Visions and vistas

The images of leaping trout faded as morning sunlight washed out my dreams. We struck camp and embarked on a roller-coaster trail that had our legs click-clacking steadily up high ridges, only to come rattling back down again as our path soared and swooped in rapid succession all day long. 

First, we meandered downhill to Estany Llong before commencing the long, slow haul that would take us across the Col de Contraix, a sudden, narrow dip on a spectacular ridge.  Later, we passed the Refugi Joan Ventosa and crossed the Col de Grestada below Montardo before dropping again to reach Restanca.  Our final climb of the day then took us to Estany de Mar, where we made camp.

We could have followed the GR11 and cut out some of the climbing but our chosen route took us significantly higher and through more breathtaking scenery.  It was a hard route but well worth the effort. 

Estany de Mar

 Estany de Mar                                                 Hey, that's my photo!  See my message on the Pyrenees home page 

The last hour took us along dry, dusty paths.  We should have passed streams along the way but a tunnel driven up through the mountain into the depths of Estany de Mar left the streams to run dry while the water thundered downhill to a grand hydro electric plant far below.

Our map showed many such tunnels perforating the deep granite of the Pyrenees.  Lakes that nature had separated by high arêtes were linked together by long strings of tunnels, parching one valley to drown another.  Where we were, high above the cities, the lakes bore the scars of relentless electrical consumption: tide lines around their perimeters showed their natural water line, some 10 metres above the water surface.

The air was still that night and we sat out late enjoying the cool of the evening after the intense heat of the day.  We were perched on a narrow strip of level grass surrounded by great granite boulders which had long ago tumbled to a halt on the steep fall down to the lakeside.

The scenery alone was cause for deep contentment but there was plenty to look forward to as well.  Our hard, late-afternoon climb meant that we had just a brief morning ascent to a nearby col, from which we would descend to a well earned reward: beyond the col, there was a long, gentle descent to Hospice de Vielha, where our guidebook promised a civilised watering hole, a hostel and possibly a general store.

No matter whether it’s a long weekend in the Scottish Highlands or an 80 mile trek through greater ranges, I endure my meagre rations on the trail by drifting in and out of a daydream world of food fantasies.

We whiled away the evening dreaming of cool milk, fresh fruit, warm bread, maybe a meal at the café… after just a few days on the trail, subsisting on dried provisions, fresh food had become a passionate craving, filling our imaginations if not our stomachs.


I nurture a collection of fanciful worlds to withdraw into on tough trails.

You can read more about them in my Pares Mountains blogpost.

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Links to other chapters:

Chapter 1: Pyrenean foothills, please; one way

Chapter 2: Lovers and fishermen

Chapter 3: Visions and vistas

Chapter 4: Shattered dreams

Chapter 5: The mountain gods

Chapter 6: Catching the drips

Chapter 7: Ghosts on the col

Chapter 8: Teeth of the storm

Chapter 9: Stealing the solitude

Chapter 10: Voulez vous!

Chapter 11: The yellow goblin

Pyrenees photo album

Recommended reading

Long distance walks in the Pyrenees

The guide book used by the Backpacker Diaries author.  It is one of a series of trekking guides from Chris Townsend, which cover mountain ranges on several continents.  It is currently out of print but copies are available via the link below.

Walks & climbs in the Pyrenees

Since the first edition in 1978, this book has become the authoritative guide to the range.  The new edition incorporates many revisions and includes more than 170 day walks, multi-day walks, climbing routes and mountaineering ascents.

The Pyrenees

A resource book covering the finest walks, treks and climbs in the High Pyrenees from the Cirque de Lescun, on the edge of the Basque country in the west, to the Carlit massif and the Cerdagne to the east of Andorra.

Through the Spanish Pyrenees: GR11

The GR11 is a high-level mountain trail following tracks and footpaths.  Affectionately known as "La Senda" (The Track), it crosses the Pyrenees from coast to coast on the Spanish side of the border.

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