Kilometres walked: 15km / Total distance: 264km/ Elevation gain: 1076m / Elevation loss: 875m / Time walked: 6h57min
My brain fabricates many stories of disaster that I have learned how to deal with over the years, but now there are very primal signals from my body that are screaming: “You can’t be here! If you move your foot you will fall and die!”
I’m on a rocky ledge at 2805m, one hand holding on to a wobbly chain, one hand holding on to wet rock, half a foot wedged between stones and no place to put the other foot.
Fear kicks in and immediately I start hyperventilating and, annoyingly, crying.
“Breathe”, says Nicole, who is standing a few meters above me.
I do. One breath. Two. And it calms me down just enough to realize that I need to use my brain this time to override this primal fear response.
Two hands one foot touching rock is not bad. Check.
The tears stop.
What if I put my other foot here? No. It slips.
How about here? That seems to hold. I’m fine.
Its an awkward position, but another deep breath and I pull myself and my pack up using the chain, just high enough that I can place my other foot on more solid ground.
Several of these manoeuvres later and we find ourselves on top of the Cuello de Tebarray, the highest pass of the entire GR11. I’ve calmed down enough to enjoy the views, which are magnificent.
Now we need to go down. Awkwards steps. No chain. Squat, sit, slide, repeat. A few metres and there is a path on a black scree slope leading to the next col. Cuello de Infierno. The neck of hell.
Despite its name, this is the easy one. We put on our rain jackets -there is a cold strong wind up here- and seek shelter behind a pile of rocks. We eat candy and high-five each other.
“We survived”, I say.
“That was fun!”, says Nicole.
I did not have fun, but I am very happy and relieved that we did it. I’m glad she had fun, but most of all I am very glad that I did not have to do this alone.
The descent is fine. Lots of boulder hopping, which is fun for the first thirty minutes but makes it difficult to enjoy the views because you have to focus on every step. It requires a lot of mental bandwidth.
It’s a long way down. At Refugio Respumoso we drink coke and use the WiFi (WiFi!). I let Antonio know I’m still alive. I think he would have enjoyed this, the climber he is. Would I go back with him to do it again? I’m not sure.
From here we take a shortcut. We don’t want to walk down all the way to Baños de Panticosa, a town that has nothing to offer us, so instead we hop over more rocks and follow a trail marked with cairns until we hit a pipeline, which we follow until we’re back on the trail. There are cool, dark tunnels and cliffs and it’s just a really fun section of trail. Too many rocks though. My body is fine but my brain is exhausted. It worked hard today.
One final ascent, more rocks, and we pitch our tents next to a dammed lake. Time for a swim. We’re exhausted, but alive.