Amazing Alpine landscapes found in Pyrenees-Orientales, France | Day 1 of Tour du Capcir from Formigueres to Refuge Camporells
It was the first day of our hiking trip in the Capcir area in Eastern-Pyrenees, France. We started hiking from the town of Formigueres, then got up to Estany and refuge Camporells and finally descended down and camped at the refuge Lladura.
We had intention to hike in the area of Capcir for a long time and we were very excited to discover a new area in Eastern-Pyrenees for us because we didn’t know it very well. We wanted to explore the Estany and refuge Camporells, Puig del Pam, lake Balmet, Mont Llaret, Roc and lake d’Aude. And our plan was to do 3 hiking citcuits in 3 days doing 15kms each day and get down to the valley every evening.
For that day we planned to hike 17 kms and do a 1000m uphill from 1500m to 2300m. We expected that the trail could be challenging as we had to do quite a bit of elevation change but the weather conditions were very nice and warm on this early October day and we hoped that it would help us to enjoy this hiking day even more.
Our bus left us in the quite small town with many historical buildings of Formigueres and we started to hike up the hill right away. The trail was going in the dense pine forest and following quite a gentle uphill. There we saw many people with their baskets collecting the mushrooms.
Soon after 3.5kms of the trail we came out to the parking lot of the ski resort “Station de Formigueres” where actually started our downloaded GPS track for the day. So if you have a car it may be a good idea to get to that parking lot and begin your hiking from there to save time and powers.
Then we continued to follow the dirt car roads but they got much steeper and soon we were hiking on the ski trails that were going along quite steep slopes.
From that moment the beautiful views of the surrounding us mountain ranges opened to our eyes and it was a pleasure to stop and admire the picture. We could spot one of the most important peaks in Catalan Pyrenees as well – Pic du Canigou, where we did the pretty epic hike Tour du Canigou not so long ago.
The sun was getting higher on the horizon and we felt so warm that we took off all our fleece shirts and jackets too. We treated it as a gift from nature – such a summer like warm weather in October.
The trail turned away from the ski trails at one point and started to go along the mountain ridge but the gravel car road continued for some time. For the next several kilometers it was quite easy to follow, we already did the half of elevation gain and had 450m more to do.
Here and there as we were getting higher we started to meet more and more of the patches of snow on the side of the route and we wondered whether we will need to hike on the snow later that day.
There were less and less trees and more bushes growing on the sides of the path as we were climbing up. The landscapes were getting more spectacular with the magnificent views of the snowy mountain ranges in front of us. It was a splendid picture as the snow only adds to the glory of the mountains.
All this part of the trail on the gravel route we haven’t seen any marking whatsoever that was uncommon but with this trail it was true. And thus it was very easy to confuse the trails especially on the crossroads. We tried to pay attention to the rock towers which normally serve as an indicator on the trail but it didn’t always help as some of them were half ruined. And there were quite a several crossroads, so we had to keep our GPS map always at hand and fortunately it directed us to the right way.
Soon the trail got quite a bit steeper and we saw on the map that uphill part was 300m of elevation and around 2 kms long. And as expected there was a lot of wet snow on it so getting the wet shoes was inevitable. Fortunately the snow wasn’t covering the whole trail and so we still were able to keep the normal pace. We had to go over several rivers and small ponds and overall met a lot of wetness on the trail. We tried to bypass the snowy and wet parts as often as we could.
The last part of the uphill was going the steepest but not extreme. And looking back we could see the great views of the mountain valley and endless ridges disappearing on the horizon.
This way we arrived to the highest point of our hike for that day of 2300m and the amazing panoramic picture was in front of our eyes. The closest to us we could see the lake Gros, a bit further in the distance lake del Mig with the sun reflecting back the light over its clear surface. And these lakes were hugged by the glorious mountain peaks touched by the snow that were forming kind of a wall behind them as of acting like guardians to keep them safe and protected. As the lake waters were quite calm we could see almost the perfect reflections of the snowy peaks in it.
This view even reminded us of one of the last days from Tour du Mont Blanc where we had quite a lot of snow on the trail but magnificent views too. And it served as another reminder for us that it is possible to find amazing places close to where you live and we don´t have to necessarily travel very far to enjoy the beautiful nature.
So we couldn´t have found a better place to have our lunch that we brought from home and surrender to this majestic beauty around us.
We did plan to get to the lake Camporells but looking at the map and real terrain we realized that it was located further up in the mountains, quite a bit higher than we expected. Also on the map there weren´t any paths or trails leading to it so it meant we had to make our own trail in order to get there. And we saw that it was perfectly doable to get to this lake just following the mountain slope as it didn’t look too steep. But counting the current situation and the season we hiked in with a lot of snow and wetlands we decided to put aside this idea and come back in summer season.
So we hiked along the lake Gros first and got to the lake del Mig soon. We met a group of people horse riding probably doing a tour around the area. There was located the Refuge Camporells that seemed to be quite a big building and the guarded refuge.
Around that area we saw a lot of wooden stacks stating that the bivouac or a night stay in your tent is allowed. One of the reasons why we love this region so much for hiking is because in most of the places you are allowed to camp for the night and you don’t have to worry about it. And there are even some dedicated places like that one allocated for the camping.
This was the area of a lot of wetlands, ponds and river channels. In the water we’ve spotted quite a big fish and a cute froggy that was hiding from us. On the plains among the river channels we were fascinated to see the smallest little mouse moving and jumping very fast. It allowed us to get close enough with our camera and we were very grateful for it. It was one of the first times ever we could spot and film the mouse in the wild conditions so we were very happy about it.
After that we faced the downhill part that we had to do and we saw it was around 500m down and up to 7kms more to do. We wanted to get down to the valley to find our camp spot because even though there were many potential spots in the area of the lakes they were more suitable for the summer. We knew it could get cold enough there at this time of the year already and because we didn’t have our warmer sleeping bags with us we didn’t want to risk it. And we hoped that getting down the valley would give us a several degrees advantage.
So we began to get down and the first part turned out to be pretty steep and rocky, much steeper than the uphill we did. We needed to get down to the river and the trail was going very straightforward to it. Also we thought it to be quite unpopular because sometimes we had to get through very narrow paths with lots of bushes on the sides.
But then soon we got down to the small lake La Basseta and from there the trail was going pretty much flat along the river. We could spot a male deer in the distance with a couple of females that were getting through the grass across the mountain slope. And we could hear the sound of the deer quite often too probably marking the limits of its territory.
On the downhill part we followed the yellow mark of some local trail and it was directing us the right way and it was very nice because we didn´t have to check our map all the time.
After following the easy gravel route for several kilometers we came to the wide plains where were pasturing lots of cows and decided that it was the nice place for us to stop at. Even though the terrain seemed flat but there were still a lot of bums so we had to search for some time for a good spot.
So we set up our camp quickly as the sun was getting down fast and were getting prepared for the cold night. We planned to wear at least 3 layers of fleece shirts, two pants, two socks, the hats and our down jackets as well. As our warmer sleeping bags didn’t arrive from Aliexpress in time and we had only our summer bags with us we hoped we could compensate it by having more layers of clothes on us. Also as we were camping at a fairly open space we closed our ventilation windows to escape the excessive cold air circulation. We found that there was still enough ventilation from our meshed tent body.
Then our dinner was ready and we ate it very quickly as it was already getting dark. Fortunately we could finish all our chores by that time and so we got to sleep early.