Photo by Carol Moran.
Snowshoeing is a great way to get off the beaten track and enjoy the mountain scenery.
Catalunya doesn’t just boast lots of sunny coastline. Between the Pyrenees and the many national parks dotted throughout the region, there is plenty of natural beauty to enjoy all year round. In winter, many take advantage of the snow by hitting the slopes a few short hours from Barcelona, but skiing isn’t the only reason people head for the hills at this time of year. Among the plethora of outdoor winter activities on offer in the Pyrenees, snowshoeing is rapidly gaining in popularity.
Snowshoeing has a long history, with the first snowshoes thought to have been invented between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago and modelled after animal prints found in the snow. First used by fur traders, trappers and explorers as a necessary mode of transportation in the powdery regions of central Asia, snowshoeing has evolved into a fun and relaxing leisure activity. Designed to distribute a person’s weight in such a way as to make it possible to traverse deep snow without sinking, snowshoes are a great way to enjoy hard-to-reach places in winter. Original versions of the snowshoe were made of wood and rope, and were heavy and tiresome to wear. However, they have undergone many changes and innovations over the years. Modern snowshoes are made of plastic, are very lightweight and can be worn with regular hiking boots. A set of snowshoes can cost anywhere between €40 and €200, depending on the model, but they can also be rented at ski resorts that offer specific snowshoeing trails. It takes little more than a set of snowshoes and some poles to get beginners out on the trail, making this sport one of the cheapest winter activities around.
TREK: ESTANA-PRAT DE CADÍ
Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Distance: 7.6 kilometres
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Starting point: Estana village car park, in the natural park of Cadí-Moixero. The village is located between the valleys of Quer and Bastanist, at the foot of the Cadí Mountain.
From the village car park on the edge of Estana (0 mins, 1,510m), head south along the main street. You will pass the village centre, a beautiful church on your left and the antique public water basins on the right. When you see signs for the GR-150 (marked with red and white) on the left, head towards Bastanist. Upon leaving Estana, the paved road turns into a dirt trail (in good condition). Continue straight in the direction of Coll de Pallers until the GR-150 intersects the PR-C 121. Turn onto the PR-C 121, which is well marked with yellow and white, and follow it to Prat de Cadí.
After a few minutes, you will arrive at Pallers (10 mins, 1,502m), where there is a small picnic area with benches, a barbecue, a fountain and parking. At this point, the natural park begins. Continue straight along the trail, heading south, without turning onto any of the small paths that branch off on either side. The trail is in good condition and ascends into a pine forest on the Mataplana hillside. Halfway up, you will reach a small pass known as the Coll de Riclà (35 mins, 1,630m).
Continue up the trail and onto the eastern slope of the Sierra Mataplana. A wooden fence is used to indicate your arrival at the Coll de Reineres (50 mins, 1,707m). From this point on, the road changes direction towards the west, passing the village of Querforadat. The climb through the trees brings us to the heights of Cadí. Looking back, enjoy expansive views towards Estana and the Cerdanya region, dominated by the Tossa Plana de Lles mountain.
The road, curving slightly to the left, finally reaches Collet Roig (1 hour, 1.787m), a hill named after the red colour of the soil. From this point, there are good views of Puig Vulturó, the highest peak of Cadí to the northeast, and the Baridana trail leading up to it. Next, head towards the Bastanist Valley.
Shortly up ahead, a spectacular view opens up amidst a beautiful alpine setting and the trail arrives at Prat de Cadí (1 hour 15 mins, 1,826m). This large meadow, surrounded by forest, is located close to the rocky summit of Cadí. In spring and summer, it is the perfect place to relax and let the kids play. However, in winter, when everything is covered in snow and ice, this place is a paradise for mountaineers. From here, there are several possible routes to take up Cadí. Among the most popular are Ordiguer, Cristall and Amagada.
After enjoying the surroundings, return the way you came and arrive back at the starting point of the trail at Estana (2 hours 15 mins, 1,510m).
Snowshoeing also presents quite a few perks. For one, it offers great aerobic exercise and an easy way to get fit in the winter. Those who have discarded the notion of snowshoeing in favour of higher impact winter activities might be surprised to find that it burns approximately the same amount of calories as cross-country skiing. Moreover, it clears the mind and alleviates stress. Being outside in the quiet of nature with few distractions apart from the beauty of the natural surroundings can be an excellent mood enhancer. In addition, snowshoeing is also a great sport for wildlife seekers. Between birds of prey, snowshoe hares, the deer-like Pyrenean chamois (known in Catalan as isard), the endangered rock ptarmigans—a game bird of the grouse family—and the striking capercaillie bird, there are a number of interesting animals, or at least their tracks, to be spotted.
Photo by Carol Moran.
As with any winter sport, however, snowshoeing comes with some risks. While high-speed collisions are not a potential danger, snowshoers are at risk of dehydration, avalanches and losing their way. Yet, with good preparation, proper equipment and a well-marked map or guide, snowshoeing can be an enjoyable, low-risk activity for people looking for something different.
Those who are new to the sport may prefer to begin with the specially prepared snowshoeing trails created by ski resorts throughout the Pyrenees. As comfort level and experience increase, there are a number of ways to get out into the real wilderness. Many companies organise snowshoeing treks throughout the Pyrenees, but creating your own itinerary is also easy enough to do. There are several books in Catalan and English which offer routes for different excursions throughout Catalunya, and many of the natural parks publish information about snowshoeing and suggested itineraries on their websites. Some parks even organise short half-day treks.
So, whether for fitness, fun or to try something new, snowshoeing could be just the rewarding venture you’re looking for this winter season.
The Rough Guide to the Pyrenees, published by Rough Guides.
Raquetes pel Pallars Sobirà (2009), published by Desnivel.
Les 50 millors excursions amb raquetes de neu (2012), by Manel Figuera i Abadal,
published by Cossetània Edicions.