Aigüestortes Hikes – Coll de Contraix

Aigüestortes Hikes – Coll de Contraix

Aigüestortes National Park truly amazing hiking in the Spanish PyreneesDo you fancy a challenge that will take you to some of the best views within Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park? Well, the route to Coll de Contraix is pretty perfect. You follow the Carros de Foc trail between two Refuges Ventosa and Estany Llong. This hike will take you near azure-blue lakes, up spectacular rocky slopes, past countless waterfalls and show you more spiky-topped Pyrenees than you can count.

This was easily the most impressive adventure we had in Catalonia so I am really keen to show off how blooming beautiful it is.

Coll de Contraix in Aigüestortes – route map

Coll de Contraix in Aigüestortes – The basics

Estany Negre to Aigüestortes Place and La Ribera de Sant NicolauDistance: 25 km (for the whole walk) or 19km (from the Ventosa refuge)
Elevation Gain:
1435m
High Point:
2748m (at Coll de Contraix)
Time: 10.5 hours (whole walk) 7.5 hours (from the Ventosa refuge)
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
Hiking sticks are helpful as there is a LOT of elevation loss!
The 10 essentials.
Dogs:
I wouldn’t bring a dog on this. The boulder-field would be a nightmare for puppy paws.
How hard is it?
Very challenging. We found the boulder-field especially tough!
Maps: Spain has fantastic maps that you can download or use the Mapas de España app. We used a mixture of that, Maps Me and hard copies of maps that my mum brought.

Carros de Foc

Firstly, for hiking friends, have you heard of the Carros de Foc? In Catalan this means “Chariots of fire.” It is a truly epic mid-distance hike that connects the 9 mountain refuges in the Aigüestortes i Llac de Sant Maurici National Park. It covers 55km with 9200m of elevation gain(!) Most people take 5-7 days to walk it, but some Sky Runners do the entire thing in a day.

The path we took between Refugi Ventosa i Calvell and the Refugi Estany Llong followed this epic (and very tough) route. Part of the trail around the Coll de Contraix does not show up on the Mapas de España, but I promise, it is a real path! You can see our route on all trails here. It was amaaazing to get a taste of this fantastic hike. But it was also harder than anything else we did this summer!

Leaving Refugi Ventosa i Calvell – Getting started

This walk wasn’t the longest hike we did in Catalonia, but I took hundreds and hundreds of photos. For this reason I split up the hike into more manageable chunks. The first part of our walk from Cavallers Reservoir to Estany Negre is described in my previous post. It involved conga lines of cows, plenty of gorgeous lakes and finished at the Refugi Ventosa i Calvell refuge.

Coll de Contraix via Carros de Foc

We started this section of the walk after lunch. Follow the path East from Estany Negre. The first blue-green tarn is Bassot de Colieto. I loved the bonsai-like tree hanging over it.

Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park is such a strange mix of reflective lakes and rocks! This view is looking back towards the Ventosa refuge.

This is the way we’re heading along the Colieto Vally.

At this point, I had never heard of the Chariots of fire path. We had made up our route using a mixture of various maps and tourist brochures. We had picked two walks rated “difficult” on the tourist maps, then joined them together. This meant we were not entirely sure how high the path would climb, or how hard it would be.

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The path began to slope upwards towards our high point for the day, Coll de Contraix at 2748m. If you look in the photo below you can see the Pic de Contraix, the large mountain on the right. We needed to reach the saddle in the sky down to the left of that.

We were very happy to see sign posts pointing to Estany Long Refugi. It showed our route was definitely possible.

Estany Gran de Colieto

We stopped to take a look at the beautiful Estany Gran de Colieto Lake at 2206m. At this point the hike was easy, and our surroundings were stunning.

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This is the view backwards with the stegosaurus-like Agulles de Travessani Mountain and Estany Gran de Colieto Lake. We met two other hikers at this point (the only people we saw the entire time on the Carros de Foc trail!)

Carros de Foc – Getting tougher

After that, the path became more difficult as we needed to navigate our way around plenty of large boulders. Still, it wasn’t too bad as there are clear cairns (piles of rocks) to follow.

Boulder Field to Coll de Contraix

To reach the high point at the Coll de Contraix saddle, you need to gain about 550m elevation in 2.8km (from the low point in the Colieto Valley.) We are used to steep ascents, but this was a totally different beast! My photos are mostly of the clearer parts, as I needed to use my hands (and wits) to climb along the rocks.

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This is the massive boulder-field that you need to traverse while climbing up to the saddle.

We lost the path quite a few times and had to be super careful to keep spotting the cairns. It was fun, but by the time we were close to the top, it was starting to be type 2 fun.

It’s hard to judge the scale from these photos. Many of these rocks are as big as cars, so it’s easy to clamber along them. Some of them wobble and there are lots of gaps where you might fall and trap your leg. I think it took us around an hour to go 1km on the toughest section.

As you get closer to the top, the boulders give way to scree, so it is slippy, dangerous and incredibly steep. Still, when you stop to look backwards the views are spectacular.

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Coll de Contraix Views

Once you have reached the saddle (woot woot!!), you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of the other side of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. And down to Estany de Contraix Lake. The path down to that lake was super steep.

Estany de Contraix Lake

It may have been steep, but we found this section much easier. There were plenty of switchbacks. The path was obvious half the time (with scrambling the rest of the time.)

Estany de Contraix Lake is at an elevation of 2,573m. You can see that the whole area around the lake was a huge cirque, carved out by glaciers into a giant bowl.

Down at the lake we were slightly alarmed to see signs that said it should take a few more hours to reach the Refuge at Estany Llong. The sun was already starting to hide behind the mountains so we had to really speed up!

At least the next steep mountainside had a good path to guide us through the rocks. This area must be prone to avalanches in winter as rock-slides obscure the path quite a few times. We appreciated the bright yellow wooden posts that guided us down.

We followed the river (and several waterfalls) down the steep sides of Contraix. The path flattens into a beautiful plateau, before descending again down another steep slope.

Views down to Estany Llong

We ran along the path each time it was safe, so we seemed to zoom through this beautiful section of the trail. You can just see the Estany Llong lake below. This is where the next refuge is located. It didn’t take long at all for us to zoom down to that valley.

Ribera de Sant Nicolau

If you fancy a more relaxed walk, rather than gallivanting in the high Pyrenees, there is an easier way to reach this area. You can take a 4×4 taxi all the way up to the Aigüestortes Plateau and do a gentle hike from the car park up to the refuge by Estany Llong lake. That hike is 3.8 km and gains 165m in elevation. It’s what my parents did on this day while we were up high.

Race the sun

As you can probably tell from my photos, the sun was starting to fade by the time we made it down to the Sant Nicolau stream and Aigüestortes Plateau. It was too late to take a taxi, and we still had 10km with an elevation loss of 550m. Eep. My phone predicted it should take us 3 hours to descend, but once we started running, we managed to cut that in half.

The paths are well made, and not too steep at all. We recently learned that we both find it easier on our knees to run downhill if the roads/trails are good. You don’t need much puff to run down a gentle slope as gravity does most of the work.

Aigüestortes Plateau

This whole area is gorgeous. I have to admit, it is not really what I expected from hiking in Spain. Instead of a dry, brown landscapes, the whole of Aigüestortes is covered by lakes and streams. It is green and lush, surrounded by beautiful mountains; It’s a pleasure to hike through. We may have been running, but we still stopped to catch our breath and take photos.

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Aigüestortes Cows

Aigüestortes is cow heaven. The road had plenty of switchbacks that allowed us to admire the golden hour views and listen to the musical cow bells. It not a bad place for cows to live eh!?

Mirador de l’Estany Llebreta

The views continued to be gorgeous on our run down. First we got to see  a fantastic viewpoint of l’Estany Llebreta Lake.  Then lower down there was a waterfall, the Cascada de Sant Esperit.

Estany de Llebreta

This is the view looking back from l’Estany Llebreta Lake. There was still plenty of light (looking in that direction)

The cliffs above the lake were marvelous too.

Once we’d made it past the lake, we realized we had less than 4km (and 300m elevation loss) to go. The path is through trees, so there is normally less of a view BUT the sun started to set with spectacular colours framing the Pyrenees above us. Every few minutes it would be brighter until our world looked like this…

It was a fantastic end to an amaaaazing walk. My dad kindly came and fetched us from the car park and drove us back to Boí (where we’d left our car.)

Once again, hiking in Aigüestortes had exceeded all our expectations. If you like a challenge, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Or, if you prefer walking at a more leisurely pace, you could take it slowly and stay in one of the two refuges along the route. This area is perfect for creating your own adventure.

Aigüestortes National Park - Carros de Foc or Chariots of Fire trail Aigüestortes National Park truly amazing hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees Aigüestortes National Park walk up to Coll de Contraix

71 thoughts on “Aigüestortes Hikes – Coll de Contraix

  1. Wow that’s an epic hike isn’t it? The boulder fields and scree slopes sound really challenging and must have been fairly tough to negotiate but you did amazingly well. Those views are incredible. You guys must be super fit to do these long climbs, not sure many people could complete them as well as you do.

    1. That boulder filed was the reason we had to run at the end of the hike! It took us soooo much longer than we expected.

      We’re not super fit at all, but I guess this holiday did make us stronger. It also broke us, as we didn’t go out hiking for several weeks back in Canada. Our knees were still sore!

  2. Wow what beautiful landscapes! The lakes and trails are so pretty and remind me of the mountains in California. I’ve been hiking daily for 3 weeks and just got home. Makes me want to go on a hike again! 😁

    1. Oooh you lucky thing! It’s such a good time of year for hiking! You must be feeling strong after that many hikes in a row! <3

    1. We did it all in a day (as we were on holiday with both sets of our parents, so we always had dinner and chilled with them in the evenings.) BUT to be honest, I think it would be a good idea to stay in the refuges and take a bit longer for this kind of hike.

  3. Wow, this is a long hike, but the effort looks worth it for those views. The sun setting is just beautiful. I don’t know how you do it but these hikes just keep getting better

    1. Thanks Emma!

      Don’t worry, we did some slightly easier hikes too. In fact, although this one was incredible, it left us both a bit sore, so we had to be a bit more sedate for our last few days. 😉

      1. Hey Josy!
        Looks like an awesome hike! The scenery is absolutely breathtaking! 25 km is a pretty good distance with elevation change of 1,435, it can be challenging. I think that staying at the refuges could be a good option as well to break it up.

  4. What a perfect hike! I love Coll de Contraix via Carros de Foc, it looks amazing. Hiking is such a wonderful time to talk and feel centered. I always look forward to reading about your hikes and Pin them so I can go one day and experience myself!

    1. I still can’t get over how epic the Carros de Foc hikes sounds. If you ever get to the Pyrenees, I feel like that would be a perfect long distance walk. I’d love to go back and explore more of it (even if it was hard…)

    1. No it was okay. We made it back to the car park just as it got dark. We always have headlamps (just in case) so it wasn’t a biggie.

  5. Wow, 10.5 hours??!! Good for you for tackling this mega hike! Climbing up all those rocks looks really difficult. All the greenery and lakes are beautiful though. I can see why you took so many photos!

    1. I guess it does sound pretty long. It was so pretty that we still had some energy at the end. I was exhausted the next day though!

  6. This is an area of Spain/France that I have yet to visit, but it is on my bucket list. My family used to live in Spain and my hubby is French and we used to live in France, but I never got here! We hope to do some hiking here in the next 18 months!

    1. Did you make it to the French side of the Pyrenees Andi? I have a feeling it’ll be just as that pretty the other side of the border…

  7. This is the first I’ve heard of sky runners. They do 55 km in a day?! That’s seriously impressive.

    The boulder field looks very cool in photos but I can imagine it was challenging. Aigüestortes Plateau looks like a stunning place to hike. Your photos are amazing, what camera are you shooting with?

    I’m not sure I would be up for the long hike but the short hike from the car park sounds pretty nice! It’s really amazing that you had such a huge area all to yourself. All of your Pyrenees hikes look like they have gorgeous scenery but this one looks like it’s the best out of them all.

    1. I think Sky Runners is just the name for the folks that run around this particular loop. I can’t imagine being strong enough to run/climb that far in a single day! Athletes are amazing!

      Yeah the short hikes were all gorgeous too. I love that these parks have different routes for all abilities.

  8. These photos are impressive, it really looks remote and wild. That first photo with the lake in the distance surrounded by jagged peaks reminds me of a view I had on Tour Du Mont Blanc, though there definitely seems to be a different quality to the Pyrenees than the Alps, I can’t put my finger on it.

    I love “conga line of cows”, lol! Makes them sound happy to be there; if I had to be a cow I’d definitely want to be a Pyrenees cow. And “stegosaurus-like” mountain – that’s exactly what it looks like! Sounds like interesting contrasts all throughout this hike. For instance I love the sweet purple flowers. It’s funny how mountain landscapes can look kind of dry and dead (and stegosaurus-like) from afar, but up-close photos like that show you how much life is really contained in them.

    The boulder field looks intimidating but also fun, like an obstacle course (as long as you can always find your way back to the path – glad you did!). Those last 3 pictures of it lean more towards intimidating lol.

    Good job making time by running at the end – that sunset must have made a great endcap!

    Thanks for teaching me about the Chariots of Fire hike as a whole, I’d never heard of it but now I’d be interested in planning a hut-to-hut hike of the full 7 days.

    1. So, we didn’t know about the whole loop while we were hiking (I’ve been learning basic Spanish and a smidgen of Catalan, but mostly I didn’t know what was going on, apart from when Marc’s mum was around to explain things!) But as soon as I found out about the Carros de Foc trail I thought it might be a good option for you. I am soooo glad you saw this.

      Just be aware, you’re not allowed to camp in the Spanish National Parks. You have to stay in the lodges, so it wouldn’t be quite the same as your normal style..

      1. Ah good tip – thanks! I keep forgetting about the confusing no-wildcamping rules in Spain. I’ll have to check into how far in advance you need to book these huts.

        1. I think you have to be early if you go in the peak season in July-August. In September the weather was gorgeous, but the huts had hardly any people…so you could book it a bit more last minute.

  9. Wow what an epic hike – your photos are so impressive. It looks like such a challenge so go you for completing it!

  10. This “Chariots of Fire” hike looks so intense! The views looks like it would be worth it though! I always have a hard time on rocky paths. I would definitely have to choose one of the two refuges along the route.

  11. Ok, this looks insanely beautiful but I am definitely not going to be doing this one, haha. I am such a wuss when it comes to anything like this (ie the steep wobbly rocks!) and I just know I would be a teary mess within minutes of beginning, haha. So awesome that you did it though! You should be so proud of yourselves!

    1. Haha! Don’t worry, I totally get the feeling. It took us a while to work up to massive walks like this.

      To be fair, the views from the Aigüestortes plain were stunning too, and you can see that area with far less effort. <3

  12. I love hiking, and did some hiking in Spain along the Pyrenees mountain. A definite highlight. You are right the boulder field would be treacherous. No matter the challenge – nothing is better than the sights and sounds of this hike. I would love to do this trail and serves as a great guide.

    1. Oooh where did you go hiking? I found it quite hard to find other guides about this area in English, so I’d love to read yours too!

  13. Oh, my, word. What a beautiful escape into the mountains. I love learning of new places to go stretch my legs and journey into the awe inspiring mountains. The mountain lakes you photographed look especially magical, what an amazing time you must of had.

  14. Your first paragraph had some difficult to pronounce words, haha! Googled them to see which places these are, and how to pronounce them.
    Sounds like a really great hike and your pictures are stunning, especially the Agulles de Travessani Mountain and Estany Gran de Colieto Lake.
    You guys ran the last 10 km? After such a long hike, wow! Really admire your enthusiasm (and fitness!).

    1. I know what you mean! I found them tough to pronounce until I had heard them all once! Especially “Aigüestortes.”

      The running was way less hard than it sounds. Gravity did the work as we only ran on the easy slopes. We also stopped lots of times to catch our breath and take photos.

  15. As always you made me speechless! What a great adventure you both did on this one. I love the photos you took along the journey. This hike reminded me of my hiking memory with my mother going to work. The colorful sky you got towards the end of your hike is beautiful and romantic!

    I always admire your adventurous spirit!

  16. Give yourself a pat on the back for finishing this hike! I don’t think I would’ve been able to, but the views are so gorgeous I might just have to take up the challenge one day. Beautiful sunset to end your hike on too!

  17. We love incorporating hiking with our travels and this hike in the Aigüestortes National Park looks like such an incredible experience when visiting Catalonia region. The mix of those reflective lakes against the rocks in the background looks amazing. The hike along Carros de Foc does look quite challenging but that view of Contraix Lake from the saddle must have been so worth the effort. Would love to experience this hike one day!

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