Sunday, January 03, 2010

Three Routes In Aigüestortes

Way back in September, as a test to see whether I might survive our trip to Nepal, we spent a weekend walking in the national park of Aigüestortes. It's a long trip by road from Madrid to this park in the Catalan Pyrenees, and I think if we decide to do it again we will take the train to Lleida and make our way up from that city. The weather forecast for the weekend we went was gloomy, almost bad enough for us to think twice about making the journey. In the end things weren't that terrible and we missed the worst of the weather.

Our base for the weekend was the small village of Esterri D'Aneu, which lies a few kilometres away from the main entrance to the national park. On the first day we did a route from the park entrance near Espot to the Portarró D'Espot. This is where many of the routes in the park begin from. You cannot take private vehicles beyond the entry barrier, but the gentle walk up to the popular Estany Sant Maurici is worth doing anyway. Because it had been raining recently the woods on either side of the path were full of wild mushrooms, more than I have seen anywhere else.

From Sant Maurici the path to Portarró takes you past the small refuge of Ernest Mallafre and then starts to climb more sharply taking you above the lake. The paths in Aigüestortes, at least the ones that we took, are in excellent condition and there are signposts to guide walkers in the right direction.

As we got higher up we found out just how bad the weather had been the day before, we were walking on fresh snow. Officially we were still (just) in summer when we did this walk but the conditions suggested otherwise.

At the top we attempted to find a way up the peak beside the path but gave up as the snow hid the path and the views down the other side from the ridge were already spectacular enough.

In theory it's possible to do a circular route that continues over the other side of the Portarró but somehow we missed the path that takes you back to Sant Maurici and gave up after half an hour, returning the same way we had come. This is a medium level route, around 16 kilometres and with an ascent of about 800 metres.

On day two we did another route from the same start point at the park entrance up to the Puerto de Ratera. This means repeating the stretch to Sant Maurici but from there you can follow a path that goes up to a nearby waterfall and then continue beyond this up to the Estany de Ratera. From this point onwards the path rises through some typical rocky Pyrenean scenery to the ridge. The views of the route behind us were beautiful, ahead of us was a wall of cloud and it was cold at the top.

To take the route back you need to retrace your steps from the ridge of La Ratera and take a signposted path which leads down to the refuge of Amitges. This is a proper mountain refuge providing food and accommodation for those who need it. For us it was a handy place to stop to avoid the rain that had started to fall. From this point we improvised a route back to Sant Maurici by taking a path that runs from the dam just opposite the refuge. It's just about possible to follow a path of sorts, but occasionally this way involves going over some rough terrain and the easier alternative is to follow the main path down from the refuge. This route is a bit longer and more difficult than the ascent to Portarró but not significantly so.

On our last day we went to the northern tip of Aigüestortes along the road that leads to Vielha. We did a short route here as we had the long journey back to Madrid ahead of us, but the walk up to the Estany de Gerber is definitely worth it. Nobody else was walking this route on a quiet Monday morning and the surroundings were fantastic.

I passed the fitness test, so I could go to Nepal. This is the map of the routes we did.

View Walking Routes in Aigüestortes in a larger map


Rab said...

If you liked this one, I can recommend the Montardo in the Val d'Aran. (Only summer months though)

About 5-7h up the way at slow pace and quite impressive landscape. When you get to the top (c2800m), it is quite a treat. Sometimes you can see eagles circling below the summit.
It is really beautiful.

Graeme said...

Thanks Rab, I'll bear it in mind for future trips.