From Bujaruelo to Cirque de Gavarnie: Paradise. A 3-day trek around the spectacular scenery and Autumn trails of Gavarnie

In Mountain

It was on my “100 Things To Do Before I Die” list. Gavarnie. Every time I heard someone talking about the Cirque de Gavarnie and its captivating greatness, somewhere deep inside it hurt. As if it were written somewhere in my fate and I were constantly failing to fulfill it. And I knew it.

There’s always a moment. And I wasn’t going to put it off any longer. Fall is the best time of the year I said…well is there a best time of the year to witness Her Majesty? The highest waterfall in Europe, with 423 metres? So there I went with my husband for a long weekend in October.

N.B: The Cirque de Gavarnie is located at the border of France and Spain. The Gavarnie massive rock amphitheatre is on the French side, with walls rising vertically to a height of over 3000m, with famous peaks such as Marboré, Monte Perdido, El Casco and glaciers like Glacier de Marbore, Glacier du Taillon, Glacier de Pailla… The most impressive thing is the twisted shape of the rocks and walls that surround the highest waterfall in Europe. Fortunately for the Earth and thus for mankind, both sides of the border are National Parks: The Pyrenees National Park and the National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido. It’s also a World Heritage Site.


A circular trekking route from the Spanish Bujaruelo (Ordesa) to French Cirque de Gavarnie

Here’s the original plan:

  • Day 1: From Refugio de Bujaruelo (a mountain lodge) to Ref. Serradets, where we would camp and sleep, because the French mountain lodges are closed this time of the year (quite surprisingly).
  • Day 2: From Serradets to Taillón (an ‘easy’ 3K summit) through Brecha de Rolando, back to our camp, and then climb down the Echelles de Gavarnie that would take us to the Cirque. We’d sleep in the Gavarnie villa or camp somewhere.
  • Day 3: From Gavarnie back to Refugio de Bujaruelo through Valle Des Pouey D’Aspe.

Here’s what actually happened:

After discussing our schedule with our Mountaneering and Alpinism coach, Juan Carlos Vizcaíno, we were having second thoughts about our plans. He said we’d be extremely tired after a most likely bad sleep in Serradets to face a 3K -my first ‘vivac- and that we should really be cautious because Brecha de Rolando would be probably very icy and with permanent snow (typically in October there’s a mild rainy weather with cold nights that freeze the moisture). He also said that the Echelles de Gavarnie would be dangerous by this time of the year, due to wet terrain. The Echelles are a ‘Ladder’, a sort of natural zigzag that takes you down to the bottom of the Cirque, bordering a precipice. Thing is: we don’t want The Echells to take us down…too fast.

It didn’t matter if I wanted to do it, despite the warnings, whereas my husband didn’t…We had packed everything: the crampons, the axes, the sleeping bags, the tent, etc…but when we were ca. 300kms far from home, we noticed we had forgotten the most important thing: the *cramponable* boots. I must say I almost kicked my hubbie out of the car. What a big WTF that was. He’s still trying to make amends for that (not that I force him, though I never say no to some indulgement to make up for it). So we had to detour and buy 2 pairs of mountaineering boots at Barrabes, but we didn’t want to spend that much since we already have several types of boots at home, and I can tell you: cramponable boots are bloody expensive. Hence, we bought just plain trekking boots. Bye Original Plan. Bye Budget, too.


Day 0: Reaching Refugio de Bujaruelo

We hit Bujaruelo’s mountain lodge at sunset. I guess Nature was still laughing at us for our unforgivable forgetfulness, so to compensate I think she was keeping this in store for us. Bujaruelo’s Valley is near Ordesa Valley (our tiny version of -yet to be visited- Grand Canyon), and to reach the mountain lodge you have to drive past Torla and reach the entrance of the National Park. And if you’re lucky enough and you’re driving during Sunset, you’ll see Mondarruego and Circo de Cotatuero firing up:

Reaching the lodge is pretty easy, just follow the unpaved road, it’s about 6km. You can also go on foot and follow a beautiful trail by the river, it depends on the heavy load you have to carry. Bujaruelo’s mountain lodge is big and cozy. It’s just a plain mountain lodge but their bar and restaurant facilities are top of the notch amongst mountain lodges this and French’s side of Pyrenees. And artisan beers too! You can book your stay here

DAY 1: From “Refugio de Bujaruelo” to Cirque de Gavarnie through the Valle Des Pouey D’Aspe

Approx 16km, 7hours (incl. breaks, photos, etc), total ascent/descent 2300m.

We left the lodge at 8:10am after some difficult sleep because of the damp cold (no heating on). We headed to Puerto de Bujaruelo, where we would then divert to Cirque de Gavarnie through Valle Des Pouey d’Aspe. I uploaded this track to Wikiloc, where you can read the track description and download the file for your GPS. The track is edited and ready for your trip. So I’ll spare the details and share some pics, click for larger images:

And where the hell is it? Be patient, my friend. Keep on walking and you’ll be rewarded. At last. Sorry for the quality of pics.

Words fall too short to describe what I felt. I must admit I cried and I couldn’t help it, it was like an outburst, silently tears were flowing down my cheeks, and even my husband didn’t notice till he turned back to me and said: This Is Beautiful…and I even couldn’t pull myself together and reply. I just couldn’t speak, totally taken aback. Right now, some weeks after, I can still feel chills down my spine, it was a long-held dream come true, you’ve got to bear with me here.

Really, it doesn’t matter the words and metaphors that I use in this post, nothing will come closer to what it feels like. So I won’t even try. You see, I don’t know if this is something that’s happening to you too, but the older I get, the lazier I feel when it comes to express feelings. It’s the most crystalline thoughts ever, essential clarvoyance, and yet, it feels like an insurmountable task to translate them into words. I admire people who can post and talk about anything on a daily basis. That’s exhausting to me, the more I live the way I’m trying to live now -kind of embracing Nature, going back to the roots-, the bigger my Universe is, and the bigger I feel it is, the less it fits in an empty page.

If only telepathy were a sixth sense.

Let’s keep on walking. We’ll detour and we won’t go down to the tourist-ready main piste (a road by the river that goes from Gavarnie villa to the Cirque itself). Let’s plunge into Autumn foliage, I’m eager for it, I came here for this. So we followed a narrow path under shaded cliffs and through a colourful forest with magical powers: mindfulness.

I turned off the GPS accidentally once I reached the Cirque and sat down in the terrace of the fermé hotel (Hotel de Cirque), but the way back to the villa is pretty easy: follow the road from the hotel to the town, it’s the main path to and from the Cirque. We stayed there having lunch for half an hour or so…where we decided that we’d go to the base of the waterfall the next day.

There’s no way to camp around the Cirque, if you follow the regulations, and we do. You have to be around 45 minutes from a town or road and we weren’t up for extra miles, so we went to the town where we slept at the Astazou Hotel, a 2 star hotel with a decent room, a really good bed and amazing views:

Day 1 Wikiloc GPS downloadable track and detailed description

DAY 2: CIRQUE DE Gavarnie Autumn Trails

Approx 12.5km, 7hours (incl. breaks, photos, dipping feet in the river, siesta’s balcony, etc), total ascent/descent 1900m.

On day 2, I had improvised (since our original plan was slightly different) our route for Day 2…we wanted to get to the base of the waterfall but we didn’t want to go with the rest of tourist on a paved road. That’s not what we really aim for. So I decided to detour and take a trail that goes from the Refuge de Pailla to the Cirque. If you grab a map, the trail goes through the forest that’s on the East side of the Gavarnie Valley, about 400 metres high from the main path. Here’s the edited Wikiloc track, ready to download, if you click on it, it’ll take you to my Wikiloc profile with a full description.

As before, I’ll share the experience with photos and captions, click for larger images.

Sorry, it’s a vertical video (please send your complaints to hubbie) but who cares, this is the amazing sound you hear at the waterfall base. Warning: it’s chilly at the base, to say the least, and that’s in Fall…and there’s a lot of water spray thrown up that will get you *really* wet:

Up for dipping your feet into this water?

Day 2 Wikiloc GPS downloadable track and detailed description

DAY 3: From Gavarnie Back to Refugio de Bujaruelo

Approx 13km, 5hours (incl. breaks, photos, etc), total ascent/descent 2100m.

Time to go back to Bujaruelo. We’ll go the same route that took us here but with a different perspective, it never feels the same track (unless you have eyes in your back). Here’s the Wikiloc track for your GPS + description. Click for larger…feelings?

Day 3 Wikiloc GPS downloadable track and detailed description


I hope I’ve been able to transmit a tiny bit of what this place is. I recommend you to follow the tracks I did, to avoid crowds, especially if you’re visiting this in Summer. I think the best time is Spring, Fall and Winter, though.

I just can’t imagine how this majestic amphitheatre feels like in winter, when waterfalls are frozen and all you hear is Silence. And that’s why I must be returning soon. I don’t want to imagine.

I want to see, feel and live.

Thanks for the company.