The Pyrenees divide France and Spain from east to west. Three big hiking tracks run parallel through the mountains - the GR10 (more on the French side), GR 11 (Spanish side) and the HRP (somewhere in between). In August 2015 I hiked five days in the area south-east of Toulouse (Parc Naturel Regional des Pyrenees Catalanes) and I want to share the route we planned to take plus the one we actually took ;)
The actual plan was to arrive in Toulouse late night, sleep at a hostel and take the first strain to Tarascon-sur-Ariège and continue with the bus to Azuat and start the hike at around 12am, do ~20km each day and arrive at Bolquèr on day 6. In the department Pyrénées-Orientales a bus rides you from A to B for just 1€ (but you may have to reserve it in advance). You can find the track here if you are interested.
Route actually taken
We arrived a half day late and the weather forecast was not super shiny for our trip, so we decided to cut some kilometers and start further east than planned.
Day 0 (How we got there)
We arrived with the TGV in Avignon a day before because there were some super-saver tickets available. From Avignon we used BlaBlaCar, a very popular ride-sharing community in France, to get to Narbonne, where we started hitch-hiking via Perpignan Airport, Quillian, Saint-Paul-de-Jarrat, Trascon-sur-Ariege to Orlu. I would not recommend hitch-hiking this route because most people can only take you a few kilometers with them. We were really lucky because our last ride made a detour for us to drop us at Orlu, where we could stay on a camp site.
distance 20.1km, total climb 1,660m, total descent 981m, track.
A marked hiking trail runs through the camp site and merges with the GR 107 after around 2km. The way is occasionally used by cars, but is only paved sparely. We left the “street” after 6km and claimed the GR 107 to Col de Joux (km 12, trail is marked and signed).
After a few hundred meters we started to descend to Merens-les-Vals to refresh ourselves with some coffee. From Merens we followed the creek Le Nabre (sign-posted way but no official GR) until around 8pm (sunset is at 9.30pm in August but the sun sinks behind mountains at around 8pm and the temperature drops a few degrees).
distance 19.9km, total climb 1,920m, total descent 1,370m, track.
We followed the stream further up to some small lake L’Esagnas. The valley between our camp and this lake was very beautiful and had many great opportunities to set up a tent.
After the lake the path climbs further to around 2300m before falling 300m to the Refuge des Bésines (km 7). From there on we followed the HRP / GR 10 to the east to the Col de la Coume d’Aniel (2460m) before we declined to a small hut (Cabane de Rouzet) at the north end of _Rec de Lanos. The hut is very small, but features a small fire place and a table as well as space for 5 sleeping bags. From here we had to choose to follow the HRP south to Refuce de La Guimbarde, camp there and climb the Pic Calit the next day, or take the Portella de la Grava saddle via the GR 10. The weather forecast predicted a thunderstorm for 2pm the next day - a climb to the Pic Calit would be possible, but the route runs extremely steep (we were told by other hikers) and since we had trouble with too heavy rucksacks, we sticked to the other alternative. We were rewarded with a astonishing beautiful valley of the Têt, where we stayed for the night.
distance 22.3km, total climb 1,450m, total descent 1,500m, track.
We followed the river and reached Lac de Bouillouses with a refuge at the southern end. The kind attendant took our backpacks so we could climb Pic Calit from the east without heavy luggage. Unfortunately Lac de Bouillouses is a popular destination for families and groups so we had a lot of other hikers on the tracks. From the refuge it is a 9km hike to the summit (~2900m high). The first 8 km are fairly easy and just a steep track. A small lake with an ice field is the perfect spot of a short rest where you can refill your water.
The next kilometer is technically more challenging and you need good grip and have to use your hands multiple times. Most of the other hikers were Spanish children who climbed the mountain with ease (and sang songs on the way up ^_^).
Luckily the weather report was false and we did not have any thunderstorm on the summit at 2pm although blushing indicated a weather change.
distance 26.5km, total climb 1,570, total descent 1,570, track.
Again - the weather report indicated rain from noon on, so we left the stuff at the hut and started a tour with lighter backpacks. We followed the lakeside north and hiked parallel to La Têt further north and then up to Pic Peric [we lost the track several times between km 8.5 and 11 (before the climb to the mountain], so the track on GPSies might not be the best). We waited at km 8 for several hours because the weather was not in our favor and we had to make sure that we could climb the summit without a thunderstorm close, but fortunately there was a small metal hut nearby.
Pic Peric (2810m) has a smaller summit right next to it (Petit Peric, 2690m) which we had to climb to descent into the valley east of the twin summits. The descend is very steep and should not be taken when wet.
The lake at the Refuge des Camporells is very beautiful and features many nice spots for camping, including an official place where you can use the facilities of the Refuge for a small fee. The 11km back to our Refuge were, as the lake, very beautiful and we regret that we did not had our complete gear with us.
distance 16.5km, total climb 570, total descent 760, track.
On the last day we followed the GR 10 from the Refuge down to Bolquére where we wanted to take the bus to Perpignan. On noon it started to rain and we had some trouble getting to the tourist information (where the bus leaves) on time. We had luck and some local guy drove us with his truck to the bus stop. Pro tip for next planning: Look for the location of bus stops before hiking to some random point of the village and then search for the stop.
What (not) to bring on the GR 10 / HRP
Stuff we had with us and used:
- Tent, light sleeping bag + light air mattress
- Rain jacked, fleece jacked, hiking socks, etc (you get the picture)
- camping stove, small pots
- Couscous, red lentils, packet soup and tortellini
- Avocados, nuts, raisins, dried dates, a lot of fitness bars
- water capacities for 3.5L / 4.5L each
- map, GPS tracker, first-aid kit, etc …
The few days that I sent in the Pyrenees mountains were great! The views are amazing, the people are nice and it is not too crowded. On the other side you are able to sleep in huts and hike without a tent at all. This was not an option for us because we booked the arrival journey short-handed and could not reserve any Refugees (and wanted to save money). The trade-off between hiking with light backpacks and gain a lot of altitude and hiking with complete gear and be independent of infrastructure is difficult. You might end up sleeping in a Refuge because the weather changes and you have to find shelter.
A very good site for planning is mitrucksack.de.
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