The shortest hiking season ever!

Well, we started running hiking trips again in early July with the situation in Spain at the time improving greatly and travel within Europe starting up again. We had some brilliant hikes with our long-standing guests Anne and Danny here for a week’s private guiding in the Valle de Tena, a few couples on our Village to Village itinerary in the high Pyrenees and several families doing hiking and activities.

I’m pleased to say they all had a wonderful time in the Pyrenees with plenty of high peaks conquered under blue skies and sunshine. The families enjoyed themselves kayaking, on the kilometre-long zipline, mountain biking and canyoning.

Then sadly the coronavirus situation flared up again and, only three weeks after the first guests of the season arrived, travel restrictions were back in place and that was that for the season! Blink and you’d miss it – Hike Pyrenees shortest season ever!

I have to say the new travel restrictions, whilst totally understandable and not wholly unexpected, did come as a bit of a blow. Things had started to look positive once again and it was brilliant to be out in the mountains, showing our guests this wonderful area. We had started getting new enquiries and bookings, particularly from families, and then suddenly we were back to cancellations and postponements once again. Oh well, such is life at the moment in these uncertain and difficult times for everyone.

I’ve been making the most of my summer, spending lots of time with the family – I’m usually rushed off my feet all summer so it makes a nice change to have the time to take the kids to the pool each afternoon. We’ve been renovating a barn for the last couple of years and I’ve spent lots of time working there and we’ve got a wonderful vegetable garden that the whole family helped plant out.

I’d like to share a few photos of the trips we did manage to do this July. The hikes with Anne and Danny were spectacular. They are both as fit as fiddles and as they’ve both hiked in the area before, we did plenty of long routes to peaks that we don’t do very often. The week cumulated with a monster 24km, 1600 metre ascent of Pico de Catieras (2607m). See below for more photos and info on the routes we did during the week.

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Canyoning is one of our most popular family activities and several of the families that visited this July did a canyoning trip. There’s a brilliant canyon for families in the valley called Gorgol – it’s a great mixture of jumps, abseils and slides down a beautifully carved out limestone gorge.

We hadn’t done Gorgol as a whole family before so one day we headed there and did the canyon ourselves. At 6 years old it was Christopher’s first canyon and he absolutely loved it and insisted on doing all of the big jumps.

Pic Peyreget (2487m)

Our first days’ hiking with Danny and Anne started from the Spanish-French border at Portalet. The peak of Peyreget lies just on the French side of the border, right next to the famous Pic du Midi d’Ossau which towers over it. We actually headed out in quite a bit of mist, but soon we climbed out of it and had beautiful views of loads of summits peaking through the sea of cloud below.

The summit views were simply wonderful but probably eclipsed by the great views you get of Midi d’Ossau as you descend right below the Pombie face which has an enormous amount of climbing routes on it. We were lucky to get brilliant views from the Pombie lake before the mist closed in again. Great first day to get us going!

Ibones de Arriel

The Ibones de Arriel are known as one of the prettiest collection of mountain lakes in the Pyrenees and they were our objective for the second days hike. The route initially followed the GR11 long-distance path, which goes from the Meditteranean to the Atlantic, amongst meadows and beech woods with waterfalls alongside you. The serious work then began as we turned off the GR11, leaving the lush woods behind and headed up a steep scree field to the first ‘Ibon’ – which is the Aragonese name for a mountain lake.

The lakes sit at around 2200 metres, in a rocky glacial cirque and the scenery now had a very high mountain feel about it. We had to cross a few snow patches and the lakes looked beautiful with the high peaks of Arriel and Palas towering above. From the lakes, we then did a beautiful traverse path around to the Embalse de Respomuso – wonderful views and nice easy level walking! We rested a while soaking in the views and then took the GR11 for the long descent back to the van.

Brilliant day – Ruby, our dog, joined us and I’m sure she enjoyed it just as much as we did!

Pico Bacias (2760m)

Heading ever higher, our third day’s hike took us to Pico Bacias above Baños de Panticosa. It’s a great climb first up to Ibon de Brazato and then across a boulder field to the Collado de Brazato. From here you get magnificent views of the Spanish side of Vignemale – the highest mountain in the French Pyrenees. On the Spanish side, Vignemale has enormous walls beneath the summit – several are bright white as they are made of marble.

We actually did two summits (we’re greedy!), both involving a bit of scrambling. The unnamed peak that we did first had great views to the north – the Garmo Negro massif with its cluster of three thousand metre peaks. We then traversed along a lovely ridge to Pico Bacias. As you take the final steps to the summit the whole of the northern side of the Ordesa National Park comes into view. You can see the Cirque de Gavarnie, Monte Perdido and loads more three thousand metre summits. I haven’t done this route for ages with guests and I’d forgotten just how spectacular it is.

We descended really steeply down to the far side of the lake and headed back down to Baños. At 16km and 1300 metres of tough ascent, this was our longest day yet and I was certainly ready for the rest day – I know we had walked a good few kilometres as I even managed to destroy a pair of trusted boots!

Ibon de Estanes

After a resting the legs with a cultural visit to the 10th century monastery of San Juan de la Peña, Thursday saw us back out on in the mountains again. We headed to the French Pyrenees through the 8km long Somport tunnel. Our objective was the lake of Ibon de Estanes which Anne and Danny had visited on our snowshoeing holidays last year. The last time they were here we could walk out to the middle of the deeply frozen lake!

Again we started hiking in mist, but it didn’t look thick and we thought we’d soon hike up and out of it. The route up is fairly steep and involves going up a ladder at one particularly steep point which is a bit unusual. The mist kept hanging around and rising with us until just as we reached the lake it cleared a bit and we got some very atmospheric views of a mist covered lake.

We hiked around the lake and then continued onto to a beautiful spot called Auigestortes. Anne and Danny will have to take my word for it being beautiful though, as the mist came down again and we got a complete white out which only lifted to be replaced by a torrential thunderstorm. It was one of the heaviest I’ve been caught in. We luckily found a big overhanging rock to shelter under and then watched in amazement as waterfalls formed all around us. When it eased a bit we started hiking again but the grassy meadows had been transformed into flood plains that we had no option but to wade through! At one point the brown muddy water flowed into a big hole in the ground and just disappeared – it was incredible to see.

After wading through a few more newly formed streams we made it back to the van looking like drowned rats – glad you guys have a good sense of adventure!

Pico de Catieras (2607m)

Our final day saw us tackle a monster 24km, 1600 metre ascent route that I’d not done with guests before. Starting from the ski station at Panticosa we first headed to the entrance of the Valle de La Ripera – a hike many of our guests will know well. But instead of heading into La Ripera, we continued straight on to the valley of Yenefrito with its famous ‘dedo’ – a rock structure looking like a pointing finger.

The climbing kept going and going as we first passed the Ibon de Catieras where we had lunch before the final summit push. I was surprised that there was still a decent sized snow patch we had to navigate around. After some steep climbing we finally around at the summit which had wonderful views in all directions.

Then we started the long descent and I think in the end even the ever-energetic Danny was pleased to see the van!

A meal at the lovely El Montañes restaurant rounded off a fantastic week of hiking. Thank you so much for coming guys – it was great to see you again and felt brilliant to be showing people these beautiful mountains once again.

Thanks to all the families and guests who braved the challenges of travel this July to join us – it was much appreciated.

With travel to Spain not allowed from most countries at the moment, our holidays are currently on hold. We’re here and waiting for travel to get back to some sort of normality again and can’t wait to welcome you all back to the Pyrenees again.

We hope all of our friends, guests and readers are keeping well. We miss you all and let’s hope we can all get out hiking again soon.

Private guiding with Anne and Danny



1 Comment

  1. Bob Bourgeois

    Hi Phil,
    Thanks for sending us a message and blog to update Cathy and I on how the pandemic has impacted you over the past year. I have kept in touch with Joe, Mad, Paul and Barbara and all of us members of the pygmies hiking team are looking forward to when we can eventually get to hike with you in the Pyrenees again. As you know the situation in both the UK and the US is really alarming and in Canada, although our numbers are somewhat better, the government has also initiated lock down measures in hopes of flattening the curve. Here’s hoping that the various vaccine roll-outs can begin to make a real improvement so that we are free once more to safely travel internationally. Let’s stay in touch and hopefully we can see one another again either in the summer or soon thereafter.
    Merry Christmas to you and family, and a safe and healthy New Year.


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