HRP Chapter 9: “Tourism”
Harv and I get an early start this morning, and we’re well up the switchbacks before anyone else has stirred in the hamlet below. I know because I can see our campsite down in the valley for the better part of the first hour.
We reach Arne’s cabane around 8 a.m., and sure enough, there he is out front gathering water. We wave good morning but don’t stop. He’ll pass us in due time. We continue to climb on a meandering trajectory, never quite sure which direction the trail will take us next. The guidebook describes our pass for the morning as “well hidden,” so I suppose this is to be expected.
We come to a shepherd’s cabin on a plateau and stop to collect water, knowing this is the last source we’ll encounter until the Lacs de Barroude this afternoon. Arne catches us here (I told you!) and we all filter water and eat snacks for like 45 minutes. He heads out first and we follow about 10 minutes later.
Even with maps and the guidebook and GPS and Arne out in front of us, I still have absolutely no clue where we’re going. Hourquette de Héas ends up being a bit of a plot twist, showing up when I least expect it in an area I never saw coming. The pass is very charismatic, with big cliffs and excellent views.
There’s a father-son duo just getting ready to leave when we arrive. Arne is there too. He says the pair made him think of his own father, whom he’s very close with. This, in turn, makes me think of my dad, who used to take me hiking when I was younger. I didn’t fully appreciate those trips as a kid, but looking back, they did a lot to shape me and how I think about mountains and things.
The descent from the pass is sketchy as hell. We pass many day hikers puffing their way up the steep slope through loose scree and pea gravel, including a chipper 75-year-old woman who chugs uphill like a freight train.
From the bottom of the pass, it’s only a short climb back up to Hourquette de Chermentas, but the day is growing hot and I struggle a bit. And much to my chagrin, the trail from Chermentas to Lacs de Barroude – aka lunch – is longer and more difficult than I had anticipated.
The payoff is worth it when we get there, though. Dominated by the huge stone Barroude Wall that borders it on one side, the lake is very scenic. We sit on a bluff and eat lunch looking out at the emerald water. But the sun is absolutely roasting us alive by now, so we can’t linger. Just as we get up to leave I spy a second, more secluded lake tucked away in the hills behind us that looks perfect for a swim.
I strip naked and tiptoe into the water. It’s frigid despite the heat of the day, and the lake bed is covered in sharp stones that hurt my bare feet, so the “swim” turns into more of a hobbling around / crouching in the water situation and I’m out again within 90 seconds. But still. A swim is a swim. Kind of.
It takes forever to reach the cabane where we plan to stop. I can see the valley floor ahead, but it never seems to get any closer.
As soon as we arrive, Arne (who caught us again on the final descent) drops his pack and starts making hot coffee in the burning sun. We stare at him in utter disbelief from where we huddle in the tiny patch of shade by the building.
After a time, a Quebecoise woman named Mariana comes out from the cabin and joins us in the shade. She tells us she taught herself English over the last 18 months exclusively by reading books and scientific papers in English.
I’m impressed. She inspires me to redouble my efforts with Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, which has been a surprisingly effective way to learn Spanish ahead of this trip, although I also acquired many useless words relating to magic spells and different species of owls.
Both Arne and Mariana are suffering from peeling shoes like me, so I leave them my Superglue. I don’t need it anymore since I just replaced my footwear.
Harv and I want to tent near the building rather than sleep inside, but there aren’t many good spots for a bivouac. Mariana, who is hiking the HRP westbound, says she passed a few good sites on her way here, so we reluctantly press on. In the end, we hike most of the way to the road before finding a perfect, sheltered spot by a stream.
It’s only a little walk down to Parzán from our campsite this morning. We stop along the way to read about the historic mining industry in this area. There’s still some old mining infrastructure near the trail, and it’s very interesting, but the only thing I really remember is the mystifying phallus logo of the “Tourist Association of Sobrarbe” at the very bottom of the sign. I don’t know what kind of “tourism” they’re into in Sobrarbe, but it sounds like a good time. Wink.
Parzán is a Spanish border town that caters primarily to French motorists crossing the border to shop. There are three supermarkets in town, but in this context, “supermarket” is a euphemism for “liquor and handbags store.”
Still, by hitting all three shops we manage to piece together a decent resupply for our next run to Benasque. I even find peanut butter in one store, which is very exciting. This is the first time I’ve seen any since setting foot on this continent. The brand is called “Capitán Maní” and the jar features a large picture of a peanut playing baseball.
Harv locates Arne at a tapas place across the street and we sit with him and a hiker named Claire for a little while. Claire is a veterinarian from Marseilles who is hiking a two-week section of the high route. We don’t linger very long because we’re eager to finish our next climb before the sun gets too much higher.
It’s 11 a.m. and already fixing to be a hot day. Tom Martens describes the upcoming section as “a long, boring climb on a dirt road” that is best avoided in the hottest part of the day; our timing really could not be worse.
The road walk is hot, dusty, and terrible, as predicted. I keep waiting for a water source that never appears. When we pass a nice, shady bivy site below the road we decide to pull off for a short break, which turns into a long siesta, which turns into us setting up the tent and staying until the following morning.
The best thing about this site is that there’s a short trail down to a deep pool below a waterfall. The air temperature is at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit lower there. After an hour or so lounging about on our would-be short break, Claire comes by and joins us for siesta.
I show her the painful, itchy rash that’s spread across the backs of both of my hands. I’ve had it almost since the beginning of the trip and it never seems to get any better. And in addition to the bumps on the backs of my hands, I’ve just acquired some stings or splinters or something on the palms of both hands, which have swelled up. #Spain
Claire consults her maps, Harv stretches, and I have a hot date with Capitán Maní. All is well.
Eventually, Claire pushes on and we dig in for the night. We barely did any miles today, but whatever. We’ll have ourselves a nice rest tonight and start early in the morning tomorrow. It’s not a race, right?
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