HRP Day 12: all i need

Sept. 22nd, 2022

Barranca Urdiceto to Rio Estos

19 miles Vert +4,971/-5,039 ft

6:19am. I am up. I made strong coffee. I woke before my alarm this morning but I think it may have been like 4:30am. I could feel the chilly air around me and my feet felt cold since I took my socks off in the night. I go back to sleep and dream I am at a cafe ordering coffee and food. It dream in English so clearly none of my foreign language skills have sunk in.

When I hear the alarm I naturally don’t want to wake up but then I remind myself of how it’s important to do hard things sometimes and that motivates me. When I sit up I notice there is a bright light coming from behind me. Turns out it’s the crescent moon sitting just above the ridge, so luminous, so beautiful. These are some of the most rewarding moments of living in a tent. I sit sipping my coffee and hear a dog barking not too far off. What the? I thought I was alone here, is it really a dog or could it be a wild creature? I never do find out.

I climbed 2,700 ft yesterday afternoon on this dirt road and I’ve got a thousand more feet to go to the Paso de los Caballos at 7,692 ft (2314m). It’s interesting, in Katrien’s guidebook for the GR11 the pass has a completely different name, and her book is in English. Go figure! After that I will have a long descent through the Valle de Gistain back down to 5,000ft. Sheesh.

It should take me 4-5 hours to get to the end of this section at Refugio Viados. After that I just have 15 miles to Benasque on the GR 11. That’s the section I have no maps for but I plan to use my Cal Topo App, plot a few key waymarks for the route and reference the guidebook. The trail is on Cal Topo but it’s super confusing because there are SO many trails on there you can’t just quickly check to be sure you’re on the correct one. With only so much phone battery to use it’s not like I can check it all the time either. I am planning to mainly use the guidebook and trail signs. It should be an adventure!

Looking down into the valley where I camped last night

I start walking at 7:30am along the dirt road up to the pass that has three different names. I did not need to bundle up as much this morning as yesterday, but I am layered up and trying not to get too sweaty. About 3/4 of the way up to the pass I see a few Isards again, so cool! I watch them hop gingerly all over the rocks, they are so light and fast.

Sunrise at the Paso de los Caballos

At the pass I see the cabane that I had been thinking of camping near last night and I am completely happy with my decision because there isn’t any good ground to pitch a tent. Inside there is a raggedy looking fire place with a bag of oats on top of it that has been chewed through by mice and is filled with mouse turds. If you know me at all, you know how much I detest mice. No way would I have chosen to sleep in there. This is one of the big reasons that hiking the AT and sleeping in the shelters does not appeal. When I finally do hike that trail you better believe I will be tenting it.

Good to know…

On this side of the mountain the sun is shining and it’s like I am walking on top of the world. The morning light creates a haze in the valley below illuminating the many layers of mountains in the distance. I take in the view realizing I am in such an enormous place, it’s really difficult to grasp these mountains. There is just so much. I pass by a sign that says “ustud esta aqui” with an arrow pointing to my location. Good to know. Apparently this whole area is punctuated by the Maladeta Massif. That is what I would have been hiking through had the timing and weather worked out as I had hoped. As much as I’ve hinted at the fact that I have not fallen in love with this trail,  that region is something I would return for.

I’m walking on Sunshine

The trail meanders along the ridge and starts making it’s way down in sweeping, sloping bends. It’s a very well defined trail and less rocky than other passes. I feel very content just walking easily with the sun in my face and the views of all these mountains all around me. The air temperature is a comfortable 60F now and there is a slight breeze that still has a chill to it. All the elements converge to make this a quite pleasant, almost ethereal experience.

I know I’m not smiling but I am actually feeling really content in this photo…

Along the way down into the valley there is a little spring bubbling up right next to the trail. It’s so cute, I have never really seen one like this, it’s like soda water coming up from the Earth. I touch the water and it is really cold. Then I get to wondering if it is sulfuric. I scoop some water into my soft bottle and sniff it. Sure enough, there is a faint scent of sulfur, so I dump it out, I am sure it would not go over well to drink it. I love seeing the bubbling pure water coming up from underground though, this is a welcome message of the gifts of the Earth that one would never think about lest they venture to the far off places. It feels super special.

Sweet little sulfuric spring…
The colors and textures are quite dazzling

Before long I am dropping into trees again. I am so happy to get to walk among more pine trees. Oh my goodness they are so beautiful, they smell like vanilla and pine pitch and the way the sunlight passes through the coniferous boughs and branches is magical. I feel so happy about this. I am surprised because I had read that on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees it is much hotter and drier, being on the South side, and so far I have seen more trees here than anywhere else. These mountains are covered in thick, healthy forests. Water is rushing, trees are beaming energy into the sky, shade is abundant, sunlight glimmers in streaks, birds chirp their songs, cool fresh air swirls all around me. Its’ truly all I need.

All I need

I reach the Refugio de Viados just before noon. This is the end of the section and from here I follow the GR11 all the way to Benasque. I was once again having daydreams of getting a coffee and sitting at a table here, but it is very quiet. I’m sure that has to do with it being so late in the season. The entrance to the Refugio is open, yet I feel too shy to pop inside and ask for anything. I don’t feel like trying to communicate in Spanish right now, it feels like a lot of effort. Probably because I am hungry and while I had initially planned to stop here for my lunch break, the lack of humans makes me re-consider. I sit and take a five minute break in the shade, layer down, put on sunscreen, guzzle some water and decide to press on.

View leaving the Refuge

Leaving the Refugio the trail leads me through some countryside knows as the Granjas de Viados where a smattering of well conserved old barns dot the hillsides. One of them has a lot of mudy, wet hay inside and the stinks of pigs is nauseating. Blach!

Old barns in the Granjas de Viados area

I am climbing oh so gradually along the hillside covered in tall grasses and dried old thistle or some kind of flower that reminds me of the sunflower painting by Van Gogh. I am happy to see actual long grass, grass that has not been eaten and trampled over by livestock. The direct sun is blasting on me now and I am sweating quite a lot as I climb higher and higher, paralleling the Barranco de Anescruzes thankful there will be a really good water source ahead.

Long grass!!

There is a place up ahead called “the place where the three streams meet” so I decide I will push on to there for my lunch break. It’s going to take over an hour but oh well, I think it will be a special place to spend some time relaxing and worth waiting for.

Really great Feng Shui

When I get to the three streams point at 1:30pm I am more than ready for a lunch break and some shade, that climb was much longer and much hotter than I’d anticipated. There is a tiny little spot next to a rock right by the water’s edge where I sit down for an hour. It is a perfect rest break spot. The water is ice cold so I revel in the opportunity to make a small cup of iced coffee. I like the energy here and feel fortunate to get to sit here and soak it in for as long as I want.

Lunch break in the only shade

Leaving an hour later, I have a huge climb ahead of me. Of course the trail starts out on an extremely steep grade right out from the stream bed so I am really glad I fortified myself with food and caffeine.

Looking back toward my lunch spot
Super cool rock here

It takes an hour and fifteen minutes of steady climbing to make it 1,600 ft in only 2km, up to the pass called Puerto de Gistain at 8,438 ft (2572m). This pass is the gateway to the Valle de Estos and also one of the higher passes I’ve been through. Not surprisingly, the views are spectacular.

Puerto de Gistain 8,438 ft (2572m)

I am super hot, super sweaty and there is a chilly wind up here. My thermometer reads 60F but it feels so much colder. I quickly snap a few photos and jump down out of the wind. The views into the Valle de Estos are incredible, with really breathtaking color, texture and shadows from the clouds. I am feeling quite elated up here on this final pass. This is one of those moments when you really feel like you earned the special views you are getting, making it all the more memorable.

I will head toward the Puente de San Jaime tomorrow
Trail leaving the pass
This is so my jam

This is my last pass on the HRP for this trip, and in this moment the realization starts to sink in. I feel satiated that I get to have one last beautiful pass to accomplish and one last stunning long valley to drop into. This gives me a better feeling of closure, like I got as much out of this as I could despite having not made it into some of the terrain I had really hoped to see. From here it is a long ass way down, so here goes!

The upper section here is all rock. It’s a mix of some kind of shale and maybe granite and there is quite a bit of scree and rubble to trample over but generally there is a good trail that leads down into the basin among these towering massifs. I love this kind of scenery, it’s just breathtaking. I think I said that already, so now you know it must be true. It really is special. The surrounding mountains are full of varied colors from reds to yellows to greens and fifty shades of gray. The clouds that have rolled in also add texture, enhancing the dramatic effects of the light and beauty. Thank you clouds! Just don’t rain on me yet okay?

I am so thankful this is such a beautiful place as the descent is really long and tough going on the body. It’s one of those descents that makes you work, pounding and poundng down. I’m sweating going downhill in 60F weather, yet the scenery keeps my chin above water with how stunning it is.

When I am minutes away from the Refugio de Estos I stop to pee and put on my jacket. The clouds have rolled in some more and I am starting to wonder where I will sleep tonight and if it will rain. I am chilled from sweat and exertion and probably need to eat as my synapses don’t seem to be firing so fast anymore. I glance over the guidebook notes and discover this refuge does not allow bivouacing but they are supposedly open year-round.

Refugio de Estos 6,201ft (1890m)

Should I stop here and get a bed? It’s only 5:20pm and it feels way too early to stop hiking. The trail directs me right near the building and as I quietly slink by there is a dog barking wildly at me and coming really close to me. I hold my ground and the dog becomes skittish as I continue on the path acting unconcerned, yet I am actually relieved when the dog retreats.

I really don’t have a desire to stop here and chat with anyone. My Spanish is so minimal it would not make sense unless I wanted to stay the night and the place looks sort of deserted, so I just keep on going. Plus, I really want to sleep in my tent on my final night out here. A lovely spot tucked into the trees would suit me just fine. Perhaps with some water flowing in the backdrop? Perhaps with some views? Just putting that order up for the Universe!

The trail after the Refugio is a mix of dirt road tracks, sometimes with cement pavers, then it will re-enter a single track through a forest and then back into open pasture again. There are cows here and the evidence of them is quite alarming. The turf and dirt are all torn up, and there is cow shit everywhere again. It is crazy how much they damage a landscape. Several of them are on the trail and I have to nudge them to move out of my way. They are easy going cows and it’s not an issue thankfully.

Cabana del Turmo…no camping allowed here
aspects of this remind me of walking on the PCT in Oregon

By 6:30pm I am starting to really wonder where the heck I am going to sleep tonight. I am not worried but my eyes are starting to scan the landscape around me. There ain’t much, yet I know I will find something. I always do. Worst case, I can get to the Cabana de Santa Ana in another hour and maybe bivouac near there. I do have a vision that I will get to sleep in my tent tonight, but I don’t want to be visible to passers by along the dirt road. I need to be incognito.

I see a guy on a little quad buzzing up the road with supplies, his dog chases behind him both on the way up, then on the way down. There is a dude on a mountain bike, first going up and then going down. These are the only people I see here. I am in a thicker forest now with mixed trees and there are creeks and waterfalls everywhere. As I approach a bridge and happen to look up to the right I see what looks like a possible camp site connected to a faint trail.

I walk up the path to find a perfect little spot where people have clearly camped and cooked before. There are views of some nearby peaks that are now enshrouded by clouds. The best part is that I find a fantastic spot to pitch my tent even deeper into some trees, it is super stealth. I asked for ingognito, I got it!

Should it end up raining tonight, which it sure looks like it could, I will be very well protected and nobody will see me from the road. This spot feels super magical too, a veritable Faerieland with a rushing creek below me. I feel like a forest nymph crawling into my tree cave to sleep. It’s perfect! Thank you trail gods!

Views from my final campsite

It’s 60F still as I get my camp all set up. I am not cold at all anymore but I am tired. I hiked 19 miles today, the longest day on my entire trip. I am feeling the downhill on my left ankle as usual. That was a 3,300 ft drop since the pass and over 2.5 hours of rocky, poundng downhill. I am happy pitching my tent in the forest, careful not to snag anything on the tree branches, getting changed out of my sweaty clothes into dry sleep clothes, dry socks, my beanie, and down puffy, I am so comfortable and so ready to cook my last trail dinner.

Tenting in Faerieland

I carry my supplies over to the cooking area where there is a rock and some logs. I flop down on the ground and begin simmering my nourishment while enjoying the views. My last meal is dehydrated refried beans and curry couscous, I add hot sauce, coconut oil and top it with potato chips. This is one of my staple back country “quick” dinners as it doesn’t take much time to prepare. It is quite delicious, I never seem to tire of it! Once again, one of those things that was so worth bringing from home.

it doesn’t look like much but trust me

It is now 9:24 pm and I am in bed, tucked in, having my tea and I am tired, I feel the miles today and the vert. The sound of the creek rushing nearby is the perfect white noise for sleeping deeply tonight. I feel so protected and safe here in this cluster of trees, it’s absolutely ideal. Tomorrow I have only five miles to get to Benasque where I will surely be able to get a decent coffee, and who knows, maybe a pain au chocolat or whatever they call it in Spanish, oh I am so looking forward to that sweet reward to complete my hike!

11 thoughts on “HRP Day 12: all i need

  1. Happy to be on the trail with you again, Mary P. Sometimes I get tired of trying to keep up with your heft pace. Were you ever a backcountry Grand Canyon Field Institute instructor? LOL
    Dr. Rich (who was)

  2. It looks like paradise to me. You sure know what you want and you always find it! As usual, your photos are incredible!

  3. I have wondered why there is a deep love of the high sierra by so many people. For me it is the memories of many past times and the incredible beauty. But I think the main reason is the special high alpine area that you can see, only if you walk there. There is a strong pull from that area. I think you feel it too. I wonder what your thoughts are on that ! Curious Ed

    1. Indeed the beauty is unsurpassed, the memories for me are deep and rooted as well. I really think it has something to do with the light, Ansel Adams got it and showcased it better than anyone. The Range of Light is such an apt description, I think the way the trees are spaced out, allowing light into the forests, the granite reflecting the sunlight as well, and the water reflecting both the granite and the sky. Historically the Sierras have been synonymous with water, waterfalls, rivers, creeks, high alpine lakes, water that is so pristine, the clarity of the water, and that deep coalt sky at high altitudes are just so special. I just think the entire range is magical, and there is something even more special about the Sequoia/Kings Canyon as well as the Yosemite areas. I am so grateful these places exist in the wild way they do and that we can access them fairly easily…every time I have to leave, I am brought to tears…

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