Hiking the Coronallacs

Having wanted to hike in the Pyrenees it seemed a good opportunity to visit Andorra – a tiny country tucked in between Spain and France entirely in the mountains. I knew Andorra was a good ski destination but was intrigued to find out about summer hiking there.

Having looked at the various long distance trails in the mountains I stumbled across the Coronallacs, a new circular route utilising various existing long distance paths through the mountains.

The Coronallacs is a 92km route which we chose to do in 5 days, allowing us to stay at the 4 manned huts in the mountains. This allowed us to carry less as the huts provide dinner and breakfast as part of the fee.

Whilst the route isn’t ridiculously long compared to some in the Alps, its shouldn’t be underestimated. It is relatively easy to navigate with a good map, but the paths underfoot are not like comparable long distance routes in the Alps such as the TMB. It is largely rocky, bouldery and can be difficult in places. The weather in the Pyrenees is also alot more variable with frequent heavy rain.

The route also doesn’t pass through places to pick up food (except on day 2) so you need to be self sufficient for food during the day.

We started the trail at the same time as two Spanish ladies, two French ladies and a Czech family. We and the Spanish ladies were the only ones to finish the whole route. It’s not to be underestimated.

The route website is the place to go for all the route information, although I found booking the huts directly with the huts to be simpler.

Day 1: Escalades-Engordany to Illa Refuge – 13km

We had a slow start to the day, leaving the commercial town of La Vella at 10.30am and heading up the trail. It took about 5 hours to reach the Illa refuge at 2488m. The route follows the GR7 and 11 trails, up the valley and through the woodland before it enters pastures.

It’s a straightforward 13km walk and while it climbs 1500m upwards, it’s not too steep. It was a scorching hot day and it was lovely to walk through the alpine pastures.

The Illa refuge is one of the newest on the route, and it was even possible to get a hot shower which was amazing. We met other people at the hut also walking the route and over the coming days we were surprised about the numbers who dropped out.

Day 2: Illa Refuge to Julca Refuge – 22.5km and 1400m ascent

The route from Illa headed past the lake at the rear of the hut to ascent up to Pic des Possons at 2810m, this was steep but straightforward and took us into the sunshine on the ridge.

From the ridge there was a clear path down, past 7 of the 12 lakes in the valley below. While the path was obvious it was narrow and bouldery and quite slow to progress through.

At the end of the bouldery path, the route pops out in a ski resort where it takes the ski roads and forest tracks down to the valley at Les Bordes d’Envalira. Here is the only point on the route where you pass a supermarket, so it’s a good place to get supplies, snacks and have a break.

I have to admit when we arrived at the road I had run out of energy and thus was definitely hangry, so we had to stop for homemade sandwiches at the bus stop before we could even go shopping.

After this the path heads uphill and isn’t particularly clear, but if you keep heading upwards to reach the flat summit of Pic d’Ortafa at 2691m. Here the path is more obvious as it traverses the hillside before dropping down the valley steeply.

At this point we could see the cloud rolling towards us and as we descended the thunder started in the distance. As we got near the river the heavens opened and we were instantly soaked. We could have doubled back to a tiny refuge on the other side of the river but after a debate we decided we were already soaked and we had no idea how long it would rain and so we carried on for the refuge.

The final section up to Julca refuge is a bit more technical. Quite rocky, chains in some places and not a quick path to follow. So you can imagine the conversation about doing this in the rain and thunder. An hour or so later we arrived like drowned rats at the refuge.

We weren’t the first to arrive as others were already drying kit, but we also weren’t the last, with the Czech family and the women from Barcelona we’d met the previous night also arriving after us.

For a refuge in the middle of the mountains and definitely not accessible by vehicle, the guardians did a very good job of feeding us.

Day 3: Julca Refuge to Borda de Sortney Refuge – 18km and 1400m ascent

It had been cold in the hut so it was good to leave the Julca hut early and get into the sunshine.

The route out of the hut was not a straightforward path but boulder hopping and complicated before it finally got onto the side of the mountain.

The path then climbed up and around the side of the mountains, dropping to rivers and lakes and climbing back to again.

Eventually we reached an unmanned hut surrounded by Chamois. Here we had an early lunch.

The path then heads uphill and down into another valley with cows before a very steep uphill to a tiny shelter almost on the mountain top.

There was a bit more uphill to reach the top of the mountain.

From there the route was a long descent down to the Sortney refuge. An easy path, but long and a considerable amount of descent. We had had lunch early so by this point it meant that we were starving and getting a bit hangry and tired.

Combined with a need to outrun the afternoon storm we were trying to reach the refuge quickly.

The Sortney refuge is a bit misnomer. It’s really a small restaurant with hostel style accommodation attached. This means that the rooms were warm, hot showers and the food was fantastic.

Day 4: Sortney Refuge to Compedrosa Refuge 19km and 1800m ascent

After a breakfast so large we took some out for our lunch we headed out on the trail. It was an easy start from Sortney as the route heads downhill through the woods to the village of Serrat.

From Serrat the route runs parallel to the road into the village of Llorts. Here we had a break before the long slog uphill.

It took a long time to hike up through the woods to reach 2200m again and when we reached the lake we had a break before the final hike to the summit.

Once on the summit ridge it was windy but at last we were out of the cloud, so we had good views as we headed across to Pic de Clot del Cavall.

We then had a long descent down to 1729m.

Here there’s a choice, the signposts head right and descend slowly, the official gpx takes you straight downhill. We decided to follow the gpx, past some cows to reach a farm and the track to continue to head downhill to Plan de l’Estany.

The only difficulty on this section is knowing how much height you’re losing as you descend, and being able to see Compedrosa ahead of you and what you need to climb to reach the end of the day.

The path up to the Compedrosa refuge is straightforward but uphill and feels like a slog at the end of a long day. It’s worth it as the hut is a popular one and so is big and well equipped.

Day 5: Compedrosa Refuge to Escaldes Engordan 22km and 550m ascent

With a pack lunch from the hut we set off early, and walked the start of the day with the Spanish ladies, it was nice to chat and hike.

Whilst it’s uphill, it’s not a big ascent to get over the mountain. From there the rocky mountain gives way to rolling grass vistas as the route traverses the hillside to meet the road.

Hitting tarmac was odd as we popped out at a car park with a bus load of tourists taking photos of the view.

From here the route heads through woodlands across the top of the hills before descending. At this point we discovered that a mountain bike race was on so as we descended the woods we periodically had to dive out of the way of bikes hurtling down the hill.

Eventually the route hits the valley and follows the river back into La Vella.

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