Not wanting to drive all the way around into Spain we decided to start in Ariege (l'Artigue) and pick up the route at Aiguamolls and continue anti-clockwise towards Certascan thus allowing ourselves a little time to find our feet before Pic d'Estats.
Cascades de l'Artigue
A well marked path led us on down to Estany de Romedo de Baix and then back up to Estany Romedo de Dalt where we knew there were good camping spots. Pitch selected, a swim in the lake, supper and we were ready for sleep.
|Estany de Romedo de Dalt|
Much of today is familiar from our HRP crossing in 2013, a short climb to the col before a steep descent and traverse to Estany de Certascan and the Refuge.
|Estany de Certascan|
Under clear skies we climbed to the Coll de Certascan, no snowfield this year, dumped our packs and set off to climb Pic de Certascan. Great views and a small group of Bouquetin on the summit made the climb worthwhile.
|Pic de Certascan with Bouquetin|
All downhill from here, return to the col for a snack before starting the long descent to Noarre and on to Camping Bordes de Graus for much needed cold beer, followed by an equally required shower! Supper was as hearty, fun and tasty as usual, late and full we turned in.
Whatever way you look at this route our third day would be the crux, having decided to stay at Bordes de Graus meant adding the short section down to Tavascan on to what would undoubtedly be a long day, and so it proved. In just over an hour of pleasant walking we were outside the only shop in Tavascan, we waited 10 mins before ringing the bell, after a shout from the balcony above it was another 10 mins before the door opened. Re supplied and fed in the warming sun we set off to climb out of the valley, from 1100m it would be 7hrs of up before reaching our high point of the day, Roca Cigeralera, at 2668m.
It was here that we met a shepherd with his flock, 3 collies and 2 mountain dogs. Having worked as a shepherd it was great to talk sheep and dogs in such an amazing position.
|Pyrenean Mountain dog at Roca Cigalera|
From here the route descends from Coll de la Llaguna across a fairly testing boulder field, up to coll de Sellente and down again to the unmanned Refugi de Baborte. At this point most trekkers would continue down to Refugi de Vallferrera but without the need to visit the refuge we continued rather sluggishly to Coll de Baborte intent on finding a bivy spot around the Estanys de la Coma de Sotllo.
|Coll de Baborte from Coll de Sellente|
It was very tired legs that searched out a flat spot that evening but we were in a prime position for tomorrow and so far the weather was still good.
|Someone reluctant to leave their sleeping bag|
Despite some reluctance in the camp we were away by 7am the following morning to descend to Estany de Sottlo to pick up the main route up Pica d'Estats, a steady climb and then steeply through scree up to Port de Sotllo and into France.
|Port de Sotllo|
The main path went way down to avoid a rock step and snow which were easily tackled without having to lose much height and from Coll de la Cometa we followed the direct line of ascent.
This felt like a proper mountain summit despite the crowds it was high, pointy and strangely remote feeling, all helped by the rather obvious change in the weather.
Before we reached Etang d'Estats we were swallowed by cold wet mist reaching the Refuge Pinet in light rain and zero visibility. After a short stop for a drink we stepped out into heavier rain and rolling thunder which would accompany us all the way back to l'Artigue with bouts of heavy rain and hail for good measure but nothing could dampen our spirits following our 4 days on La Porta Del Cel.