Marvelling At Magnificent Mountain Lakes…
One of the striking features of the GR11 is the amount of reservoirs, lakes and tarns you pass along the trail.
From the calm, crystal clear Ibons d’ Anayet mirroring the surrounding jagged peaks, to the vibrant, deep blue waters of the Ibon de Tebarrai, to the stunning turquoise tranquility of the Ibon Azul Baxo, you will be wowed by spectacular bodies of water with each passing day.
Having wild camped along the southern shore of the stunning Ibón de Respomuso on Day 2, our expectations of witnessing more beautiful water landscapes along the trail were high! And Day 5 walking from Panticosa to Bujaruelo did not disappoint…
Looking onto the striking still waters of Ibon dera Brazato as we make our way towards today’s pass leading into the Ara Valley.
Tuesday 15th August 2017 – Day 5 – Wild Camp near to Rio Caldares (after Refuge Bachimaña down the granite valley, crossing the stream, before Panticosa) to Refugio Bujaruelo Camping (€12 + €1 for WiFi 24hrs) – ‘Bouldering on…’
Start time: 06:35. End time: 18:15. Distance: 25km. Ascent: 1,776m / Descent: 2,417m.
Anticipating a long hiking day ahead, today we broke camp at 6:30am and set off down the trail eager to reach Panticosa and make up the miles we had cut short yesterday. From where we had camped near to the Rio Caldares at 1,974m, the 300 metre or so descent to Panticosa wasn’t too taxing, but we were glad not to have added it on to yesterday’s daily distance just for the sheer fact we were exhausted by the time we reached the river, having already ascended and descended more than 2000 metres combined!
Preparing to leave another great wild camp location on the GR11.
Expecting a long hiking day, we were up and away just after 6:30am before the sun had even crested over the mountains.
Whilst making our way down through the rugged, granite valley we saw several other flat patches of grass by the river that would have been ideal for wild camping if we had pushed on further. But from past experience, and this not always being the case, we now tend to set up camp as soon as we find somewhere suitable enough. (And we were not disappointed with last night’s spot in any way!)
Continuing downhill, we saw several other flat grassy areas that would have made ideal camp spots had we pushed on further the previous night.
Passing a series of cascades that rush downhill into the Rio Caldares.
Knowing from our guide-book that Panticosa is an upmarket spa town catering for the ‘wealthy’ tourist, we were very much looking forward to taking advantage of the facilities and enjoying a fresh morning coffee at one of the establishments. We thought we’d be able to sit outside a café, enjoy the mountain view from a different perspective and have a quick break before beginning the long, uphill climb out of the valley. That thought literally spurred us on as we reached Panticosa in about 1 hour 20 minutes! (We regarded this as us having made really good time, however signage in town indicated an approximate duration of 1 hour 15 minutes to reach the Bachimaña reservoir. As we had already started hiking well beyond that point – we weren’t making as good progress as we originally thought!)
The spa town of Panticosa is nestled at the bottom of the valley. Beyond is the Ibón de Baños, a natural lake that collects the water coming from the torrents that descend from the surrounding summits creating the Caldarés River.
Fast flowing, icy cold water from the surrounding summits makes its way downhill.
We passed a series of hidden pools during our descent that looked very inviting.
For a ‘spa’ town, Panticosa was not what we were expecting however! As we left the trailhead and walked to the town square, we were faced with lots of derelict, run-down buildings. There was no convenience shop as such, just a tourist gift shop, and the café looking onto the square wasn’t open at 9am when we enquired about coffee. With our hopes dashed, we found the place eerily quiet and overall, very disappointing. (To be fair, as we passed by and glanced through the windows, the two large hotels we saw situated opposite each other on the square did look busy with diners enjoying breakfast, so there was little need for the cafe to open so early as hikers did not generally pass through at this time. We guessed the majority of their business would be later in the day.)
The best thing we discovered about Panticosa was that we could get a phone signal! So we took a little time to write a few social media updates, filled up with water from the ‘water point’ located next to the gift shop, then intended to be on our way. But before we could get going, we had to quickly take shelter from the rain as a sudden shower passed through the valley. Thankfully, it was over in a matter of minutes, so there was no need to put our waterproof gear into action.
In the centre of Panticosa – Disappointed that we couldn’t get coffee but smiling as we had acquired a mobile phone signal. Cue a flurry of social media updates and photo uploads showcasing our journey so far on the GR11!
We regarded recommended hiking times loosely as we never seemed to come close to what was suggested either in the guide-book or on signage along the trail.
At 1,637m on leaving Panticosa, we knew we had a lot of ascent to come with the GR11 winding its way back up the mountainside to 2,566m at Cuello de Brazato, our pass into the next valley. Fortunately the uphill track out of Panticosa was on good switchbacks that were shaded in part by thickets of evergreen, which made life a little easier.
Leaving Panticosa on a well-defined trail, we had splendid views of the surrounding mountains.
The trail becomes rockier as it winds its way up the mountainside.
Thickets of evergreen provide pockets of shade along the stone path.
Slowly but surely making our way uphill, thankful that the path was in shade early morning.
Looking back towards Ibón de Baños at the bottom of the valley.
We stopped at the end of each zig-zag to catch our breath and enjoy the rugged mountain view looking across the valley, but what really caught our attention was wild raspberries growing beside the trail! We couldn’t resist supplementing our meagre snack bar hiker breakfast with a few handfuls of plump, red juiciness, even if they were a little sharp-tasting! Free food on the trail and a few extra vitamins and minerals are always good!
Picking wild raspberries that were growing alongside the trail.
Straight off the bush – Fresh as they come!
Taking a breather and enjoying the magnificent mountain view.
Continuing up the switchbacks and heading into the sun.
We then followed a well-cairned path leading up through a boulder field, before reaching the Ibon dera Brazato at 2,380m. This was the first water we had seen on our climb, so we were glad to have filled up with fresh supplies back down in Panticosa.
Cairns lead us through a boulder field.
The rocky path leading up to the Ibon dera Brazato became quite steep on the final section.
Happy that our 900+ metre climb out of Panticosa was almost over! (And hoping that the ominous looking rain clouds would stay on the other side of the valley!)
The Ibon dera Brazato sitting at 2,380m. (This was the first water on the climb, so be sure to have adequate supplies before leaving Panticosa.)
Even at this altitude, wild flowers were thriving well in the alpine tundra.
Hiking around the Ibon dera Brazato, heading towards the coll. Cuello de Brazato, which would be our highest point of the day at 2,566m.
We continued around the lake, then after a short scrambling section, we reached the shoulder of Pico de Bazias, where we decided to take a rest break and eat lunch on the only flat spot around. We thought this would give us a good energy boost for the final boulder field crossing prior to reaching Cuello de Brazato. With the pass at 2,566m, we had less than a 200 metre climb left to go.
Before reaching the coll, we could see someone in the distance hiking through the boulder field in our direction. As we neared, we stopped to speak to a lone female hiker of Welsh nationality. She explained that she had completed the GR10 route over in France, and had since crossed over the border into Spain to see some of the GR11. She was feeling sick and didn’t know why, but was attributing it to the fact she had been drinking water straight from the flowing streams without filtering it, so was heading down into Panticosa for a rest day. Having spoken to her, it made us a little more cautious about where we accessed water and resupplied from, knowing that we would be reaching ‘cow country’ further down the valley.
Looking onto the smaller of the Brazato lakes. We stopped by some rocks on a flattish section to have lunch before the final push to the top of the pass.
After heading over the Cuello de Brazato into the Ara Valley, we had another lengthy boulder field section to cross, but we felt like we were making good time as we were going downhill and striding forwards on giant rocks, which helped us cover a lot more ground at a faster pace. (The impact of landing heavily on big boulders soon started to wear on our feet however, and we tired quickly.)
Taking our minds off our feet and the distance we still had to cover to reach Bujaruelo was the fact we were presented with incredible views the entire way. The huge mountain, Vignemale, dominated the skyline for much of our descent with it literally towering above us at 3,299 metres.
Our first glimpse of Vignemale in the distance as we came over the pass into the Ara Valley. Cairns and paint flashes continue to signal the way.
Looking down the Barranco de Batanes onto one of the small turquoise tarns.
With snow on the summit, Vignemale dominates the skyline at 3,299 metres.
After heading down the Barranco de Batanes, we discover the Ara Valley is blanketed in green.
Following the stream downhill, Vignemale takes centre stage,
After heading further down the valley, we crossed the stream and took the GR11 trail on the right-hand-side of the valley following a series of rocks marked with the customary red and white paint flashes. However, we did happen to see people walking along a trail on the left-hand-side of the valley as well. Rather than go back and join the trail on the left, we continued with our chosen route as it appeared to be much easier walking terrain over predominantly grassy knolls, then along a winding dirt track that followed the stream downhill. It was still stony in places, but apart from having to navigate around a couple of cows that were blocking the path, it was relatively easy-going in comparison to the giant boulder fields we had crossed over the past two days.
Reaching the Ara River. We didn’t realise that we’d have to cross over the river to get back to the other side of the valley, and so made this section a bit more difficult for ourselves.
The most difficult part was when we hiked down to the Rio Ara. There were lots of boulders in the river to assist us with crossing, however the water was flowing really fast and none seemed close enough for a successful rock hop. I continued downstream looking for a more accessible place to cross, whereas Wayne took his shoes off and paddled through to the other side. Unsuccessful in my search, I went for the rock hop, but ended up with wet trail shoes and soggy feet!
In contrast to the craggy, grey peaks surrounding the Brazato lakes, the Ara Valley was a striking green.
Happily striding along a grassy trail – we find it is the most comfortable walking terrain.
The final section of hiking was much easier as we found ourselves moving along a flat, grassy trail.
Panorama of the surrounding peaks cloaked in green. This area was very different to the previous valley hiking out of Panticosa.
We couldn’t help but keep taking photos of this wonderful place!
The wild meadows and forested mountains of the Ara valley.
Just one of several expanses of wild beauty on the GR11!
A welcome relief from the hard going boulder fields we had traversed earlier, we made great strides along the flat grassy meadows down in the Ara valley. After a while, we passed by a little stone bothy that was already in use, (Cubillar dera Labaza), with the trail then winding its way along the hillside and into an area of grazing cattle.
To our surprise, we found that an electric fence was blocking the route to stop cattle from wandering out of the valley. It was possible to navigate under it, but we didn’t want to take off our heavy packs again as we had only recently stopped for a rest break. So cautiously, Wayne got on all fours to crawl under it.
His first attempt hooked the electric line around the tent which was fastened to the bottom of his pack, so he had to do some careful manoeuvring to get himself out of the tricky spot as I couldn’t touch it to untangle him. He came out the other side unscathed but with dirty knees where he’d crawled in the soil. Unlike him, I didn’t want to get on all fours so I kind of half limboed, and half walked like a crab to get myself underneath with my pack on and pass through clear of the line! To Wayne’s amusement he said “So you’d rather get electrocuted than have dirty knees?! What an awkward way to do that!” I was in fits of giggles thereafter – because yes, it was perfectly true!
We passed a small stone bothy – Cubillar dera Labaza, where several hikers were already chilling outside and looked like they’d be making camp there that evening.
Continuing along the well-trodden trail which was a welcome relief from the hard going boulder fields we had navigated earlier that day.
Taking in our beautiful surroundings…
Just a few dangers to watch out for…
Despite the incredible scenery, it had been a long day and our motivation was beginning to wane. The earlier boulder fields had definitely taken their toll on our feet and we were now tiring and moving at a slower pace. We had also eaten the last of our snacks a while back, so with hunger now affecting our mood as well, the trail seemed never-ending. (Having set out at 6:30am that day, and it now being around 5:30pm, the guide-book time of 7 hours was way off for us!) With zero food rations left, stopping early and setting up camp was not an option. So we had no alternative but to push on, the thought of having a home-cooked meal on reaching the refugio serving to keep our spirits up.
Despite the easy-going trail and beauty around us, the trail was beginning to seem never-ending.
We didn’t expect the trail to be blocked by an electric fence! Fortunately we both managed to bypass it unscathed.
The trail winds its way through the lush, green hillsides towards Bujaruelo.
As we got closer towards Bujaruelo, we reached another small bothy – the Cubillar dero Bado – and here we experienced our second surprise of the day! Thankfully, Wayne was walking up front and was several metres ahead of me as he stumbled upon a naked guy stood outside the bothy who was looking down the valley and being at one with nature by masturbating! He was clearly turned on by the view! But in full view of the trail and us walking past, no thank you! Embarrassed, he hurried off out of sight as Wayne turned around to tell me what he saw. I really didn’t want that spectacle imprinted in my mind, so for once I was glad he had rushed on ahead at his super fast pace! A wholly new experience for us on the trail, it gave us a laugh and passed the time a bit, as the last section of the day was down a long gravel track leading to San Nicolas Bujaruelo.
Signage indicates Panticosa is a 6 hour walk. Clearly, we were not meeting the suggested walking times! We didn’t reach Bujaruelo until 7pm, and by then we had done well over 10 hours of walking, excluding rest breaks!
The final section of trail leading to Bujaruelo is a lovely walk through the valley bottom alongside the river, where there are lots of flat, grassy areas. This spot in particular would make a perfect camp area – however camping is not permitted here. There were plenty of day hikers lounging around however enjoying the early evening sunshine.
The medieval bridge at San Nicolas de Bujaruelo leads to the refugio and camp area. (The camp area is usually open June to September.)
We crossed the bridge and headed to the Refugio de Bujaruelo where we had planned on camping that evening. We had read online that there is always an area reserved for GR11 hikers, so even though it was busy, we still got a pitch. By the time we had put the tent up and got the beds sorted, we were more than ready to splash out and eat at the bar/restaurant on site. We devoured 2 x ‘hamburgeuser especials’, which were humongous and extremely good value for money, complete with chips! We also couldn’t resist ordering a bottle of red wine as the prices were very reasonable and not at all like the inflated refuge prices we had paid on the Kungsleden or GR20. (Another amazing ‘plus’ for this spectacular trail!)
Our hiker hunger was satiated with these hamburgeuser ‘specials’!
The refuge has excellent facilities, but more importantly for us, the bar staff were extremely friendly and the campsite had a really good atmosphere. We both commented that it was a really great place to stay the night.
As we were both so tired and in need of a much shorter walking day, we then made an impromptu decision, (probably influenced by alcohol as well) that the following day would be a ‘rest day’ or ‘nearo day’ with us just hiking on 2 km further to the next campsite. We needed to move on because the next campsite had an on-site supermarket and we were desperate for more rations. We especially needed more snacks to give us a boost of energy on the trail. That was something we were severely lacking today, as once we had eaten lunch (1 x bread roll with cheese and chorizo), we only had a bag of peanuts to see us through 6 more hours of hiking. It was really not good for motivation or mood, (and rather silly of us to allow our supplies to get so low), so the feast at the refuge really boosted our spirits, – but not quite as much as knowing the following day would be our designated ‘rest day’!