GR11 Hiking

GR11 Day 1: Everybody Has a Plan…

Kilometres walked: 24,5 / Total distance: 33km / Elevation gain: 912m / Elevation loss: 908m / Time walked: 5h40

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson

I had a plan and nearly got punched in the face. Rather than fighting at the risk of getting punched for real I figured it was better to avoid the fight in the first place and live to see another day. My opponent? The weather.


I don’t need to tell you this because it is all over the news, but large parts of Europe are suffering from a massive heatwave, including the Basque country.

Yesterday I already wrote about my plans for this morning to avoid the heat. Rather than sampling the supposedly exquisite breakfast at the hotel I was staying at, I set my alarm for 05:00, snoozed for another 5 minutes and then dragged my ass out of bed. A handful of nuts and chocolate raisins for breakfast, and the absolutely dreadful experience of instant coffee made with warm tap water.

(what was I thinking? That’s disgusting! Yes, it absolutely was and would NOT recommend. However, I get a splitting headache if I don’t drink coffee (yeah…) and there wouldn’t be any opportunity to get some on trail)

Irun, early morning

05:38am and I walk out of the hotel. An hour before sunrise. I somehow managed to load 4 litres of water in my pack. Very heavy, and probably excessive, but with these temperatures I don’t trust the availability of streams on trail and the last thing I want to do is to run out of water.

Dawn over Irun

I do not run out of water, but I do run out of breath on the first hill out of town. Not sure whether to blame COVID or the weight of my pack, or just the general lack of training these last few weeks. Either way, nothing to do except pushing on. An hour later the sun shows its face.

This is massively confusing as it seems to be rising over the Atlantic which is west. How? I don’t know (I do know, before someone mansplains me), but its both beautiful and a kick in the butt because from now on it will quickly get warmer.

What helps is that I know this trail. I ran it last year, reverse direction. So I know that there’s a summit ahead and then an easy descent on good trail down some switchbacks where you cross some weird tunnel coming from the mountain that blasts cold air from…somewhere? I take a break in front of the tunnel until I’m actually cold and it is glorious.

Selfie in front of the mystery tunnel

I fix my first gear malfunction -the strap of my waterbottle holder broke- and McGuiver it back together with a bit of tape which holds for another hour until I repair it again. And again.

From the tunnel it’s another hour to a water reservoir with a cute little Chapel (and fresh spring water!). Time for another break, refilling my water, drying my shirt, wetting my cap and taping the tiniest blister that’s forming on my toe.

The climb up from the reservoir is hot, muggy and dreadful. Black flies bite my legs until I’m bleeding and I accidentally inhale a bug until I cough it up again. Luckily it’s short and soon after I’m on the Collado de Tellería (415m) where there would be fantastic camping (but no water).

Break (+water!) at Ermita de San Anton

The trail would be perfect for zoning out and enjoying the scenery, but I feel rushed to make it to town before it gets too hot. It’s already hot, of course, but apart from the last hour towards Bera there is enough shade on the trail to make it doable.

That last hour is absolute hell though. It is almost midday, sun at its highest, and I’m walking on a ridge with nothing but grass and ferns. No shade at all. The trail takes me, pointlessly, over another nameless (?) peak and I can hear my heart beating fast in my ears and my arms are turning red. Boomboom. Boomboom. I push on, slap on some sunscreen without taking off my pack and finally, finally start the descent down to Bera. Boomboom. Boomboom.

The entrance to town is a beautiful old stone bridge over the Bidasoa river but I’m too hot and too tired and too stressed out to faff around and take photos. Instead I call the restaurant in town where I want to eat. They’re good, we ate there last year, and I’ve been looking forward to this for days but didn’t dare to make a reservation for a specific time. Now it’s 12:30, ridiculously early for a Spanish lunch, but they’re open and have space (for one). I sit down, embarrassed. This is a white tablecloth kind of place and I think I’m ruining their chairs with my soaked shirt and bleeding legs.

Lunch and then…

The food is glorious (restaurant in Hotel Churrut, 18 euro 3 course summer menu, highly recommended!). Ravioli with spinach and ricotta, duck magret with Pedro Ximenez sauce, and Basque cheesecake for dessert. Over coffee I contemplate my options.

It is now 14:30. Hottest time of day at 41C, and it won’t noticeably cool down until at least 19:00. I read the description of the trail ahead: “open hillside… ridge… summit…”.

Hell no.

Even at a more reasonable 37C tonight this just sounds miserable.

The internet tells me there is a hotel next door that has one room left (that’s probably just though…) and I make my decision. I didn’t budget for this, I didn’t plan for this, but I did budget and plan for weather emergencies and I think its the right call to treat this heatwave as one.

What that means for my distance and camping plans tomorrow is…well…a tomorrow problem. For now there is a cold shower, laundry and a bed with fresh linen to enjoy (although no WiFi or a/c). My only missions left for today are water, more water, a siesta, and finding something more sturdy than a bit of tape to fix my bottle holder. Stay tuned!

With love, Rosien

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