We are the water planet. And we are water beings..even those of us who don’t swim or enjoy getting immersed in h2o, every living thing on Earth..we are made of water, we are totally dependent on water for life. Personally, though i am always amazed by the sea – or any great body of water – i am not especially attracted to it. Indeed i see the attraction of visiting the “seaside” as something akin to the attraction of visiting a zone affected by the plague. I prefer my water in large quantities frozen. Nevertheless i am not immune to the delights of flowing liquid water in lesser volumes. Have i not waxed lyrical this very Spring on the wonderful waters of the Sierra de Guadarrama? The streams and waterfalls of Guadarrama tend to dry up a bit however as the Summer progresses, the higher Sierra taking on a very desert appearance. Not so the Pyrenees. Summer in the mountains of Pirene is just a continuation of..la fiesta del agua.
This month of July we visited the Benasque Valley, once again, to experience this liquid fiesta..
The impact of the Estós River as you walk up the lower Estós Valley, just off the main Valley of Benasque, is truly forceful. The water seems to hurl itself downwards over rocks and small drops with an apparent driving intent. Year after year, in late Spring or early Summer, it never ceases to impress me.
Further up the same valley you have the magnificent falls of Gorgues Galantes, where the Estós River tumbles down a steep drop in the valley floor, rushes between walls of rock and cascades once more in a most spectacular manner..this last seen in the above shot taken from a somewhat precarious mirador overlooking the gorge. Riveting entertainment, you find yourself transfixed..time seems to stand still.
In practically every valley you will find white water, rushing streams, falls and tumultuous rivers..but there is also another ubiquitous Pyrenean water feature: the ibón or mountain lake. These small lakes of glacial origin are scattered throughout the Pyrenees, generally to be found above 2000m and as high as 3000m.
Here we see the ibón de Gorgutes, perched above Llanos del Hospital in the Benasque Valley at 2320m. This lake occurs very high on the watershed, just a few minutes walk from the historic pass between Spain and France known as Puerto de la Glera (2367m).
In this picture our group can be seen just about to reach the pass above the lake..and France! On the French side a sea of cloud lay in wait for us, in marked contrast to the clear views of the Maladeta massif across the valley on the Spanish side. And while the ibón may be just a few minutes from France, it’s several hours hiking from the valley floor in Spain. The trail up is of course decorated by lots of other water features such as this one..
On the other side of the Benasque Valley, opposite to Estós and Gorgutes, is the somewhat less travelled Vallibierna Valley. Less travelled maybe..but not less spectacular. The Vallibierna river has a beautiful red-brown colour to it, due to the mineral nature of the rock.
The lower Vallibierna Valley is a vast ravine, where the river has worn its way deep down into the rock, and the upper valley presents – you probably guessed it – several high mountain lakes, principally the ibóns de Vallibierna. The following photo shows the ibón inferior, at 2400m.
This lake is relatively large and the glacial basin in which it sits gives a great sense of stillness and calm..as can be appreciated in the near perfect reflection its still waters offered. Captivating..the sense of touching the eternal.
I’ll offer another shot of the ibón inferior de Vallibierna, trying, perhaps in vain, to communicate the enchanting stillness of the place..a very profound place, a somehow perfect place. The eternal made tangible?
This very compelling contrast between the great stillness and absorbing peace of the lakes..and the intense, racing, almost violent energy of the rushing streams, rivers and falls had never struck me before, in multiple visits to the Pyrenees. Both phenomena are very beautiful in their different ways, the two versions of water are equally entrancing..despite their black and white, ‘worlds apart’ opposition.
I could hardly finish this post without including one more water feature..from the top of the Benasque Valley. The ineffable falls of Aigualluts. Perhaps the picture-postcard image of the Pyrenees.
Meltwater from the Glacier of Aneto, monarch of the Pyrenees, flows down to the valley, meanders gently across a small plain, crashes over a fall and into a karstic rip in the rock where it disappears underground to resurface kilometers away in France and follow its course to the Atlantic.
If you haven’t seen it, go.