Walk the Region with Leigh and Merry Foster
PIC DU CANIGOU
This walk is not for the faint-hearted, but has to be on many people’s ‘bucket list’ of things to do while they can. The sense of achievement and the spectacular views from the top on a good day are more than worth the effort. Bear in mind the altitude, and the fact that the weather in the mountains can change quickly, so packing some extra layers is a good idea just in case. Good footwear is essential and walking poles very advisable.
We started at 9am in the parking des Pompiers in Prades, which can be found by following the signs to Codalet from the centre.
There we met up with our transport for the first leg of the trip – M. Colas (04 68 05 27 08) and his very old and bumpy 4×4, with room for seven people into which we somehow squeezed eight.
This took us the 30 km (1 hour’s drive) up rutted forest tracks and logging roads to Chalet des Cortalets at 2150m altitude, co-ordinates 456067E 4709241N. This is where the walk starts.
If you have a suitable vehicle (or an unsuitable one and a brave driver!) you can drive the track yourself.
Set in a pretty forest clearing, the Chalet provides basic accommodation and a refreshment stop in dramatically wild surroundings.
After making sure we were well supplied with water we set off. The trail, which at first joins the famous GR10 coast to coast walk, heads southwest past a small lake and climbs the hillside towards Pic Joffre.
The clearly marked path up Canigou splits from the GR10 at 455260E 4709170N. Those like us that don’t live in the mountains will find the altitude makes the modest gradient surprisingly hard work.
After reaching the ridge (1.8km from the start), turn south and start the long ascent to the summit.
The path is well marked and well trodden, but still not easy in places where hand-over-hand climbing is required.
As you go there are magnificent views to the west over the Foret Domaniale du Canigou and south towards Spain. While taking a breather we spotted some enormous soaring birds of prey that, thanks to Google, we later identified as Spanish Imperial Eagles.
There is quite a steep drop to the west so do take care.
The trail continues south, up and further up, until you come to the foot of the final ascent (3.2km from the start).
Here it zigzags precariously up the loose rubble slope to the top. You are tantalisingly close, but at 2680m altitude it’s still about 100 metres straight up, or 400 metres if you don’t have a helicopter!
You finally reach the surprisingly small summit at 2784m, 2-3 hrs after starting from the Chalet, to find people perched on little outcrops of rock, taking photos and eating sandwiches.
The famous ‘Croix’ is there, and the Table d’Orientation with its Catalan poetry by Jacint Verdaguer.
You can see the top of the ‘Cheminée’, which is the alternative route to the top reserved for mountain goats and hard-core climbers.
There was snow in the avalanche-sculpted gulley in mid September, as there probably is for most of the year.
After your picnic and rest, you start back the 4km back to the Chalet. Going down is less challenging than coming up, but still not easy as you have to watch every step.
The walking poles come in handy here. It was with great relief we got back down 2 hours later, to find everyone else waiting to squeeze into the 4×4 back to Prades!