Impossible Descent on GR11 and Breathtaking Views of Comapedrosa Natural Park | Day 5 – Crossing from Andorra to Spain
In this hike report we are sharing our Day 5 of GR11 trail when we hiked from the town La Massana to the Comapedrosa natural park.
We woke up that day later than usual in our quiet camp spot in the forest close to the river. It was a nice idyllic place away from the path where we wish we could stay for longer. The day before was a challenging day for us when we had to do more distance than we had planned and arrived to our spot already in the dusk. So we felt broken apart and the muscles were very sore this next day.
We decided to do the chill out day and instead of following the GR11 trail that was going up in the mountains again, do an easier shortcut along the car roads leading us to the same village where the GR arrives. So we planned to pass by the village Ordino, La Massana and arrive to Arinsal. This way we hoped to save some powers for the next big day when we had a long and challenging trail to tackle.
So we were out on the trail at 9am and it was going downhill all the way to the first village. At first the path was quite rocky and narrow but soon it got wider and seemed like a gravel farmer route. This way we arrived to the village Ordino quite fast and it looked very pretty and neat with nice park area.
Then we got out on the fields and there we saw many of them were occupied by the grape agriculture that was definitely an unusual culture to cultivate in the mountains where it can get very cold in winter. But it was obvious that it was successful. On most of them were working the water pressure hoses watering the fields and they were giving the pretty rainbows.
The trail was going very easily along those fields for several kilometers and before long we arrived to the bigger town La Massana. We passed it by the side hiking along the streets for some time and then had to follow the car roads for another 5 to 7kms. The route was very easy but somewhat boring and quite hot, as we had to go without shade for some time. We bought some food supplies in the local supermarket of the village Arinsal that was our final destination and had a bit of rest in the outskirt forest of it.
It was already 2pm by that time so we felt like having a bit of siesta won’t be anything extra. So we did spent a good hour or so there in the shade having our meal and snack and got out on the trail again. We hoped to be able to find some spot to camp shortly, as we didn’t want to waste any more powers that day. From the previous day experience we knew that there can be some difficult terrains stretching for several kilometers where it is very hard to find any flat spots but prayed that it wouldn’t be the case that day.
At that point, we saw some clouds in the sky and it was the first time it happened when hiking this trail for 5 days. And we even heard a bit of thunder in the distance but luckily the clouds we passing by the other side.
So in around 20 minutes or so hiking further up the trail we were able to find a spot close to the river again. It was a very narrow place between the huge rocks and the roots of the trees but we still managed to fit our tent there. The terrain was uneven and had a slope but it was the best we could find and we were glad that at least we have a place to stop. There we cooked our meal that we were to divide as always for three times: one for dinner, another one for breakfast and lunch the next day. Then we were good to go to sleep.
The next morning we could wake up at 6am as we slept surprisingly well at that spot. We think what helped was the grass that we collected and layered underneath the groundsheet to have a more even flat surface. So we were ready to go for the challenging trail.
We planned to do at least 15kms hiking 1000m up and then 900m down getting over the mountain Comapedrosa. And that was the day when we were crossing the border as well from Andorra back to Spain. We expected this hiking trail to be one of the most beautiful as we were going to pass through many lakes, mountain ranges and beautiful pictures overall.
So we had our breakfast, wrapped our camping gear and went out on the trek. Close to where we camped a bit higher up we noticed the flat grass in several spots and guessed that some hikers may have stayed there in the tents also. Overall we saw many people hiking alongside us with big backpacks and we were happy to know that there were many more other backpackers jus like us hiking as independent as possible and staying in their tents.
From the very start, the trail climbed a steady quite angled uphill and it continued all the way through. We did cross several wooden bridges over the rivers and waterfalls and walked mostly in the forest. Also we started to get some views over the valley behind us in the morning mist. It was the early morning and so we enjoyed the fresh air and peacefulness of the trail. It was another advantage if starting early – you get to enjoy the solitude and have all the nature around to yourself with no other people around. It was an amazing feeling.
Soon the sun came out and the sky was perfectly clear so we assumed it was going to be another hot day. The shade of the trees was our savior but we knew it won’t last for long as we were getting higher.
On this part we met several beautiful high waterfalls coming down from the rocks and running into the river. The marking of GR was very good, it actually had been the same great during the whole trail we did already. We barely had to look at GPS on some crossroads to make sure we were taking the right direction but otherwise it was very accurate. In Andorra in some places there was a GRP passing along the GR11 and then it could create a confusion as the marks were the same red and white.
This way we did our first half of the uphill around 3kms, which wasn’t too difficult nor steep, and we did it in an hour or so. We came out to the great viewpoint from where could see the valley in the glowing light behind us and the impressive mountain range in front of us that we had to tackle. It looked much more difficult and steep but as we were going ahead of time we could hike at a slow pace.
Before the ascend started we walked through the wide mountain plateau with the high grass and then the rocky path began. We already saw that we are going to hike in the sun all the way through with no single shade. It was expected because of the higher elevation of more than 2000m but we knew that it will be very hot. The sky was clear and there were no clouds on the horizon yet. It was quite nice as it meant that it won’t rain nor thunderstorm any time soon. On the forecast, we saw the probability of thunderstorm later in the day so we were glad that there were no signs of it still. Also we had the fresh breeze coming our way which was helping a lot.
The path was going in a zigzagging mode at first and it was not as unreachable as it looked from the distance anymore. And it made us think that in life we face so many times a similar situation when we set big goals and try to plan ahead it often seems very hard to reach. But then when you stop thinking and just make the first step and then the next step you eventually are able to achieve it with time. This was one of the great lessons we learnt while hiking mountains.
From there the views were getting more and more breathtaking and we could spot a big rocky building down below which was the Refugi de Comapedrosa that we just passed by. Gradually the trail was becoming rockier and steeper as we progressed further up. The mountain ridges were getting closer to us and we were almost at the same level with them now.
This way we came to the first lake where we had our snack, then we did a half circle around it and the most challenging part of the ascend started. We had to literally climb it with the hands at some parts. But luckily it wasn’t too long before we came to the other lake Estany Negre. It fascinated us by how clear and deep it was and the turquoise blue color of the water was unbelievable. As we were walking by its shore we were wondering whether it was possible to swim there and if anybody ever attempted it here. It was obvious that the water should be freezing cold but still in the special suit it could be possible. There we also met some patches of snow here and there.
The views of the lake waters and the rocks on the sides were incredible and we took our time taking photos there and just admiring this beauty.
The last part of an uphill was constantly going steep and it lasted for several hundred meters before we stepped at the highest spot of the Portella de Baiau. It was the final destination of most of the people hike and some of them were climbing up to the Pic de Comapedrosa (2942m) itself that was only a hundred meters higher than the level we were at 2800m.
We were right at the border then between Andorra and Spain that as always was passing along the highest mountain ridges. The views were epic from there on all sides – the rocky massive peaks on one side and the panoramic picture of the incredible blue lakes down below on the other side. It was the most beautiful view we got on GR11 so far and we couldn’t help admiring it for the half an hour or so and taking some pictures. It was simply breathtaking and unforgettable.
Then the extremely steep downhill was awaiting us and when we first saw it- it was hard to believe that we actually need to go this way – that impossibly vertical it looked. But checking the map we got convinced that it was the way we had to go as there was no other leading down to the Comapedrosa natural park. And it did turn out to be the most challenging descend we’ve ever done on any other hike this far. It was much harder than the uphill we did before and very tiring for the knees. It had many small rocks on it on which it was easy to slip down and very hard to keep the balance. Sometimes it felt like getting down and slipping down on the butt was the best idea. The trekking poles were helping out a lot and we definitely wouldn’t be able to make it without this extra support. At times we wondered why the GR11 route creators chose this way as it was too extreme for the long distance hikers carrying the big backpacks.
When we got down to the first lake of we felt very hungry and so stopped at the shore to have our lunch. The landscapes were very picturesque at this place and we enjoyed having a bit of rest there. We’ve spotted the cute furry marmot on the rock and it was a joy to observe him.
Then we continued to make our way down going along the lake and getting through the cows who were laying down in the sun. The trail continued to be quite rocky but nowhere near as extreme as that previous part.
We passed by the Refugi de Baiau which was a small unusual looking building made of metal, crossed several water streams and finally were happy to be back on the firm ground again. We had planned to hike 5 kilometers more down the trail and hoped that it will be gentler to us.
In the distance the low clouds hugging the mountain ranges were coming towards us and it looked very beautiful. The weather was still very nice and there were no serious clouds on the sky. And we hoped if the weather changes to descend down in time.
So we hiked for several kilometers more descending down the valley surrounded by the magnificent mountain ranges on both sides and enjoying the nice weather with fresh wind.
We decided to stop at the Coma de l’Orri area walking down the flow of the river and getting away from the trail in the forest area. We ended up coming down 600m and we were at around 2000m of elevation level. We did plan to do several kilometers more but as we were absolutely killed by that moment we didn’t have any more powers left. Thy sky was being covered in more clouds but luckily, it did not end up raining. So we had our small shower, cooked dinner and set up our tent. We had one of our quickest meals – mashed potatoes and had little time to spare before we went to sleep.