The village has a great location at the end of a long cul-de-sac surrounded by mountains.
I was soon out of town, through the tunnel under the flood protecting dam, “The Great Wall of Arinsal” as it’s known, and up into sweet-smelling pine forest. The air was cool and crisp but I soon had a sweat on climbing up towards the peaks. Despite being red-faced and out of breath a big grin formed on my face as I realized how much I had missed being in the mountains. There was no one else around and only the sound of the coursing stream far below me and flittering birds. I felt thoroughly content.
When I first had the idea of going to Andorra I started to wonder if I was being guilty of country counting. Internet blogs and forums suggested that the little principality was only worth visiting for winter-sports or cheap duty-free booze and cigs. After spending a few days there outside of the ski-season I can now reveal that it is definitely worth a visit – if you like hiking in the mountains that is.
What led me to even consider going was a planned trip to the south of France where we would stay with Julia’s auntie:
I thought it a shame to go to the foothills of the Pyrenees without actually trying to get up any of the actual mountains. Particularly since I had just got back from Mexico where I was surrounded by mountains but couldn’t climb any due to working twelve hour days, seven days a week. And due to the repeated warnings that the local cartels didn’t like people wandering around and I might lose my head. (Though I’d like to think we would have got on.)
I thought I could fly out a few days early, Wednesday rather than Saturday, thus also saving a fortune on the flight, and get some hiking in.
Trying to figure out local buses and trains in order to get me up into the mountains was tricky on the internet until I saw a minibus shuttle service directly from Barcelona airport to anywhere in Andorra. At 40 Euros it wasn’t cheap but it was quick; taking just over three hours, comfortable and a really nice journey through pretty Spanish landscapes and towns.
It turns out the place where I had decided to base myself, Arinsal, is the nightlife
capital of Andorra during the winter. However, in late May all the bars and discos are closed except for the pub at my hotel, which seemed to be the only hotel open, and had only four other guests. Fortunately two supermarkets remained open for the locals so I was able to stock up on supplies before setting off on a hike.
The first target was Pico Como Pedrosa, Andorra’s highest mountain at 2942 metres. I had been regularly checking webcams at Arinsal’s ski-resorts in the run up to the trip because I knew from experience in the Slovenian mountains that late May is a potentially troublesome time to hike. The webcams revealed that the snow was melting away quite quickly but suddenly, a few days before I left, the mountain was white again. I put this down to the snow-cam not being as live as it suggested and a photo from February had accidentally been uploaded. Upon arriving in Arinsal and looking upwards I realized the camera was accurate and it turned out that it had snowed a few days earlier. I’d give the climb a go anyway, there seemed to be plenty of snowless patches when
viewed from the valley, perhaps I could hop between those.
The odd patches of snow were more of a novelty at first until the path traversed the slope of a narrow gully whose steep sides had protected the snow from the sun. A large bank of snow hung down the slope and thick dwarf pine prevented its circumnavigation. Treading in someone else’s foot deep footprints, I was halfway across before I realized that one slip and I would have slid ten metres or so straight into the icy stream. Not life-threatening but it would have been a bad start to the climb. Considering I was only half-way up I got a little worried of what lay ahead.
As I got higher the views became more expansive until I popped out into a very pretty high-valley. Jumping between the braided channels of melt-water I headed upwards again following the route I’d printed off the internet along with its A5 size map – perfectly adequate unless you went off-route. Then all of a sudden there was lots of snow and I had to go off-route.
After scrambling up a grassy bank
The Unnamed Lake
Here I went off-route over the rocks as the path you can see was through thigh-deep snow.
there was a large snow field ahead. The problem with going straight across it was that you sank almost knee-deep. Plus it was pretty steep in parts and I had occasionally had to jab in ungloved fingers to prevent slipping to my doom. A root straight up the ridge and over the rocks looked more promising. Wearing hiking trainers rather than boots, as I generally always prefer to do, helped in that I felt more comfortable hopping between boulders and climbing.
As I said, my map was fine unless I went off-route and just as I was getting nervous that I was following the wrong ridge to god knows where I spotted some red and yellow paint on a rock and the path had come up to meet me. The ridge wasn’t that precipitous but the distance to the bottom either side and occasional strong gusts of wind made it satisfyingly exhilarating.
I shared the summit with a butterfly and a crow, I’d had the rest of the walk all to myself. We enjoyed the view of snowy mountains in all directions, some seemingly higher than Como Pedrosa so they must have been in
The Alternative Route Up
Give me a rocky ridge over deep snow any day.
France and Spain. I wasn’t entirely comfortable up there eating chorizo and jaffa cakes as I knew the descent would be tricky.
In fact I never had to resort to sliding on my bottom once. However, there were a few crossings of snow bridges over raging torrents that had me running as lightly as possible while giggling like a little girl ready to dive for the other side should one foot go through.
Coming down actually took a bit longer due to a detour to have a look at one of the mountain huts. In the middle of summer the huts are manned and have beds, food and drink available. Outside of that time a basic room is kept open for passing hikers, and there I met Jose. He was walking from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay and had been stuck there for a week due to the snow up the pass. He was quite surprised when I told him I’d come from up there, but then he was carrying twenty kilos more than me. He invited me in, made me some soup and we talked about past hikes, mostly the Camino
de Santiago, for a couple of hours. He also offered to share the trout he’d caught from the little tarn beside the hut. After being there on my own for seven days I would have done anything for some company too. Nice bloke.
Apart from the hiking, of which I did another great but far less stressful climb the next day, Andorra is trying to attract summer tourists with a wealth of museums and attractions – none of which I visited. It’s easy to get around, the people are very nice and the mountains are fantastic. Or if you want cheap petrol, trainers and crap whisky, this is your place.
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