Kilometres walked: 22km / Total distance: 387km / Elevation gain: 1131m/ Elevation loss: 1441m / Time walked: 6h16min
While I arrived early at the campsite, the rest of my hiking bubble continued to the next refugio. That meant I set out alone in the morning (which I prefer) and have the first ascent up to Pleta d’Añes Cruces all for myself. Grassy slopes, easy climb, still in the shade. The sun is not out from behind the mountain peaks yet, but illuminates the valley ahead. The light is magnificent.
I take a break after the river crossing and make coffee. I wasn’t hungry this morning and didn’t feel like getting my stove out to make coffee, but now an hour and a half into the climb I’m starving and I know that a kick of caffeine will help for the steep climb ahead.
Just as I finish my coffee the trail bubble arrives. We eat snacks and have a little stretching party on the grass.
This was merely the warming up, from here the trail switchbacks steeply to the pass that’s on the menu for today. The ascent is steep in places but not technically difficult. On the steep bits with scree I can feel my left calf cramping up – the same leg where earlier this year I had an injury – and I’m worried it’ll come back. Steep climbs with rocks are not a problem because you vary the position of your feet a lot, but on the scree it’s a very repetitive movement which puts a lot of strain on my calf.
At the top I stretch again and massage my calf. I don’t know if I’m imagining it or not, but I notice the tiniest sensitive spot on the inside of my shin. Barely noticeable, but enough for my head to start worrying about possible injuries. I need to get out of this headspace. It’s not helping with enjoying the easy trail down and won’t actually help with preventing any injuries either.
Lunch is at Refugio d’Estos. We occupy a picnic table outside and pass around sausage, cookies, cheese, nuts and candy. I eat tortillas with cream cheese and sausage and drink a soda. Diet on the trail isn’t exactly healthy, but it’s hard to find a balance between things that are easy to carry for a couple of days, don’t take up too much space, and give enough energy. A lot of sweet or salty processed foods, but tasty most of the time.
I feel better after lunch, good company is a good distraction from my worries. The descent is easy, there’s an actual path! After a while it becomes wide enough to walk side by side and I walk together with Mirjam, member of our little trail bubble.
We share stories, the background of our lives, what brought us here, what we hope to find or figure out. We all started this trail alone, but we weave our days together into a braid of shared stories and shared experiences, and of course many jokes. First there was Nicole and Paul and Maria, now there’s Mirjam and Jan and Ernesto and Eelco, and surely many more will come and go.
Destination for today is one of the campgrounds North of Benasque. I had already planned to have a rest day tomorrow, the rest is not sure. We arrive mid afternoon, get directed to our pitches -all together- and within no time the empty dusty, grassy patch transforms into something resembling a festival camping. Five people, five different tents. Within minutes it starts raining. 16:00h, like clockwork.
We all have dinner in the restaurant (pizza!). Most of the group decided to have a rest day too, but Mirjam will continue tomorrow morning. The next morning we get up early to say goodbye and wish her well. It doesn’t feel like a forever goodbye, but she’s a fast hiker and I’m not sure I’ll be able to catch up with her.
The rest of the morning is filled with a town visit: outdoor stores! Supermarkets! Restaurants! During lunch we glance at the sky where dark clouds are gathering and we decide to take a taxi back to the campground. It’s only 3km, but hey, it’s a restday, and at least this way we arrive just in time to bring in our laundry before it starts pouring down again.