Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Friday 17 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 33 - Ordino - Hotel Coma (1360 metres) to Encamp - Can Fontbernat  (1330 metres)

 
 
 
 
Distance: 10 km (Cum: 569 km)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 31900 metres)

Time taken: 4.0 hrs including 0.3 hrs stops (Cum: 234.0 hrs including 46.8 hrs stops)

Weather: hot and sunny

A morning spent mainly on more of the same - pleasant forest paths.

The Brick felt much less like a brick this morning. There wasn't much food in it. But I feel weary. And that's after the shortest day since my day off in Benasque. My feet are recovering though.

Setting off after a leisurely breakfast at around 9.30, the sky was as blue as ever, though after last night's rain it seemed a little cooler. The forest path was lined with the usual wide array of wild flowers, with the orchids looking rather tired, but the bright flowers of dark red heleborine were looking cheerily chirpy.

Two mountain bikers whizzed down the hill as I ascended a path that was ideal for that particular sport (in a downhill direction only).

The 1983 metre Coll d'Ordino is at the top of a road pass. It has views towards an assortment of Andorran peaks, their high snow patches glinting in the hazy sun. Cyclists and walkers were enjoying being there.

A signpost indicated the way to Encamp. Two paths led in that direction. I chose the more heavily used path and followed some 'CI' signs. After twenty minutes it occurred to me that I was on a contouring path (Circular Itinerary?). Returning to the col, and the other path, a GR11 marker soon appeared and I made my way down to the rather large town of Encamp, wandered around it for a while, and eventually found Tobi and André at a pre-arranged rendezvous. Sorry I was a bit late chaps, and thanks for the beer.

Tobi is German German and André is French Swiss. Their common language is English. That's not inconvenient from my point of view. They had kindly rented an apartment for three at Can Fontbernat in a part of town that even Humphrey couldn't complain too strongly about.

After a restful afternoon for us all, beer o'clock has arrived and as a little 'extra' André has just been served tripe - proudly produced by the owner, who points to sheep on the hillside whose children's stomachs are now being eaten!

The owner and his wife then proceeded to showcase their culinary skills. We chose only two of the five starters on offer, so they brought us tasters to show us what we'd missed!

A lovely evening, spent with two like minded 'men of the mountains' and our most genial Andorran hosts.

Today's pictures:
A typical path from today
View back to our route into Andorra from Coll d'Ordino
Encamp
Can Fontbernat

Since the phone signal doesn't seem to support data any more, it may be two to three days before the next episode, when wifi is next available.

Next Day - Day 34

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Friday, 17 July 2015

Thursday 16 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 32 - Coma Pedrosa valley (2270 metres) to Ordino (1360 metres)

 
 
 
 
 
Distance: 18 km (Cum: 559 km)

Ascent: 900 metres (Cum: 31200 metres)

Time taken: 8.8 hrs including 2.5 hrs stops (Cum: 230.0 hrs including 46.5 hrs stops)

Weather: hot and sunny, but clouding over at 4 pm, with a few spots of rain that came to nothing. Thunder and lightning with rain later.

A day spent mainly on pleasant forest paths, if a little steep (even thrutchy) at times.

On another bright, clear, hot morning I soon decided that bandaging the feet would be a good idea. It was, the bandages worked.

A rocky path led past Rifugi de Comapedrosa and down to Arinsal. There were many day walkers coming the other way, most of whom asked me how long it would take them to get to the Refuge.

A trudge through the streets and building sites of Arinsal was followed by a steep climb along the Cami del Coll de les Cases path. There were lots of wild strawberries. I hadn't seen those for a while. Also lots of wood ants intent on exploring stationary objects. So it was best to keep moving. The broad col at 1958 metres, with lots of fading St John's Wort was a pleasant enough spot to pause for a while.

There weren't too many views. That's a bit of a problem in a pine forest.

The descent to Arans was ... steep.

Arans turns out to be a small village on the main road. I chose the Font d'Arans restaurant for lunch because it was clear that it had wifi and I'd been incommunicado since yesterday morning. (More phone problems - I can now phone home but I'm unable to get to the EE website to buy any megabyte usage. So I'm having to rely on wifi, which is also refusing to connect where I am now.)

"We aren't open until 1 pm" said the elderly lady. I retreated for a few minutes of essential faffing and went back in.

" A coke please?"

"You'll find it cheaper from the machine outside" she retorted. The machine might have looked broken but it produced a cold can of coke for a euro.

Menu of the day (€10) comprised a huge mixed salad, a Sunday dinner sort of chicken dish, and a bowl of lemon sorbet. It was excellent. The proprietor, Nicole, talked all the way through it. She and her husband had lived in Chicago for twenty years. Of French origin they had then moved to Andorra. They now want to retire, so anyone interested in taking on a restaurant for forty covers, with a two bedroomed flat and two more bedrooms for staff should check that they have €50000, then contact Nicole via www.monvirtual.com/fontdarans/

I showed Nicole the blog entry that I'd been compiling as we chatted.

"You could make a book out of that" she observed.

Not this time, Nicole.

It was 2.30 by the time my coffee cup was empty and I'd found time to post yesterday's diary entry. So getting to Encamp looked a little optimistic. Pleasant paths through more pine forest drew me towards Ordino, to where I descended after it suddenly clouded over and I felt a few drops of rain.

The only person I saw was a lady dragging herself very slowly up the hill above Ordino. She looked exhausted.

There were many side paths. I'm sure GR11 chooses just one of many possible woodland routes hereabouts.

Two horses, and later a horse and a donkey, were lovingly swishing their tails in each other's eyes in a futile effort at fly control. Shouldn't they be offered fly nets?

I was knocking on the door of Hotel Coma by 5 o'clock and I was sitting on my balcony consuming the contents of my room's mini bar shortly afterwards. This time there was plenty of soap, and a lot of dirt was extracted from my clothing.

The evening was spent at Casa Leon with beer and pizza and the excellent company of Tony and Evie, two of very few English people I've chatted to since leaving Irun, apart from during the Collett's interlude in Panticosa. Originally from the Midlands, they spent many years in Bermuda before retiring to the south of Spain. They love it in Ordino, where it's a bit cooler than at home. It was a pleasure to meet you, T and E, and thank you for inviting me over to join you.

A stroll back along the pleasant main street saw me resume what seems to be this entire trip's ongoing battle with the internet whilst watching an impressive electrical storm from my balcony. In fact the wifi issue may be resolved from the balcony!

Today's pictures:
Looking back up towards Portella de Baiau from below Rifugi de Comapedrosa
A rare water powered Massey Ferguson tractor in Arans
Ordino from the descent path
Horses above Ordino
Ordino's main street (in a possibly futile effort to glamourise Andorra!)

Next Day - Day 33

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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Wednesday 15 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 31 - Àreu (Casa Besoli) to Coma Pedrosa valley (2270 metres)

 
 
 
 
 
 
Distance: 18 km (Cum: 541 km)

Ascent: 1800 metres (Cum: 30300 metres)

Time taken: 9.5 hrs including 1.7 hrs stops (Cum: 221.2 hrs including 44.0 hrs stops)

Weather: some high cloud and a very light breeze has made life a little more comfortable today; only 24C at 2300 metres. The weather is finally changing, bringing better walking conditions but probably also some (much needed) rain.

This was another brilliant mountain day once the tree line above Àreu had been cleared. Welcome to Andorra.

But back to last night. Alone in Casa Besoli's dining room I was first brought almost equally large jugs of water and of quite acceptable red wine, plus a basket of bread. Then a massive bowl of noodle soup with a ladle. I ate as much as I could (about a third) before giving up in the interests of saving myself for another course. That was the mixed salad, with lots of olives and some very juicy tomatoes. Whilst I was ploughing through that, a plate of four large sausages in a tomato and onion sauce arrived. It was nice to be able to work on both plates (and read Gayle's blog) at the same time. When those plates had been emptied I was brought another one with a good slice of tasty cheese, and a final plate holding a giant peach. A lovely meal - just a shame I had nobody to share it with...

Sausages seem to be the staple diet in this part of the world. It seems ages since the days of eggs and bacon in the Basque country.

Breakfast was a more spartan affair. It usually is, but I tend not to want very much anyway. In these parts it's basically orange juice and as much toast and jam and tea or coffee as you want.

My sore feet disturbed my sleep again last night, so I bandaged them up this morning and limped off with the usual 'grit' in my shoes. Bizarrely, after 9.5 hours on the trail, the bandages have come off my feet and for the first time in over a week they don't feel excessively sore! The cooler weather may have helped.

It was nice to see something actually going on in Àreu, as most of the small hamlets GR11 passes through seem to be dead. John Deere was mowing a field, and another large field was full of irrigation channels - just for the hay crop. I found all the cows later.

The conditions are obviously suited to mulleins, which were growing up to about ten feet high in the verges.

Before long, tarmac gave way to dirt and that track was left in favour of a lovely woodland trail that reminded me of the best bits of Macclesfield Forest. You had to keep moving to avoid the biting flies though.

After a while I met a couple of gents from Paris coming the other way. They had Enormous rucksacks. They were concerned about camping in the Aigüestortes National Park. Apparently both camping and bivouacing are banned. What we do is technically bivouacing, which is allowed in most places, subject to certain restrictions that aren't an issue (eg you should be at least an hour from a road). But the Aigüestortes people object to anyone sleeping out. Apparently if they catch you - and they have people assigned to that task - it's a €450 fine. That's one reason why I passed through that Park so quickly, albeit taking the risk at Port de Ratèra. [I'm not sure how much truth there is in all this - plenty of people are sleeping out in the Park and I have yet to come across a report of anyone actually being fined.]

Anyway, I ambled on up the path, gently ascending to the cackle of the nutcrackers and the rush of the waterfalls across the valley. After three hours I reached a large car park at the end of the dirt road that GR11 skilfully avoids. That provides easy access to Refugi de Vallferrera, which I had no reason to visit.

So I headed on in stunning mountain scenery, to Pla de Baiau for lunch. On previous HRP visits our route had touched this point but we had entered Andorra via Port de Boet slightly north of the GR11 route. So I'd not previously been up the 'nippy little scree slope' that Humphrey's notes so elegantly describe. But before that - I'd escaped from the woodland flies and had a most relaxing time. I was in no hurry as I planned to camp up at Estanys d'Escorbes where Humphrey had his defining moment with the horses swimming across the lake in the night.

When I got there I disturbed a herd of over twenty izard (like chamois), and the horses were all there in their swimming costumes. And there were hundreds of cows. No wonder they need lots of hay in Àreu!

I wandered around for ages and sat for half an hour in a likely spot absorbing the ambience of the place, but it was only 2.30 and there would certainly be biting insects and marauding cows later.

Nearby is the metal box with nine bunks - Refugi de Baiau. Some, like Tobi, feel compelled to stay there for the experience. I feel compelled not to succumb to that experience, especially when there's a chance of ten students turning up at the door. Which is what would have happened.

So I decided to hop over the Portella de Baiau and into Andorra. I soon met a couple of day walkers, then the ten heavily laden students, some of whom were clearly not happy with life.

Looking back, I'm not surprised. The ascent to the pass was over a large boulder field followed by Really Steep Scree. It wasn't easy. How the students managed to get down without a major incident I don't really know.

The other side of the pass, unlike my scary experience getting into Andorra two years ago, was easy. I descended to a lake where 45 children were playing (so they'll be staying in Refugi de Comapedrosa - I think I'll give that a miss). From there an easy walk took me into Coma Pedrosa, a classic hanging valley. A flat site for the tent was found at 6 pm, but I waited for an hour until the children had gone past before putting the tent up. I didn't want to set a bad example by blatantly ignoring the bivouacing rules, but it probably wouldn't have mattered. Anyway, I was happy on my little rock.

The sun soon dropped behind the mountains, so no overheating occurred.
The usual delicacies have been enjoyed, but tonight I have a real treat. A bar of chocolate I bought in Benasque is finally solid enough to eat! It's delicious, albeit about twice it's original surface area.

Today's pictures:
Casa Besoli
A huge mullein plant - note the walking poles
The view to Portella de Baiau from Estany de Baiau - you can just see the 'path' snaking up the scree
Looking back into Spain from Portella de Baiau
My excellent campsite in the Coma Pedrosa
My not so sore and rapidly repairing (I hope) toes

Next Day - Day 32

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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Tuesday 14 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 30 - Tavascan (Casa Feliu) to Àreu (Casa Besoli)

 
 
 
 
Distance: 16 km (Cum: 523 km)

Ascent: 1350 metres (Cum: 28500 metres)

Time taken: 8.5 hrs including 2.0 hrs stops (Cum: 211.7 hrs including 42.3 hrs stops)

Weather: sunny and boiling hot

I saw one other walker today, a chap coming along GR11 the other way just above the hamlet of Boldis Subira. He asked me if there was a pub there. "No, the place is completely deserted, but the first water point you come to is the best."

The others were long gone by the time I got my breakfast at 9 am. They must have sorted out an early start whilst I was wrestling with changing rooms, and elephants in the roof. I was glad of the lie in.

Whilst today's walk had its fair share of belvedere or gently graded paths, it also had copious doses of the up and down thrutches I was expecting yesterday. Starting past the old bridge, then across the river - 400 metres of genuine steepness to get to a lovely belvedere path that's the counterpart to yesterday's 'spectacular high level traverse' on the other side of the valley.

The path is a bit crumbly, but wires have been inserted in a few places to make life easier.

I was just pottering along, and stopped for quite a while to commune with a few folk.

- David sadly won't be able to join me after Andorra, so this will be a genuinely solo crossing apart from the excellent day with Harry from Panticosa. I'm still hoping to see David when I finish.

- Conrad, we exchanged comments about 'the simple life'. Ironically, just after that the stitching that anchors the top of one of my rucksack straps to the rucksack gave way. This is fairly fundamental to carrying the load. I've managed a temporary fix but it's a worry. The rucksack came FOC for review, which can now be a cradle to grave review. "Low durability." The only other gear issues that I can think of now are the silk liner that (as usual) has become a tube, and the Pacerpole tips that (as usual) have disappeared up their own backsides.

Humphrey kindly sent me a long message with lots of info about Girona. It sounds like a great place to visit, but perhaps with Sue. I should, feet permitting, finish this trip earlier than planned, but I don't really want to commit to anything other than the train home, and I might even try to change that if it's possible. I'm still referring to a long list of comments that Humphrey sent me ages ago. I should have tried the hotel restaurant here in Àreu, just for the hell of it!

I also caught up with Mick and Gayle's exploits on GR10. They are enjoying better weather than we did in 2013, though I'm not sure how the bloodthirsty basajaun of the Baztan Forest will take to them camping on his patch.

The belvedere ended at the deserted hamlet of Boldis Subira, where I failed to take on enough water. I managed, but what remained of my litre after the col ahead tasted like hot bath water.

Lunch was taken on the corner of a switchback, and I dried out the tent and washed (so that's where the water went!) and bandaged my feet, which looked and felt horrible. The bandaging seems to have worked slightly, and one foot is definitely on the mend.

The forest track was pleasant enough, but the steep ascents and later descents were really quite tiring and hard on the feet.

I startled a deer - red deer sort of size - in the forest, and at the high point of the day, 2243 metre Coll de Tudela, I was surprised to find a caravan and 4WD together with signs about dangerous dogs. They must keep sheep up here, but I didn't see any.

Sore feet took my mind off much else as I steeply and slowly descended 1000 metres to the hamlet of Àreu. Given the heat I opted for the easy life and checked in at Casa Besoli. Sue's crib sheet helped and I established the following - prices are for Rosie's benefit, they are probably similar to Refugio prices.
Room (en suite but no soap) €25
Dinner (cena) 9 pm €15
Breakfast (desayuno) 8 am - €4

There's no bar here, so I went back to a bar for a coke and a beer, and picked up some supplements for wild camping from the well stocked little shop with a friendly proprietor who has a few more words of English than I have of Spanish.

Again for Rosie's benefit, a coke, a beer, two packets of soup and a banana cost €5 in total. But some of the Rifugios charge €3 for a coke.

There's no sign of Martin - perhaps he's at the campsite, nor of the Spanish dad who is doing GR11 in around 36 days with his 12 year old son. They may have gone ahead of me today. Their routine is to get up at 5 am and set off pre-dawn, enjoy a  siesta when they arrive at their destination, then emerge for the evening, before going to bed after 11. So they have two long sleeps each day...

The current Cicerone guide continues to be excellent and seems to be used by all non Spanish nationalities. It's 'The Bible'. But over the past three sections my altimeter has noticed some possible errors. Rosie and her partner may be pleased to hear that the combined ascents of 4600 metres on stages 26 to 28 are overstated by around 800 metres. It's a pleasant surprise, but strangely I found the combined day of 26 and 27 easier than the shorter day 28. Perhaps it was just my feet that found that out...

Another thing, the refuge at Estaon (which I missed) comes highly recommended, as does the slightly off route Refugi d'Amitges on stage 24.

Not much to say about views (hazy) or flowers (unexceptional apart from some giant broomrape specimens) today.

Today's pictures:
The old bridge at Tavascan
This moth/butterfly spent a very happy half hour harvesting my hand
Rucksack problems
The view down to Àreu from below Coll de Tudela

Next Day - Day 31

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Monday 13 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 29 - La Guingueta d'Àneu (Nou Camping) to Tavascan (Casa Feliu)

 
 
 
 
Distance: 23 km (Cum: 507 km)

Ascent: 2050 metres (Cum: 27150 metres)

Time taken: 10.2 hrs including 1.7 hrs stops (Cum: 203.2 hrs including 40.3 hrs stops)

Weather: I could have fried eggs on the rocks

Camping next to a children's playground in Spain. I should have known better. Spanish children play until midnight. And they took delight in tripping over my guy lines.

I didn't hurry this morning. My plan was for a leisurely start and a thrutch up and down to Estaon. That didn't transpire. Instead of a thrutch it was a steady ascent and descent on ancient paths reminiscent of those found on the GR10 route.

I started past the Panta de la Torrassa lake, with fishermen reflected in the still waters, past a machine gun nest built by Franco between 1947 and 1952 as part of his Pyrenean defence line. It seemed quite strange to me, not knowing very much about Spanish history.

The ascent did start off up a fiendishly steep path, but it soon saw sense and assumed a more sensible gradient.

Dorve provided my last water for the morning. By the time I reached Estaon what was left of it tasted like warm bath water. Today's temperatures were around 30 to 35C but with a light breeze it didn't seem too bad.

The hamlet of Dorve was full of incomplete buildings, with nobody around until I heard banging and crashing from one of the buildings. A brown cat appeared and ran off, the only inhabitant.

Guide book writer Brian says this is the easiest place on GR11 to get lost. Not with the new signposting. Just follow the signs to Lo Caubo.

I caught up with a French trio with day sacks at the first col, Collado de la Serra, from where there were views back to what I imagine are the iconic twin peaks of the Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes. Humphrey has alerted me to them as follows:

"By now you'll have passed through the St Maurici National Park, which is probably my favourite region of the range, bar none. The iconic twin peaks – Los Encantados (The Enchanted Ones) have their own legend. It seems that a couple of the boys decided to skip Sunday mass and go off after ibex instead. As a result they got turned to stone."

There were so many mountains and lakes. These two skipped my attention. Sorry HMP3, I'm a failure.

Surprisingly lovely gently rising paths through shady woodland led to the high point of the day, Coll de Montcaubo (2201 metres).

[Just to let you know, I'm writing this under duress. The room I was in had no lights, which I could cope with, then the tap exploded, which I couldn't cope with. I'm now in another, 'normal' sized room. That means it's about eight times bigger than the old one.]

Now then ... an eagle circled over the summit as I walked down towards Estaon and bumped into Martin, who had set off from Hostal Orteu half an hour before me. He was looking very chilled, albeit rather warm in another sort of way.

The long descent brought me to a pretty hamlet (Estaon) with an enticing Refugi recommended by Tobi. I filled up with water and perused the menu. I would have succumbed to any offer, but nobody was around. I'd planned to spend the night here, but it was only 12.45.

I decided to continue to Tavascan.

I'm glad I did. It was a delightful walk along ancient pathways including a spectacular high level traverse at the end of the day. Much care was needed and that section was only very slowly completed.

There was nobody else on the path, and silence apart from twittering songbirds which included a shrike. Butterflies fluttered, oblivious to my presence. The path was lined with clustered bellflowers, harebells, yarrow, crosswort and wild thyme, to name just a few.

On arrival in Tavascan a man advised "You'll need a beer?" Jenny will know the answer to that one. So that's how I was enticed into the chaos that is Casa Feliu.

I wasn't alone. The other Martin turned up after I'd done my chores and a German couple coming along GR11 in the other direction also spent the evening here. The food was ordinary and erratic - the owner kept forgetting to bring things like bread and ice cream. We were promised breakfast at 8 am when we arrived, but now she can't do it until 9 am, and my shoe box of a room had its problems as previously related, causing me to be moved from the dark cubby hole to this more normal room above which someone is rearranging the furniture.

I'm sure I'll sleep well eventually!

NB It's rumoured that guide book writer Brian is currently on GR10 heading east to west, so Mick and Gayle, who have just started GR10 from Hendaye, may bump into him coming the other way. Apparently he looks a bit like Alan Hardy.

You can read Gayle's excellent reports on their GR10 traverse at http://gayleybird.blogspot.com

She and Mick had a more disrupted night than mine on their first night of wild camping!

Today's pictures:
Early morning by the lake
The distressed village of Dorve
Looking back to Aigüestortes from Collado de la Serra
Tavascan from the high level traverse

Next Day - Day 30

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Sunday, 12 July 2015

Sunday 12 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 28 - West of Pòrt de Ratèra (2500 metres) to La Guingueta d'Àneu  (Nou Camping)

 
 
 
 
 
Distance: 25 km (Cum: 484 km)

Ascent: 450 metres (Cum: 25100 metres)

Time taken: 9.8 hrs including 2.3 hrs stops (Cum: 193.0 hrs including 38.6 hrs stops)

Weather: Guess what? Sunny and Hot, though clouding over a little in the afternoon

I left the idyllic campsite at 7.45 and headed 100 metres up to the broad grassy col - Pòrt de Ratèra. You could camp up there, and the reflections in the small lake where I startled some chamois were stunning.

After that it was a long but easy walk down to Estos (this should read 'Espot'), soon reaching the tree line via a lovely contouring path crossing snow patches, and soon after that the tourist line in the pine clad granite scenery fringing picturesque reservoirs masquerading as natural lakes. Good paths built for Mr and Mrs Fat and their children Fathe and Fatshe made life relatively easy, though at the moment my feet aren't finding anything particularly easy despite frequent cold stream dunkings.

Anyway, paths more reminiscent of country walks than of Pyrenean boulder hopping led gently down to Estos (Espot), where I dived into the first restaurant I came to for an excellent three course dinner.

A couple of hours later I was stumbling along the path to La Guingueta d'Àneu, via the pretty village, and rather more easily said, of Jou.

By now the 'hedgerows' were rather more Cheshire like, with umbellifers, scabiouses, pinks, Eryngo, lady's mantle and broomrapes competing for space in the scrub beside the path.

I had to choose between the Hostal and the campsite. The former looked as if it was the focal point of the fiesta which appears to be going on. So I'm at Nou Camping, next to the children's playground. The sound of them playing, with the siesta-sound backing track will no doubt send me to sleep at some point.

The evening was spent with Martin, a German from near Nuremberg, who set off on GR11 a week or so after me. Hence a short entry. There are others on the route!

Today's pictures:
Early reflections at Pòrt de Ratèra
Looking back on the descent to Estos (Espot)
Sunday lunch (just a bit of it)
Woodland on the path to Jou
The village of Jou

Next Day - Day 29

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Saturday 11 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 27 - Barranc de Lac Redon (1815 metres) to just to the west of Pòrt de Ratèra (2500 metres)

 
 
 
 
Distance: 22 km (Cum: 459 km)

Ascent: 2050 metres (Cum: 24650 metres)

Time taken: 10.8 hrs including 2.0 hrs stops (Cum: 183.2 hrs including 36.3 hrs stops)

Weather: I can't recall in my lifetime having ever experienced such a spell of hot, sunny settled weather. It's lasted well over three weeks now and shows little sign of changing. The closest that I can remember is a cloudless Easter week in Cornwall in the early 1980's.

What a fantastic mountain day. It's days like this that make it all worthwhile. Last night I was sitting in a sauna in my tent composing the day's diary entry. Tonight I stopped an hour earlier, at 6pm, in this idyllic spot with views up to tomorrow's col in one direction, and expansive views back to my route and over France (where there's cloud) in the other direction. The sun won't leave the tent until 9 ish (9.30 actually). I have a shady rock to sit on and a light breeze is controlling the flies.

I made lots of notes today. Perhaps I'll just reiterate them by way of bullet points.

- missed from yesterday
On the descent through woods, lots of cow wheat and round headed? gentians, as well as the tall green variety of gentian.

My bus ride could perhaps be analogous to a TGO Challenger who plans a route along the road from Cannich to Drumnadrochit and decides he may as well go by taxi.

- woke 6.10, away 7.05, a quick departure due to midges and flies. Unusually a bit of dew on the tent.

- after five minutes pass an excellent flat camping spot at 1830 metres. Ho hum.

- strong phone signal, but not for EE (got a signal briefly a bit later, but not for long).

- I'm passing lots of little stakes with 'Epic run' markers.

- shady ascent with flies.

- passed an elderly Spanish backpacker who asked me the way (I can do that - he followed me all the way to the refuge at Restanca).

- managed nearly 400 metres of ascent before the sun got me.

- blinded by the sun, can't really see the way ahead.

- engulfed by flies at every pause.

- reach Pòrt de Rius, chat to two lads. (It was cooler and breezier there, the end of my fly problems for the day. The lads were marshals for the 'Epic run'. It's 105 km, with about 100 participants who started at 6 am. Pòrt de Rius is 27 km along the route.)

- from late yesterday I've been on our HRP route, but I leave it beyond Lac de Rius (I'll rejoin it later for the stage from Restanca to Colomèrs).

- fabulous views of granite mountain scenery (but fewer flowers in the granite landscape).

- I pause for a rest. There's a stillness in the air, just the sounds of dribbling water, twittering birds and buzzing flies.

- 9 am, early clouds are forming. Is the weather changing? (The answer was no, though tonight some cloud rolled up the valley above which I'm camped, then it rolled back out as the sun went down).

- descend to a spring and take a photo of today's provisions! (Later, perhaps - it didn't make the cut.)

- 9.30, two pairs of runners lead the 'Epic run' pack. The next man is 10 minutes behind (about 20 went past, including one lady, before I left the route).

- you weren't expecting this! I'm filmed walking along the path, then I'm interviewed for Spanish TV. My most erudite TV interview ever. Shame nobody will understand a word.

- leave the runners to it and head to the Restanca refuge. 11.30. It appears to be shut until 13.00. Deserted. Continue up to Lac deth Cap de Pòrt for lunch and a foot wash. It's an idyllic spot. I'm back on our 2004 HRP route.

- soon afterwards I pass a sign that indicates I'm roughly half way into stage 23 of this 45 stage walk. And I'm on Day 27 - my train home is on Day 54. All very symmetrical, things must be going to plan.

- lots of people on this beautiful and popular path, many of them intent on climbing to the easy 2833 metre summit of Montardo. After that turn, just a couple of French ladies coming the other way.

- final col of the day, Pòrt de Caldes (2570 metres). 2.30 pm. Meet three Spanish boys. They can't believe how far I've come today.

- yet more fine views ahead. I'm satiated with them today. It's a good job I like long days in the mountains, they don't get much better than this one.

- pause in the sunshine for another foot wash, then pass the new and the sad old refuges at Colomèrs.

3.40 pm - set off up the easily graded path to Pòrt de Ratèra (2590 metres). Take a 15 minute break in the shade of a pine tree before ambling on past where Sue and I camped on 28 August 2004.

- take my time ascending. There's no hurry. Nobody else around after 5 pm. Arrive at the perfect spot just before 6 o'clock. Perfect timing for a leisurely evening.

- excellent spaghetti carbonara

That's it really. The sunset was splendid.

Today's pictures:
A typical view from today
Gentian common to this granite area. Sue will name it.
Brilliant campsite below Pòrt de Ratèra
Brilliant sunset from campsite

Sent from Espot with the first phone signal since yesterday morning. It's a big job catching up with the comments, let alone replying to them. I will try when I get a chance though.

Next Day - Day 28

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