Refuge d'En Beys from Forges d'Orlu – 1970m – Our first big hike in the Ariege

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Saturday 22 November 2014

Refuge d'En Beys from Forges d'Orlu – 1970m – Our first big hike in the Ariege

After our unexpectedly high climb on the bike to Col du Pailheres the previous afternoon we were eager to get back on our bikes on Saturday as well. Unfortunately a mechanical problem with my bottom bracket that had been steadily getting worse for the past few rides ruled out any further big rides until it was fixed and so we had to rethink our plans. Today was forecast to be the last day of dry skies before the clouds and rain returned to the mountains, bringing the winter snow with them the following week and we wanted to be outside amongst the hills for at least one more day. So, leaving our lycra hanging in the bathroom we instead pulled on our hiking boots for the first time since Cauterets more than 3 weeks beforehand!

Making time for Esther to squeeze in a brief trip to the Ax les Thermes market to restock our fruit and vegetable supplies while I readied the van, we soon hit the road for a short drive to Forges d'Orlu just 10km away shortly before 11am. With just an excerpt from an OS map printed on a tiny leaflet picked up in the Ax les Thermes tourist office the previous day to go by our aim was to follow the GR7 trail into the hills towards the Refuge d'En Beys at 1970m. The leaflet indicated the walk to the hut would take 3 hours from Parking du Fanguil at 1130m, however, we instead chose to park another 3.5km away at the lower but more accessible parking at Forges d'Orlu (912m). It was a decision our feet wouldn't appreciate some hours later.

Walking away from the motorhome in our hiking gear after so many days in the saddle was exciting and we powered up the initial 3.5km through chilly autumnal forests on tarmac road to the Parking du Fanguil where we stopped for lunch. The sky was still mostly overcast with a cool breeze blowing the leaves as we sat eating some of our remaining black bean and berry muffins and we resolved to only go as far as the weather allowed once we set off again. Crossing the river at the parking we began climbing gently on the trail proper. Excited to be on the GR7, which runs all the way from the southern coast of Spain, we stayed alongside the river for the first hour of walking passing lots of viewpoints revealed by the missing leaves onto the cascading waters. The time of year, the temperature, the colour of the hills all reminded us of early autumn hikes in the Lake District.

As the path slowly curved to the right we emerged into a flattened bowl hemmed in by high mountains on all sides just as the sun emerged. Trekking along the slowly undulating and wide path side by side being warmed by the weak sun felt amazing as we gazed all around at the green sides of the valley cut with deep scars from the various waterfalls.

At the end of this flattened valley we entered trees once more and crossed the river to find the path began climbing steeply over now uneven paths covered in crisp brown leaves. Estimating we still had around 500m of climbing to the refuge we pushed on, kicking through the crackling leaves as we ascended quickly up the neck of the valley towards a high waterfall cascading down a vertical cliff that we knew flowed out of the lake alongside the refuge.

The final approach to this lake was steep and rocky underfoot and the clouds once more closed over the sun leaving a strong cold wind blowing in our faces that made us wonder if we might be better to turn around now. From this final ascent there was no way to see the lake or the valley that surrounded it, however, the prospect of the view in that hanging valley was just too tempting and we continued to ascend regardless, wrapped up now in extra layers. After what felt like a long time we stepped off the steep path onto a level section that ran straight around to the waters edge to be greeted by a spectacular view. The water of the lake, which was black beneath the cloudy sky, rippled in the breeze and all around bare rock walls rose up to snow dusted summits that formed a ring above the valley.

Even though it was quite late in the day and we knew we might not make it all the way to the motorhome before dark we didn't want to rush our visit to this amazing place and so we made our way to the waters edge to just sit for 15 minutes and take in the isolation and calm as best we could. Perched on a rock and listening to the water lapping the stony shore felt like a perfect moment and it was hard to leave. However, with less than 3 hours until dark we knew we had to tear ourselves away and began the long hike back to the comfort of the motorhome revelling in the thrill of being back in our hiking boots once again. Descending more quickly than we'd expected we did just managed to reach our back door in the dusky, ten minutes before complete darkness arrived. Our legs and feet told us it had been a very long way after so long our of our boots, but the thought of having such an amazing day in late November was marvellous.  

Walk Information: 
Motorhome Base - Ax-les-Thermes
Start/ End Point: Forges d'Orlu
Time It Took Us: 7 hours
Level: Hard

Map: Carte de Randonnees Cartes no.8 'Cedagne-Capcir'  1:50.000 (see below)

Other Related Posts:
3 Big Hikes in the High Mountains of the Ariège-Pyrénées, France

Hiking in the Hautes-Pyrénées & the Pyrénées National Park - Gavarnie & Cauterets

See all Our Hikes in the Pyrenees

7 Activities To Do Whilst Staying in Tarascon-sur-Ariege - Visiting the Ariege-Pyrénées

Tackling 4 Amazing Cycling Climbs in the Ariege-Pyrénées, France - and 4 for the Future!

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