HRP Chapter 11: Fueled by Rage
We check out very early in the morning. By some crazy coincidence, the guy manning the desk is the same one who asked us for a lighter the other day. He recognizes us first and greets us like old friends.
We have to check out early so we can catch the 5 a.m. bus to Pla de Senarta. Tom Martens doesn’t mention the existence of the bus and suggests that hikers returning from Benasque should just walk up the road to rejoin the trail, which I suppose is what a purist would do. I’m not a purist myself, and I occasionally commit indecent acts like riding public transit to the top of a long and dull road walk. Sorry. I am what I am.
I’m feeling pretty slick for finding out about the bus at all. What I don’t yet realize is that we could have ridden it even farther and saved ourselves about 7km and several hundred feet of climbing. I only discover our mistake when the bus passes us coming back downhill. Grrr. Argh.
The guidebook estimates 2.5 hours to finish the climb, but we stomp up in 90 minutes, fueled by rage. By the time we’ve made Collado de Vallibierna, I’ve reverted to my usual good mood because the weather is perfect and everything is wonderful.
On the other side of the pass, I swim – a proper swim this time, with breaststroke and everything – in the cold lake between Vallibierna and Collet dels Estanyets. It only lasts for 2.5 minutes and I almost go into Afib, but still. Swimming.
The descent from Estanyets is longer and more intense than anticipated. I’m for stopping ASAP, but Harv wants to press on into the valley and find a more shaded campsite. Since I recently force-marched us down from Ibón de Posets at the end of a long day, I agree to this plan with as much grace as I can manage, which still isn’t as much as Harv deserves.
We’ve had a big day today with more than 7000 feet of climbing. I’m pretty gassed by the time we get down to the stream on the valley floor and find someplace to set up. But in fairness, Harv’s chosen site is very lovely.
We picked up some freeze-dried backpacking dinners in Benasque, thinking to treat ourselves, but they prove horribly dry and salty, even by freeze-dried dinner standards. We choke them down because we don’t want to pack out leftovers and vow never to buy this brand again. (I can’t remember the name anymore – sorry!)
The following morning, I wake up feeling utterly drained. It takes us over two hours to pack up camp, mostly because I’m moving like a slug. I don’t revive at all when we start hiking and struggle to keep my eyes open. We only make it about an hour down the trail before we pass a flat field with big trees and a river and decide to make today a nero.
I’m loathe to fall behind schedule, but I feel like microwaved shit right now and I really need to lay down and not think about anything for the next 12 hours. Harv is wonderfully supportive, as usual, and doesn’t hold the impromptu rest day against me.
The next day we get started before dawn, knowing we need big miles to make up for yesterday’s unplanned vacation. We climb the GR11 to the Port de Rius and Lac de Rius, arriving just before sunrise. It’s a bit tricky to keep to the faint path in the dark, but the climb itself is not hard.
The lake is gorgeous. After skirting it, we leave the GR11 at last and follow the High Route toward Lac de Mar, supposedly one of the most beautiful lakes in the Pyrenees. As we hike, we gradually begin to hear and then see hundreds of sheep in the distance.
Much to our chagrin, we realize we’re heading in the same direction as the herd.
At one point, the trail forces the animals through a narrow choke point along the lake shore. The sheep are backed up for ages at the bottleneck. I wonder if we’ll catch up to them there, but the traffic jam clears before we arrive.
While waiting, the entire herd apparently decided to unleash its collective bowels on the rocky shoreline, coating the trail and the surrounding area in a nearly uniform carpet of slick and pungent turds. We saw almost no livestock during our interlude on the GR11, and the moment we rejoin the HRP, this happens. I’m so thrilled to be back on the main route that skidding across this gauntlet of shit makes me weirdly giddy.
The descent from the col is steep and a bit tricky. Looking back from Lac de Mar a little later, we can’t even tell where the trail is, despite having just come down it. It looks completely impassable.
The lake is as beautiful as advertised, with turquoise water, plunging cliffs, and a lush island in the center. The water level is way down, though, as it has been in most of the lakes we’ve passed lately. Spain is in the midst of a brutal drought, so this unfortunately makes sense.
We skirt the lake, cross some boulders – not as challenging as the guidebook implies – and descend toward Refugi de Restanca. Rather than follow the HRP all the way down to the refuge, we decide to take a cross-country shortcut. We hug the contour about 100m above the refuge until we rejoin the route halfway up the climb to Lac deth Cap deth Port.
It’s stunningly windy at the lake, so we continue without stopping and clamber up the steep talus slope on the far side. I’m hoping to stop on the other side of the pass, but it’s rocky and exposed and there’s nothing suitable.
A woman with a yellow backpack passes us in the opposite direction. She asks if it’s an hour to Refugi de la Restanca. “More like two,” we tell her, “but with very little climbing.” She sighs, thanks us, and trudges on, looking as tired as I feel.
Finally we crest yet another minor pass, and by now our heads are on a swivel looking for suitable camping. We end up on a floodplain that would be perfect if there weren’t so many cows. The animals jingle all around the tent and peer through the mesh at us all night, but we’re too exhausted to care. We pop in earplugs and fall asleep.
We sleep great despite the cows and enjoy the best sunrise of our trip so far while packing up. It’s not that far to Salardú, so we decide to skip breakfast and just head for town. After a bit of downhill, in which we pass both the old and new versions of the Refuge de Colomers, we come to a paved road, which leads down to town.
Salardú is bigger than I expected, but we still have to catch a bus to Vielha to find a decent market. It’s brutally hot, nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and I’m grateful not to be hiking. I speak a lot of Spanish today, at least by my standards, so that’s exciting. In the evening we go out for tapas and linger for hours listening to live music in the square.
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