Kilometres walked: 20km / Total distance: 677km / Elevation gain: 1033m / Elevation loss: 1695m / Time walked: 5h45min
Today is the last high mountain section of the entire route. Not only that, its the highest point of the trail! There has been a pass of 2805m before but today is not really a pass, we just walk along a ridge and some small peaks that form the mountain between Spain and France.
But before we get there, we (I’m walking with Paul and Maria today) have to get up and we have to get up early: there is a thunderstorm and heavy rain predicted for this early afternoon starting at 13:00, when we want to be well on our way with the descent.
So, our alarms go off at 05:45, we make coffee and eat breakfast in the dark, and start walking just as the first pink, orangey light hits the valley. A short climb through a forest, the last of the trees at this elevation, and the rest of the easy climb is over grass and, for the last section, a bit of scree. This is probably the easiest ascent at this altitude we’ve done.
Behind us clouds are drifting into the valley, but the summit is, for now, free of fog.
At the top there is a small path to a summit, which of course we have to take. 2820something meters! I don’t think I’ve ever been higher before.
Nine crosses embedded in the rock. Apparently to commemorate nine monks who perished in a storm, but I don’t know if that is true.
The rest of the path is easy walking -quick climb to another peak with a triumphant selfie- and then a long, long way down, partially through the fog.
Refugio or Hipster Cafe?
Halfway down is Refugio Ulldeter, where we stop for a lunch break. We just walked for an hour through the fog, and can use a coffee. “Do you have anything to eat?” We ask hopeful, as it’s too early for Spanish lunchtime. “Sure!” replies the warden, and proceeds to list the menu which includes things like homemade peach cake, blondies and brownies, and (homemade!) chocolate chip cookies. We are stunned. Is this a hut or a hipster café? Immensely grateful we order coffee and cake each, and supplement it with our own tortillawraps and cream cheese and whatever else comes out of our food bags.
After thirty, forty minutes we get ready to leave, and right that time we hear thunder and it starts raining. Great. I mean, we knew it was coming and at least we’re quite a way down from the pass, but we’re still in the clouds. Can lightning strike you when you’re in the clouds? We’re not sure but we think probably yes. In any case, we need to get down further so we put on all our waterproofs and gloves and make a go for it.
At least it’s just rain and not hail, but in no time the trail is full of water. Water finds the path of least resistance down, and so do we, which means that we’re sloshing through 10cm of icy cold water flowing down the trail.
Oh well, I guess my shoes could use a rinse anyway.
Down down down we go, splosh splosh. It’s beautiful scenery, really, except we all have our hoods pulled tight around our faces and we don’t stop to look around.
What feels like an eternity later (but is probably around 2 hours or so) we step into the hotel lobby. Paul and Maria have a reservation. I don’t, but no way that I’m going to continue walking and camp like this, so I ask if they can arrange an extra bed in the room. No problem! We take turns showering and soon every hook, rail, and bit of furniture in the room is covered in wet and damp gear to dry. It looks like a very unorganised outdoor store. So glad to be inside and dry though.