Mountains of Freedom – a four-day circular trek in the Pyrenees (Ariège and Catalonia)

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Cascade-d'Ars near to Aulus-les-Bains

Cascade-d’Ars near to Aulus-les-Bains

 

Official site of the Mountains of Freedom walk.

This circular walk in the central Pyrenees takes in rugged high mountain passes, pristine lakes and peaceful farmland. But behind all the beauty lies another story, intimately linked to the history of the 20th century and its refugees. Just like those who cross the Mediterranean today, many failed to arrive at their destination. Today, climbing up to the passes is a pleasure but the interpretive panels tell a different story.

We took four days, staying in staffed hostels each night.

Aulus to Bidous (Gîte de l’Escolan) 5h30

There is a restaurant half way along this section at 1700m, the Chalet de Beauregard; at the end, the gîte d’étape “l’Escolan” run by Pauline and Jean-Charles provides a warm welcome.

 

Gîte de l’Escolan at Bidous

Gîte de l’Escolan at Bidous

Bidous to the Bordes de Graus 7h20

 

The cross of the Portère, with the Marterat pass in the background

The cross of the Portère, with the Marterat pass in the background

 

The Marterat hut, just below the pass, is a good place to shelter if the weather is bad. It would be a great place to spend the night, though you would have to bring your own water. If you want to make a fire you will also have to carry your own wood. (Note that there is no chimney so the fire would have to be outside).

 

The Marterat hut at 2150m just below the pass

The Marterat hut at 2150m just below the pass

 

Bordes de Graus to Certascan 6h20

This stage passes through the hamlet of Noarre, currently being actively renovated; after the end of the civil war in 1939 it was a hide-out for the Spanish resistance. The path passes through pasture, between the low walls of former transhumance routes, and under the forest canopy to emerge into a tortured landscape. White walls of rock are interrupted abruptly by vast zones of red and pink. Naked geology.

 

View from Pic de Certascan. The very small red square to the right of the lake is the roof of the Certascan hostel

View from Pic de Certascan. The very small red square to the right of the lake is the roof of the Certascan hostel

 

Certascan to Aulus 9h00 (phew!)

 

Romedo de Dalt lake

Romedo de Dalt lake

 

The circuit is well worn with plenty of waymarks except for the section between the Estany de Colatx and the Hille de l’étang hut (our last day). Between the Estany de Colatx and the Port de Guiló the lack of waymarks isn’t important because it is easy to find a way across the grass between the rocks. But after the Port (frontier pass) the descent is slowed down by jumping between big blocks, stepping carefully across rhododendrons looking for leg-breaking holes, and wading across marshes. Even with a GPS it was impossible to find a real path most of the time. Beware, the GPS trace on the official site encouraged us to head down the centre of the valley directly after the Port de Guiló. We would have been better to follow the cairns on the NW flank.

 

Descent from the Post de Guiló

Descent from the Port de Guiló

 

Note: since our walk, Christophe and Jean-Charles have spent two days improving the waymarking in this sector. Thanks!

Waymarking Certascan-Aulus

Waymarking Certascan-Aulus

In fact, it would have been more fun to split this stage into two, spending the night at the Hille de l’Étang hut. The hut is habitable but in need of repair: one of the roof beams is almost totally broken – as a result of an avalanche, I suppose.

 

Broken roof beam in the Hille de l’Étang hut

Broken roof beam in the Hille de l’Étang hut

 

Given the amount of climbing involved, the Mountains of Freedom walk is somewhat strenuous. But it is so beautiful and the hostels are great, especially the food. The highlights of the walk included pork curry at l’Escolan, salt cod at Graus and cannelloni at Certascan. Bon appétit!

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One Response to “Mountains of Freedom – a four-day circular trek in the Pyrenees (Ariège and Catalonia)”

  1. […] The Mountains of Freedom Trail (Muntanyes de Libertat). I hiked the Mountains of Freedom route in 2015 […]

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