One of the items on our “things-to-do-in-Spain” list was to take a walk in the Pyrenees. Deciding where exactly in the Pyrenees to take this walk was quite tough, as the Pyrenees is rather long, with many regions and trails to choose from. After some mulling, we decided on the Ordesa valley, which the internet says is where “the Pyrenees is at its most majestic”.
So we bought ourselves some wind resistant jackets, raincoats and gloves and made our way to the sleepy hamlet of Torla, which is the closest sleepy hamlet to the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, which, as its name suggests, is where the majestic Ordesa valley is. We were hoping to do a two-day walk, and spend a night at one of the park’s refugios, which have bunks available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
What the internet didn’t say (at least to us) was that most of the trails in the park are closed to the public until May. The very informative ranger at the park’s new visitor and interpretation centre in Torla informed us that unless we had mountaineering experience and equipment, we could only do the start of the classic GR11 trail. The other catch was that since the shuttle bus to the park would also not be operational till May, we would have to walk another two hours to get to the park, bringing the grand total walking time to 10 hours. This sounded like a plan, nevertheless. Plus it was free (there is no entrance fee for any of the national parks in Spain).
The interpretation centre was quite impressive by the way, and befits the park, which was the first protected area to be established in Spain (way back in 1918) and together with an adjacent park in France now constitutes the Pyrenees-Mont Perdu UNESCO World Heritage Site. What we particularly liked about the centre was that it paid tribute to the various naturalists (not scientists!) who helped unravel its natural history, as well as the local communities living around the park who still maintain their traditional culture and ties with the land.
So first thing the next morning, garbed in our newly purchased hiking gear and ignoring the weather forecast (85 percent probability of precipitation; temperature range 5-12 degrees Celsius) we set off to the Ordesa Valley. The first leg: a two hour hike to the park’s car park!
After a very pleasant two and a half hour walk, mostly uphill through pine forest without a single other person in sight, we came to the car park. It was full of cars! From what we could tell, mostly day trippers like us who were here to do the same route. Among them were senior citizens, young children, parents carrying babies – either the trail is very easy, or Spanish people are very tough.
The route turned out to be pretty tough but doable – a wide trail up the valley with a reasonably gradual ascent. The highlights were the waterfalls and views of the snow capped limestone massifs. We’re no geologists. But if were were, we would probably have been impressed by the stunning morphology of the area – the calcerous peaks, the glacier carved valley floor, the vertical uplift of sedimentary deposits, etc.
We decided to call it a day and head back about a minute after taking the above photo. Good thing we did, because it started to drizzle, then rain, and finally hail for a while. It was 5pm and drizzling when we reached the car park. We managed to hitch a ride back to Torla from a nice couple from Barcelona.