Friday, September 21, 2007

Incoming weather

At 2000 plus metres in the Pyrenees, the first warning you get that the weather is about to get nasty is cloud production on the tops. In this photo, what had been a sunny, mild day was about to become a freezing cold thunderstorm in the space of the next 20 minutes. Things happen fast up here.

Ordesa National Park

This section through the Ordesa National Park was the best track surface we had walked on. Sadly it didnt go far. The forest and views up to the canyon rim were spectacular.

No problem with signage here.

We THINK we might know where we are...

Thanks to all

I would like to take a moment to thank everyone for helping us with this trip and especially to those who send messages of encouragement.
Unfortunately because I am uploading photos and text by email from my mobile phone to the blog, I cant read the comments that you leave until I get to a internet cafe, which in these parts are few and far between. But thanks anyway to Vicki, Tim and my dad, the Bennett mob,

y muchisimas gracias a Lola y Carlos por los mensajes SMS de animo. Los aprecio muchisimo.

Up here in the mountains we are very isolated and to know that people are thinking about us means a lot. You can send texts directly to my cell phone +34677216283 I dont always have coverage but I will receive them when I do. Richard Gerard, if you are reading this please let us know how the Rugby World cup is going. Here in Spain it doesnt exist as far as the spanish press and tv are concerned. And we are only 10 kilometres from the french border!!

the Monte Perdido glacier

Knocked that one off.

Jaime y Refugio de Pineta. ¡Que vengan las chirris neocelandesas!

Tuesday 18th Refugio de Goriz to Pineta 13.5 kms

The day dawned and the weather was very cold but looked settled. We decided to make a go of it. The distance was not long (13.5 kms) but the track was going to be the most difficult we had faced. From Goriz we had a 300 metre climb over 2 kms to get to the Collado de Arablo, then a 700 metre drop over another 3 kms to the Bellos river. this fall required a lot of hands on climbing to get down rock faces and as usual the track marks were not easy to find which slows down progress as we have to double check we are heading in the right direction. In these steep sided valleys, you only need to lose your direction for 5 minutes and you can get yourself in all sorts of trouble; there are high cliffs everywhere.
By the time we hit the bottom of the valley we were already tired but could not wait to rest. We now had a steep 600 metre climb over 2.5 kms to get to the high pass of Collado de Añisclo and the weather looked threatening. It took us nearly 2 hours to get there the going was so steep. To put it bluntly, I was buggered and we still had the worst of the day ahead of us.
As we reached the top were were surprised to find a Spanish guy there with GPS equipment. He worked for the National Park and they were revising all of the tracks in the park. At the top we were at a height of 2500 metres above sea level. We now had to go down an almost vertical cliff to the valley floor 1.2 kilometres below. Looking down was freaky. It was like looking out of the window of an aeroplane. It was unbelievable that the GR11 took this route and I began to see why the GR11 track was considered so difficult. Up until now it had been physically challenging but this was another dimension. The park employee gave us encouragement "Tomalo muy despacito porque es muy peligroso" (take it slowly because it is really dangerous). We stepped off the edge to begin the descent. To describe what we had to walk down as a track would be extending the use of the word way beyond what it was intended for. We were carefully stepping our way along slippery gravel ledges and climbing down vertical rock faces. I chose to concentrate on where I was putting each foot because to look down to the valley floor immediately gave me vertigo. Amazingly, even Chris Bennett our young and enthusiastic guide, was looking extremely white around the lips. He later admitted that it was the scariest thing he had ever done. To drop the 1200 metres took us nearly 3 hours.
At the bottom I was exhausted and my legs and feet were aching. Once again having 20 kilos on your back while climbing down made the trip even harder, and more dangerous. We were so happy to be on flat ground and looked up in wonder at where we had come from. It seemed incredible that we were alive. We walked to the Refuge of Pineta and were greeted by our host for the evening, Jaime. 2 cold beers each, a hot shower and change of clothes and we were filled with endorphin fever. We had a great evening with Jaime and a couple of other intrepid fools who were crazy enough to do the same thing as us. Chris Bennett wanted to know if anyone had died doing what we had just done and much to our horror we found out that only six weeks before someone had put a foot wrong on the same section that we had gone down and had plunged to their death. Not the first one either apparently. Many people do the walk we did and when they see what they have to go down they turn around and go back.
Jaime was a great host. He cooked a great meal, spaghetti bolognesa, salad, spanish sausages and chips. ¡¡Buenísimo!! Refugio de Pineta, good food, good beds, good time.
I include a photo of Jaime and he says that I have to put on this web site that all the New Zealand girls are welcome to stay at Refugio de Pineta anytime (¡Qué vengan las chirris neocelandesas!) Muchas gracias Jaime. Ha sido un placer concerte. Y para que sepas, ya hemos quitado los "porsiacasos" de nuestras mochilas para hacerlas un poco mas ligeras.

Monday 17th Bujaruelo to Refugio de Goriz 22 kms

It had rained during the night and packing up our tents and gear was a bit damp but the sun came out and we set out for a long day. We were now entering a National Park and after a few kilometres entered into a huge canyon not unlike the Grand Canyon in the USA. It was VERY impressive. we walked through forest with the most awesome views of massive cliffs on both sides of our route. We followed a river up the long canyon and had views of massive waterfalls and rapids. It was a long walk and a steady climb until we came to the end of the canyon. We knew that we had to climb another 400 mtrs over about 5 kilometres to reach the hut, Refugio de Goriz. The narrow, rocky track snaked up the canyon end and at every turn we were higher and higher above the canyon floor. The weather, which had been very mild, suddenly began to get much colder. Within about 30 minutes the temperature dropped 10 degrees and thunder and lightning were all around us. Rain and sleet began to fall heavily and we rushed to get our wet weather gear on. Within minutes we were soaking and freezing cold, and uncertain as to how far away the refuge was. The rain got heavier and we momentarily lost our way but fortunately got a glimpse of the roof of the refuge above us. Just as well as I could already feel hypothermia coming on. Another half an hour in this weather and I think I would have been in trouble. As it was I could no longer feel my hands.
We headed up to it and were surprised to find it absolutely full of people. Goriz is the busiest manned hut in the Spanish Pyrenees because it is the closest to Monte Perdido (Lost Mountain) which at 3150 is the 4th highest peak in the Pyrenees and a favourite for climbers both french and spanish. We had fortunately booked bunks and a meal for the night. we got our wet gear off and hung everything up and after a cup of very hot chocolate things started to look rosy again. We had an entertaining evening with our table companions, a belgian gentleman who loved Duvel beer, and 2 spanish guys one of whom, Miguel Gonzalez (gracias por la información Miguel) was doing the reverse trip to ours but going even further. He was heading over to the coast above Portugal. Quite a trip!
We were at an altitude of 2200 metres above sea level and the problem we now faced was the weather. the next stage of our trip to the valley floor of Pineta was known to be the most difficult of all of the GR11 walk that we were doing. If the weather was going to be bad it would be suicide to continue but at the same time there was no room for us to wait it out at the Goriz refuge. we could only stay one night. Later that evening the guy running the hut came to me with a new forcast; it looked like it was improving so he contacted the Pineta refuge and told them that we would be attempting the traverse through the next day.

Bridge on the way to Ordesa

Cuello Brazato 2600Mtrs

mountains, mountains, everywhere.

View from Tebbaray

Sunday 16th Panticosa to St. Nicolas de Bujaruelo 22 kms

A long day today but the weather gods were no longer with us and we had heavy cloud. First breakfast at the hostal. Spanish breakfasts leave a lot to be desired. As I have said previously, we have been eating very well (too well, despite the exercise my waistline does not appear to be diminishing) but due to the Spanish feeding timetable the early morning breakfast does not figure highly on their food agenda. The average spanish working person typically gets up just before heading off to work and grabs a quick cup of coffee to get the brain into action. Breakfast for most here usually happens at around 9.30 to 10 oclock when they get a half hour break from work and they have a large sandwich with another coffee or even a beer! Lunch is taken at around 2 pm or later with a 2 hour lunch break (lunch is the main meal of the day here so is typically 2 to 3 courses with wine and coffee to follow). Back to work in the afternoon at around 4 to 5 pm your spanish worker doesnt knock off until 7 or 8 pm, and having dinner at around 10pm. Bedtime is usually between midnight and 1 am.
The problem we found was, the breakfasts that we were being given were mainly comprised of coffee and a sweet roll. Hardly enough to go and conquer mountains on. Being up in the mountains we couldnt buy a lot of provisions so we were always looking to supplement the breakfasts with something extra. Not always possible.
As usual we walked out of the hostal and straight into a hard long climb. we slowly climbed up the side of a mountain and into the clouds. Fortunately the rain held off and it was like walking in very heavy mist. We passed a high mountain Ibon (glacial lake) and soon were at the top of the pass (Cuello Brazato 2600 mtrs above sea level).
Climbing down from there alongside the rapids of a crystal clear mountain stream, we saw a herd of wild Chamois deer nearby. we had also been seeing Marmots and suddenly the little, chubby, furry animals were everywhere. Chris Bennett almost stepped on one as he strode along. We stopped for lunch and wrapped up warm as the wind had a cold chill. directly in front of us was the huge face of Mt. Vignemale (3298 mtrs) with the top masked by grey cloud. As we got ready to push on the clouds parted to give us a view of the high, craggy peak. Awesome.
Then it was off to St. Nicolas de Bujaruelo, a long down hill walk over rough farm land being grazed by absolutely huge Pyrenean cows. Bujaruelo is, like everywhere around here, beautiful. With high waterfalls and wide, clean rivers with transparent swimming holes.
We stayed at a camping ground tonight. It will go down in our memories as having the best hot showers of any place we had stayed at. We ate wild rabbit at the camping ground restaurant and drank rose wine. I dont remember climbing into my sleeping bag inside my tent that night but I do remember walking up in the wee small hours to the sound of rain falling.

Saturday 15th Respumoso to Balneario de Panticosa 16 kms

The morning was cold. We were already up at 2100 mtrs above sea level and had a 700 metre climb to get to the high pass of Cuello Tebarral. It was to be the highest point so far n the walk. We set off surrounded by high peaks and walked through a hangin valley filled with small alpine streams. As we climbed the going got steeper and soon we were scrambling our way up a rocky scree slope. It just got steeper and steeper and with a mountain in front of us it was difficult to see exactly where the track was taking us. Suddenly the track hooked sharply to the right and we could see a very narrow pass (3 metres wide) in the immense rock wall in front of us. As we approached it, the way became totally vertical and so it was a hand over hand climb up a solid rock face, no easy feat with a 20 kilo pack on the back. I didnt look backwards because I didnt want to see where I would end up if I fell. Once at the top it was a relief to say the least. There was already a few Spanish climbers there and we all enjoyed the spectacular view of Mt Balaitus (3150 mtrs) and a ring of peaks to our left called the Infiernos in Spanish ( the Hell peaks, I can see why they got their name). After that it was a long down hill walk of some 12 kilometres stopping to have lunch beside some beautiful glacial lakes in the sunshine.
We arrived about 6pm at Balneario de Panticosa, which is a very expensive spa resort first made fashionable by the Spanish King Alfonso the 13th in the late 19th century. The whole town was a construction site with new hotels and apartments being built but fortunately there was a hostal for trampers and climbers call Casa de Piedra, complete with bar and restaurant. We immediately ordered 3 large, cold beers (which was beginning to become a bit of a custom) and booked in for the night. We had dinner with 3 spanish mountaineers who were also staying at the hostal and had a great evening. As usual with these mountain refuges or hostals, we are all crammed together in bunkrooms with a variety of nocturnal nasal sounds being emitted by various people. Fortunately for me I am usually so exhausted that I collapse unconscious immediately. Others are not so lucky and I note here that sometimes, while asleep, I get requests from others in my vicinity to cover my face up with a pillow. I dont know why, they seem to have some problem with my breathing.

Rock on!

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I guess this is the way...?


Most of the time on the GR11 there was very little in the way of proper tracks, and if as well as that the white stripe-red stripe markings were thin on the ground as well then you spent most of the day hoping you were going the right way.
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