Cascada de Cotatuero was said to be the tallest waterfall in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park at 200m. Not only was this waterfall tall, but it was also situated in a cirque, which was surrounded by shapely cliffs and knobby mountains (some of them have imaginative names like La Virgen del Pilar). Julie and Tahia were able to spot part of the falls from an easy trail along the Río Arazas, which was also the main river passing through Ordesa Valley. However, in order to really appreciate this waterfall, I had to go on a pretty strenuous hike that climbed about 350m from the valley floor right up to the base of the Circo de Cotatuero (circo meaning cirque in Spanish, which were basically valley enclosures of glacial origin). Even from up at these heights, I still had to do a little work to get the clean view you see at the top of this page.
From the far east end of the Pradera de Ordesa (which was the name of the car park area (see directions below), I followed the main trail on the north side (left) of the Río Arazas. After about 700m of flat walking along the valley floor, I then reached a trail junction, where I then veered left onto the narrow path as I went away from the wider main trail. At this point, the trail immediately started to climb through a grove of leafy trees, which kind of helped shelter me against some on-and-off rain in the area. As I went higher on the trail, the trail started to follow the Barranco de Cotatuero while the trees started to thin out and become more fir like. Unfortunately, that also meant that I was starting to become more exposed to the sporadic rainfall as well.
After about a little over an hour from the start, I reached an abrigo (hut) where there was a trail junction. Had I gone left, it would've taken me to the Clavijas de Cotatuero, which was said to be a climbing route where bolts were put in by Torla blacksmiths in the 1880s. Given the rapidly deteriorating weather during my visit, I opted to stay on the lower path to the right, which then led out of the tree canopy and towards the bridge over the Barranco de Cotatuero. It was from this area that I finally was able to start getting a somewhat satisfactory view of the Cascada de Cotatuero. However, it left much to be desired in terms of a clean view, and the view from directly on the bridge was no better than when I first saw the falls.
So I spent some time walking past the bridge then ascending more switchbacks for the next 30 minutes. When I started to notice that the trail started to veer further and further away from the falls (it would continue following the Faja Petazals and Los Canarellos to el Bosque de las Hayas back at the floor of the Ordesa Valley), that was when I decided to make a scramble onto some rocky scree slopes. I'd imagine most of the rocks came from the calving of the cliff walls towering over me so the danger of rock falls was on my mind.
But in any case, this trail-less scramble (which I don't condone even though I violated my principles here) eventually led me to a steep but satisfactory view of the Cascada de Cotatuero above the tree line (see photo at the top of this page). When I had my fill of this spot, then headed back down, I had paid enough attention to where I had gone up earlier that I was able to recover the main trail. I had also noticed someone had put up a small rock cairn where I had recovered the main trail so perhaps someone else earlier was compelled to go the same way as I ended up going. By the way, there's no guarantee that the cairn I saw would still be there.
Once I was back on the main trail, I then decided to go back the way I came. And in doing so, I managed to get more partial looks at the Cascada de Cotatuero (it always seemed like the trees near its base kept me from seeing all of the falls completely) while also noticing the impressive cliffs and formations literally watching over me in the nearly semi-circular cirque. After descending back down to the bridge over the Barranco de Cotatuero, I then decided to continue my descent back down to the main trail. Again, the weather still hadn't improved by the time I had come back so I didn't feel like I could keep Julie and Tahia waiting any longer to pursue the other trail towards Las Clavijas de Cotatuero.
Eventually, I'd return to the Pradera de Ordesa after spending 3 hours and 15 minutes on the trail. Julie's route along the river was on the south side of the Río Arazas towards the Puente Sarratieto. Throughout this very easy (possibly wheelchair accessible) walkway, the terrain was open enough to appreciate the cliffs of the Ordesa Valley. After about a mile, Julie and Tahia stopped at a mirador near the bridge where she was able to see the full context of the Circo de Cotatuero as well as a partial view of the Cascada de Cotatuero.
We went to the town of Torla (nearest town to the west side of Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park) from San Sebastián. We accomplished this drive by going south on the N-I for about 12km, then we took the A-15 towards Pamplona. We stuck to the A-15 as it went around the city, and after 74km from the N-I junction, we then continued east on the A-21.
We next followed the A-21, then the N-240 (when the autovía ended), then the E-7 for a brief stretch before leaving the autovía and onto the N-260 road (a stretch that covered 120km). Then, we drove north on the N-260 towards Biescas. After that town, the N-260 veered eastwards as it narrowed and twisted its way up the mountain roads deeper into the Pyrenees. Eventually after 36km, we left the N-260 road and headed north on the A-135 for 2km towards Torla.
From Torla, we continued north on the A-135 (keeping right at 3km to remain on the A-135 and avoiding the turnoff for Bujaruelo Valley) as the road curved to the east and eventually ended at the Pradera de Ordesa after 8km from town (5km from the Bujaruelo turnoff). Note that about 2.5km east of the Bujaruelo turnoff was a pullout overlooking the Cascada Tamborotera and Cascada Abetos backed by impressive cliffs. Overall, this drive took us 3 hours and 40 minutes from San Sebastián to Torla. It took another 15 minutes without stops to drive from Torla to the car park at Pradera de Ordesa.
Note that our visit happened before the June 30 cutoff so we were able to self-drive all the way to the end. I understand that in the height of the Summer season (i.e. June 30 to September 16), we would've had to park somewhere near the larger car parks just north of Torla, then take a shuttle bus (20 minutes duration) to the Pradera de Ordesa, where both the car park and the shuttle costed money.
To provide you with a little more geographical context, Torla was 94km (90 minutes drive) north of Huesca, 163km (about 2 hours drive) north of Zaragoza, 166km (about 2.5 hours drive) east of Pamplona, 204km (3.5 hours drive) west of Espot, and 322km (4 hours drive) northwest of Barcelona.
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