The most beautiful old beech forests on Tour du Canigou in Pyrenees-Orientales, France | Day 4-Refuge Sant Guillem- Ravin Comail
It was our 4th day of Tour du Canigou trail in Eastern-Pyrenees, France when we hiked 16 kms from Riuferrera, walked by refuge Devesa and refuge Saint Guillem, climbed to Serre Vernet and arrived to Ravin Comail.
The start of the day was peaceful and calm and so was the previous night. We had a great sleep and rested well in the quiet idyllic spot we found the day before. It was quite flat, full of beech trees protecting from the wind and soft dry leaves on the ground creating a nice base for the tent. Also there was no wind and no sounds at night so we had the best rest we could find. We even had the desire to stay in the same spot for a night more to enjoy this serenity but had a lack of food supplies already so couldn’t really risk it.
We took our time eating the breakfast inside the tent body without flysheet so we could enjoy the nature surroundings and birds coming close. Then we packed our tent and things, did a bit of yoga warm up for the body and we were ready to hit the trail.
We had a plan to get back to Casteil- village where we started initially the next day and so for that day had to do no less than another 16kms. On the way we saw quite a bit of ups and downs again, we just hoped they wouldn’t be too tedious.
So we said good bye to our favorite camp spot so far on the trail with the thoughts of getting back to it sometime in the future. And we were out on the trail that first crossed the river Riuferrera where we washed our T shirts and socks a bit so that they could dry out while we are hiking hanging on the backpacks. And the path continued to go through the forest. It was a mixed forest with some pine trees, many beech trees and others.
It felt so nice to finally get a good sleep, have a clear fresh head, and be full of energy. As during last days we were a bit worn out by the uncomfortable camp spots and cold weather. So that day we were enjoying a lot this kind of mood and state. That idyllic camp spot and quiet night reminded us how important it is to keep going even when you are having some bad days in a row and not feel at your best. Every day is different and eventually arrives a day when everything goes smoothly and you enjoy yourself and those happy moments and truly amazing discoveries make it all worth it in the end and it´s then when you get to really appreciate the trail.
Meanwhile the trail followed the nice shaded forest full of huge beech trees, some trunks were of immense sizes. We actually saw such big beech trees for the first time and we absolutely fell in love with them. They looked so beautiful and glorious in a low autumn sun and their wide huge branches and roots coming out far to their sides. And as always when we are meeting such old trees we felt fascinated but at the same time humbled being at their side. We could almost feel hugging these trunks the infinite flow of energy coming from them and the source of wisdom and balance that always helped us to keep grounded.
We also realized that this forest was full of life and very rich in fauna. We have spotted some ibex, roe deer, signs of wild boars, and we were sure there might be some predators too like foxes for example. The birds variety was fascinating too, as we heard some owls at night, saw jackdaws, jays and woodpeckers among others. So it made this place amazing for all the animal and bird watchers.
From time to time here and there we still could see the valley down below and the seacoast far away in the haze. We saw a cover of white clouds laying over the lowest parts of the valley and it was a beautiful sight. It has always amazed us how we still could enjoy the sun being higher up in the mountains while at the same time it was cloudy somewhere lower at the altitude.
So following such idyllic route climbing gently uphill we did our first several kilometers and 300m up. We still had around 400m up to do. We saw that the trail came out to the mountain plane with lots of cows pasturing on it, the forest cleared up a bit, and there were less trees in front of us probably because of higher elevation. So we passed by the refuge Devesa-small unguarded rocky house, crossed a river and were out on the hot sun following the dirt car road.
The weather was nice and warm with little clouds on the sky but we couldn’t check the exact forecast because we didn’t have an internet access there, only the cellphone signal. And already familiar with the mountains character we knew that the weather could change very quickly. So we tried to keep up the pace so that we won’t be stuck in a storm later in the day.
The trail followed the farm car road all the way up to the hill and it was partly in the shade created by the small pine trees. Lots of cows and horses were walking alongside us in different directions and in one moment it seemed that the group of cows changed their direction when seeing us and started to walk in front of us. We thought that it was funny because they might have been confused us for the shepherds with their sticks (the trekking poles in our case).
Soon we were on the top of the hill overlooking the amazing views on the blue mountain ranges dominating the horizon. We knew that somewhere in the distance lays the Spanish border and we could possibly see the Spanish side too from that point which was quite cool.
Then the path turned back to the forest and for some time was following quite a steep downhill that was the first challenging part for that day as before the route was easy enough. Fortunately it wasn´t going like that for a long time and a zig zagging style path helped a lot too.
The yellow and red marking was very good all that day long and we could see that the paint was fresh so we enjoyed not having to check the map constantly.
Soon we were on a more or less flat trail again. We collected and filtered some water from the river as we had to resupply already and not long after we saw several rocky buildings down the trail and it was the Refuge and Ermitage Saint Guillem where we were heading to.
When we arrived there it was already 2pm in the afternoon and we felt very hungry so we needed to have our lunch as soon as possible. So we went to check out the Refuge Saint Guillem and the possibility to buy some fresh fruit and veggies there. Fortunately they sold some local tomatoes as well as nuts, chocolate and ice-cream that we ended up buying. Because of that we had a feast of meal and everything tasted amazing, especially the local ice-cream made of real sheep and coconut milk.
The place around the Refuge where we stopped for a break was a very beautiful one with fantastic views over the high mountain peaks in front and the dense forests turning yellow on the sides. There were many meadows to rest as well as picnic tables. So we had a nice rest there eating and stretching out the muscles a bit by laying on the ground.
Then with the fresh boost of energy, we were back on the trail to do another last uphill for the day. We saw that we have to do at least the same elevation gain as we did going down, so around 500m up.
The trail was following the dirt car road again so it wasn´t hard nor challenging to hike. It was going in the shade of the pine forest first and then we came back to the beech forest again. We enjoyed this part thoroughly, the atmosphere was so calm and peaceful and the surroundings of the green forest with big trees were very beautiful. We crossed several water streams and sometimes it was difficult because the ground was full of dry leaves and was soft and bouncing so it was easy to fall through and wet the shoes. But it was such a cool and different feeling walking on a soft ground.
On the sky at that time there were several big clouds but we still hoped it wouldn´t turn into anything serious. Meanwhile we didn’t notice following the easy uphill how we arrived to the top of the hill Serre Vernet. And at that point we had left to do only 200m down to the river and there we hoped to find our place to camp for that night.
So quite soon we got to the Ravin Comail gorge close to the river and started to look for the camp spot. The terrain was quite hilly and uneven and we had a hard time to find at least some acceptable ground for the tent. So we did set up our tent, had a quick shower heating up the water on a woodstove previously and then it was time to start cooking our dinner.
This time because we had some powers still and several hours of daylight left we wanted to try out our small wood stove that we brought in addition to the traditional gas stove. This one was very similar to the big one we already tested on GR11 and so we were sure it would work just fine. But in the end it turned out as almost complete fail. We tried to put up a stable fire on the ground then when it didn’t work we set it up on the rock hoping that the wind will help but it still didn’t work as it should. The fire power was too weak for our pot to boil properly and thus to cook our meal fast and efficiently. It required a constant supervision and fuel adding. We made a conclusion that this stove may be too small for our needs and having a small fuel opening clearly not enough for the proper fire. Also it might be a good idea to try it with an alternative alcohol fuel. But this was a test for the next time.
Finally after at least two hours of cooking our meal was ready to eat. We had our mix of wheat, buckwheat, lentils, with spices, dry mushrooms and fresh tomatoes. The weather was nice and the rain didn’t start in the end. After such an extended cooking and lots of smoke that the woodstove created our things were smelling nasty and basically were full of smoke. As the wind direction was changing all the time installing the woodstove on a distance from a tent didn´t help. So we tried hard to air out at least some of it before we went to sleep. We knew that on the next day we´ll have a more challenging trail to come and we´ll have to cover more distance as it was our final stretch getting back to the village Casteil where we started. So we didn´t have much to rest in the tent and after having dinner we went to sleep.