Vallee du Siscar and Val d'Arques from l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre – Clinging on to the edge of France

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Monday 24 November 2014

Vallee du Siscar and Val d'Arques from l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre – Clinging on to the edge of France

After a chilly night at l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre our second hike from this lofty base began on Monday morning without the need to drive anywhere, which was a rare treat since leaving Tarascon-sur-Ariege the previous week. Having hiked eastwards to Refuge des Besines the previousafternoon, today we were heading west to complete a high altitude loop that would take in the Vallee du Siscar, just beneath the ridge marking the Andorran border, before climbing north to 2440m and descending into the Val d'Arques to join a variant of the Haute Route Pyrenees Trail that would lead back to the motorhome. It was a daunting prospect beneath overcast skies with low hanging clouds blowing through the valleys, but too good an opportunity to miss.

Climbing steeply westwards out of the village on the variant HRP we soon arrived at the point at 1732m where the two valleys meet and the trail splits to begin the loop we had proposed. Originally we had intended to start with the Vallee du Siscar on our left, however, as we looked left to see a dark cloud filling that valley we quickly changed our minds and set off right instead towards the much brighter skies above the Val d'Arques. With few trees on the slopes and a steep rocky trail we were soon enjoying fine views over the cloudy valleys behind us, apparently lucky enough to be in one of the few areas that had a patch of blue above it as we rose up along the river. At just below 2000m the trail flattened into a hanging valley that was still green and lush, with meandering streams interwoven amongst the marshy terrain that felt like a bright September day in the Lake District.

After 2 hours of hiking we arrived at the Etang de Pedourres at 2165m where our planned loop turned south to climb the final ascent to the Porteille du Siscar before heading into that second valley. However, with dark clouds on the southern horizon we instead decided to push on a little further west to the Couillade de Pedourres at 2263m where the map contours suggested amazing views over the Ariege peaks. It did not disappoint. After just an extra 20 minutes of climbing we emerged onto the col to be confronted by a near vertical rock wall connecting several 2600m plus summits and a wonderful view extending north east across rolling hills and distant massifs.

Feeling energetic and with the skies looking a little brighter we decided that instead of taking the direct route back to the motorhome we would instead try the initially planned loop after all. Descending swiftly to the Etange de Pedourres we began the final 300m climb to the Porteille du Siscar feeling tiny amongst the craggy rock faces that surrounded us. Arriving at the Porteille our luck with the weather was evident once again as we managed to arrive just as the clouds that had been filling the Vallee du Siscar dissipated to reveal the incredible scene onto the snow dusted peaks separating the southern edge of France from Andorra. Pausing for as long as we dared (given how late it now was) we marvelled at the enormous rocky bowl in front of us. Having not seen a single person all day we both felt a great sense of peaceful solitude amongst these giant mountains that was both exciting and a daunting reminder of the power of nature.

Descending to the Etang du Siscar and then returning along the valley in the rapidly fading light we couldn't believe that we had just enjoyed such an amazing walk at this time year. It was also hard to believe just how different two valleys that were so close together could be, with the Val d'Arques looking so green and lush compared to the rocky severity of the Vallee du Siscar. Arriving back at the motorhome in the twilight after more than 7 hours of hiking and climbing over 1100m we felt exhausted but so lucky to still be in the high Pyrenees at the very end of November.

Walk Information: 
Motorhome Base - l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre
Start/ End Point: l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre
Time It Took Us: 7 hours
Level:  Hard / Challenging
Map: Carte de Randonnees Cartes no.8 'Cedagne-Capcir'  1:50.000 (see below)

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