Sept. 21st, 2022
Barroude Lakes to Urdiceto Creek
12.5 miles +3,000/-3,000 ft (estimated)
6:37am. I got up early today! I woke a little before my 6:00am alarm, feeling rested and actually ready to wake when my alarm chimed. There is so much condensation on the inside of my tent it’s as if it rained. When I go out to pee the grass is very wet too. The night sky is crystal clear and while I’m peeing I see a shooting star. Now that just has to be good luck! I dive back into my tent, make coffee and start reading over the route ahead. It’s 32F by my thermometer.
This morning I will go through the Port du Barrode at 8,314ft (2534m). This is another Pass, but I think this one is minor, it looks like only a 500 ft climb from here and then a 2,500 ft drop into the Barossa Valley. Today the route is described as easy to navigate and it actually looks like a bit of road walking unfortunately, and the option for yet another town, Parzan. I guess I get to listen to more music on that road walk. I will be in Spain after I cross the Port du Barroude and from here on out. This morning I say goodbye to France, Bienvenido a Espagna!
Even at 7:00am it’s not light out. I’ve noticed here that the slow fade into morning and the same at night is not as stretched out, it’s as if it happens all of a sudden. Thus, I stay in my tent a little longer eating granola that I poured into the remains of my coffee. It’s a solid combination of flavors. When I finally take down my tent I notice the four corners are frozen and they crinkle when I fold it all up. My tent weighs a lot this morning.
It’s 7:30am when I start walking. I finally see the tent that belongs to the other people I saw last night, but no sign of them. I walk along the edges of the upper lakes and eventually start climbing. I am dressed in my down puffy jacket and rain pants. It’s chilly and there is a slight breeze too. I have to pace myself so I don’t start sweating and that actually works out perfectly so I get to enjoy some morning sunrise light on the Barroude Lakes and the Wall. A magical sight to witness and perhaps once in a lifetime.
The Port du Barroude demarcates the boundary between France and Spain with a simple rock cairn. It is here I wave goodye to France and enter new territory for good. The pass is broad and flat on top before dropping steeply on a nice well marked trail down in the Barossa Valley. Since I am in Spain now the waymarkers are different. I think I am on the GR 11 but I’m not sure. The markers are now yellow and white and they are frequent, so I guess I’m going the right way.
It is a lengthy descent, I first think I am going to make it quickly, but the trail is varied and rocky enough that I can’t seem to move more than the usual 2 mph pace. It’s okay though as it is truly a gorgeous area and I am rather enjoying this morning in Spain. On the way down I finally see some wildlife! There are a few Isards running across the steep hills. They are like a cross between a deer and a pronghorn and they are really fast. I am satisfied I finally saw these creatures, as they are quite unique and my Guidebook kind of made promises that I’d see some so I’ve been waiting in anticipation this whole time.
There is a quaint but primitive cabane on the way down too and my curiousity gets the best of me so I stop to take a look. It’s not exacly the most inviting place to stay a night, however if you had crappy weather I’m sure it would be absolutely amazing. There is a fire place/stove inside, and a table with a couple chairs and a guest book which I sign. Mary Poppins was here!
Descending lower into the valley I am greeted with the most amazing gift: Trees! Oh my goodness I am so happy to be in the trees again. And there are a ton of them, an entire pine forest blankets the hillsides. I can’t tell you how much I love the trees and how much they enhance my mood and my enjoyment of the landscape I travel through. Not only are there trees but there is a lovely river flowing through this valley, the Rio Barossa, and it cuts right through the forest as well. I’m in Heaven!
It’s so beautiful I want to take my time and slow down, yet I am anxious about getting to Parzan, or close to it. It’s a little hamlet just about a mile off the route and I am hoping I will be able to get some internet service there as I have logistics to take care of before I head out any further this afternoon. As a matter of fact, if I can’t confirm a bus leaving from the town of Benasque on Saturday, I might atually have to end my hike in Parzan in a couple of hours. I am not ready to do that, but I can’t take the chance with not having a guaranteed way to get to Barcelona and I already know there are no busses on Sundays.
When I was up on the pass earlier I sent for a weather forecast with my In Reach. According to this forecast it’s going to rain on Friday, 70% chance, and on Sat and Sun it says five inches of snow up near the Port du Barroude. I guess I am just squeaking through. Today is the first day of Autumn afterall.
Thus I have opted for Variant 4 which is a lower elevation alternate to the main HRP route, following the GR11 in Spain all the way to Benasque. The main route would normally take me via several of the higest passes on the HRP which the guidebook advises not to take in the event of any forecasted rain or storms. Namely the Col des Gourgs-Blancs, Col du Pluviometre, Tusse de Montarque and the infamous Col Inferieur de Literole, the highest pass on the HRP at 9,787ft (2983m).
After that the route passes through the Portillon Region and the final high pass, the Col de Mulleres at 9,783ft (2982m), just 1 meter lower than the Col Inferieur. All of these days are rated as E for exceptional in the book with the average distance travelled at around 7 miles per day. Needless to say, these passes will all be getting a good dousing of snow by this weekend.
I think this section ahead would have truly been my cup of tea had my plans and timing worked out a little differently. I am going to be leaving the Pyrenees without having seen all that dramatic beauty, so when I come back, I think that section will be top priority. From my understanding, it is as similar to the Sierra High Route as it gets here in the Pyrenees. Good thing I’m on my way to the Sierras next right!?
The trail leads to a dirt road for a couple miles and eventually to a paved road. I stop before the paved road and check my phone. Behold I have cellular service! I sit down and try to figure a few things out and suddely feel hungry and anxious about the 5 Km road walk I have ahead of me. I sort of just want to get to Parzan and figure stuff out from there so I eat a small snack to hold me over and continue on toward the pavement.
The road walk sucks. Most of them do. And I don’t play any music. The traffic is polite but they move really fast and there are some large trucks and no shoulder to walk on. I hate it and just want to get it over with. It takes about an hour and finally I am at the turn off for the GR 11 trail at a dirt road next to a beautiful creek. The town of Parzan would be another mile down the paved road and I don’t want to do it. Forget that. I check my phone and discover I have a shitty but workable cell signal here. Hopefully I can get all the logistics squared away from here. but first, I need to eat!
I make myself a little spot in the shade on the banks of the creek, lay my tent out in the sun over a giant boulder and commence getting calories into my system. Of course, here in my lunch spot I have zero cellular service. Oh the irony! I go ahead and just enjoy my lunch, make a coffee and eat a large quantity of dark chocolate. Now, I can concentrate!
I have to meander all around to get cell service with internet and it takes me almost an hour to book a bus ticket and a hotel room. It really tries my patience but I am just thankful I can do this from the trail. I am also thankful that there is a bus that leaves from Benasque and that I have a hotel room booked for Friday night, as I imagine it will be a rainy last day on the HRP. I am not thankful that my GPS is not working and am therefore a little concerned about navigation for the next two days, as after Viados tomorrow I don’t have a printed map for the rest of the route since I will be on the Variant. At least I have the guidebook though, which will suffice.
After what turns out to be a really long break and just as I’m getting ready to hike out, a woman walks up with a backpack and she is looking at her map. Another solo female hiker! A rare thing out here! And she speaks English, whoo hoo! She is Belgian and she is hiking a section of the HRP as well, her name is Katrin. We wind up walking together for about two hours up the long ass dirt road that is 100% uphill. She tells me about some really cool hikes she did up in Sweden and into Finland and also says she is interested in the PCT and I encourage her quite enthusiasticlly. By 5:00pm she wants to stop for the night and I want to continue so we part ways. There’s a chance we will see eachother again, though you never know.
I press on up the dirt road for another hour or so until I get to the last option for good camping and water. Here I debate whether I want to go up to the Paso de los Caballos and camp up there as there are supposedly excellent views according to my guidebook. I contemplate this for a few minutes but there is a solid cold breeze here and I imagine it being even worse at the top of the pass. If it’s cold and windy up there I can’t imagine sitting outside my tent enjoying those views, so I decide it’s better to camp down here. It’s only 6:15pm and I wrestle with stopping so early, but again, I have a bird in the hand with this campsite. I have a good water source and with a little scouting around, I even find a protected spot to pitch my tent in the trees!
I am soaked with sweat and it takes me a while to get my tent pitched in the small space of the forest. Fortunately, the sun is still spreading it’s rays throughout this area and I am able to enjoy the evening light for quite a long time. The campsite I chose faces West and it is turning out to be a really lovely evening. I sit and cook from the vestibule of my tent and along with that the rays of the early evening sun I am finally feeling warm again. The sound of the water rushing from the creek below is strong but not overbearing, I am really glad to be camped next to some flowing water.
In the distance I see some clouds beginning to build, probably early storm clouds moving in. Knowing the storm is coming, I feel so thankful I was able to arrange accommodations in Benasque in a couple days time. As I eat my Annie’s mac & cheese with my added dollop of dehydrated kale I am in heaven. It is such a satisfying meal on the trail, honestly, one I always look forward to and totally worth bringing it all the way from home. I wind up playing a little music again and enjoy the last bit of sun as the glowing light filters through the trees. It’s incredibly peaceful here and the wind has calmed down significantly now. It’s 45F out and I am warm and dry, it really feels quite comfortable. Luxurious even. I am happy I chose to stay here tonight afterall instead of pushing to the pass, I believe I will sleep quite well.