Day 1 – Arrived in the dark in the home of Duty Free and European tobacco as the New Boy to an empty hotel; all the Ramblers plus leader were out on the town at a live music concert in Encamp, my base for the next two weeks or so.
Day 2 – Met the group and Julian, my co-leader; all were very jolly and keen to get out. I was left to my own devices so headed off into the hills to recce a route for the transfer day when I would have six people staying on for the fortnight trip. Got a bit carried away and ended up on a 2600m peak but it was sunny and they say time in reconnaissance is never wasted! It meant I had to do the rest of the route in broiling heat – served me right!
Day 3 – Joined the group for the ascent of Casamanya from the Coll d’Ordino. Off like gazelles! A sweaty time later we arrived at the top then trotted along the ridge to the second summit before a steep descent (a constant theme) on ‘Axminster’ grass got us to the road and a lady preparing Ceps – not for us, sadly. Further descent down a superb, graded path brought us to Meritxell sanctuary. The gusty wind lifted the bar umbrella and nearly took John away as we drank outside but he manfully held on and we retrieved him!
Day 4 – In charge! Whilst the rest headed for Toulouse, six plus me headed up to the Engolasters lake to play with the Archimedes Screw and Water Wheel before heading along the nature trail towards Pardines. Got sidetracked up an INCREDIBLY steep track but it paid off when we had lunch in a beautiful water meadow full of flowers. Caught up with the final climb of La Purito, a mammoth cycle challenge of 145km and 5000m ascent! Took a new path down to Encamp and just beat the shower of rain to the bar.
Day 5 – The Vall de Riu; starting high up, we headed into this lovely valley, some to the refuge and lakes above, some to toil up the pathless slopes of Pic de Torredella. Traces of path lured us in then vanished so we just flogged up the grass to the top. Great views all round then a nice, high-level stroll and interesting descent to the refuge and along a lovely track back to Ransol and rehydration.
Day 6 – Took the Grade 6 group over some easy peaks from the Port d’Envalira in stunningly clear weather to Port Dret and down to the Siscaro lakes for a paddle – very refreshing. Continued down through the woods as the sky grew darker then the rain began. It was only gentle and went as soon as it came so we made the bar at the bottom of the Vall d’Incles without getting too wet. The Grade 8 folk took in some bigger hills and DID get wet.
Day 7 – Back to the Vall d’Incles, this time the top end, for a fantastic circuit into France and back again. It was continuously steep and interesting, despite looking quite short on the map. The terrain needed constant attention and fortunately the black clouds stayed over Andorra as we crossed into sunny France. We had ten minutes of light shower before Carew swam in a lovely lake below the Andorra border. A Dutch family followed us up ‘to see Andorra’, going round and round the sign on the pass to go from one country to the other! We parted there and quickly headed down to join the others in the café as the sun returned to give a lovely afternoon.
Day 8 – Day off! Just as well – very wet all day, with rain and thunderstorms. Not much else to say really.
Day 9 – A moody start (..the weather, that is!) but cool for walking. I headed up to the top of Font Blanca, a very fine peak with great views. The clouds teased us by clearing to reveal blue sky and peaks galore then closing up again once the cameras were ready! However, the day did get better gradually, as we crossed the Portella de Rialb and headed down to the Sorteny car park in increasingly warm sunshine amidst an array of lovely flowers. With two of us in the party able to speak some Catalan, we delighted the man at the information cabin with our efforts. A further short descent took us to cool beers in El Serrat on the hotel terrace.
Day 10 – A big day to finish the week; from Port Cabus on the Spanish border, the Grade 8 group traversed the ridge northwards then descended to the Coma Pedrosa valley (I spied a traverse line high up that needs investigation…!) then began the slow plod up towards the summit. At first, it was a bit of a grind but once on the south ridge it became an engaging scramble, right to the summit. A 360 panorama unfolded before us, with peaks recognizable in Spain, France and Andorra – a great spot. We took the quicker descent to the valley below and went around the lakes with a final glissade down a big snow patch. The descent to Arinsal was LONG, but the drinks tasted all the better for it!
Day 11 – Bye, bye to some and Hello to others. I took the transfer trip and got to know Toulouse airport well. Julian enjoyed himself with those who remained behind, with a walk up to some lovely lakes where they all enjoyed a swim. It was just thinking about raining as they got back but on our return to Andorra with the new clients it had clearly had enough of thinking – massive thunderstorms with lots of hail greeted us as we climbed to the border. The clients were perturbed by the falling temperatures on the bus thermometer – Brrr!
Day 12 – The sun returned! Back to the Vall d’Incles but this time up to Cabana Sorda and one of the hydro lakes followed by an ascent of Pic Coma de Varilles with the Grade 8 group. The Grade 6 group hunted out Salamanders in the lakes then we all met up for the final descent to El Tarter and the bar with the Bouncy Castle! No adults allowed – grrr!
Day 13 – Vall Madriu day, and a very warm one at that! Both groups went from the Engolasters car park with the Grade 6 heading into the valley on the very Zen-sounding Middle Way from the Coll Jovell. They reached the upper cabin where they lunched in the company of a large herd of cows. The Grade 8 group went further to climb Pic Maiana and pass by the Pierfita refuge before descending a long, long way to Escaldes and a bus home. The Grade 6 team walked back via a café at the lake.
Day 14 – Pic de L’Estanyo from the Sorteny car park with the Grade 8 group. Brilliant! A great mountain on a great day, with a ridge reminiscent of the CMD arete on Ben Nevis. Stunningly clear weather gave us views as far as Vignemale, way to the west. We revisited our friend in the information cabin then walked down again to El Serrat. The Grade 6 group enjoyed a chairlift ride and the Tristaina lakes, which were fairly busy as it was a public holiday.
Day 15 – Another rest day! Went for a walk which ended up being longer and more adventurous than intended, but that’s enough of that. Some of the group made the journey to Seu d’Urgell in Spain and had a really enjoyable day, visiting a number of museums.
Day 16 – Back to business with another ascent of Casamanya; quite different today, with early rain then lots of mist and glimpses of sun before a very heavy downpour caught us on the way to Meritxell. Soon dried off, however, and Esteve collected both groups in the bus, one from the Coll d’Ordino and us from the sanctuary. Steady rain then set in for much of the rest of the day.
Day 17 – A cloudy start to my final day from Grau Roig but soon the sun came out. The Pessons lakes are glorious jewels which we walked around on route to Pic Pessons. Then we grabbed the chance to scramble up to Pic Ensagents before descending to the lakes below for lunch. The descent path took a bit of finding but soon we were back in the pine woods and on to the road at Els Cortals. Esteve took us down one last time which finished fittingly at the bar in the centre of town.