Camping,  Hiking,  Hiking in Europe,  Hiking in France,  Hiking in Pyrenees

Extreme climb to the Sacred Catalan Mountain Pic du Canigou (2784m) | Day 2 of Tour du Canigou

In this trip report we are sharing our second day of hiking Tour du Canigou when we made 15kms, hiked from Traversee du Cady to los Masos, passed by the refuge Cortalets and climbed to the peak du Canigou (2875m).

The night was quite cold and even though it wasn’t windy but the temperature dropped down to 5 degrees Celsius. In the morning up until the sun came up on the sky we were wearing the hats and jackets. We woke up early, quickly ate our breakfast and packed everything. We were very excited for this day of hiking because we were going to climb to the peak and enjoy many amazing views on the way. We knew it was going to be a challenging day but we still planned to do up to 15kms, get down from the peak and camp somewhere lower at the altitude.

So for the first uphill part we had to make 5.5kms and around 700m of elevation gain. At first the trail was going mostly flat through the forest and then gradually was becoming rockier and steeper. The sun was just appearing from behind the mountain range and it was still quite chilly. But soon we felt warm enough to take off all extra warm clothes.

All the uphill part we followed the signs saying Pic du Canigou so it was quite easy and was hard to get on the wrong track. We started to meet the first people on the way and these were actually the very first one since the start of the previous day of hiking. We knew that this trail and the peak itself is a popular attraction of the region so we were ready not to be alone.

Soon we came to the refuge Arago which was a small rocky building probably able to accommodate only several people. The nice thing about this trail is that there are many refuge houses you meet on the way and if you prefer to hike super lightweight and to stay in refuges you easily can. Also it is allowed to bivouac or a night stay from dusk to dawn on any spot along the trail and including close to any refuge house where there are more flat spots normally. So we thought it was a nice thing to know.

From this point on we could enjoy the 360 degree fascinating views in front and behind us. We could see our goal in front of us that we confused at first because it wasn’t clear which peak we were ascending to as we were getting closer. And turning back there were fascinating picture of the mountain valley and endless ranges disappearing on the horizon. In the soft morning light it looked even more beautiful.

There was only one single trail to follow most of the time so the navigation was nice and effortless. The uphill was going pretty gentle too for the first half of the trail. As the sun was getting higher it was becoming hotter but the cool wind helped a lot not to overheat. Had to remind ourselves to put on the sunscreen several times throughout the day as the sun radiation was high and there wasn’t a single cloud on the sky.

At the bottom of the peak du Canigou we were amazed to encounter the water source from which you can resupply easily as it was very clean and drinkable so no filtering was required. It was the first time when we met an official water source like this close to the mountain peak and we found it great. There are usually wild streams and rivers from where we always filter the water so it would require much more time.

From that part on the trail began to go in a zigzagging mode and became rockier and steeper. Our legs were still feeling sore after the first day of hiking and our extreme uphill so it was making it quite a bit harder.

So only the last 1.5 kilometers were the most steep and difficult. When we reached this part we already realized that we mixed up the peaks when we first looked at the mountain range and only now could clearly see our goal in front of us. It looked like a solid rock from aside and we knew that it is not going to be easy. There were a lot of people hiking along with us so it encouraged us a bit and we knew it was doable.

When we passed through the rock fall path consisting of many small rocks we faced the solid rock wall and saw the people climbing it with their hands, it was pretty much vertical. We weren’t quite ready for this turn of events and knew that our backpacks were probably too heavy to conquer such walls. And counting that our legs were already sore it was making it double a hard challenge. We were especially scared of the thought that the downhill is going to be the same as we knew that it may be close to impossible and certainly very dangerous to do in our situation.

But we still kept climbing step by step, conquering one rocky ledge at a time, and it probably took us a good half an hour even though the part itself was only several hundred meters of a distance. There were many people climbing in front and behind us and the pass was pretty narrow so there wasn’t space for more than one person. And so we couldn’t really stop for long periods of time .

With the trembling legs we stepped onto the highest ledge and finally saw the big cross on top of it that was made of steel and was full of different colorful flags tied to it. The views on all the sides were incredible. On one side endless rugged mountain ranges stretching up until the eye can see, on the other the Languedoc-Rousillon plato with its red roofed bright villages far below us and the Mediterranean seacoast blue in the haze ahead. The sky was clear so it was possible to look far away in the distance. There were only several small foggy clouds forming up on top of the range. There were quite a lot of people crowding on the peak so it was not as peaceful as we’d like it to be. So we spent around 20 minutes on top taking pictures before we started to go down.

It was a great relief to learn that the downhill wasn’t close as steep as the uphill part, fortunately it was far more gentle. So we could go down in a clam pace following the only rocky path up until the Pic . We were still surrounded by the magnificent views of the seacoast and villages in front of us.

When we got down a 1.5km or so we decided it was about time to have our lunch. So we did sit at the side of the mountain blocking the wind and had a good time having a rest on the sun.

Only now came to us realization of what we did and how extreme it was. We definitely wouldn´t recommend doing that type of climb with such heavy backpacks as we had, it was very hard to balance and stand firmly on the feet. If we had to repeat this hike we would do a detour from Tour de Canigou on the other side (the side of refuge Cortalets) where we came down because it was much more gentle and less challenging. We would leave the backpacks somewhere down also. It may be a great idea especially if you stop at the refuge to make this ascension a day hike and enjoy the quiet pace having the whole day to yourself. The peak was quite crowded even in the mid September so if you like to have few people along with you it is better to climb it off season in October or late spring. Normally there is no snow at that time of the year and the weather can be nice.

We realized that it is very important to study the map even better and in more detail than we did before the hike, especially the elevation and how vertical it will be. So we clearly overestimated our powers with this peak but it served us a good lesson that conquering the peaks is always a bad idea with the long distance backpack fully loaded with gear and supplies.

So after our lunch we got some of our energy back and continued to descend down. At that moment we were at the middle of the trail for that day and had left 6 or 7 kilometers and 600m down to do.

That day we got really lucky with the weather and the sky was clear the whole day. We did see on the forecast that there was a probability of thunderstorm later in the day as it often happens in the mountains but fortunately, it didn’t come true.

Soon we came down to the lake L´Estany and refuge Cortalets that was quite a big rocky building and served as a hostel for the hikers. The area around it was beautiful and green with the picnic tables and it was clearly possible to stay in your tent right on the lawns around the refuge.

At that point we had to decide whether to follow the GR Tour du Canigou or GR10 that was at this part following along the Tour du Canigou. In the end studying the map a bit we decided that the GR10 may be less challenging route as it followed the gravel dirt road and was going gently down. We knew that in 5 kilometers it will cross with the Tour du Canigou again and so it was no risk of losing the right track or wandering too far away. We felt like it was a right decision for us then because the fatigue slowly began to get over us.

The views were still amazing accompanying us all the way through. The forest was opening up to a view quite often, we could see the Mediterranean seacoast in the distance, and it seemed like the whole Languedoc-Rousillon region was at a glance. These were very unusual views to us who are used to hike in the mountains and see lots of mountain ranges, lakes, rivers etc. But it was the first time for us when we were in Pyrenees to see the seacoast like that.

So we did this 5km part quite easily but at the end it got a bit tiring because it was quite long. Then we were at the crossroads with the Tour du Canigou and we turned to a much narrower path leading down to the river Lentilla.

It was time for us to start searching for a camp spot but we could see no possibility around the river. All we saw were the steep rocky gorge and steep slopes. So we had to continue further along the trail and get away from the river until we found the planes where the cows were pasturing. Usually in the mountains the cow bells were the sign that somewhere close were most likely more or less flat spots and planes and it was this case. The planes were not perfect, they were hilly and rocky and it was a challenge to find the right spot and especially decide where will go the head and feet of the tent which was very important for the good night sleep. But finally we chose a spot that looked fine to us and set up our camp there. We had to go back to the river to collect some water for cooking, made our dinner and were good to rest. We did feel exhausted from the extreme ascension that day and we hoped to get a nice rest because the next day we planned to do the same distance and didn’t know how hard the trail would be. So after eating our dinner we had little time to spare and as soon as it got dark we felt asleep right away.

Here is the link to Google map to follow the hike:

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