HRP Chapter 17: The Power of Meat
Hitching back to the trail from Pas de la Casa is tricky. Our route lies on the other side of the Andorra-France border, and understandably, no one wants to take a couple of grubby strangers through passport control. The agents hardly ever check anyone’s papers, but still. Why risk it?
Over an hour elapses, and I’m just wondering if I should start fake crying when a girl in a purple sweater and a fabulous feather boa scoops us up and takes us partway.
Our second ride comes much faster. This time, the car is driven by a beautiful woman with long black hair and a need for speed. She shifts gears with cool grace and whips around hairpin turns like a stunt driver in a car commercial.
“Tranquilo, mi amor, tranquilo!” yells her boyfriend as we zip down the narrow mountain road. I’m pretty sure I’m experiencing G-forces for the first time.
I sit quietly in the backseat while Harv converses with the couple. It’s rude not to participate, I know, but I think it would be even ruder to puke all over the back of this woman’s Audi, so I keep my mouth shut. Every muscle in my body is clenched by the time she drops us off.
We return to the HRP east of l’Hospitalet to avoid some of the high country that’s currently snowbound. It could be a week or more before it melts up there, and I can’t wait that long to hike.
We road walk to Eyne, a village on the edge of a broad agricultural valley. Behind us, we can see high peaks capped with snow. Ugh, they look so beautiful. I can’t believe I’m missing them.
Someone tall is collecting water from the public fountain at the heart of the village. No, I can’t believe it. It’s Arne. What sorcery is this? He’s constantly popping up just when we convince ourselves we won’t see him again. He turns toward us, smiling like he always knew we would meet here.
Arne was well ahead of us and would have stayed that way if he hadn’t gotten sick with a pesky stomach bug. He suspects he got it from a dirty beer tap, but it could also have come from the “dodgy puddle water” he drank the other day.
Privately, I’m putting my money on the puddle, but it sounds awful either way. Poor Arne. He still looks haggard.
We compare our plans for the day. Harv and I anticipate plenty of water and camping all the way up Vall d’Eyne, so we’re just going to hike as far as we can and camp wherever. Meanwhile, Arne is targeting an identified bivouac at 2300 meters.
I’m very excited to be hiking again. Being cooped up in town has left me with too much energy, and also, I’ve started eating meat again, and it’s like being on steroids. I assume.
I chug uphill as fast as my stubby little legs can carry me, feeling thrilled about everything. We don’t stop until we reach the bivouac at 2300. It’s on a nice, grassy floodplain with a little stream running through it and several enormous draft horses grazing nearby.
This is where we stop for the night. We can’t camp much higher anyway because the terrain starts getting rough. I flop down on the grass, and I’m about to start eating my snacks when a large horse plods over and starts nosing through our gear.
Hey, buddy? There’s this thing called personal space, maybe you’ve heard of it? The animal has a large, festering wound on its breast that looks very painful. We drag our backpacks to a different part of the meadow. The horse follows. We move back. It follows again.
Harv and I split up and go in opposite directions, just to see what will happen. The horse pauses in indecision, looking back and forth between the two of us. A long rope of reddish goo drips from its wound. It starts plodding toward Harv.
OK, this is not going to work. There’s another flattish area further up on the opposite side of the stream, so we go there, and apparently this is outside the horse’s jurisdiction because it doesn’t follow us.
Arne never shows up. He fell back while we were hiking and took a break by a stream; probably he decided to camp around there. I bet he’s still feeling poorly from his illness.
It’s going to be a cold night, so I bundle up tight and bring the three Fuhs (phone, fuel, filter) inside with me.
We wake up to frost coating the inside of the tent and big chunks of ice floating in our water. Thank God we gathered enough water before bed to last us the morning; I’m not keen on getting my fingers wet in the stream just now.
We pack up and resume our climb a bit before eight. We can already see patchy snow clinging to the mountains above us; I wonder if we’ll encounter any on the trail. Thankfully, the climb still feels completely manageable. I am loving my newfound, meat-induced strength!
The wind is incredible at Col d’Eyne. It’s so powerful that it blows every last scrap of common sense out of our brains so that we start wandering off in the absolute wrong direction, following the GR11 to the right when we should have turned left and gone cross-country along the ridge. We quickly realize our mistake and backtrack to the pass.
A large herd of isards is grazing below the pass – our first of many sightings throughout the day. The isard, or Pyrenean chamois, is a type of native antelope. It was hunted to near-extinction in the 20th century, but the population has rebounded spectacularly, and now they’re a fairly common sight in the Pyrenees.
The scenery is lovely, especially with a little snow to dress everything up. We follow the rolling ridge all morning until finally, it takes us over the beautiful summit of Pic de Noufonts. From there, the way down to the col is steep and rocky. We have to tread carefully on a few snowy sections.
We’re hungry and cold, so we make for a stone emergency shelter on the far side of the pass. We tuck ourselves into the rocky entrance, where we can feel the sun on our backs but stay out of the wind. It’s warm and cozy here, especially once we don wind pants, puffies, and hats.
Straight away, we set about making a big pot of mint tea. As the water heats up, I see someone tiny coming down from Noufonts.
“Arne! Arne!” Harv starts bellowing when I point them out. Gah. The noise! The tiny person pauses halfway across the snowfield and looks around. Harv loves this game, and by now our friend knows well enough not to waste time looking for us. He’ll find us eventually.
Arne plops down on a sun-warmed rock at the shelter’s entrance just as our tea finishes steeping. He groans in relief, apparently relishing the windbreak as much as he relishes everything in life. (We have never seen Arne at anything less than Maximum Stoke, and today is no exception.)
I pour him some tea and he trades us several packets from his infinite supply of sugar, which I immediately stir into the buttery oatmeal I make next.
Trying to make miles? Here’s some advice: don’t have your first meal of the day be a gigantic bowl of sticky oatmeal. It will take you an age to make it, an era to eat it, and an eon to digest it. By the time we feel capable of movement again, Arne has long since hiked off with a pair of French day hikers he befriended.
Fortunately, I still have the Power of Meat on my side. I can do anything now! We’re still following this glorious ridgeline, which takes us over several more peaks as the afternoon wears on.
I was not expecting the hike to be so gorgeous and exciting today. I’d resigned myself to lower mountains and duller scenery as the HRP winds down, but I could not have been more wrong. Everything is fabulous!
We zoom over Col de Nou Creus, where nine crucifixes on the summit supposedly memorialize the nine people who died from lightning strikes up there, and sail to the top of Pic de la Vaca. Meat is truly a miracle. Maybe clogged arteries and climate change and rising beef prices really don’t matter that much after all.
We catch up to Arne on Pic de la Vaca. He’s going to take a side trail over Pic de l’Infern, Pic de Freser, and Pic des Bastiments. The alt will spit him out near the stage end, Refugi d’Ull de Ter, but it will take him a little longer to get there than Harv and me on the main route.
The stage finishes strong with beautiful views all the way to the refuge. Harv enters ahead of me, and by the time I follow, he’s already ordered a cheese sandwich and a giant slice of moist, fragrant carrot cake. I get a tuna sandwich and some cake myself, and then, in a fit of excess, a cup of red wine.
The sandwich is enormous, the carrot cake is perfectly spiced, and the wine is both more and stronger than anticipated. I haven’t eaten much today and I’m kind of dehydrated, and also, I’m me, so the alcohol goes to my head immediately.
Everything seems hilarious by the time we hear a tap, tap on the window behind us and look over our shoulders to see Arne grinning on the other side of the glass. He comes in and gets a glass of wine – yes! Party at Ull de Ter! – and some food. The cake really is a sensation; whoever made it is a god in the kitchen.
God knows what we talk about all evening. Whatever it is, it’s utterly fascinating and I am sitting with the two best and most interesting people on the face of the earth in the greatest refuge ever constructed, and everything is just fantastic. Tee hee.
When the sun gets low the three of us go off to find camping. Following the advice of Ull de Ter’s guardian, we pop across the ski slope and find ourselves a little grassy paradise for the night.
I’m the only one drunk off my ass from a single glass of wine, but all three of us are in a state of euphoria from today’s adventures. We still have one prominent peak ahead of us, the Canigou, before the HRP drops into the foothills. Can we keep this magic alive, at least until then?
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