Encantats Snowshoeing Trek in Irelands Sunday Business Post

Spain’s enchanted lake district

Encantats Hut to Hut Ski Tour

Mandy, and one of many frozen lakes in the enchanted Encantats

03:52, 16 December 2012 by Mandy Latchford

Irishwoman Mandy Latchford works as a mountain leader in the Pyrenees for Pyrenean Odysseys. Here, she tells about escaping the ski resorts in favour of a snowshoeing trek in Spain’s Encantats National Park.

…..

1.  Meeting point in BossostAs soon as we crossed the border from France at Bielsa, we could feel we were there. Spanish villages with their unique architecture; Spanish faces, dark and smiling; Spanish sun, always shining! Not to mention Spanish bars and restaurants with their famous tapas . . . incomparable tasters of local smoked ham, olives, tuna.

The Pyrenees rose gracefully above us, spectacular and inviting. We were going into their heart on a snowshoeing trip to the Encantats National Park – encantats means enchanted. A stop at the sunny terrace of a typical tapas bar gave us time to soak up the local atmosphere and to get to know each other a bit.

There was no rush though as we had six days ahead of us in the mountains. And in Spain, there’s no rushing allowed.

3. Up we go, Sacah leadingThen we were off, heading up into the white magic. Pure and perfect snow contrasted against the bright blue sky and salmon-barked Scots pine trees as we left civilisation below.

Snowshoes soon became a part of our feet. These days, they are light and made from plastic instead of being huge and cumbersome. A rhythm was quickly found using a pole in each hand to balance weight and help push upwards. The snowshoes allowed us to stay on the surface of the snow and we made our way among the trees of the mysterious Valarties forest. Had a few elves popped out from behind a tree, we hardly would have batted an eyelid.

We climbed out of the forest and crossed above our first lake to the welcome sight of Restanca refuge. From here, we would be out in the open, above the treeline, from 2,000m to 2,800m.

11. Dinner timeThis large hut offered us a cosy dormitory, a friendly welcome and more food than we could ask for. Meals are more typically mountain meals, tasty and wholesome, than Spanish. And we washed it all down with a Spanish cerveza or some vino tinto most days.

All the refuges along our way provided breakfast, picnic lunch and dinner, allowing us to carry fairly light packs with just the essentials such as water, a camera, spare clothes and a jacket.

Each day seemed better than the last and we almost became blase about walking across frozen lakes. Lago Azur, Verde, Alto, Superior – we lost count of the number of lago gelados we crossed. The Encantats National Park is also known as ‘Aygues Tortes’ which means winding waters. The granite landscape holds these watersheds/lakes, tucked in between summits, in the base of cirques, on valley floors.

It was a privilege to be up so high, crossing over passes, under summits, up valleys, across lakes and rivers, always under the Spanish blue skies. By 10am we were walking in long-sleeved T-shirts and lathering on the suncream. Who says snow is cold?

There is truly nothing better than a trek, in winter or summer, to really get away from it all – the luxury of having nothing else to think about but putting one foot in front of the other, drinking when necessary, and then enjoying idyllic picnic spots and a new refuge for the night, another good meal, a well-deserved sleep after a healthy day out.

From Restanca we travelled to Ventosa i Calvell, above the famous Colomers Cirque and the Ratera Pass to the fabulous Amitges hut. It was considered by everyone to be the place to come back to. Here pink granite needles emerged from the snowy wonderland, beautiful pine forest stretched below us and the Amitges lakes were the backdrop to our evening.

We sat out for an evening beer on the terrace and when it started getting chilly, we continued to admire the starry sky from the cosy warmth of the dining room as we were served delicious saffron rice and veal in a vegetable sauce.

19. Refuge Saboredo w. snowboardersAnother favourite hut was the truly rustic Saboredo with its stunning setting. The refuge roof was barely visible under its snowy cover and a comforting trail of smoke from the chimney assured us of a cosy evening ahead.

The refuge guardian, a Buddhist, was chanting as we came in, but soon stopped to welcome us as we joined a party of younger Spanish friends who had come up to practise their wilderness snow-boarding techniques.

This seemed quite out of place being so far away from ski resorts and such civilised activities.

Our last day brought us to the incredible Estany del Mar lake. We crossed the lake to picnic on its perfect island in the centre, feeling like we were alone in the world. The short couloir down allowed us great bum-sleighing and we whooped and weheyed our way down to the last challenge of the week: a refreshing dip in the quiet river below.

29. The big descentThen it was down, down, down to the vehicle, making our last tracks in the powder snow. We followed tracks of fox and isard (an animal that looks like a mountain goat but which is actually of antelope origin) which wound in and out of the trees, through the forest and back to our mini-bus.

The end of our true mountain adventure was over, but our return to civilisation was gentle as we went for a deliciously relaxing hot thermal bath in Los Banos de Tredos and a final Spanish lunch before heading back home, cameras and heads full of images never to be forgotten; memories alive with a dream of pure white mountains.

…………………….

Factfile

Getting there: fly Aer Lingus to Toulouse for pick up. If you go with one of the companies below, they will pick you up from either the airport or the nearest train station.

Who to go with: Pyrenean Odysseys has English-speaking guides (pyrenees-mountains.com); La Balaguère (labalaguere.com) and Natura (e-natura.com).

Costs: a week’s snowshoeing trek costs about €800 excluding flights or train fare but including snowshoes, avalanche transceiver, all meals and accommodation in hotels (first and last nights and refuges on trek), guide, transport to and from airport or station. You can expect to trek five to eight hours a day.

Best time to go: from January to early April. Summer treks are possible from June to early October.