A short and easy afternoon walk up to the picturesque lake of Gorgutes and the French border; situated in the valley of Benasque. An early snow in October made for some spectacular views of the valley.
Staying alone in the beautiful town of Benasque; I was keen to make new friends and possibly date one of the local beauties. I managed to start writing to a local girl who in the end was too busy to meet; work and other excuses got in the way. Anyhow, she did recommend walking up to a lesser known lake; high up in the Benasque Valley.
So one day, after a tedious morning of housework and emails; I made a ‘one beer and baguette sandwich’ picnic and headed out the door! The sun was shining down, so I jogged to my car on the outskirts of town; for I was now keen to make the most of it. Driving north, out of Benasaque on the A-139; I knew I was on a dead end road. Yet today it was a dead end for cars and the start of a beautiful walk for me.
I had to take extra care on this mountain road because of the constant risk of: rockfall, landslide and loose grazing animals. After climbing up the road for about fifteen minutes; I reached a fork in the road. The right road, was signposted to the Llanos de Hospital; an upmarket spa hotel. Yet I stayed on the main road that was un-signposted; save for a bright yellow snow barrier that was now open. Again, with care, I drove up the last two kilometres of road and arrived at the dead end.
It has been hoped by the local tourist industry to build a tunnel from this point; through the mountains that mark the border, to the French spa town of Bagneres de Luchon. It is a matter of opinion, yet I believe the remoteness of the valley of Benasque; is a major factor in its beauty. Tourists are welcome here; but how many tourists is too much for this wild and wonderful place?
Anyway, packing my backpack with warm clothes, gaiters and food; I locked the car and left the road, society and man made problems far behind.
To the snowline
As you walk past the end of the road; the start of the path can be quite hard to distinguish. It starts on a gravelled ledge then turns left and up into dense bushes. There are few cairns or painted lines; yet the worn path is easily discernible from the undergrowth either side. The first 300 metres or so is quite steep but easy because steps have been made from the stones that lie scattered here.
After passing through, a narrow gulley; you summit a ridge and the path and landscape start to open up. I saw and heard a waterfall; that seemed happy to be full after the first autumn storms. It babbled and splashed as it danced and fell down the rockface.
There were a few more switchbacks in the trail and the tree cover started to fall away. Less than twenty minutes after leaving the car; I stopped to rest and drink some water. Looking down the car and road seemed so small now as I rapidly gained height. Pressing on, I passed a friendly group of Spaniards; they delighted in practising their perfect English after hearing my atrocious Spanish accent. They warned me of deep snow in places and laughed at the funny English word for ‘pantalones’; as they pointed to their soaked trousers. After saying goodbye; I soon reached the snow line and stopped to put on my gaiters.
Snowline to the lake
I had not brought snow shoes with me because I have always struggled to walk in them in at a decent pace. They are also expensive to buy or hire; so I have adopted the attitude of walking into a snowfield until I am sinking to my middle then turning back to use proper touring skis! So with this in mind; I set out onto the snow with just a trekking pole to judge snow depth and my gaiters to keep my trousers dry. In addition, I was doing this walk in October; so the air temperature was still quite warm, so I was not too worried about frostbite.
Footprints in the snow
Walking further up into the snow; the only source of navigation was other peoples footprints that had walked before me. Studying the map to double check; I followed these footprints in the snow as they wound their way over the now blank landscape. I had to be careful for some footprints followed different paths or went in circles as they chased the smaller footprints of a dog.
Yet by stopping and resting every five minutes or so; I could check the map, take on food and water and take in the sublime snowy scenery. After taking care to cross a stream by finding the narrowest point and jumping across; I crossed a wide sloping plateau.
The path crossed the plateau and started climbing a broad slope that stopped before mountains higher up. This was the first sign of a lake being above; so I realised I was getting closer to my goal. The path was well trodden now; so I didn’t sink into the snow with every step. Yet I still had to take care as I passed other people descending towards me; so I used my trekking pole to judge the depth for every step I took.
Reaching the top of the broad slope; I had now arrived at a small lake called: ‘Ibon de la Solana de Gorgutes’. It was a amazing scene with the wide open valley behind me and the towering peaks and snowfields above. I was happy to rest here; yet I knew the bigger lake mentioned by the local girl, lay further up between those snow capped peaks.
Ibon de Gorgutes
The wind had blown the snow away in places; yet by following the ridgeline, I could see the footprints continued over a large outcrop of rock and up to another bowl between the peaks. It was mid afternoon now; so I knew the sun was only setting and against me.
Striding on, forwards and upwards, I reached the: ‘Ibon de Gorgutes’ in half an hour. The snow was now very deep in places, as it was sheltered from the sun and wind. So a few times I sank to my groin; even after testing with my trusty trekking pole.
After rounding a snow covered bluff; the lake came into view and I silently celebrated in my mind. I thought of being here in high summer; when I could lay down in the short grass and relax or even swim in the lake to escape the midday sun. Yet it was now autumn and the first snowfall had covered this natural beauty spot in up to a metre of snow!
Leaving the trodden path to reach a safe and shallow shore of the lake; I refilled my bottle with crystal clear water. Sipping it, to stop the cold water from chilling my throat; I enjoyed the natural flavour that can never come from a tap, back home in England.
I was looking for a large rock to sit down on and enjoy my picnic; so my eye followed it’s ego upwards. What seemed just ten minutes walk away was a break in the high ridgeline that delineated the border between Spain and France. Checking my watch to see if I had enough daylight; I set off in earnest towards France!
Making it to the French border
As I began to climb past the lake; the snow deepened considerably as the pass narrowed into a funnel. Yet I set myself a turn-around time because of the setting sun and pressed on and up. My positive mental attitude paid off as I soon climbed to where the snow met the sky! I was now at the pass called: ‘Puerto de Glera’ or the ‘Puerto de Gorgutes’.
Looking north I could now see down into a wooded valley in France. This valley would eventually lead to Bagneres de Luchon and north out of the Pyrenees. It was amazing to think, that in times of war; these same passes were used by people fleeing for their lives! Yet here today, I could peacefully lay my coat on a stone; open a beer and enjoy a meaty sandwich and simply enjoy the views and tranquillity of nature.
Whilst I ate and drank, it was warm enough to just sit in a T-shirt. So I took off my now sweat laden cotton jumper; turned it inside out and dried it on the rock next to me. Here you can climb up to the Pico Sacroux (2671m); yet I was happy to climb up this far in one afternoon to a impressive altitude of 2364 metres!
The wind picked up just as I finished the last mouthful of sandwich as if to warn me that time was against me. So whilst taking photos with both memory and phone; I got dressed and started my descent.
Returning to the civilisation of a bar
The return journey was the same way; so I had no more problems with navigation. The downward gradients made movement three times quicker; yet I still managed to sink in the snow now and again. Yet I was very happy and very relaxed; so every leg and faceplant in the snow was now comically amusing!
The warm glow from drinking one strong beer and the extra energy from my hearty sandwich; made the experience all the more convivial as I stepped, slid and sank my way back down.
Eventually returning to my car, I noticed it had icy windows from being in the long evening shadows. So I just enjoyed sitting in the comfy car seat; as the engine warmed up and the windscreen cleared for me to see. I was in no rush now and it seemed mother nature agreed as the landscape slowly relaxed into a long cool night. Finally returning to Benasque, I entered a bar to for my evening meal. The waitress smiled as she explained how sun-kissed and healthy I looked. “Yes” I replied smiling,: “I walked all the way to France; yet it was very relaxing”.
Here is a link to Amazon; to buy the map and gaiters that I used for this route:
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