|View from Pedraforca|
Chris and I had been planning to go hiking somewhere, anywhere on the planet, for the purpose of exploring moutains as well as a new culture. We limited our optioned due to timing; we picked the end of May, in part to utilize the time off for the Memorial Day holiday. Autumn was a possibility too, but this trip was a gift from Chris for my 40th birthday last August.... it was already March when we started planning the trip, so we were eager to go. After all the options were thrown onto the table, Barcelona was a place neither of us had been and where both of us wanted to visit. Not far from Barcelona were the Pyrenees, which runs along the border of France and Spain, which has excellent hiking opportunities. May would give us the opportunity to explore the mountains before the summer crowds arrived and the Barcelona architecture had been as enticing as the tapas they served - so there were plenty of good reasons abound! I even had several guidebooks from my half-baked plans to visit my sister-in-law when she was traveling there for work years ago. Add that to a great recommendation from some hiking friends, and the GR 11 in the Spanish Pyrenees was our choice, hiking for 6-7 days with a 3 day pre-venture in Barcelona.
The city of Barcelona is vibrant and full of things to do with it's cosmopolitan highlights of great food and modernist architecture mixed with medieval Old Town destinations. Of course there is so much more to Barcelona, and what we experienced there was just the tip of the iceberg, but this is a hiking diary afterall. So after our three days of fun in the 70˚F weather in Barcelona, we rented a car like a couple of Americanos and headed north towards the Spanish-French borderland.
|Casa Batlló rooftop|
Baga greeted us with a hail storm upon arrival (insert snickering about the weather here). It had been thundering and raining since we left Barcelona that morning, part of the same storm that was supposed to dump snow in the high peaks. We found shelter in a hostal at the edge of town, settled in, and our caretaker soon left for the evening, as we were the only occupants for the night. Chris and I walked the empty streets of town, talked to a few shop owners and found the one restaurant that our caretaker recommended... and the only one open. Baga is a tourist town for skiers, hikers and campers. This restaurant, Niu Nou, was of very high quality, the prices were decent and we had one of the best meals on our whole trip. Everything was local and fresh, artfully presented and thoughtfully cooked. We were the only ones here too. I guess no one comes to the mountains in May.
|Hostal Cal Batista in Baga|
We started hiking and soon passed one of the many hiker huts in the Spanish system. We asked to make sure we were going in the recommended direction of anti-clockwise, due to the steep ascent where you do some rock scrambling. The hut worker pointed in the direction we were heading, and in broken English said, to be careful, and motioned with his hands and feet, pretending to slip and shaking his head, saying not to do that. We also knew once you started up the scramble, there wasn't a good way down. From there you had to complete the whole thing, up and over the summit, hiking down the steep scree slope on the other side.
We said thank you in broken Spanish and I began slipping almost immediately. Was it my new boots, or this pudding stone rock, the wet terrain and snow, or was the conversation with the hut guy getting the best of me? Chris said he was slipping too, but I was convinced he was trying to make me feel better. After a few hours we reached a pass, with only about an hour more of hiking/scrambling to get to the summit. We saw a few guys ahead of us on the steep part and they seemed to be doing fine and moving quickly. But at that point I decided slipping wasn't an option, and hanging at the pass would have to do for me & my boots today.
We hung out on the windswept pass, had lunch and enjoyed the views... and views there were! Absolutely spectacular to the south, north, the ridges all around us, and over towards the summit itself. We spent a hour or more of lazing around in the sun, taking pictures and hiking up a little higher. We didn't summit that day, but it was the right decision for me - to enjoy these new mountains in a more humbled way. (As it turns out it wasn't my boots at all, but the pudding stone rock itself. The boots performed great for the rest of the week on different rock surfaces).
|Hiking up Pedraforca|
|At the pass|
|Another fine viewpoint|
|Above it all, almost|
|Enjoying the views|
|Relaxing in front of Pedraforca summit|
Returning to the car, we looked at the map and decided to drive north that evening to Espot, a ski town that sits on the edge of one of Spain's National Parks: Aigüestores i Estany De Sant Maurici. We arrived around 10pm, passing through various hamlets and tourist towns on windy, s-curve mountain roads, far more suitable to the Mercedes and BMW's on the road than our Kia. We heard more rain was in the forecast, so we settled into a room for 2 nights at a local hostal. It was palatial for the two of us and sparsely inhabited, as we were becoming accustomed to.
|The colors of the GR11|
|Hut near Estany Negro|
|Free refugi, bunker-like atmosphere|
|Huge black slugs were everywhere on this trail|
The hike up to the estany (lake) included a stop at the St. Maurici chapel built up against a rock cliff and passing by several herds of cows and horses grazing one after another. The peaks were dark, sharp, and topped with misty clouds and a smattering of snow. This area was one of the most beautiful we had seen, and normally it would be packed with people. But with all the snow and cool weather, we had the place to ourselves, including the refugi.
|Not what I usually stumble upon in the woods|
|Keyhole peek inside St Maurici chapel|
|The farther we hiked, the deeper the snow, though it stayed below our shins most of the time. We passed a massive waterfall and a few other lakes and viewpoints before arriving at the D'Amitiges hut. The building adjacent was the refugi, also built of stone with a split iron door. Inside were the usual 2 story bunks, mattresses, blankets, a storage shelf, a lamp and a gas heater! Since it was just a little above freezing and starting to snow, this was an exciting discovery. We unpacked, searched for a water source, soaked in the views and soon retired to the refugi to eat dinner. Chris plugged in his iPhone to the outlet and we had music & podcasts playing by the IKEA lamplight and Jetboil.... what could be better? We were never able to get the heater to work, but our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm, even with the falling temps and snow.|
|Water crossing by Estany St Maurici|
|Hiking to viewpoint|
|Electricity with our dinner|
|View from the D'Amitiges hut|
It was within this hut that I discovered my love for Jamón Ibérico. The Spanish are fanatical and quite proud of their thin sliced, aged ham products, and this was some outstanding stuff. I bought a package of it in Barcelona, not the cheapest but not the most expensive option either, which was perfect for my immature Jamón palette. Paired with goat cheese, basil and tomatoes all piled atop a french baguette, it was a slice of Spanish Heaven. Trader Joe's make a pretty good version if you can't find any in your area, though they seemed to stop selling it after only a few weeks of my discovering it. Oh Trader José's, please, bring it back!
The next morning we hiked out, hopped into our car, and headed for another trail head on the opposite side of the park. We were originally planning on hiking thru to this point as our Day 2 of the backpack, but ah the snow. We hiked in past the usual bell ringing cows, avalanche slopes and waterfalls and to the hut - which was easy and only a few hours in. The weather on this day was the worse we've had thus far - the winds whipped as we crossed over the dammed lake by the Colomers Hut - so we hustled ourselves inside the hut door. This area had 2 huts, one was closed, maybe for good, and the other was newer, just opening for the season. The hut masters had arrived only hours before us, so it wasn't really open to the public. But since they were in the process of cleaning up the free refugi, they let us stay in the regular hut for 10 euros each. They allowed us to cook our own meals with our Jetboil too, which usually isn't allowed (in the regular huts, they feed you). So we cooked up our dinners and ate in the dining room, which is normally bustling with hikers and served up meals in the summer. Instead the hut workers did their chores while we ate and explore the library shelves. I spied a shower in the bathroom (oh the luxury!) but decided not to use up their precious heat & hot water. We chose a bunk room and read our Spanish magazines before drifting off to sleep.
|trail markers always falling down|
|friendly hut dog|
The following day the weather wasn't much better, so we didn't stick around to hike up higher to see the non-views. We still had another night left in our trip, so we took a long drive west and then south amongst farmland and to a small church some 10 miles away from the main road high atop a hill with nothing else around but vineyards and a farm. We hiked up to the small church at the tippity top of this cliff, just then a thunderstorm rolled in the distance. We hurried down, but not before peeking into a few homes and yards of this rustic little village of stone huts. Once we reached the car, we continued driving to our last destination, Montserrat.
|Small town house|
|A little closer to God than most|
|Poppies were everywhere|
Montserrat is a strange-looking mountainous outcropping that rises 3000 ft into the air above the rolling hills surrounding it, sticking out like a dark & spiky thumb. The Benedictine monks found this land long ago and made it their own, building a monastery high atop, now complete with a few hotels and lots of trails for hiking, walking, meditating and rock climbing along the strange sandstone spires. We drove through the cliff-huggung park and parked at the Cremallera station, a people-mover type train, and stayed at our first hotel of the trip near the mountain top. How posh to have such a big shower... and quaint, with two single beds for a couple:) We hiked up hundreds of stairs along the trails toward the top of the cliffs and found a nice picnic spot for dinner at sunset. It was like being in a rock canyon high above everything else; the birds sang and flitted about as we looked down from our perch - the monastery and everyone below us, and further below that, the rest of Spain thousands of feet below. Our last night was spent here among the quiet & contemplative rock canyons, caves and spires of Montserrat, which turned out to be a perfect place to reflect on a fantastic vacation.
|Funicular going up Montserrat|
|Monastery and hotel|
|Looking down at the monastery|
|Rock spires, a great rock climbing location as well|
For more pictures and descriptions of the trip, see my Flickr collection of Catalunya, Spain