After leaving Bolquere following our gentle stroll among the pistes on Wednesday, we had driven east, descending the beautiful twisting road along the steep sided valley forged by the La Tet river all the way to the Mediterranean sea close to Perpignan, staying overnight in the small town of Le Boulou near the Spanish border. We knew from the weather forecasts we had seen that winter really was now just around the corner. After more than 6 weeks in the Pyrenees since we had made that long drive from Agde to Luz St Saveur (expecting at any time to find ourselves chased out of the mountains by rain, snow and plummeting temperatures) that the weekend ahead was expected to bring over 100mm of rain with cooler temperatures to follow even when the rain cleared. Having unexpectedly enjoyed an incredible autumn in the Pyrenees, tackling many amazing cycling climbs and stunning hikes, we knew that it was now just a matter of days until we had to say farewell and journey south for winter.
However, that still left one reasonably mild day before the torrential rain and storms arrived in which to give our hiking legs one more day out in the Pyrenees. Although the peaks this close to the coast are not as high as those in the centre of the range, reaching around 1000 – 1500m, the trails also begin much lower in altitude so there are plenty of long challenging hikes still accessible. Also, having passed through this same area the previous year during our trek along the Pyrenean Way it was an exciting prospect to be revisiting some of those some peaks we had passed through on our way to the sea. Our target for the day was the Roc de France (also called Roc de Frausa on some maps) at 1450m right on the French-Spanish border. We hadvisited this same peak the previous year on the GR10 trail on a legbetween Arles-sur-Tech and Le Perthus. This time, however, we would try the ascent from the town of Amelie-les-Bains-Palada where we expected to find a motorhome aire.
Arriving in Amelie-les-Bains we discovered that the GPS coordinates for the aire that our guidebook contained were not quite accurate and we ended up wasting nearly an hour of the limited daylight tracking down a good place to park, eventually hitting the trail soon after midday (not helped by the fact it was market day). The trails from Amelie-les-Bains to Roc de France form an excellent but challenging loop with the Haute Route Pyrenees (HRP) taking a more direct line to the summit and an alternative route taking in part of the GR10 through the hamlet of Montalba for a return (time permitting of course).
Climbing steeply at first then settling into a gently sloping trail through wooded hills we were soon strolling along at around 600m altitude. Every now and then the trees would open up to reveal an amazing perspective of the enormous Canigou massif lying further to the west. The Pic du Canigou at 2784m is the final 2500m plus summit before the Pyrenees reach the Mediterranean and the giant bulk of the massif stands out above the otherwise flattening landscape around. Dusted with snow and topped with clouds it was also the perfect opportunity for Esther to give her new camera it's first real test since we'd picked it up in Andorra two days beforehand.
After two hours of hiking through the forests we reached the cluster of buildings named Can Felix and another hour and half later arrived at the 961m high Coll del Ric getting our first real view of the Roc de France in the distance and a tantalising view east across the plains all the way to the sea. Estimating that we still had more than an hour to go we knew that our plan of completing a loop was just not going to be possible today since it was already 3pm and it would be dark in less than 3 hours. Still, we also knew we had time to push on for another half an hour to simply enjoy the view and the wind on our faces (which was quite strong by now).
By the time we turned around we had reached 1200m and although it was sad not to have reached the summit we knew it was the safe decision. The long walk downhill to our motorhome took three hours and we passed the time recounting all of the wonderful memories we had from all of the hikes and cycles we had tackled since leaving the UK 6 months beforehand. By the time we reached our back door it was fully dark. Driving back to our overnight resting place at Le Boulou we reflected on what had been a wonderful day, but also an amazing autumn in the Pyrenees and in fact an incredible adventure so far. Leaving the Pyrenees really feels like a watershed in our adventure and the start of a new chapter. Who knows what the winter will bring?