GR11 Hiking

Day 11&12: Storm

Kilometres walked: 17km  / Total distance: 249km/ Elevation gain: 995m / Elevation loss: 417m / Time walked: 4h51min (both days combined)

First thing I do when I wake up in my hotel bed is checking the weather forecast.

It is not looking good. The forecast for today has improved a bit, but tomorrow is looking worse.

The Pyrenees are known for having afternoon thunderstorms that are short but intense, but the forecast is now predicting a heavy storm for tomorrow morning, including code orange warnings for lightning, hail (“might damage property and livestock”) and heavy rains.

Tomorrow is the day we planned to cross the highest pass of the entire route. That plan is definitely off the table with this weather. It would be quite dangerous to be that exposed high up in the mountains.

What to do?

First, there is the hotel breakfast buffet followed by a short descent to Sallent de Gállego, where I meet up with Nicole. She looks stoked and ready to go, until I tell her the latest weather update. She agrees that going up today is a bad idea. I have a booking in a refugio (Respumoso) but she doesn’t, and we want to cross the pass together.

All the hotels in town are full because there is a festival going on.

We decide to hang around town today, drinking coffee, charging our devices and just spending time until late afternoon until we hike out of town, where there is supposedly a place to (wild)camp near a river and an open shelter. That seems like a good idea, just in case.

Short detour to a waterfall

The hike out is easy, with a little side-quest to a waterfall. We indeed find the shelter and a good place to camp just on the other side of the river. Do we sleep in the shelter or do we pitch our tents? The weather is so good that we decide on the latter. We find a sheltered space underneath some trees and bushes so that we are at least protected from strong winds.

How bad can it be?

The evening we cook dinner in the company of a curious dog who is very interested in Nicole’s couscous, wash our feet in the river, and making tea. Nine ‘o clock we go to bed.

Good boy

Around midnight I wake up to go to the bathroom and hear the tiniest raindrops falling on my tent. I put in earplugs and go back to sleep.

06:30 I wake up because of my alarm. It’s still raining, and we decided on a latest waking up time of 08:00 (sleeping in!) so I pull my sleeping bag over my head and turn around again.

Fifteen minutes later I wake up from a sudden gust of wind and the sound of heavy rain on the tent. I look out from under the tentfly and it’s not rain but hail the size of eurocoins pelting the tent.

Fuck.

At least the canopy of trees is providing some protection, otherwise I’m not sure if my tent would have survived. I hear a voice shouting “Are you okay?!” “Yes I think it’s holding up!” I shout back. “I’ll be at the shelter, come find me there later!” hollers Nicole. She had already packed her tent and was making coffee when the hail started.

Now fully awake I realize I have another problem. I need to go to the loo. Like, really need to. Might as well get up then. I get dressed in all my rain gear, step outside, dig a hole and squat. At least the hail has changed into heavy rain. Half of my tent is standing in a puddle, but is otherwise undamaged. There is a small river of mud where Nicole’s tent was standing before, looks like she got away just in time.

After doing my business I pack up my stuff. The tent is soaked, of course. Everything else is kind of damp, but otherwise okay. I run to the shelter as fast as I can. The trail has transformed into a muddy stream and the river -yesterday calm and crystal clear- is now a raging stream of brown murky water.

In the shelter we make tea, eat our breakfast, and wait a few hours until the storm passes. Lightning and thunder cracks overhead. From here it’s actually quite nice. Another pair of travellers joins us. Their tent got caught in the mudflow and everything is wet and muddy. Looks like we came out pretty well.

Drying all the things

After a few hours the storm stops as suddenly as it started and the sun comes out again. Our stuff is dry in no time. Funny how quickly things change, for better or for worse.

Into the mountains

An hour later we are off, heading towards Embalse de Respumoso and the mountain hut of the same name. We plan to walk a bit past it and find a place to camp near the foot of the pass we’re doing tomorrow.

The ascent is lovely. We follow the river up through the valley that gets narrower and narrower and eventually opens up to a dammed lake. It’s nice to see so much water on the trail. All the little streams that have been dry the past weeks are now flowing at full force. We don’t have to carry so much water now.

Dork with fanny pack enjoying beautiful scenery at Respumoso

At the refugio we take a break and ask about the weather forecast. Maybe a bit of rain, but should be calm. Good weather tomorrow. I’m a bit anxious to camp this high up, but with this weather it should be okay. We find a sheltered place to camp behind another dam, pitch, eat, and sleep. Big day tomorrow!

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