For more than 3 years in a row I was dreaming about visiting Pyrinees with snow. Either I could go but there was no snow or there would be snow when I couldn't go. But this time in the second week of January weather forecast news whispered about the upcoming cold wave in the Spanish peninsula and possible snowfalls in the mountain areas starting from January 15 and I didn't think long. Booked the apartment in Benasque for the whole week and we drove there with my husband and our Luna on Saturday, January 14.
Our apartment Los Lagos was booked through Villmor agency . It was small but well equipped and even had a little work desk by the window which allowed Juan to work throughout the week. Moreover, dogs are allowed in the property for a supplementary fee. These are the places that can be explored in the area.
Eriste Viewpoint and Espigantosa Waterfall
Our first morning, on January 15, we went to Eriste viewpoint to enjoy the views that were still lacking snow and only had a bit of it at the very top of the peaks.
In Benasque I realized that I left my tripod at home, 6 hour drive away from where we were. So I had to look for alternative solutions. After enjoying sunrise at the viewpoint we decided to continue to Espigantosa waterfall. At that moment it was still accesible by car, via narrow unpaved road along the steep cliff.
From the parking of Espigantosa waterfall I captured these mountain fragments with my telephoto lens, first 70-200 mm f2.8 and then adding 2x teleconverter.
Since I couldn't get my camera sit still for a desired long exposure composition, I shifted my focus to Luna being the main protagonist.
How to get there
It is possible to leave the car at Eriste viewpoint and continue walking until the waterfall which is around 1 h 19 m, or continue driving along the unpaved road until the parking near the waterfall. At times of bad weather or snow it may not be possible by car, would either require proper 4x4 or crampons (if walking on icy road stretches).
The tripod problem was solved on Sunday evening by finding a second hand one in Vielha, 1 h 20 m drive from Benasque. It was an emergency one and served me on a couple shoots.
3 Barrancos Trail
In the morning the landscape changed completely. Weather forecast proved to be accurate and it started snowing, we woke up to a whiteout scene all around.
Luna and I took a walk along 3 Barrancos trail, it's a fairly easy one, but with snow at some stretches of ascent rocks can be slippery and recommended to wear crampons. Like it happened with tripod, we also forgot our crampons 6 hour drive way at home. So I did only part of the trail until it started to look slippery.
Benasque - Mirador del Valle Benasque trail
The trail starts before the parking near the Interpretation Center of Natural Park Posets-Maladeta (After Eroski supermarket) and there is an indicator pointing to the trail. I found Maps.me app to be my best guide for this trail. The ascent to the viewpoint is 2.3 km and lasts about 1 hour. In my case the trail had a plenty of snow from the full day continuous snowfall and I also made various stops for photos.
As it was very cloudy, golden hour made no sense, and getting to the viewpoint for blue hour was just what I needed. The low clouds moving across the valley added an atmospheric touch.
Somewhere towards the end of the trail I discovered a spot from where I could see the road curve and had to capture a car with lights on passing through it.
When you reach the viewpoint, you realize that the village has a shape of semi circle.
Mirador de Cerler
This viepoint is higher up the road from Cerler village and is looking at Cerler peak on one side and surrounding mountains on the other side. It was the only sunset with beautiful light in our whole week. The bonus was the running military at training.
Being at this spot I envisioned an aerial shot and had to come back with my drone. My next visit ended sadly when I lost connection with the drone and broke its 2 propellers on manual landing as it hit the snow hiking poles...Luckily I had replacement propellers in the apartment, just needed to return one more time, what a luck! Weather conditions most days would be either be intensive snowfall with low visibility or strong winds, I had to hope that none of these would be happening at the moment I'm there. I got a bit too lucky - no strong wind, no intensive snowfall and...absolutely no clouds!
It's important to note that this road stretch is outside of the natural park territory and outside of the restriction zone, as I tend to always check Drones En Aire map and Airmap application.
How To Get There
The viewpoint is located at the curve of A-2617 but there is not parking, a very brief stop is possible but for shooting it's best if there are 2 people going. One can drive the card until Ampriu and photographer can leave the car during the brief stop and continue shooting.
Trail from Benasque to Anciles is the easiest walk, all through the plain terrain and many people can be seen walking their dogs there in the mornings. The most magic moment was walking on Tuesday morning after the whole day of snowfall and seeing those low clouds floating below the peaks.
We also walked that trail several times and Luna enjoyed running in the snow.
In the second half of the week the weather changed to strong winds and cloudless sky.
Ampriu Ski Track
Another area to explore was to go up the mountain by ski lift. In Ampriu ski center there is an option to buy a ski lift ticket without skis and walk around instead. The downside is that it's not allowed to carry the snowshoes up with you. But the worker at Ampriu info center was very kind and allowed me to leave my rental snowshoes there while I'm exploring.
I took a skilift to Collado de Ampriu and walked along the Sarrau ski track to get to the viewpoint. However, wind on that side was crazy strong hitting all the snow in my face and I could neither see nor look towards the view. But I did capture a moody mountain scene, a long skier and a group of trees along the walk.
When amount of skiers on the slopes started to grow, I took the skilift back down and collected the snowshoes from the info center. The man suggested me to hike up to Collado de Basibe, as that ski track was closed for skiing and was free and safer to walk.
The view from the Basibe trail wasn't that bad.
How to get there
From Benasque on roundabout take first exit to A-2617 and continue driving along it until Ampriu-Cerler parking near the ski center. If you want to take a walk with snowshoes and not sure which route to take, always ask in the information center, people there are very helpful.
Llanos del Hospital
Thoughts about the route to Aigualluts waterfall wouldn't leave me alone and although the weather conditions were slightly on the extreme side, we still decided to try at least a part of the route on Saturday morning. The route starts from Llanos del Hospital which is a popular ski center. We were among the first ones to arrive to the parking. Adrenaline level from the wind speed at 70+ km/h quickly went up. We strapped snowshoes to our boots and started to walk.
I knew I wouldn't have another opportunity to document something like this so I pulled my camera out of my backpack and started shooting this madness with wind and snowfall.
Along with the brutality of weather conditions there was also beauty and fragility.
Luna resisted like a hero. Must be her Scottish ancestry immune to the rough weather.
Juan and Luna crossing the bridge over Ésera river and leaving the windy area.
I could not stop looking at my surroundings.
We reached the next hiking route indicators and we either had to ascend until Besurta through another windy stretch or go back.
At that point Luna was constantly stopping and biting the ice off her paws and it caused more and more inconvenience to her. Considering the distance we still had ahead of us and unfavorable weather conditions, we decided to go back. There are times when taking mature decisions is more important than personal persuits. After all, Luna was thankful.
On our way back we encountered a whole lot of skiers gliding through the plain of Llanos, groups of children with snowshoes, parents pulling sledges with their kids, all enjoying snow activities to the fullest. People in Pyrinees don't stop.
It was an adventurous hike and exciting playground for outdoors photography. Without a doubt we will be back here to repeat the route and go further.
How to get there
Continue all the way by A-139 road to Lllanos del Hospital, from Benasque it will be around 22 min until the Llanos parking.
Snowshoes (if you don't own ones, it's possible to rent them at 10-12 euro per day at Barrabes, Grado Diez and All Radical). We rented them from Barrabes as it was next door to the apartment building.
Crampons (also rentable from the listed shops)
Windy weather app
Wikiloc app for trails
Maps.me app (great for offline routes)
Where to eat (vegetarian menu considerations):
La Cabana - entry with dogs is allowed