Just back from a couple of weeks in the Pyrenees..where we were able to escape to some extent from the oven-like experience of this Summer in the center of the Peninsula. Not to say that it was especially cool up North, but, while some afternoons were quite hot, the mornings and evenings usually offered fresher temperatures..with the odd Summer storm thrown in for good measure.
The first few days we did several easy hiking routes in the Valle de Estós, a tributary valley to the Valle de Benasque and surely one of the most beautiful and accessible valleys in the Pyrenees. The valley starts low at around 1300m and ascends gradually..but as soon as you enter the valley you are immediately confronted by the huge 3000m peaks that flank it on all sides.
Another attractive characteristic of this valley is that many of its low-altitude trails progress thru considerable stretches of forest shade. The alpine views are limited on these stretches..but when the midday sun begins to hit, you may be thankful for the canopy of beech, birch or hazel hanging over your head.
And you needn’t worry, there will always come a moment where the canopy parts and the alpine comes back into focus..just a little, or, a bit further on, a whole lot!
This was our destination on the first day, a pastoral cabin located in the middle of the valley at a point where the valley floor widens out and allows you to take in the views all round. Bucolic beauty at its best!
Another day we climbed a little higher on one side of the valley along a steep hillside covered in hazel (avellano) to a small coomb where another cabin is located.
On this day, while the skies remained blue and clear for most of the morning, the weather began to change in the early afternoon..so we hurried back down towards the lower valley..
..as the sky began to rumble in the distance, and we barely made it to shelter before the storm broke. About one of every three or four days threatened an afternoon storm, though we only got serious rain on a couple of occasions.
Another day we hiked up the opposite side of the valley towards the area known as Batisielles, famous for its beautiful lagunas..locally known as ibons or ibones. This route is perfect for hot days because, although the trail zigzags steeply upwards, you seem to walk thru a continuous tunnel of vegetation. The trees in this case are beeches and birches, giving way to conifers as you reach the first ibon..
I have to admit that there was a downside to this route..the arboreal tunnel leading to Batisielles, despite providing wonderful shade, is also home to many many mosquitos. And i ended the day impacted not only by the soaring spires of Ixeia and the great rock needles of Perramo above Batisielles but also – multiple times – by these tiny denizens of the green.
After several days spent in and around Estós, we took a rest day or two – a certain 5-year-old needed some urban stimulation – before heading up the Benasque valley where we would get a little closer to the high mountain zone that, so far, we had only seen towering above us.
But that’ll be for another post!