The Carros de Foc is in the beautiful Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, and it’s a gorgeous part of the Pyrenees with lots of alpine lakes and forests, and granite underfoot. We did a 6 day route (5 days, plus an hour or so getting to our starting refugio in the Park on the first day): Refugio Ernest Mallafrè / Estany de Sant Maurici – Refugio J.M. Blanc – Refugio Colomina – Refugio Estany Llong – Refugio Amitges – Estany de Sant Maurici.
La Ruta de las Golondrinas is further west and in a more developed area (roads, ski resorts) but beautiful deciduous forests and plenty of peaks plus limestone underfoot. Here we did the 4 day Golondrina Clásica: Refugio de Belagua – Refugio de Linza – Refuge de l’Abérouat – Refuge Jeandel – Refugio de Belagua.
We were on the Spanish side of the Pirineos for most of the time, but las Golondrinas took us into France – and thus the Pyrénées – for a couple of days and nights. The trekking was straightforward (we didn’t tackle the trickier sections of the Carros de Foc) although las Golondrinas included one very long day (day 2) and one short section of cable to help us down from Pas de l’Osque on day 3.
Both routes made use of the refugios / refuges for sleeping and food with dinner, bed, breakfast and packed lunch coming in at around €75 pppn. The Spanish refugios were all excellent, the French refuges so-so. On the Carros de Foc we slept in dorms whereas las Golondrinas provided rooms for 8 or 4.
For the Carros de Foc you book direct, for las Golondrinas, which is a relatively new route, you can book a package and you’re provided with a map (and a branded T-shirt, thermos and swag bag!) at the start of the trek.
Maps: Editorial Alpina publishes the Carros de Foc hiking map and guidebook (ISBN: 9788480908641) and they also print the 1:25,000 Ruta de las Golondrinas map that’s provided as part of the package.
Photos are in my Flickr Album: Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso & Manu, August / September 2023
And here are Alfonso ….
… and Manu:
and one of the many, many teenage selfies taken on the trip:
We had a brilliant time. Here’s what we did.
Tuesday, 29 August 2023: Hereford – London (Photos)
Wednesday, 30 August 2023: Fly London Stansted to Lourdes (Photos)
Overnight: Luxury Loft Lourdes
Thursday, 31 August 2023: Drive Lourdes to Parking de Prat Pierró. Walk to Refugio Ernest Mallafrè (1885m) (Photos)
Carros de Foc day 1: 3.7km +241m -16m
Meet Alfonso, Manu & Esther.
Drive Lourdes – Vielha – Esterri d’Àneu – Espot – Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park / Parking de Prat Pierró.
Walk to Refugio Ernest Mallafrè via Els Encantats and Estany de Sant Maurici.
Overnight: Refugio Ernest Mallafrè.
Friday, 01 September 2023: Refugio Ernest Mallafrè (1885m) – Coll de Monestero (2715m) – Refugio J.M. Blanc (2310m) (Photos)
Carros de Foc day 2: 8.6km +850m -450m
Evergreen forests, alpine meadows with clear mountain streams, mirror pools and lake (Estany de Monestero), our first “elevenses” with a view back down into the valley of the Riu de Monestero, scree section up to the Coll de Monestero and magic views from the pass ….
… descending towards the lakes and a photo opp on the granite block perched over a no-name lake, Estany Negre de Peguera and its beautiful stepped dam …
… strolling through old pine forests, and getting our first sight of Refugio J.M. Blanc in its stunning setting on the Estany Tort de Peguera peninsula…..
… beers on arrival at the Refugio and, later, after dinner, relaxing on the sun deck at sundown and watching the lightening on the other side of the mountains.
Overnight: Refugio J.M. Blanc.
Saturday, 02 September 2023: Refugio J.M Blanc (2310m) – Coll de Saburó (2718m) – Pas de l’Ós (2542m) – Refugio Colomina (2395m) (Photos)
Carros de Foc day 3: 6.8km +400m -300m
A cool day, with rain clouds only just keeping above head height all the time we were out. And shortly after we arrived at lovely Refugio Colomina (my favourite), the clouds descended, the heavens opened and the wind picked up. Not nice walking for the family that arrived in dribs and drabs over the next hour or so. The Refugio team rallied round and provided hot drinks, towels, warm clothes, and asked us not to use the free, solar-heated, showers so that they could to warm up.
A lovely afternoon featuring Tea and Twix, Pochohontas and Ornitorrinco, and Tina’s Map – the one the professionals use.
It was also day where I discovered I’d not brought any spare charged camera batteries with me, and my one and only battery ran out at Refugio J.M. Blanc. Thank heavens for Manu’s Many Cables – and the Colomina’s bank of plug sockets. My batteries were back up to 100% in less than an hour.
Overnight: Refugio Colomina.
Sunday, 03 September 2023: Refugio Colomina (2395m) – Colladeta de Dellui (2557m) – Refugio Estany Llong (1985m) (Photos)
Carros de Foc day 4: 12.6km +400m -820m
A cloudy start developed into a very wet morning, but thankfully the rain (and wind) held off almost all the way to the Colladeta de Dellui.
The morning featured a section along a disused mine railway line that brought a trip (me) and two falls (me & Esther), and a lot more lakes: Estany de Colomina, Estany Tort, Estany de Mariolo, Estany de Cubieso and Estany Eixerola, and on the other side of the Colladeta de Dellui, Estany de Dellui and the beautifully named Estanyets de Dellui.
Grassland gave way to a rocky traverse with views down into the valley accompanied by Rachel’s emergency chocolate, followed by a descent through the Bosc de les Corticelles and the Bosc d’Estany Llong that brought chamoix, bilberries and juniper – and, as the rain started to ease off for good, Refugio Estany Llong.
Sodden boots off and wet stuff hung up to drip dry, we were welcomed in to picnic inside.
A sunny afternoon, just right for a stroll down into the valley of the Aigüestortes and a paddle in the Riu de Sant Nicolau – and pooh sticks.
The sunshine and the breeze made for perfect drying weather.
The night when the other English group agreed that “the bottom bunks ought to be reserved for the over 50s”. Ah, if only they knew ….
Overnight: Refugio Estany Llong.
Monday, 04 September 2023: Refugio Estany Llong (1985m) – Portarró d’Espot (2430m) – Refugio Amitges (2380m) (Photos)
Carros de Foc day 5: 8.1km +800m -500m
A fab day.
The day our route did a short cut between two section of the Carros de Foc proper. Lovely trail, lovely weather, time to loiter and linger.
Lots of opportunities to Do Something!
Franco’s Road, the Pi de Peixerani, Portarró d’Espot and its Mirador, smashing views of Estany de Sant Maurici and El Encantats …
… the Race to the Lone Pine ….
… raspberries, a paddle (for some) and a picnic at lunchtime, relaxing at Refugio Amitges, chanting on the shores of sparkling Estany dels Barbs, spotting Alfonso and Manu high up on their Agulles d’Amitges, and cold beers and cocktail snacks before dinner.
Overnight: Refugio Amitges.
Tuesday, 05 September 2023: Refugio Amitges (2380m) – Estany St. Maurici (1912m) – Parking de Prat Pierró (980m). Drive to Vielha (Photos)
Carros de Foc day 6: 9.3km +40m -740m
A leisurely last day on the Carros de Foc, dropping back down to Estany de Sant Maurici via the exhilarating Cascada de Ratera and learning / singing Arde Londres.
Back at Estany de Sant Maurici we found a quiet spot for elevenses and Instagram, flocks of small birds and ripples of jumping fish, before walking back to Parking de Prat Pierró where it was time to say a fond farewell to Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes y Estany de Sant Maurici.
Another lovely lunch at Restaurant Vall d’Àneu in Esterri d’Àneu then back to Vielha and two lovely rooms (and showers and clean clothes) at Hotel Eth Pomèr.
No photos from the evening, so it must have been a good one… Oh, and Alfonso sent us a video of the three of them climbing back up to their Vielha base.
Overnight: Eth Pomèr, Vielha.
[20 October 2023: This is as far as I’d got when Phil and I headed off for our sunny week in Northern Italy. I’m flagging a bit having come back to finish off these photos & notes. So the daily descriptions may be a bit brief.]
Wednesday, 06 September 2023: Drive from Vielha to Refugio de Belagua (1428m) via Ainsa and Jaca (Photos)
A tasty breakfast buffet at Eth Pomèr, farewell to Esther, then the long drive west for our second short trek in the Pirineos, the Ruta de las Golondrinas.
En route we stopped at Ainsa (mediaeval hill town) and Jaca (canteen lunch, food shopping – Mini Magnums! – and perusing outdoor kit at Barrabés) but decided to skip Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña as we didn’t have enough time.
Refugio de Belagua (technically Refugio Ángel Oloron) was our base for the Golondrinas, and on a sunny September afternoon it was packed. Lovely views out over deciduous forests and back down the valley, and a super-well organised refugio with a really lovely team – who presented us with our surprise Golondrinas swag!
Overnight: Refugio de Belagua.
Thursday, 07 September 2023: Rincón de Belagua car park (~900m) – Collado de Maze (1540m) – Refugio de Linza (1340m) (Photos)
Ruta de las Golondrinas day 1: 14km +700m -350 m
Cathedral forests, meadows and sparkling spiders webs….
… a stiff climb, shady woods and a pincic … and showers, beers and Scrabble in Spanish at Refugio Linza
Overnight: Refugio de Linza.
Friday, 08 September 2023: Refugio de Linza (1340m) – Collado de Petrachema / Port d’Anso (2090m) – Refuge de l’Abérouat (France) (1442m) (Photos)
Ruta de las Golondrinas day 2: 21.6km +1300m -1200m
The longest day by a mile, in terms of both distance (~22km) and duration (we set off at 7.20am and finished at 6.30pm; 11 hours elapsed time). But really fab: startled chamois and whistling marmots; grassy valleys, limestone rocky plateau and scree descent; beech woods and streams, waterfalls and rivers; fab views from the Col de Pétragème, plus spiralling choughs and climbers at the base of the Petite Aiguille d’Ansabère, a novel-reading, red wine-drinking, hanging-chair-owning berger selling his goats cheese at the Plateau d’Ansabère …..
…. and at the end, beers, cold beers, 7% beers!
Oh, and Bonjour la France!
The hardest section was the 4km on the road in the Vallée d’Aspe, partly because it was the literal low point of the day and we knew we had a 700m climb up to the refuge and partly because it was on superheated, radiating, tarmac.
Overnight: Refuge de l’Abérouat. <– aka the one with the ridiculously low headroom for the top bunk. I couldn’t even sit up without hitting my head on the ceiling.
Saturday, 09 September 2023: Refuge de l’Abérouat (1442m) – Pas d’Azuns (1862m) – Pas de l’Osque (1922m) – Refuge Jeandel (1620m) (Photos)
Ruta de las Golondrinas day 3: 11.8km +600m -400m (plus a bit extra for the Les Tourelles (2041m))
One of the best days, beginning with a rendition of Cumpleaños Feliz to send to Australia and featuring a scramble up Les Tourelles and chain descent from Pas de l’Osque.
Jeandel was a bit of a let down, and La Pierre Saint Martin sans snow is truly ugly.
Overnight: Refuge Jeandel. <– aka the one with the worst food (quantity and quality)
Sunday, 10 September 2023: Refuge Jeandel (1620m) – Pic d’Arlas (2044m) – Refugio de Belagua (1428m) – Rincón de Belagua car park (~900m) (Photos)
Ruta de las Golondrinas day 4: 16.5km +600m -1230m
Up Pic d’Arlas, and back down into Spain.
Rolling grasslands and an occasional stretch of tarmac brought us back to Refugio de Belagua.
After a late lunch, for the completists it was a super steep descent from Refugio de Belagua to the Rincón de Belagua car park to retrieve the van. Lovely end to a lovely trek.
Overnight: Refugio de Belagua.
Monday, 11 September 2023: Refugio de Belagua – Lourdes – London (Photos)
Drive to airport. Fly Lourdes to London Stansted. Train and tube to Hazel’s.
Tuesday, 12 September 2023: London (Photos)
David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom in the Coal Drops Yard redevelopment north of Kings Cross.
A soft launch late lunch at Paro Indian (recommended!) followed by a tour of the outdoor kit shops of Southampton Street.
Wednesday, 13 September 2023: London – Hereford (Photos)
GWR train delay / termination at Great Malvern (grrr) made for a slow journey home – but Phil-the-taxi was waiting for me at Hereford.