Kilometres walked: 14km / Total distance: 419km / Elevation gain: 303m/ Elevation loss: 1153m / Time walked: 5h18min
Breakfast at the refugio. Café con leche from a thermos, toast with mini packages of jam and Nutella (of which I steal one to snack on later), little dry muffins wrapped in plastic, and some undefined fruit juice without actual juice. My hiker hunger has finally kicked in and I eat it all.
A tiny climb to the next pass, just enough to wake up my legs which feel heavy from yesterday’s long climb, followed by a descent past a series of small lakes reflecting the morning light like mirrors. Golden hour on the trail.
The plan: hike down to the valley, have lunch there, hike up to the next pass (~2400) and camp just on the other side.
Of course, like every day this week, there is rain & thunder predicted for the afternoon, but usually it’s okay. Short but intense. Get soaked in an hour and dry up in ten minutes when the sun is out in full force again. Presumably today will be like those other days.
We hike and we snack and we are suddenly at a road that we have to walk on (asphalt, cars, trucks, what?!) but civilization brings cellphone service so I call with Antonio, check twitter, check in with friends and do everything a normal semi-internet addicted person does when there’s connection for the first time in 24 hours. Everything, except checking the weather forecast.
We walk on. There is a picnic area with shaded stone tables. Our lunch spot! A family nearby fights over the barbecue, a group of teens kick a ball around. We eat tortillas and noodles with sausage. There are bins! We can throw our 2 days of trash!
(There is obviously no waste disposal service in the mountains. Most refugios are supplied by helicopter and they, rightfully, don’t want to fly down your trash, so you carry it out yourself, even when staying in huts)
We walk past a refugio where we top up our water, and continue through a lovely forest for a bit until the trail takes a right turn up a grassy slope.
When we hit the turn it starts raining. Ha! As expected! A bit earlier than usual, it’s around 14:30, but determined to keep hiking we put on our waterproofs and plod on.
Five minutes later the rain turns to hail. Nothing big, but enough to feel their sting through my rain jacket and short sleeve shirt underneath. There is a hut of some sorts a few hundred meters to the right up the slope.
“Let’s wait there at least until the hail stops”, I propose, and without waiting for an answer I make a run for it. Jan and Ernesto are following suit. Feet splashing in the tall grass, soaked shoes, but as we clamber into the hut at least we’re not pelted by ice anymore.
Inside are two other women from Barcelona. We talk and laugh and share salted almonds while we wait for the downpour to stop.
It does not stop.
More people are joining. A couple in t-shirts with a dog and a toddler, a small group of friends out on a dayhike. Chitchat and laughter. Everyone is soaked.
Suddenly a group of kids arrives. All boys, a year or 12 old. I count fifteen. Two teachers (I assume) follow, shrugging apologetically. The hut is now pretty full, but hey, we’re all in the same boat, so come on in!
The dog, from the couple, has no idea what’s happening and has sought safety by sitting firmly on her owner’s feet so he cannot move.
A new stream of kids arrives, followed by two more teachers. There are now 25 kids, plus the adults, a toddler, and a very confused dog in the hut. The kids all want to pet the dog, and she lets them. New friends! As confused as the dog was before, now she’s stoked about all her new friends and she barks excitedly. The chaos is complete.
We wait for thirty minutes. Forty. Sometimes it looks like the rain is about to stop but then it picks up again.
One bonus: there is cellphone service in the hut! I check the website of the refugio we just walked past and see that they have space, but don’t take same-day bookings online. Ernesto makes a call, and before we know it there are three beds with our names on it.
It kind of feels like defeat. I wanted to wildcamp under the stars! But turning around is the smart and responsible thing to do.
We wait for another lull in the rain and follow the kids out of the hut. They have a bus waiting for them, we a refugio with a hot but dirty shower and a creaky bed. At least it’s warm and dry. It keeps raining late into the evening. As much as I had different things in mind for today, this is a pretty good outcome.
And…today marks the halfway point of the trail! There’s wasn’t much time to reflect on that due to the somewhat ~chaotic~ ending of the day but yay! Halfway! Pretty strange and awesome to realize that you’ve walked halfway through a mountain range. I couldn’t really conceptualize it -it’s just day after day after day of walking- until I saw it on the map. How cool!