Sunday, October 20, 2019

Carros de Foc day 2, to Estany Llong, 7/16/09

Today was one of the most challenging days of my life. We set off on the trek to Estany Llong refuge at 7:30 - kind-of a rough night as I didn't sleep well with the snoring and the body heat of 60 roommates. But.. we were both feeling okay and ready for our trek.

Farewell, Ventosa i Calvell
The first bit was lots of boulders, so a full-body workout plus some scuffed legs, but okay. (We had seen people last night in the refuge with scuffed legs and not known what had happened. We started to understand.)

We were so busy holding on and trying not to break our ankles that we didn't take any photos of this stretch! Then we crossed a nice rolling stretch next to a stream and eventually a crystal clear (and bitterly cold) lake.

Another gentle(ish) uphill, but still not too bad.

Another little climb, another beautiful lake.

 But we knew there was a lot of climbing left...

Then there was a short stretch of snow. "Snow!" we thought, feeling amused.

We kept climbing, and kept climbing. A lot of scary stuff happened -- slipping, falling, but I think I'm blocking a lot of it out because I can barely remember the way up. We ended up chatting with 2 Swedish sisters, and we basically followed them slowly up to final push to the top of the pass. Absolutely terrifying, very steep scree. I was right behind Wil -- so close I could touch him -- and his feet were level with my eyes. I was walking pretty much upright, but had my hands and feet in contact with the hill. The elder Swedish girl started a small rockslide ahead of us, and all we could do was dig in and hope it missed us. Really scary stuff. There aren't many photos from this stretch, though we made a LOT of stops. For my own sanity, I would take a picture looking up...

... and another looking back down so I could see that we were making progress.


... and back down.


... and back down. 

Finally we reached the top of the pass and could look down the other side. 

After a very brief rest at the top (as the pass is very narrow), we had to start the descent. I suppose I should point out that it was described as a 4-6 hour stretch -- and the national park signage described it as a 5.5 hour stretch -- and we had already been going for over 4 hours. Possibly 5. An Englishman who joined our struggling party had the line of the day: "5 and 1/2 hours? Maybe if you're a condor!"

Down wasn't much better -- we went from a reasonably marked path to a rockfield devoid of cairns and covered in large patches of snow.

For the record, we came down that.

We had been following a French family and their dog for a bit, but we had lost them around a curve... around the same time we lost the cairns completely. Wil spotted an obvious cairn in that appeared to be in the wrong direction, but it was clearly well marked so it went somewhere. I was just worried it was going to the wrong somewhere -- a summit or something. But we took it and then stopped where it seemed unlikely.

But this meadow with sweet-natured milk cows made me happy.


We then saw the French family coming back up the other side of the gap we had crossed to follow our path... and they started to head over to us. Though I was worried they were following us on the wrong path, we waited till they caught up with us and chatted with them. The dad could see people coming up the trail, so he was sure we were on the right path. Or *a* right path. He told us that they got to the end of the spur and there was a 10-foot drop down a "little cliff", which he deemed "dangerous for the children". (Did I mention he had two little kids in tow?)

So we all started down -- over 500 meters of elevation, apparently -- but most of it was well marked and mainly grass or dirt. There was even one glorious meadow with a rushing river. It was the poster girl of paths.

the poster girl of paths

The Swedish Sisters were keen swimmers -- I had never heard of a "swimming holiday" before -- and this wild stream was irresistible to them as the day had gotten hot. So they waded in for a little splash. The thought of even wading in snow melt was enough for us to wish them well and say we'd see them at the refuge.

Then down down down some more, till we finally reached the other refuge -- which meant we had to climb up to the "forest road" and walk uphill to our refuge. Tiring, but we made it.

 Estany Llong!

This hostel seems smaller, but they have a fireplace and hot showers, and they had our beds reserved for us: bottom level, on the end. Awesome!

Today's walk was really scary and made us feel a bit unprepared. Still wondering how on earth the "skyrunners" -- the people who race one one day per year -- get around the circuit so fast. It had taken us 9 hours of hiking to get to the refuge.

I remember standing with relative strangers in front of the refuge as it got to be early evening (we had arrived around 4:30), staring up at the hill, straining our eyes looking for people we expected to see.

I also remember sitting in the main hall of the refuge seeing one woman with a huge scrape on her leg -- from her bum to her knee -- from the first stretch of boulders. And the dad of the Spanish family with a sore hand, which he realized might have a broken bone the next morning, it was so swollen.

Everyone said that this stretch is the hardest, however, so we were really happy to have it behind us, and to have come through unscathed. Day 3 would be the longest single stretch, but nowhere near as hard.

we were feeling lost when we took this, en route to Estany Llong

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Carros de Foc day 1, to Ventosa i Calvell, 7/15/09

We took the bus to Vielha the day before, staying overnight in a fancy hotel, wandering the town, and getting in position for an early start. I remember feeling anxious and worrying that we were unprepared, but feeling very excited. Here's a lightly edited recap written at the end of that first day on the trail. 

our view in Vielha
Got a good start today -- nice breakfast buffet at the hotel, lots of cheese and bread and fruit. Then we grabbed our bags and went downstairs to talk to the nice blonde who had been helpful yesterday. She let us put our big bags in storage for the week and even called the taxi -- "Jaime" -- and asked him to take us to the trailhead. He turned up with another passenger and a minivan, but it was 4WD and he was easily able to take us to the highest trailhead, just an hour's walk from Restanca.

adios, Jaime!

But what an hour -- it felt like we went straight up through the forest on a rocky but obvious path. Wow. Really steep. But everyone said that the first hour would suck.

So imagine how pleased we were to see the curve of the dam that forms Lake Restanca -- and to see the refuge across the top of the dam. Yay!

Little did we know that we'd be climbing over that pass soon...

The refuge stands next to this beautiful lake, and made both of us feel a bit sad that we hadn't just gone up yesterday for the night.

Still, we had a little look around and got our swag: a surprisingly cool black hat, our sleepsacks, our maps, and our disappointing "lightweight towels" (read: washcloths). Tiny panic when whey couldn't find the blank forfaits, but then we got them. Hooray!

We set off along the lake but then rapidly climbed (again!) alongside a waterfall up to Cap deth Port lake. Wheezy.

looking down to the lake where the refuge is located
Cap deth Port Lake
Lots of wild flowers and green plants -- reminded us a lot of Mount Rainier national park. We followed the lake for a bit on very nice paths.

But all too soon we started up through the boulder field to the Coll Crestada, which was really tough: very steep, careful stepping, and frequent breaks.

Oh, and see those small red and white stripes? That's the route marker.

Beautiful views -- I made us stop partway along for candy because I was out of breath and feeling tired.

It took us two hours to reach the summit... 

...but then, suddenly, we were headed down the other side. Much more pleasant, grassy rather than bouldery. We managed to take the correct path to the refuge -- a little alarming because I didn't see the other path. But oh well.

The red and white blazes changed to yellow-painted sticks, and there were fewer of them -- but also they weren't as necessary on the obvious path.

A few more ups and downs, then lovely trail past glorious lakes.

All greens and blues. Bright sunshine. Still, I admit that I got tired.

And seeing the refuge -- even after just 5 hours of hiking -- was a thrill.

Ventosa i Calvell is pretty -- beds upstairs (we got -- after some switching around, end, lower-level bunks) and tables downstairs. 

We got the info (dinner 7-8, breakfast 6:30-7:30) and our table assignments, then we bought a beer and a soda and went outside to relax and eat our well-deserved lunch.

Lovely to feel physically tired but not in pain after about 5 hours total hiking. Bright sun outside, wind whistling around the refuge. Really great day.

Here's me "excitedly" awaiting dinner.... our first... we had much to learn...

We came to love and trust these signposts. Distances between locations were rarely expressed in distances, just in hiking times. The next day we would be hiking to Refugi d'Estany Llong... 5h30'. Okay, so sometimes the timing was a *little* off...