the world at 5.24 kilometres.
Passing out the southern side into a beautiful daylight; the sun dazzled me as I dropped down past snow covered forests and frozen lakes. Taking care not to wear out my brakes and avoiding the daredevil Spanish drivers; I carefully descended down into the valley of the Noguera river. This valley is interesting in that it is the border between the Aragon and Catalonia; divided by two different languages and centuries of history. However, after the valley widens I turned off to the left into the Boi valley or Valle de Boi in Catalan.
Valle de Boi
After a few kilometres I came across a traditional sight of herdsmen driving cattle from one pasture to another. These days, the herdsmen needed a police escort because of all the impatient Catalans and Andorrans driving as fast as they can to reach their second homes and ski resorts higher up the valley. After a while the cows sauntered into a field without being aware of our human speed of life and impatience and the Porsche tailgating me overtook and disappeared beyond the numerous hairpin bends. I passed through the sleepy riverside town of Barruera and below the picturesque Romanic village of Boi. This village of Boi is worthy of a days exploration; with its 12 century churches and village streets back-dropped by the beautiful wide valley.
Passing this village I drove towards the spa resort of Caldes de Boi. After a few kilometres and just before a left hand bend; I parked in a small layby, marked on Google maps as: ‘Aparcamiento de la Farga’.
So after parking the hire car, strapping on my new Berghaus boots and stuffing my pockets full of food and drink I set off up and into the snow.
To begin with I followed a small path that followed the river called the Cami de Enamorats; criss-crossing over small bridges like a Chinese water garden. Every so often notice boards explained different points of what a walker can see from: the animals, trees and rock formations. Really informative and great to fun to read if you are learning Spanish or are with children eager to learn.
I also disturbed two lovers so engrossed in each others embrace; they didn’t hear me approaching! After politely calling out; they moved to let me pass and smiled with embarrassment.
After a short while, the path rejoined a track that leads from the road up to a car park higher in the valley. I understand farmers need to access their animals and disabled people should be able to reach places that us able bodied people can. Yet to allow anyone with a car to spoil these natural places seems a shame. I believe it promotes laziness in the general population.
However, today the gentle gradient of the vehicle track enabled me to walk through snow over ten centimetres deep. Helped by tyre tracks and people using snow shoes. These snow shoes cost around £40 yet are worth it if you regularly walk in snowy areas.
Into the wild
After a few kilometres the snow deepened so much that even the four wheel drive taxis ferrying walkers up the track could not pass. Silently, laughing to myself, at the natures ability to stop man in his tracks; I strode on in silence, up and up into this paradise. After a short rise; I came upon the magnificent lake, on a plateau called: ‘Estany de Llebreta’.
After walking around the shores of this now ice and snow covered lake; I passed other walkers taking in the views. Some were Spanish and some Catalan but all keen to practice English. Something I love about living and travelling in Spain is the fact that people tend to be more sociable; from passing the time of day to sharing a joke.
I passed a picturesque waterfall and climbed up through trees to the next plateau where the track finally came to an end and another large car park. Thankfully because of the snow; the car park was empty except for snow. Walking past a small information hut and toilet; I came to a viewpoint called the: ‘Mirador de Sant Esperit’ at an altitude of 1,800 metres. The views up the valley were limited because of the low cloud yet I really enjoyed the views back down to the lake.
My picnic consisted of a rich local meat sausage called ‘Bultifarra’, cheese, cereal bars and one can of the local beer. Seeing as there was nowhere to sit down; I ate my food as I started to make my back down the same way.
After eating my food I noticed the wind began to build and my body began to feel cold. This was also due to the fact I was no longer climbing uphill; so I pulled on my thick ski gloves and put on a Buff over my head. Coming back down, the views over the lake were so mesmerising. Then as retread around the lake; the clouds parted just enough to take the picture you can see at the top of this page.
I passed a group of Spanish tourists waiting for the 4×4 taxi; which saddened me because they all seemed perfectly able to walk down the mountain. Anyhow, avoiding serious topics; I had a short conversation with them and bid them farewell.
As I descended lower I came to a footpath that followed the opposite side of the valley to the track. To make a change I took this route and had a really interesting time. Firstly, many branches hung down low over the path because they were weighed down by snow. When the branches hung so low I could not pass; I would shake them so they lost their snow covering and they suddenly whip back vertically into the air. I found this very amusing for some reason; maybe I was starting to feel the effects of the altitude!
In addition, I saw a single mosquito clumsily flitting about above the snow! He must for some reason come out of hibernation then realized he had made a dreadful mistake! After following this path for a few kilometres I regained the track and walked back to the car and road.
Parking, refreshments and other tips:
The best place to park is mentioned above; on the main road. I climbed in winter so it was quiet; yet in summer, there are various places to pull off onto dry ground. There are no refreshments or forms of resupply; so come prepared for a long day in the hills. There are a few supermarkets in towns lower down in the valley; so no excuses! Climbing in winter, I wore many layers of clothing; with two jackets that I could unzip whilst I was kept warm by climbing up.
When I am on shorter walks; I carry a water bottle holder that is not dissimilar to a bum bag. With a pocket for a water bottle and a small pouch for keys and a few cereal bars. On my feet I had a brand new pair of Berghaus Expeditor Ridge 2.0 boots; with which I was very impressed! For walking over sixteen kilometres on snow; my feet stayed warm and not even wet from sweat! After wasting and not saving money on cheaper boots I was so pleased with this worthy investment!
So come in spring or summer and enjoy the flowers and warmth; come in autumn for the colours and winter for the experience. Come and relax in the: ‘Aigüestortes’!
4 hrs 54 minutes
Chilled in a good way!
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