GR11 Hiking

Day 3: I Might Have Learned Something

Kilometres walked: 32 / Total distance: 102km / Elevation gain: 1600m / Elevation loss: 1244m / Time walked 8h22min

I wake up at my campsite after a broken night’s sleep. It takes me way too long to break up camp and make breakfast, I clearly need to develop a routine to smoothen this process, because right now it’s an explosion of gear, cold coffee, clothes airing out, and me trying to do three things at once while water is boiling for the oatmeal.

When, finally, all is done I start walking. Uphill, of course. It’s 07:00 and the rising sun bathes the landscape in a golden glow.

Up and up I go until I eventually reach Collado Urballo. A grassy ridge with stunning views and lots of cattle. And vultures! They’re all gliding though the air in smooth circles, using the warming air from the valley below to cruise.


As I walk up another ridge I see a different bird perched on a grassy knoll. It’s black, shiny and looks like a crow except at least twice the size. Either the crows are really big here, or I just spotted a raven. A raven! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before. When I come too close it flies up, wings whooshing through the air.

This section is my favorite bit so far. Wide views, the birds, easy walking. There’s a refreshing breeze on top of the hill and I make use of the opportunity to drop my pants and let my underwear dry out (chafing, remember?). A bit later I stop at a hunter’s cabin, get some water -the last water for a while- and snack. Great day so far!

The next section is more grassy hills, slowly gaining in altitude, but less interesting. Just grass as far as the eye can see. Then a descent through a beech forest. Great trails, easy walking, and a long lunch break just before Puerto de Urkiago which is the official end of this stage.

I don’t stop here though. And why would I? There’s nothing here, just a road coming over the hill and the trail that crosses. Onwards I go, up the next hill, up and up and up until I find myself on top of the second pass of the day. And as you know, what goes up must come down again, and so do I.

The descent is steep. First through a forest and then through a river valley. My knees complain. Everything is covered in moss. A broken bridge but it doesn’t matter because the stream is dry.

This is a theme: lots of streams that should still be running are already dry. Two heatwaves so far this spring and summer, and it will be the coolest summer of the rest of our lives. I wonder what this will do to this region in particular. Glaciers are already crumbling, that’s the big headline news (or is it?) but what about the people and the cattle (their livelihood!) that depend on the availability of water?

Third climb

The descent through the river valley is gorgeous (another stream that is running) and there are plenty of great campsites. But I’m on a mission -70km in two days- so I keep going until I reach Albergue Sorogain.

Exhausted, sweaty, limping and in pain. I’m done. I ask at the albergue if there is a bed available. There is. But decisions are made after meals, not before, so I sit down to eat.

I’m not hungry, I’ve been struggling to eat, but can feel that my body needs something to continue.

After lunch I weigh my options. I’m not feeling great but good enough, and I’m too stubborn to stop. I have a booking in Auritz (Burguete) and I’ll be damned if I lose the 18 bucks that I already paid…(shoutout to Dutch stingyness). It’s around 2,5 hours and I think I can do it. It’s now 16:30. The owner of the albergue describes the route as “up, more up, then up and down, then down. Easy”

Off I go. Up indeed. And more up, and more, and just as I think I’m at the top the trailblazes direct me further up the hill, right over the top. Okay, this is not what I signed up for. This isn’t easy at all! It’s steep as hell.

On top of the mountain is a barbed wire fence that I need to cross. There’s a construction to climb over the fence but it’s very wobbly and the barbed wire runs right where I have to place my feet.

“STOM GAMMEL KUTHEKJE! WIE VERZINT DIT!” I scream into the wind.*

Yeah, I’m done. I’m angry at the fence, but mostly at myself. I stomp down the mountain, marching, planting my trekking poles on the trail with more force than strictly necessary. Another hour and a half to go. The descent is, again, beautiful through a valley with a stream and lots of good campsites. I ignore them.

Two kilometers before town I have cell service and call Antonio. I want to hear his voice and I want him to distract me from my anger. It helps, and I laugh. Almost there. I limp the last kilometer into town and drop everything the moment I walk into the door of the hostal that I booked. Made it! But was it worth it? Absolutely not. I would have gladly paid 18 euro to sleep in any of the beautiful campsites I passed. Everything hurts. My roommate snores. Such is life. Goodnight!

*This doesn’t translate very well, but it wasn’t particularly kind for the fence.

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