GR 11 Update – Into the High Pyrenees
We left the green hills of the Basque Country and went into the High Pyrenees of Aragon. I was excited about this part of the trail because I love mountains. It’s not that I didn’t like the scenery before, they are just too different to choose a favorite. Every section is beautiful in its own way!
The first mountain pass
It had rained a little during the night and the tents were soaking wet as we awoke. We packed up our stuff very quickly and decided to have breakfast in the large restrooms at the campground. It was freezing outside and anyway too early that anybody would be there to see us. Somehow I had to induct Sara into Hikertrash, so that worked just perfectly! The first bit was on a dirt road following the valley slightly uphill. My fingers were freezing! But of course, my gloves were packed at the bottom of my pack. Eventually, the sun hit us and it got warm very soon. This day we hiked over the first real mountain pass, almost 2000 m/6000 ft above sea level. By the way, my knee was doing great! On our first break on the ascent, we had a drying party for our tents.
The day before we met other thru-hikers, two guys from the Czech Republic, and in the morning we passed their tent. The trail up to the pass was quite steep so we went slowly but steady. On top, we were blown away by the breathtaking view of the endless mountain layers and also by the wind. We were finally here, I was so looking forward to this! First, it went steep downhill but then it flattened out. There we had our lunch break, also with an amazing view. We could already see where the trail goes next. We walked down to the bottom of the valley and then we roadwalked almost to the hut where we stayed at. Aguas Tuertas was our goal for the night, which is quite a popular spot as we hiked up there.
All of a sudden, I had a sharp pain in my right quad. For a moment I couldn’t walk. What the fuck was this now?! My knee felt amazing and now this. Luckily it went away, but on the last uphill, it came back. Sara went ahead, dropped her pack at the hut, and came back to get mine. What a sweetheart!
At the hut, there was already one older guy who planned to stay there. We arrived around 4.30 pm, which is pretty early. In the evening even more people arrived, luckily they had a tent with them. There was no way we could fit all in the little hut. In the end, only Sara, me, and another swiss guy who bike-packed the GR11 slept there.
We woke up early and packed our stuff together. It was another cold morning and the clouds were hanging in the valley, which made it even more mystical! As we arrived in the hut yesterday, we found some food. After breakfast, we didn’t have any food left. Therefore we knew we had to get to the shop in Candanchu before siesta! That’s why we left around 6.45 am. Firstly, we followed the valley of Aguas Tuertas. There were also lots of horses, which ran at full speed towards us – pure magic! We left the valley behind us and started climbing up to the highest point for today, a lake. The bike packer pushed his bike up there as we crossed him. I still don’t know how he did it, I would be way too impatient!
After a short break at the lake, we followed the trail, which was kinda hard to find because we took another route than the original GR 11. We took a shortcut which goes shortly over to France and then back to Spain and then to the ski resort of Candanchu. Because we had no food left, we chose this route. Eventually, we made it around the lake and the trail improved. Some deer were running across the trail. While hiking Sara and I mostly talked, also on this day, which almost ended badly. Luckily Sara checked the maps as we were walking downhill and saw that we missed our turn. We had to backtrack a little and made it back to the original trail. There were some outstanding rock formations! In general, the geology was majestic here in the Pyrenees.
Can we make it in time?
The trail wasn’t the best and it took forever till we crossed back into Spain. We weren’t sure if we could still make it before Siesta… I guess the toughest moment was when we crossed a group of hikers when they had their lunch. We were starving and just seeing their sandwiches and fresh fruits were mean. As we finally arrived in town, the clock said 1.30 pm. That’s exactly when the Siesta begins. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we saw the supermarket was still open! Best. Moment. Ever. We bought a ton of food and had a real feast for lunch! After that, we just chilled there and replied to messages and that kinda stuff.
At around 4 pm we finally hit the trail and hiked for about another 2 hours to get to a little bothy. The guide said it was in bad condition, so we could either stay inside or camp in front of it. It was only roadwalking till there with almost no elevation gain. The bothy (little hut) was kinda bad, but we still decided to sleep in there. Although we weren’t really hungry we had dinner.
It was a horrible night. There were mice in the hut and they wanted desperately our food. Therefore I didn’t sleep that well. The trail went first gradually up a valley and then steep uphill to Lake Anayet. On the steep part, we saw about 6 deers quite close and the first alpine roses and gentian flowers. I saw this lake already in the guidebook and wanted to camp up there. But as we came up there in the morning, there were like 10 tents. So I was glad we didn’t camp there, it would have ruined the magic. We made a short break there and then continued downhill to another Ski Resort. Lots of people came the other way.
From the ski resort, we walked on the road to the junction. There it was lunchtime, so although it wasn’t pretty we had lunch there. After we roadwalked on a highway, which wasn’t fun and the people in the cars looked at us weird. As we arrived in Sallent de Gallego it was about 2 pm. All the shops were closed, therefore we had to wait until they opened again at 5 pm. We went first into a small cute cafe and ate patatas bravas. It’s a traditional Spanish dish which you can get in almost every bar in Spain. In the cafe, we also tried to charge our electronics. Fun fact, it had only one working outlet!
resupply is stressful
We went into the High Pyrenees tomorrow, so we wanted to charge everything. That’s why we changed the place and went to a fancy old hotel. I even had a coffee with oat milk there. Sara had the most delicious olives she and I ever had! We could just enjoy the wifi and relax for a bit. When the shops opened we first went to the Outdoor shop to get microspikes for Sara. Then I got some fresh bread at the bakery. The last stop was the grocery store, where we spent like an hour in to get all our resupply. Good thing is when your two people, you can share the big containers of rice or whatever. We repacked all outside and then slowly hiked out.
The plan was to find something very soon. We ended up hiking an hour to a parking lot and set up our tents there. For dinner, we packed out some luxuries like peas, corn, and strawberries for dessert 😀
This day was an easy day. We slept in that morning and oh boy, was that good. Normally we set the alarm between 5 and 5.30 am. There we slept until 9 am, then we ate breakfast and dried our tents in the sun. Eventually, we hit the trail at 11 am. The plan was to hike for about three hours to the Refugio Respomuso. First, we wanted to stay there, but unfortunately, it was fully booked. So we decided to have dinner there. The trail ascended first gradually on a wide path. When we turned into another valley, a beautiful gorge opened up. It was quite exposed, the water was dripping from the walls, and no handrail. As the trail went steeper along the stream it got really warm.
Under a tree right next to the trail we made lunch break. Lots of people passed us. There’s to say that the Refugio Respomuso quite famous is, that’s why the many people. Normally on the GR 11, that wasn’t the case at all. That day we only hiked up, glad we had our hikerlegs already 😀 When we came upon the last climb we could see the dam and the mountains behind. A stunning place indeed! The mountains are shaped like triangles, just as you would draw them when you’re three years old. At the hut, we were around 3 pm.
A chill afternoon
First, we went to set up the tents close to the hut. Then we had what we called a mountain shower, which is basically skinnydipping in a small stream. Let me tell you, this water is damn cold up at 2100 meters. Refreshment is guaranteed! After that, we went down to the hut. I ordered a large beer and Sara got a tee and we shared some olives. We were nervous about tomorrow because then we had to cross the only snowy pass. Dinner was not until 8 pm… authentic Spanish dinner time. Normally we would be almost at sleep at that time. Well, we had no other option than to wait.
At dinner, we were sitting at the table with a group who hiked over the pass. They said it was kinda sketchy for them because either of them had microspikes. Still worried we went to bed to wake up early the next day.
The day of the days came! We both were nervous about this very day when we would cross the snowy pass. The alarm went off as usual around 5.30 am. After packing up and eating breakfast we hit the trail at seven. Somehow led the trail in another direction than we thought and we did a longer loop. Then it finally went towards the pass. Slowly we came closer and closer to the snowfields. We came across a beautiful lake, which’s water was crystal clear! When we hit the first snowfield it was already around 9 am and the snow was surprisingly slushy. I was glad that we had our microspikes with us, they helped a lot. The terrain was steep, so we took carefully step after step. Right, when we got off the second snowfield we noticed a group behind us.
It was a mountain guide with two people who went also over the pass and climbed a peak near there. They passed us and went ahead. Short before the next and last snowfield under the pass they stopped and packed out their crampons, harnesses, and helmets. Intimidated but also glad we were sitting next to them. Because when they went ahead they made perfect steps for us with their crampons. The last bit of the snowfield was kinda sketchy. I was slightly panicking but luckily Sara stayed calm. It was because the snowfield was so steep that a fall could end badly. Off the snow, I was relieved and the last bit we had to scramble up a chimney. Happy and proud we stood on the pass!
let’s go down, down, down
On the other side, we got a view of the incredible lake. After a short photo break, we descended just a bit. The trail went flat along the side of the lake and went over another pass. Then the real descend began. Before that, we had lunch behind a big rock protecting us from the wind. The first bit of the trail was still covered in snow. As we were sliding down, unexpectedly I saw blood in the snow. I had a nose bleed and not a small one. First Sara handed me some tissues, but it didn’t want to stop. Then Sarah put a tampon in my nose. It looks hilarious but also embarrassing. I did some Tampon Awareness with this action. I gotta say, it worked out just perfectly. We descended to some beautiful lakes, the Ibon Azuls (the blue lakes).
In the afternoon we came across another Refugio, where we took a short break. We still had to walk about 2.5 hours. Luckily in my guidebook, there was this great shortcut in it. When you follow the normal trail, it makes a big descend into the valley and ascend on the other side again. We took a trail that crossed about the same height along on the side and connected to the original trail again. First, it was hard to follow the trail because there were no markings only cairns. It was more narrow than usual and didn’t really stay at the same height. The trail basically followed a water pipe from halfway on. We went also through two short tunnels, where the pipe went through, and so did we.
finally at camp
When we finally arrived at the lake where we planned to camp, both of us were done. We made 16 kilometers in 9 hours, that’s not a lot. We found a flat spot and set up camp. To end this long day, we skinnydipped in the ice-cold lake and made dinner after. As usual, we also had a long stretching party, which was nice and much needed. Tired but super happy we went into the tents and very soon to sleep.
The sketchiest pass was done, or was it even this one? That you will read in the next update!
Until then, happy trails 😀
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