Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Carros de Foc day 5, to Amitges, 7/19/09

Sometimes you absolutely make the right decision. Those are the very good days.

We slept reasonably well -- once we were able to fall asleep, I suppose -- and then got up early.  We headed outside to catch the sunrise from the lake, arriving at the crack of dawn.

It was beautiful, though...

Went back inside and had breakfast right at 7: bread, cheese, tomatoes, orange juice, hot chocolate – and then packed up to go.

There were two potential routes we could take from Blanc to Mallafre, a hostel we were not going to stay at but still needed to visit to the the stamp. The standard was was shorter, up and over the Monastero pass. But we had been told that it was the second worst pass of the circuit, behind only the pass on day 2... so weren't sure we were up for it.

farewell, Blanc!
We had looked at the maps and the route descriptions -- auto-translated from Spanish into English, which made them a little challenging to read -- and decided that the “option B” was our better choice. So we set off down the “road” from the hostel towards Espot. It was really steep, very rocky, and I found it difficult to believe that anyone could drive up it. But, later on, a Land Rover passed us, moving slowly. So down down down we went, while I extolled the wonders of a 1:25,000 map.

We got to the “water tank” (reservoir) and noticed a grassy road veering off to the left – but we couldn’t see the canal. We were sure it had to be the right road, however, so we set off. It was lovely and level and grassy, going up gradually, and very peaceful. We were hurtling along when Wil said “Maybe there’s water beneath us?” Sure enough, every 500 m or so we’d seen a concrete square in the path with a ring in the top. When we stopped and listened, we could hear water. Success!

I was still nervous about the semi-cryptic description: “When you get to the tunnels, go to the lowest side.” So we came to a tunnel …and walked through it. Oh, but there was another tunnel, looking very dark.

We put on our headlamps and ventured in. I freaked out at the first broken beam, but managed to continue to the site of the full cave-in. Yikes. We turned around and I hurried out of there.

So then we started to look for the path around the tunnel. The start was clear, but Wil climbed up, saw the sheer rock face, and said “I can’t do this.” I saw a small white square -- less than an inch square -- on a tree a few feet down the hillside, and then noticed some cairns. Magic! The route dropped quickly – I spent most of the first 5 minutes on my bum, sliding along – but then climbed as quickly. It was clearly marked, so only 10-15 minutes of terror. Then back on the main path – very lovely – until we came to tunnel #2. We were prepared by the map that it would be a longer detour, so we simply spotted the cairns and followed them around. Some small panic, but mainly very nice. Interestingly, there were multiple “blazes” of reflective tape on these detours – which leads me to think that the SkyRunners who do the circuit in one day do this route – probably at night – rather than cross the Monastero pass.

In the picture below, there's a small square on a rock near the butterfly -- that's the sort of "blaze" I'm talking about. Very small, and in daylight, very subtle.

Oh, but the butterfly was very pretty:

Once back on the road we were only a few minutes from Mallafre.

We walked around the corner to find our Swedish friends eating their picnics and getting ready to walk to Espot to catch a bus to Barcelona. They had had quite an adventure – told us how horrible the Monastero pass was. They said they were frightened, worried they would die, etc. So very happy we made our choice!

It was really nice to see them again, and to trade stories about snoring, farting, and spooning strangers. But we all needed to get back on the road, so we got our forfaits stamped and set off for Amitges.

We stopped at the San Maurici lake, the other “half” of the national park, and ate our picnics. No candy? What? And so many packaged foods? But who doesn't love the little oil-and-vinegar sachets?

In our semi-grubby state it was strange to see so many day trippers. But I guess it was a Sunday so we should have expected that. It's probably a good thing we were at J.M. Blanc the day before to ease us back into civilization. Oh, and so we could have showers...

We took the Swedes’ advice and went along the lakeside path to the waterfall. Weird again; we’re tromping along with big packs and there are people carrying handbags. Perhaps weirder were the people with walking poles and no packs.

We climbed up alongside the waterfall a for a while until we reached the forest road.

We walked along it, past lakes, waterfalls, and flowers. All the while it was climbing steadily. No shade, getting very hot, but at least it was even going. I had the sense that the hardest parts were behind us, and that we were absolutely going to make it. Which is funny because we had no exit strategy prepared if we thought we wouldn't! But this was a really nice, relaxed stretch of walking.

The last km or so was crazy steep – so steep I took this picture of a Land Rover inching down it. But we trudged on and on, occasionally passing someone coming down with a day pack, and cheering us on.

We had come up from that path in the valley:

Then – finally! – Amitges.

It’s gorgeous – and our fellow hostellers (who don’t seem to be going all the way round) were all nice Dutch families. We sat on the fantastic sun porch drinking sodas in the sunshine and cool breeze – marvelous. It’s beautiful here, surrounded by mountains and lakes and the sound of a waterfall.

We started the day with just 5 stamps in our forfaits; now we have 7! Very happy about that.

The next day's stretches look fine – the Swedish guy said the passes aren’t scary and I believed him – so it felt like we were nearly finished. I know it’s wrong to look forward to the end of things, but I was really looking forward to finishing. I knew I would be really happy this time the next day!

The refuge was spotless and spacious, and the location absolutely gorgeous. I thought Blanc was a beautiful hostel, but Amitges was amazing – fantastic sun deck, nice big restaurant, hot showers, (1 Euro), flush toilets, soft pillows, and some bunks downstairs that were "single" one-up-one-down affairs, and we managed to get a set of those.

Dinner was delicious – we had a potato soup to start (omnivores has some sort of pasta soup), and then the omnivores had a big lentil/sausage thing while we were given a big salad. Wil and I assumed that that was it… but then they brought out the mains. The omnivores had some sort of meaty gravy dish, while we had huge and delicious cheese crepes. Fantastic! Pears and cherries for dessert.

We shared a table with 2 French couples; 1 goofy funky old couple who were on a tour where someone else carried your bag while you walked; the other were on a short walking tour. They were very impressed by our CdF trek. :)

After dinner we saw deer of some sort near the dam – including a tiny baby one. Then to bed early, where I slept pretty well in the uncrowded dorm.

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