HRP Day 13: and that’s a wrap

Sept. 23rd, 2022

Rio de Estes to Benasque:

5 miles to town + 3 town miles

When I wake it is still dark out. I did not need to set an alarm today as I am in no hurry to get to Benasque since I can’t check into my hotel until 4:00pm. I lay in bed reminiscing about my time here in the Pyrenees. I think back to the very beginning and then try to envision each day, what I saw, where I slept, especially the places I slept in my tent. I am so thankful I got to spend one more night in my tent.

It looks like a 2.5 mile walk to the road from here and then another 2 mile road walk to Benasque. The trail tread is coming to a close and now it’s a variation of rural countryside walkin on dirt tracks. While I am really excited to see Benasque, I am not sure how early I want to get there. I go outside to pee and take a look around and the sky is 100% clear right now. Even if it does wind up raining today, it is not happening anytime soon. It’s looking like I will make it unscathed.

Bridge near where I camped

No matter where I am, when I near the end of a long hike, I seem to have to peel myself away from the trail life when it’s over. I always go through a process of mourning. It’s a big shift to suddenly be sleeping in a bed, in a room with walls and having all the things I might need or want at my fingertips. It is always quite the adjustment to suddenly hear all the sounds of civilization. I immediately feel that frenetic interference buzzing all around me, causing me to re-build the energetic walls I spent the last weeks breaking down.

I feel like this journey was a tricky one for me emotionally and spiritually because that elevated state of bliss and connection with a wilderness was not easily found out here for me. I’m not saying one could not find it here or that it doesn’t exist, it’s just that for me it did not come to fruition simply being here. I have to say too, I am completely aware that I merely grazed the surface of the Pyrenees. Two weeks ain’t much time.

Really appreciating the sound of rushing water

The entire time I’ve been here in the Pyrenees I’ve struggled to connect with this land and it’s energy at the depth which I longed for. In the Sierra’s it comes instantly. Here, I think one needs to simply spend a lot more time and with less of a tight schedule. When you have to garner so much of your mental capacity on logistics such as reading a guidebook, navigating the many trails, speaking a foreign language, and worrying about catching a flight at the end of your journey, it all weighs on you in the background of your mind at all times.

In my initial planning I’d given myself 25 days to hike here, and then realized I couldn’t cover the entire 500 miles of the HRP in so little time, so I changed my plans in favor of returning for one more week in the High Sierras. I adjusted my plans for the Pyrenees in order to spend more time there. A choice I knew in my heart I would not regret.

I don’t necessarily intend to keep drawing comparissons between the Sierra Nevadas and the Pyrenees, yet, the Sierras are my point of reference. They are a place where I can step right into bliss. Where my energy field merges with the land and sky instantaneously. The Sierras are where I fell in love with mountains, the place where I cut my teeth solo hiking. The Sierras are Home and Heaven to me.

I have a hunch the section I had to skip here is one of the coolest sections on the HRP, with more elements of austerity and off trail navigation, fewer humans and more challenging passes. In fact, it’s described in other people’s HRP blogs as being similar to the Sierra High Route. Which is why I planned to go there. Perhaps next time I will return to Benasque and head into that section and give myself plenty of time to do so. That sounds like a good reason to come back. Perhaps now that I’ve  laid down a foundational understanding of this mountain range, I can return for  more of what they have to offer. Indeed, it is more than I realized and that is humbling.

Something you won’t find in the Sierra’s…not to compare… lol

When I start walking it’s around 8:30am, back to my old ways! I can see there are some thin clouds coming in now and I decide to send for a weather forecast from my InReach just out of curiousity. It says it will rain tonight 80% and tomorrow 98%. The next five days don’t go below a 42% chance of rain. I think I timed this just right!

Shortly, I pass the Cabana de Santa Ana, the back up plan for my tentsite last night. It’s actually pretty quaint and there is a good place to bivouac here, but I am super happy with where I camped, my little spot in the tree faerieland was pretty cool.

Cabana de Ssnta Ana

It’s really nice to walk and just follow signs and waymarks, a definite change from the focused navigation I’d been doing all along. It’s a lovely and gradual downhill on a dirt/rocky track that generally follows the river raging below. At one point the river turns into a giant gorge and there is a dam to catch the water. I am still surrounded by a beautiful, thick forest, there is a damp chill to the air and an inkling of Fall permeates the forest. Several people are hiking up the hill, some are day hiking and some carry backpacks as if they will stay overnight, I’m guessing they will sleep at a refugio with all the rain that’s on it’s way.

The gorgeous gorge

I follow the signs until I apparently reach the Puento De San Jaime, which all the signs point me to, and I can’t even tell what it is when I get there except I cross a bridge and suddenly I am in civilization. I check for cellular service and get a decent signal so I can finally download Spanish on Google Translate (you would think I had already done this but I didn’t). Even with growing up in S. California and working in restaurants, my Spanish is pretty limited and now I’ve got to switch my brain from defaulting to French. Brain cramps!

Made it to civilization!

I am now in civilization and the footpath to Benasque is surprisingly lovely. I was expecting a road walk and it is actually a nice trail/walkway, yay! There are plenty of signs and it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to town proper. As soon as I arrive at the North end of town I meet a gentleman in running attire who really wants to talk with me. He is very enthusiastic and I can tell he spends time in the mountains. We chat in broken Spanglish for several minutes and eventually he shows me photos of his hike up to Aneto (11,168 ft/3404m), the highest peak in the Pyrenees, which is near here. He is wearing a running vest and has one large wooden walking stick. His eyes sparkle and I get an immediate feeling of kinship. It is a very warm welcome to town. I wonder if I will ever see him again?

Will be taking the bus to Barbastro tomorrow

I walk into the first narrow street I come to which is completely built of stone. As I wander along I see windows covered with iron bars or sometimes wooden shutters, occasionally there are pots with colorful flowers and here and there an old lantern or some laundry hanging on a line. It feels like a scene from a movie to my American mind. I see a couple who are carrying backpacks, they pass right by me and abruptly hang a left into an establishment that I take to be their hotel.

Streets of Benasque

They look like they know exactly what they are doing. A moment later I see someone else coming out from that same building with a baguette in hand. Aha, it’s a bakery! Do you know one of the first things I typed into my Google Translate was “where is the bakery?” Well I found it! I pop inside and order a Chocolate Croissant, or in Spanish Croissant de Chocolate, my first of this entire trip! I can’telieve it took me this long to find one, when I was hiking in the French Alps in 2015 I was indulging in Pain Au Chocolat every few days. That is where I got hooked on them. And rightly so. I order a coffee as well and sit at a table charging my phone as I transition into town life. I think I can handle this!

This is so my jam
Snacks for later

After about 45 minutes of sitting I decide to walk around town a bit. It’s almost noontime now and I have four hours to kill before I can check into my hotel. Instead of using my map to navigate on my phone I choose to wander around aimlessly and enjoy the slow process of discovery. It is a really small town with shops, restaurants and hotels around the perimeter whilst housing seems to be more on the interior or center of the village. 

The town is situated next to the Rio Estes and has great views of the mountains all around. It is very quaint yet definitely a tourist town as I notice there is a ski/mountaineering/bike shop around every corner. Literally. There are plenty of restaurants as well and the parking spots are full except I don’t see too many people around. Actually, it’s oddly quiet here.

Clouds are rollin’ in…

I walk the entire perimeter of town before meandering over to my hotel which is way fancier than I expected. I have to pee so bad so I find the bathroom in the back past the lobby. I feel way out of place in here. A woman dressed to the nines watches me rinsing off my face at the sink and I become very self aware. I am so stinky and dirty. I hope she realizes I am a hiker. I am feeling so hiker trashy right about now. Normally I have a certain pride about that, however the concept of celebrating one’s hiker trash status is really specific to the niche sub-culture that the dirt bag life is. I think the hiker culture here is a bit different!

Definition of quaint

I finish up and make my way back out to the lobby and outside again. I wander down the sidewalk past several more gear shops and such, then find another coffee/pastry shop to duck into. This time I order a Cortado which is much more to my liking than the coffee I got earlier, it consists of a nice, strong Espresso with just a touch of steamed milk. I also get a spinach and cheese empanada. The people are very friendly here, the coffee really hits the spot and the owner of the shop gives me a complimentary chocolate!

Cafe Laminero
Switching from sweet to savory

Now that I am fully caffeinated, I feel ancy and decide to wander over to the bus station so I know where to be tomorrow to catch my ride to Barcelona. Well wouldn’t you know, but when I get there, I find Katrein! We are so surprised and happy to see each other and we exchange hugs. Turns out she stayed at the Refugio Estos last night, the Refuge I didn’t bother stopping at.

To think if I’d chosen to stay there I would have been able to visit with her more. She had a pleasant stay there with just three other people and had a nice meal too. I have no regrets about how and where I spent my last night on the HRP but I am glad to see her again. We sit and talk for an hour and finally it begins to rain. This is my queue to head back to my hotel. Katrein and I exchange contact information and wish each other well with another solid hug. I hope she gets out to hike the PCT one of these days!

Rio Estos near the bus station

At my hotel they allow me to check in early and that is wonderful since it’s now pouring rain. Good timing! The room is very clean and perfect for my needs. Now that I have Wifi, I chat on the phone for a good while with one of by best friends from back home. Prince is his trail name, and we met on the PCT in 2016. We have hiked over 1,000 miles together and have been through some real stuff together. A bond forged in the mountains and one that will last us a lifetime.

Having this conversation is really good for me as he is the first person from back home I’ve spoken with since leaving the US nearly a month ago. Eventually, I take a shower and in true hiker trash high fashion I put on my rain gear to head into town. I am in search of a laundromat as I don’t want to offend passengers on the pulic transportation with my stinky hiker clothes.

The laundromat is an experience, let me tell you. Conceptually it’s pretty cool and quite modern. They have vending machines that offer food to heat in a microwave, provided, and a hot coffee machine with 17 different drink options. Six of them are coffee drinks, then the same in decaf, and then hot chocolate, hot chocolate with milk, hot milk, broth and hot water.

A new experience

The washing machines however, are very very confusing. There are only two machines, for two different weights of clothing, and one dryer. Thank goodness there are English instructions on how to use the machines, but still I mess up and it costs me about 14 Euros to do my tiny little load. I made a mistake at first paying 4 Euros to just air fluff my clothes because I picked the cheapest setting. It was pretty funny actually. These things just happen. I try to ask a woman there for help and even she says it was confusing for her too. I feel better after that. Expensive load of laundry!

While I sit at the laundromat I decide to calculate my mlieage and elevation gain over the past 13 days. I come up with 150 miles and 42,335 ft of vertical gain. Until this point I had no idea what I’d done, just that in the past couple days the climbing was beginning to feel burdensome to my legs. It’s that unique combination of tired and strong that only climing mountains can get you. The John Muir Trail, which I figure people reading this will have some familiarity with, has a vertical gain of about 46,000 ft over 211 miles. The JMT is roughly at a higher elevation on average but the HRP has more vertical change per mile. So what I’m trying to say is that my hiker hunger has kicked in.

I’m so glad we have Google here. Honestly. I search and find a restaurant that serves salads and hamburgers so that sounds perfect and it’s only a six minute walk from the laundromat. The restaurant is called Llinadet and is tucked into a little corner off of a larger courtyard in the maze of cobblestone streets and tall buildings. When I get there it is very quiet, so much so that I wonder if it’s going to be any good. At any rate, it is 8:40pm and I do not want to start my restaurant search all over again, so I try my luck and pop inside.


There is one gentleman sitting at the bar counter alone and another table with four women and a child drinking some beers. I ask for a table for one and am pointed to a four seat table. I already know what I want since the menu is posted online. I waste no time and order a Salad Mediterranean and a Hamburguese with a fried egg and a glass of Spanish wine for 1,80 Euro. The most expensive glass of wine they have is 2,50 Euro. Wild. Within about five minutes a group of eight walks in and gets a table, then another few minutes and a group of four walks in. There are no tables for four, so I give up my table for them and sit at a little stool at a very small table which suits me just fine. When my food comes, another group has arrived, a group of six. This place is fillling up fast!

My food arrives and the salad has tuna on it. Did not expect that. I work my way around it as I can’t fathom eating all this tuna plus a hamburger with a fried egg on top. I need my protein but bot that much. I am really craving vegetables, fresh vegetables. Mostly the salad consists of iceburg lettuce which I am not a huge fan of but it is fresh and refreshing and hits the spot. It also has several wonderfully ripe bright red tomatoes that are delicious and some really lovely fermented black olives with pits, that suit my taste.

That’s a fair bit of tuna

When the burger comes not only does it have a fried egg but it has ham on top too. Did not expect that either. Protein overload! The meat of the burger is pale, it’s totally different than an American burger, I am pretty sure it is not beef. I choose to remove the bun and eat it with a fork and knife. It does me some good and the wine is quite delicious, so much so that I order another glass. They are very small servings, maybe 3 oz each, so I figure my body can metabolize that without any ill effects.

Burger + ham + an egg
Amazing wine at 1,50 Euro per glass
And that’s a wrap!

The place is buzzing by the time I leave and when I exit the building it is pouring rain. I finally get to use my new rain jacket! I can’t help but flash back to one of Prince’s favorite songs he plays on his trail Ukelele, Purple Rain, the song for which he got his trail name on the PCT. It really became our theme song in 2016. As I walk, my mind plays back the memories as Prince’s version of the song is flowing through my mind “It’s pouring rain outside, it’s pouring rain outside, it’s pouring rain outside and I don’t mind…all I ever wanted was to love you, all I ever wanted was to kiss you, all I ever wanted was to hold you in the pouring rain“. Oh the feels!

It’s less than 10 minutes to walk back to my hotel but I get pretty wet. My feet in particular are soaked and I am already wearing my rain pants so that worked out. It’s almost 11:00pm now and way past hiker midnight. I am pooped to say the least. I am so ready to sleep. I can hardly believe my hike in the Pyrenees is over, yet I am so full of gratitude for all that it has been.

Earlier today as I walked into town, I was feeling that sadness for this hike coming to a close and how I didn’t ultimately get to see the places I wanted to see the most. However, the flip side of that is I still have 19 days of vacation left. It doesn’t seem like much yet it also does. Especially since in those 19 days I will be spending a day in Barcelona, going back to Switzerland to see Anne for a couple days, then flying home to California and seeing my Dad for a couple days, then finally hiking for a full week on the Sierra High Route with Rockin’. She and I are planning to hike the section I have been trying to get to for the past four years (etween Bishop and Mammoth). I am so excited for it! My life is truly blessed. I still have so much to look forward to and the Gratitude overflows.

10 thoughts on “HRP Day 13: and that’s a wrap

  1. Hi M
    I can feel your sense of melancholy that accompanies your conclusion to this — and any — backcountry trip. It’s difficult to articulate, but you do a good job of sharing that sensation. I can relate a little with the issue of not enough “wildness.” On the surface it seems like more encounters with some civilization might be cool…definitely reduce the hassles of when and how to resupply, but the tradeoff for that is clearly to dampen the sense of disconnecting. Anyway, kudos on finishing in time to catch your bus, and best wishes on your next Roper segment. Anxious to hear about that as I’ve done pieces of that section myself. Take lots of your awesome photos and be safe…this year promises lots of snow. 🙂

    1. Hi Tom! It has been really fun indeed to reflect and write about my time in the Pyrenees, and in retrospect the trip was quite enjoyable, even if not as wild as I prefer, though I am very excited now to start my trip reports from the final Roper segment, coming soon!

  2. Just finished reading all 13 entries. Took me a couple of sittings in a couple of days Mary P. I was wondering why the refuges seemed so close together but you’re vertical calculations explained it. That’s a lot of vertical elevation change you did.
    I notice it rains there at least during your stay quite a bit. Reminds me of when I was in the smoky mountains last year I guess clouds are attracted to mountains. This year I plan on staying in the smoky mountains longer just to cover the rain days.
    Anyway, I agree with you about how colorful it is up there that is one of my dream destinations. I’m more familiar with Spanish than I am French, though. Had no idea there was so much ranching up there.
    Anyway, thanks again for another engrossing read. Your navigating &. Logistic skills are very good. Hope you enjoy your Sierra trip.

    1. Wow Diego, that is quite the undertaking, I hope the journey took you to many wonderful places! I have never been to the Smokies, sounds like a truly magial place, I look forward to getting out there some day…I am going to post about the Sierra trip next!

  3. Ah, Mary Poppins. Now THAT is a true declaration of love. What a beautiful description of the high sierra. It could have come only from someone who has spent much time there. The sierra has given so much to so many people. We all need to return the favor. Protect this p!ace! Make Yosemite and Kings Canyon larger so they connect. We all enjoy a campfire, but no matter how careful we are a small spark is all it takes. Should we have campfires or a forest? Imagine how many people are having fires in the forest. Ouch! Enough of my rantings. I think you were going to the bear lakes area. Curious to know how it was. Enjoy your mountains. Ed

    1. Hi Ed! As always thank you for your comment, it is great to connect with people who share the same deep appreciation and knowledge for and of the Sierras. Yes, you are correct, we did head through the Bear Lakes area, it will be coming in a few posts from now so keep on the edge of your seat!

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