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Up and under

On another day, away from the jolly Germans and the banks of the Noguera Pallaresa, I find myself following a worn path through the scrub, high into the Pyrenees, where the air is thinnest and the sun brightest. It’s where our canyoning expedition is to begin, led by Marc, a climbing junkie in his mid-twenties. He follows the peak seasons around the world and it’s easy to imagine him scaling anything and everything he happens upon.

Canyoning is a combination of climbing, abseiling and caving – crevices in this part of the Pyrenees are made for it. The hills are full of nooks and crannies, concealed spaces used as hideouts during the Spanish Civil War. We follow the top of the ridge for a short while before arriving at the top of the ravine that zigzags all the way back down to the river below, where we suit up and pull on our waterproof boots.

The descent begins with some basic abseiling, Marc standing at the top of the small cliff, holding the rope fast. We attach our carabiners and one-by-one disappear down the smooth, steep rockface before landing with a splash in the waist-deep water that laps quietly below.

Navigating this snaking waterslide, worn by nature into the rocks, can be tricky. The ground, like wet marble, becomes slippery underfoot and the deeper we go, the more narrow the space overhead. But after jumping off the edge of a small waterfall, we land in a pool, where the ravine intermittently flares out, allowing the sun’s light to flood in. In other parts, the rock has eroded away, leaving tight chutes to slide through. The rope offers support at first, but the running water carries us the rest of the way down.

After a couple of hours of small rises and exhilarating plunges, we come to the highlight. At the end of a craggy precipice, the rocks open up, allowing entry to one of the mountain caves and a lagoon, with water as clear as glass, about 30ft below. Over the edge we go, spidering down the cave walls and into the shadowy depths. It’s a full morning’s work, exploring this maze of sweeping rocks and unspoiled underground springs, before we emerge into the light, arriving once more on the banks of the Noguera Pallaresa.


Adventure holidays in the Pyrenees
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