Over on the far western side of Catalunya on the border with Aragon lies el Congost de Mont-Rebei; the magnificent Mont-Rebei gorge. The gorge provides the scenery for some fantastic walking with narrow paths cutting into steep sided ravines, foot bridges, turquoise green water, forests, vultures, and perilous looking wooden stairs bolted into cliff faces that are not for the faint-hearted.
Mont-Rebei can be found on the province of Lleida and is a product of the Noguera Ribagorçana river carving a route through part of the Serra del Montsec mountains, before opening into the Canelles reservoir. The gorge separates Catalunya from Aragon and there is a foot bridge part way through the walk that allows you to travel from one region to the other.
Mont-Rebei had long been on my to-do-list so I was happy to squeeze in two days of mountain time during a recent trip to Barcelona. A three-hour drive from the city on good roads brings you to la Masieta car park where attendants from the Fundació Catalunya–La Pedrera will exchange a parking space and a helpful guide and map for 5 euros.
During the cooler months of the year Lleida and this area of the Pre-Pyrenees can be infamously covered in low cloud and the 2 hours I spent driving through pea soup on the way from Barcelona made me question whether I’d made the right decision or not. However, as the road rose above the cloud line as I neared my destination to reveal a tremendous cloud inversion I felt assured that I was going to have a good day.
Of course, if you know anything about river-created gorges then you will know that they tend to be below the clouds and as I plunged back into the fog and the temperature dropped to near freezing, I had to re-evaluate my outlook. Maybe my day of dramatic gorge views would be replaced by a whiteout and a view no further than the few paces in front of me. Still for those with a fear of the precipitous drops that pop up throughout the walk the thick cloud may have proved beneficial.
Those fears were allayed though as I parked up and set off. The cloud was starting to rise, and I could see the odd speck of blue having a good go at trying to become the predominant skyward feature. The other thing that I was hoping for was a bit of solitude – not that I’m overly fond of being stuck with my own company for a day or two in the hills, especially overseas ones. It was just that this can be a very popular walk and I wanted to enjoy it free from crowds. I had thought that this would be possible on a Friday morning in December but had not counted on the Catalan penchant for throwing in a public holiday when you least expect it. It was busy. But as I would later find out this is a justifiably popular walk, and it also gave me chance to practice my ‘holas’, ‘bon dias’ and ‘buenas’ whilst exchanging pleasantries with my fellow hikers.
There are several routes available from the car park but unless you’ve been before then there is only one option to take; the direct route through the gorge. A return route to Montfalcó and back takes around 5 hours but of course, on a linear route you can choose the point at which you want to turn back and retrace your steps. There is also the option to continue on the GR1 on the east side of the gorge and on to the La Pertusa hermitage which offers some interest from its finely balanced vantage point on a crest at the valley head.
Shortly after leaving the car park it’s not long before you reach the first footbridge which is the first test for those less certain on their feet. If you don’t pass this then the wooden stairs later into the walk are definitely not for you. Both springy and with a view down to the water below the bridge is great for bouncing across but less fun if you suffer from a little vertigo although it’s perfectly safe.
After the bridge I turned a corner to see that the gorge was starting to narrow in front of me and the route through it was beginning wind its own path through the ravine. The cloud was still low and hovered only slightly above the path making it look more like a Norwegian fjord than the sun kissed Catalan crevice that I was promised in my google searches.
The gorge wasn’t the only thing narrowing. So was the path. A short climb up hill took me to the start of the main section of the gorge walk. A path has been drilled into the vertical rock face and creates a thin trail through the dramatic chasm. The path is wide enough for people to pass each other comfortably but when passing does occur there is a natural inclination to take the wall side option as opposed to the open side and the 40 metres drop down to the river below. Again, it is more than safe if you are sensible and in the narrowest sections there is a cable handrail if additional assurance is needed.
This part of the walk is spectacular. The walls reach up to 500 metres and are only 20 metres apart at the narrowest section. To the right the drop is precipitous and heads vertically down to the unusually green coloured river below. To the fore the light begins to pour into the ravine as the gorge opens back up again. It is very much like Cares Gorge in the Picos de Europa and although the gorge section of Mont-Rebei is much shorter it is equally outstanding.
There are other modes of transport through the gorge as a small ferry boat offers non-walkers a return journey down the Noguera Ribagorçana. Kayaks can also be hired, and I watched a few groups gently paddling their way through the echoic walls of the main gorge section. Maybe one for the summer if I return there again.
After 20 minutes of so the gorge opens again, and the path becomes easier as it winds through an area of shrubs and trees and rolls gently downhill towards the second footbridge into Aragon. By now the clouds were starting to clear and the sun was warming me up quite nicely. Two bearded vultures were circling above the gorge, perhaps on the lookout for an unfortunate hiker to misplace a step but they were without luck.
The walls, rocks, and ledges near the second bridge make great vantage points for looking back up the river to the main gorge section as well as being a natural resting spot for a bit of lunch. I ploughed on in search of the wooden stairs. I had seen photos of these whilst doing research for the walk, but I was eager to see how dramatic they would be first hand and they did not disappoint.
Bolting a wooden walkway into a cliff face is not something you usually see in the UK, but this sort of improvisation is much more common in the continent and I am all for it. There are two stair sections which take you downhill – down cliff-face would be more accurate actually – and given that you are continuously looking downwards makes them even more fun/terrifying depending on your disposition. I loved them. They are very sturdy and well-made although there are a few sections that are a bit tight where the wall squeezes you outwards, more so if you have a big backpack on.
There was group of 20 or so Spanish walkers in front of who were to different degrees exclaiming their delight, hate, terror, or something in-between at the experience of walking down these structures. My Spanish does not stretch to profanities but I’m sure one or two were expressed. It is great fun though and this part of the walk offered great views of the wider Montsec range.
The Serra del Montsec forms part of the Pre-Pyrenees range which I spent some time exploring later that afternoon and the next day chasing cloud inversions and stunning vistas. There is some great walking round here with some fabulous views, especially north to the main Pyrenees range where the mountains of Ordesa and Monte Perdido, Aiguestortes, Andorrra, and Cerdanya could all be seen.
I walked a little further into the forest on the path to Montfalcó before turning back. The pathways were covered with yellow and brown leaves, the remnants of the later autumn in these parts, and indeed the colours all around still carried an autumnal haze. My return journey took me back the way I came so back up the wooden stairs, and north through the gorge where the clouds had now completely left to leave deep blue skies and fabulous selections in the water. My Mont-Rebei itch had been scratched – for the time being – but there are always more mountains to climb and trails to explore.