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Trail to Cola de Caballo, the end of the Ordesa Valley, Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
Most recent update: September 2019

Want to see the Grand Canyon but you don't want to travel all the way to America? Why don't you visit Europe's Grand Canyon instead then? Let me tell you about a hike that lets you enjoy this awesome place to the fullest, from bottom to top, and back again. From forest to alpine plains.

Ordesa y Monte Perdido is one of the most spectacular National Parks of Europe. One of the highlights of the park is the Ordesa Valley, also known as the Grand Canyon of Europe, a mainly forested valley flanked by massive and spectacular cliffs up to 800 meters. Once on top of these cliffs, you find yourself in an Alpine environment with spectacular views in all directions.

Ordesa y Monte Perdido was the first National Park of Spain; spans over 15,000 hectares of mountains, valleys and cliffs; and is home to some interesting wildlife, the lammergeyer (bearded vulture) being a highlight. After two hikes in the Ecrins National Park (French Alps) and one in the Pyrenees in the weeks before this one, Ordesa y Monte Perdido was still able to surprise us. The geology and nature of this park vary largely from what we've seen before, and we finally encountered chamois deer.

For hikers, this park is a paradise. However, there are not many options for multi day hut trails, as there is only one hut in the park: Refugio de Goriz. High altitude camping is allowed though, which to me is a reason to return to the park one day.




Day 1, hiking up through the Ordesa Valley


We started this hike at the parking of Pradera de Ordesa in the Ordesa Valley. Here, we had a small chat with the lady of the tourist information, who recommended us to call the Refugio de Goriz to see whether they had a vacancy for two. Calling a hut? That's new to me. I've never seen a hut with phone connection, so it made me a little worried whether we would find a normal hut or a touristy hotel up on the mountain.

After making a reservation at the hut, we set off. We took the trail on the north side of the river, left of the river when you stand with your back to the parking. The first part of this hike is still very touristy, and the trails are accessible (even accessible for park maintenance vehicles). This accessible trail lead along several waterfalls with lookout points, great places to go for day hikes.

At first, the trail leads through mixed mainly beech forests. While you're slowly ascending, the forests changes into more coniferous forests and will eventually open up to a meadow, but more on that later.


Gradas de Soasa waterfall in the Ordesa Valley, Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
Gradas de Soasa waterfall



At the Gradas de Soasa waterfall (see above), the trail becomes narrower and rougher. It is no longer a car accessible trail as steps of large rocks will lead you up a hill. After this climb, the forest opens up and you'll be in a meadow where the trail becomes accessible again. A concrete path leads through this meadow and is meant to prevent people from trampling the flora. I can only imagine how amazing this meadow must be in spring when all flowers are in bloom.

This meadow is the end of the valley, called Cola de Caballo (see the first image). The accessible path leads to the last and highest waterfall in the valley that can be enjoyed from a small bridge leading over the stream below it. If you're not that fit, not keen on climbing or if you just wanted to do a day-hike, this is the place to turn around.

If you want to proceed, keep following the trail over the bridge and there will be a small trail zigzagging up the avalanche path in a few hundred metres. This trail leads up to the top of the lower and largest cliffs. Be careful at this section of the trail, as you do not want to slip and become an avalanche yourself.

On this section, we encountered parts of someone's shoes, including pieces of soles that seemed to come from some type of indoor sporting shoes. It also left us wondering why the owner of the shoes did not take this litter with him. Overall, the amount of litter along this trail was quite high. I don't understand how people that enjoy nature can litter... Please don't leave behind anything but footsteps.

Once above the lower cliffs, views of the valley get better with every meter you climb. After the avalanche path zigzag, the trail winds up along and over smaller cliffs. Just look at those views!


View of the Ordesa Valley, Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
View into the Ordesa valley.



After ascending a little further you'll get the first glimpse of where the hut must be as you'll see a shack that is located several hundred metres from the hut in the distance. However, it's not until the last several hundred metres that you'll actually see the hut. We had no idea what the hut would look like, so we were certain the shack had to be the it, until we came across a rocky outcrop and suddenly saw the huge hut. We'd made it.

Refugio de Goriz is perfectly situated at 2200 metres altitude, offering amazing views over the valley and the surrounding mountains. It has a large communal room downstairs and three huge bedrooms with rows of 3 story bunks. It sleeps a total of 72 people.


The people that we shared the hut with were different from what I'm used to when hiking. I'm not supposed to judge, but nearly half of the people seemed to not know what they were doing, seemed unprepared for mountain hiking and acted as if they were in a hotel. It was most definitely the most unsocial hut I've ever been. 

The people that made really made a lasting impression were two couples that we already met along the track when they were taking smoking break while loudly coughing their lungs out and breathing like they were hyperventilating. They walked on old running shoes and packed near to nothing (one had this small stuffed animal like unicorn backpack). Once at the hut, the first things the two women did was checking their looks, applying make up and buying beers. Weird priorities...

Overall, however, it's an okay hut. As I said, it's really well situated, and the fact that it's situated at a crossroad of multiple high-altitude routes allows you to make some great day-hikes that you can't do from the valley floor. So, despite not being happy about the atmosphere in the hut, I still recommend you to visit it.


View from mountain hut Refugio de Goriz in the Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
View from Refugio de Goriz on the Ordesa Valley.



Day 2, a high altitude day hike from Refugio de Goriz


After being waken up by people shining flashlights in your face and talking loud because they are getting out of bed, we took our time to prepare for our hike of today. The great part of day hikes is that you carry little and that you're more flexible because of it. Also, knowing exactly where you're sleeping the next night gives a sense of calmness, you can take all day and don't have to worry about getting there too late.




We set off in a north-east direction from the hut. After ascending about one hundred metres along a mountain flank, there is this cliff that you can't go around. The only way past this cliff is by climbing about 10 to 20 metres vertically. Just take a look at where most people have climbed an be carefull. Glad I carried light that day!

Once at the top, you'll find yourself in a rocky landscape with cracks all around, so be careful navigating this area. Follow the stacks of rocks and make sure not to disappear into one of the cracks.

After this, there is a lengthy near horizontal stretch through an Alpine meadow valley. Just follow the trail that will lead you towards the pass you see below.


Highland valley in the Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
'Just follow the trail that will lead you towards the pass'



Keep an eye out for chamois deer in this valley, we saw them all around. At first, the valley seemed empty (we didn't even see a marmot). However, at lunch break, I walked around a rocky outcrop to water some plants when I got the feeling someone was watching me. When I looked around I suddenly saw the perverts, two chamois deer lying under a cliff looking at me. I nearly forgot to close my pants when I hurried back to tell what I had seen. After a better look, we also discovered the rest of the herd (±20) and a marmot on top of the cliff.


Chamois deer in the mountains of the Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
Chamois deer, finally!



After staring at these playful animals for about half an hour, we moved on. The next section of the trail was a very rocky climb of ±100 metres to the pass I mentioned earlier. A little after this pass we found a spot on top of a cliff overlooking the next valley. This was the endpoint of our day hike. From here, we returned to the hut the same way we came. Once at the hut, I had a great afternoon enjoying the views while reading a book.


Highland valley in the Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
End of the day hike.



Day 3, hiking back down the Ordesa Valley


I won't bore you with a step-by-step description of the third day, as we went down by the same way as we came up. This time though, we ran into several herds of Chamois, probably because we were the first to leave the hut. These animals seemed to be very comfortable around humans, allowing us to come near without spooking them.



Beech forest in the Ordesa Valley, Ordesa Y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
Beech forests of the Ordesa Valley.



Practical information


Access: By car, set your navigation to lead you to the parking at Pradera de Ordesa at the end of the only road into the Ordesa Valley.
Huts: Refugio de Goriz is the only hut in the park.
Distances: Pradera de Ordesa - Refugio de Goriz, 5 hours; Refugio de Goriz day hike, 2 hours one way; Refugio de Goriz - Pradera de Ordesa, 3 hours.(Distances are personal estimates and may differ depending on experience and fitness).
Highest point: 2200 metres at the hut and somewhere between 2400 and 2500 metres for the 2nd day hike.
Prices: Refugio de Goriz was €17,- per night for us as non-members and preparing our own food. Check additional prices here.Parking was free when we were there.
Highlights: Views, forest and wildlife (marmots, chamois deer, various birds among which the pride of the valley: the lammergeyer).
Safety: Be prepared for all weather types, don't proceed if you are uncertain and don't climb without the proper experience.




If you liked this post, feel free to share it using one of those nice social media share buttons or move on to some other amazing hikes listed below. You can also pin one of the images below to your Pinterest boards, or check them out on my board about the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National ParkI really appreciate all shares!


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2 comments:

  1. Had never heard of this before. Nice find ,Menno.

    Thanks for this beautiful post. You have inspired me to visit this place.

    All the best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Deeptha!
      Now I do expect one of your great posts with many photos about Ordesa y Monte Perdido next time you travel to Spain, that should paint an even better picture of its beauty!

      Delete

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