GR 11 Update – the Spanish Grand Canyon and Beyond
In the last trail update, we’d just entered the High Pyrenees and gone over the sketchiest pass. We knew that the Spanish Grand Canyon was ahead, and for that, we were super excited! But beyond that, Sara and I didn’t know what was coming for us. It was such a milestone that neither of us looked at places after it. Let’s find out!
The night was quite windy, but that didn’t bother us much. In the middle of breakfast, we’ve got surprised by a sound of a motor starting. It was the little house next to the dam that suddenly made this sound. We both were scared for a moment and then we laughed even harder 😀 Firstly, the trail went up to the pass, our highest point for the day. It took us only one hour because we camped already at 2400 meters. Up there I really had to go for a number 2. The pass was quite exposed, so I had to walk a little longer till I found a good spot. Please, always follow the LNT rules and most importantly bury your business.
The rest of the day the trail went only downhill. From the pass, the first bit was very rocky and took its time and a lot of concentration. When we’ve got to the grassy area we could speed up a little. Down at the valley bottom we had to cross a few streams. One was quite big and it was hard to find a good spot to cross it without getting our shoes wet. We went up and down the river, but there was none. Sara changed into her sandals and crossed the stream. But I didn’t have any other shoes and tried my luck to find a spot to jump across. I found a spot but didn’t dare. I guess it was for the better. End of the story, Sara threw me her sandals over. The water was super cold, let me tell you 😉
A Never-Ending Valley
After that, we hiked in the same valley the whole rest till camp. It was long but the trail was nice. We had lunch at a little bothy. Later in the day, the trail changed from a hiking trail into a dirt road. Because we were close to Ordessa National Park and two campgrounds, loads of people walked up there. It was a nice road walk, the valley slowly formed into a gorge! At the first campground, civilization hit us immediately. Next to the old roman bridge was a whole youth camp. It was only an hour to the Camping Bujarello, where we planned to stay. The trail until there followed along the river very closely and there were some exposed bits.
When we arrived at the campground, it was around four p.m. We checked in and quickly set up our tents. Then we finally washed our clothes – it was the first time on the trip after 13 days. You can imagine how stinky they’ve been! It felt like heaven the smell of freshly washed clothes. It is the small things you live for out here! We had so much food in the evening together with a German couple, who also thru-hiked the GR 11 but East to West. It was nice to exchange stories from the trail and get their recommendations. Way too late we went to sleep.
The Spanish Grand Canyon
It was an exciting day, that we waited for since the beginning of the trail. That day we would walk through the Spanish Grand Canyon in Ordessa Nationalpark! It’s the oldest and most visited national park in Spain. We tried to walk through it on a weekday to avoid the ton of tourists, as we heard on weekends it can be pretty crowded. Well, of course, we were there on a Sunday. But honestly, it wasn’t crowded at all. First, we walked on the road for an hour. The original GR 11 was going on the other side of the river, but quite exposed and in the morning the rocks were pretty wet. So we decided against it, due to our safety.
Leaving the road behind (and the tourists), we changed to the other side of the big open valley. As our guidebook said, it was an excellent tourist path but without the tourists! We arrived at the main parking lot around 11 a.m. and saw the buses full of people arrive. Nobody would actually walk up there. At the little shop, I had a coffee and a croissant 🙂 On both sides, you have these massive rock walls! The trail went on a wide dirt road up through the forest. There were a lot of viewpoints of beautiful waterfalls. Lunch we had the river, where we laid out our wet tents to dry. Fun fact, we crossed the Greenwich Meridian that day. It was very unexpected, but also kinda cool.
A Magical Place to Camp
The valley was different than we imagined because there are so many trees. We only saw pictures from the very last part of the valley as we found out later. In the last bit the valley opens up and you have this wide plateau beneath the massive rock walls. A truly stunning place! Most tourists walked there and turn around. At the waterfall, we made a short snack break before we went uphill to the Refugio. In the whole national park, it’s forbidden to wild camp. The only place you’re allowed to is next to the famous Refugio Goriz, where you have a great view over the valley. Because of the massive rock walls, the ascent was steep and we were mostly by ourselves.
We arrived at the hut around six p.m. Normally we would set up camp right when we arrive, but in the NP you must wait to set up your tent until sunset. There were already some people, but we found a great spot. We had our usual stretching party and cooked dinner. I only brought a small gas canister from home and therefore it was almost empty. Luckily, I was able to borrow one from the hut. While setting up the tent I had again a little nosebleed. It stopped gladly after a few minutes and we could go to sleep.
The night was windy and both of us woke up in the middle of the night. We went outside to admire the sky and also to pee. Wow, it has been a while since I’ve seen such an incredible sky full of stars! I love being in nature exactly for stuff like that. That day was a big day, I would say actually the hardest of the whole trip. I was already worried about it for a few days because we had to ascend 1000 meters and descend 2000 meters in one day. I’ve done more back home in Switzerland, but not with the knee problems I had now. It was the ultimate test for my knees, if they survive that day then I could make it to the Mediterranean!
We had breakfast inside the hut. I was very surprised by how open the Spanish huts are. You can easily eat your own breakfast in the hut if you have a coffee or tea. First, we went uphill to the first pass. It was a nice trail and lots of people started around the same time as us. At the pass, we had to decide which route we wanna take. The first option was an alpine route that was quite exposed but stayed high and the second option was to descend into the valley and go all back up again. We played safe and chose option two. Therefore we descended 700 meters to the bottom of the valley. The trail was a mix of scrambling down with chains and rolling material. That’s why it took us a long time. When we finally were at the valley bottom the signpost still said six hours…
Up the Pass and Steeply Down
It was pretty mean that you could already see the pass from the very bottom. But moreover, it was a very beautiful valley! We took small steps because it went steep uphill. Along the way, an older guy passed us and we chatted a bit. He actually spoke a little English 😀 As we went higher more and more clouds were covering the sky. Short before the top, we had a quick lunch break. There were dark clouds above us and we wanted to get safely over the pass and down. The descent that was ahead of us was the steepest of the whole GR 11, 1200 meters in only four km… On top, we met another thru-hiker who was coming the other way. It was already 2 pm and he wanted to go all the way to Refugio Goriz that same day.
Our plan was to camp somewhere in the valley below or in the Refugio Pineta. The first bit of the descent was on small scree and super slippery. I was afraid that it will rain and it would be even more difficult to descent. We went super slow and took carefully step after step. The houses in the valley looked unreachable but somehow we made our down there. While slowly walking down there a guy was behind us. We wanted to let him pass but he like our company and we chatted all the way. Thanks for the nice company, Hector! After three and a half hours we finally arrived at the Refugio Pineta. Sadly, the hut was full. Hector told us that the fines for camping in the national park were very expensive.
Leaving the Trail
We were torn about what to do and decided to hike another four km to the next campground. But first, we had dinner at the stream. The thing was that the campground was in the opposite direction as the trail went on. It was already 8:30 p.m. as we started the road walk. When we arrived there it started to get dark. We set up the tents very quickly and went to sleep. What a day!
I slept like a baby that night! Yesterday was a really exhausting day. We went off trail by walking to the campground. Due to the weather and also because we didn’t want to backtrack the four km we hiked along the road to Bielsa. It was a shortcut you can say, but we didn’t mind. Hike your own hike, right 🙂 While road walking, both of us were on the phone with our parents. It was a good moment because road walking isn’t that interesting. From Bielsa, we walked still on the road to Parzan. There we hit the GR 11 again. Fun fact, Hector the guy we met the day before worked in the supermarket in Parzan. Small world! He worked later in the day, so we didn’t see him there.
Parzan is a typical border town. It had three big supermarkets mostly full of alcohol. We went to resupply and repacked the food until we got thrown out of the supermarket. Therefore, we went over to the petrol station and had our lunch there. On the menu, there was a baguette with tomato sauce and canned carrots, delicious I tell you! After almost two hours in town, we finally hit the trail again. Sara had a huge bag of popcorn on her pack for tonight. We got a recommendation from Hector to stay at the hut at the Collado (pass) di Urdiceto. So that was the goal for that day. The trail went almost all the way on a dirt road gradually uphill.
First Rain In a While
After a short break, it started to drizzle and we changed into our rain gear. I actually put my rain pants on for the first time on this trip. As we all know it gets very fast very sweaty in the rain gear. The rain stopped shortly after but we continued hiking in our rainpants because we were too lazy to take them off. Also because the pass was so close. Upon the pass, we saw already the nice little bothy in its incredible place! It was only five p.m. when we arrived there. First, we set up our sleeping system and then started cooking. While the lentils and quinoa were soaking up we had the big bag of popcorn! What a nice appetizer and quite a lot 😀 We managed to save some for the next day.
After dinner, we heard some voices from outside and opened the door. There were four guys, from the Czech Republic, walking by in their full raingear. They planned to stay there we assumed. But when they saw us, they continued to the next hut that was about 1.5 hours away. Unfortunately, there was also no way to fit all of us. We were laying in our sleeping bags at seven p.m.! As early as never before and after.
We were already 300+ kilometers into the hike and very close to the halfway point! How we were celebrating halfway and entering Catalunya? You find out in the next update 🙂
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