ORDESA NATIONAL PARK

Ordesa National Park is one of the most scenery parks in the Pyrenees that lies in north Spain in the Aragon region. The marvelous and great mountain ranger is the natural border between Spain and France.

The wilderness along the border between Spain and France attracts outdoor enthusiasts from France in the north and Spain in the south. There we meet tourists, alpinists, climbers, photographers, and skiers from around the world who come to take in the grandeur of the region's majestic peaks, green meadows, ice waterfalls and inviting picnic spots.

The Ordesa valley is a tongue of green vegetation running for 15 kilometres (91¼2 miles) between two imposing walls of bleached, calcareous rock. Looming above the beech trees, the pines and dark green firs are the dramatic rock cornices known as fajas — balconies of stone formed by erosion — which afford magnificent views of the canyon and its many waterfalls.

Pyrenean chamois, currently multiplying at a furious rate, are fond of the vertiginous terraces of the valley. Ordesa has one of Europe's largest populations of chamois, but the Spanish ibex, or cabra montés, which the park was intended to protect, has not done nearly as well: there are said to be no more than 15 ibex in the park these days.

The lammergeier has one of its major European strongholds in these mountains and indeed is found only in the Pyrenees in Spain today. Formerly, it was easy to see at Ordesa, but sightings have been more irregular in recent years and you would be well advised to search somewhere else: the area of Santa Cruz, west of Jaca, has this grand bird, as do the towering pinnacles above the monastery of Riglos to the south. With a wingspan of 2.5 metres (eight feet) and a long, wedge-shaped tail, they are easily recognized, especially the adults which have golden-hued underparts and a habit of dropping bones to break them prior to extracting the marrow. The sheer cliff faces of Ordesa are also home to the elusive wallcreeper, a grey moth-like rock-climber that continually flicks its wings to show bright scarlet feathers. Higher up are snow finches on the bare screes and, lower, citril finches are found where the trees and bare ground meet.

Apart from these endangered species, Ordesa constitutes a favourable habitat for 171 species of birds, 32 mammals, eight species of reptiles and five amphibians. Wild boar are a fairly common sight, and there are otters and foxes in the valleys. There is one species of poisonous snake, the asp (Vipera aspis). The Ordesa valley is also home to a specific race of the Spanish argus butterfly (Aricia morronensis ordesiae), found nowhere else in the world.

Walking and climbing
From the Parador Nacional de Monte Perdido, a short walk takes you to the spectacular Circo de Pineta. The Añisclo valley also has its own access route: the regional road that branches off the Ainsa-Bielsa highway toward Nerín. The normal starting point for Ordesa is the village of Torla, on the road leading north from Ainsa along the Ara valley. Most of the trail-heads for the main excursion routes are located near the visitor information centre here. There are dozens of possible trails, though for good reasons the hike to the Circo Soasa — about 5-7 hrs of easy walking — remains the most popular.
An easy ascent to the fajas of the Ordesa valley is provided by a series of clavijas — iron rods driven into the stone to provide footholds in some of the more slippery places: the first of these were installed years ago by a Torla blacksmith at the behest of an English hunter. One set of 13 clavijas leads to the Circo de Cotatuero, which rivals the Circo Soasa as a natural amphitheatre. The Circo Soasa marks the eastern terminus of the Ordesa valley, but a trail leads further up into the massif, to the Refugio de Goriz, which serves as a base-camp for the more strenuous assaults on the higher reaches of Monte Perdido.

The trail to Cotatuero, on the other hand, leads on to the Refugio de la Cardiera and to the famous Brecha de Rolando, the mythical breach in the rock hewn by the mighty Roland with his great sword, Durandal. The Brecha is on the French frontier: walking due north will bring you to the Cirque de Gavarnie and finally down to Gavarnie itself, the first village in France. Following the ridge toward the north-west will take you to Vignemale, one of the last glaciers in the Pyrenees and still an imposing sight though it has been gradually melting away for many years. Behind it rises the Petit Vignemale 3,032 m (9,945 ft), very popular with experienced climbers, offering almost every conceivable kind of technical challenge. From the Refugio de Goriz it takes about 21¼2 hrs to reach the Lago Helado ('frozen lake'), which has not, however, been living up to its name in recent years. Another 1¼2 hr brings you to the summit of Monte Perdido, highest of the three sisters, Las Tres Sorores. Expert climbers are also fond of the Añisclo valley as it offers some of the park's most demanding ascents.