Aug 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm #1278412
John Frederick AndersonMember
Three nights in the Sierra de Secús, Spanish Pyrenees, Huesca, August 2011.
I live in Barcelona and have been going UL for about three years now. I'd like to hike more often, but don't have the time, unfortunately.
This year was the first time I was to attempt a multi night hike after recovering from pneumonia and a broken rib a couple of years ago. I had done an overnight last year in the same area, but really wasn't ready health wise for anything more back then. I've been training and gaining strength since finally feeling better after the new year, and had reduced my pack weight to about 6 kg fully loaded for five days, and was ready to go.
The weather has been very stormy this summer, and I encountered thunderstorms replete with lightening and strong winds, sometimes soaking me three times in one day. The scenery was spectacular, but the weather was, frankly a bit dangerous for the routes I'd thought of doing, and prudence and common sense as a solo hiker influenced many of my decisions on the trail, and ultimately the length of the trip.
I took a Golite Ion, a MLD SoloMid cuben, and a Rab Top Bag as my big three. I didn't take a stove as I planned to stop in Refugios and eat a few hot meals there, so was carrying chorizo, cheese and dried fruits and nuts for food. I carried a liter and a half of water, but drank mostly from streams without filtration. The water carried was for some dry patches.
I arrived at Refugio de Gabardito at about six o'clock in the afternoon after driving six hours from Barcelona. I enquired about the weather forecast and packed up and headed off up the mountain, intending to take advantage of the cooler evening temperature. It was hot!! and I kept walking for about three hours until making camp near where I'd camped a couple of years ago, near water and before the trail started climbing.
Refugio de Gabardito
Ready to go!!
I followed the creek valley and enjoyed the silence and beautiful sunset. It felt great to be out on the trail, and the weight gave me no trouble, and the pack felt comfortable. I didn't see anyone, as all the day hikers had headed back to cars, hotels and refugios earlier in the afternoon already.
Looking back first night out.
I camped at about 1750 meters on a bench overlooking the valley, and at the corner where I'd start to ascent the next day. The night was hot, I slept fitfully, but well, and at about six in the morning the winds picked up and a storm blew in, with hail and lightning. The SoloMid held up well, and I was warm and dry, and at about nine in the morning, there was a break in the weather and I packed up and decided to carry on up the mountain.
After walking during about another hour of steady rain, the sun broke through, and I could take off my rain gear (ID Rain Jacket, and Golite Reed pants). These performed really well, especially the Reeds- fantastic gear.
I passed a shepherd's hut, and could see from higher up through the binoculars (Steiner Safari) that the shepherd was moving his flock of goats from a cave where they had sheltered the night before, into the valley. A flock of about 30 buzzards and eagles was circling, looking for an opportunity to snatch a meal, and the shepherd's dog was going crazy jumping up and trying to defend the flock. It was an amazing sight.
Looking back the next day at the eagles and vultures attack. They are on the left of the image, and the birds are dots in the sky.
I climbed another hour up to the forestry hut and stopped for some breakfast and to dry everything out.
Looking up towards Foya de Secús.
Refugio de Secús.
The sun was great, and my breakfast was fantastic, so I decided to carry on up to the Foya de Secús, a flat plain surrounded by mountain peaks, with a view to continuing up a hard climb to Collada de Secús. I'd done the route a few years before when I first went ultra light, and was interested to compare my fitness and the equipment in the same stage of the walk. Back then I was still transitioning, and had a stove, Golite SL3, and a ULA Circuit- much more weight and volume than this year's trip.
Foya de Secús. I'd be going straight up!
The ascent was brutal, to say the least, and in the heat of the morning, at about eleven o'clock, I was feeling it. I remember getting to the Collada last time and just about collapsing. This time, I was steadier, but more and more nervous as dark clouds were closing in and the wind was picking up to very strong as I approached the top. I had the most difficulty getting around a snow field, scrambling over scree and loosing my footing several times, just making a grab for the rocks to keep a sure hold.
On the way up…
Snowfield before the Collada de Secús 2401m.
Looking back to Foya de Secús.
I finally made it to the Collada (2401 meters), and had originally planned to climb Bisaurín from the Collada, but as I arrived at the top, a big thunderstorm blew in, and I could see through the binoculars, a couple of hikers scurrying down the mountain out of harms way. I didn't really have much time to get down to safety, so I pretty much ran down the mountain, trusting my sticks (PacerPoles) and my balance and footing. I made it to flatter ground in double time, and found a cave to shelter in as the first gusts and lightning struck, followed by torrential rain. I waited it out a while, got bored, dressed for the weather and set off to descend the rest of the way and think about finding a mountain hut to take refuge.
Looking down from Collada de Secús towards Paúl de Vernera, with the storm approaching.
After about an hour and a half of torrential rain, wild wind and lots of lightning, I was at the Paúl de Vernera, a lovely flat glaciar valley which led off to the Valle de los Sarrios, which was my intended route.
I had camped in this area already twice, two years ago and last year, and knew it well, and knew the winds would blow like crazy overnight, having been caught a couple of nights in storms here already. I decided to go down a half hour for lunch to the mountain hut below, and see how the weather would evolve. When I arrived it was about three in the afternoon, and a group was taking shelter from the storm. I had lunch and tried to dry things off, and they all left down to the refugio at Lizara, which is manned (beds, warm food and showers!!) so I had a nap and waited out the weather to see what I would do.
After an hour, the sky was grey and it was pouring, so I thought I too would bail out and head down to Lizara for refuge. I set off at about four thirty and the sky was black, and after fifteen minutes, the lightning started up again- I was freaking, and thank goodness I had my hood on, and couldn't see all the lightening strikes around me, only the ones straight ahead! I put my head down and did another high speed descent to the refuge, arriving at about six in the evening. After a hot cup of tea, I decided to stay the night and try my luck again the next day up the mountain. I didn't stop to take any shots on the way down for fear of being hit by the lightening.
I had never stayed in a refugio in my life, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I met up again with the two Catalan ladies Eva and Glòria, who woke me from my siesta up the hill in the refuge, and a couple of other girl hikers doing a route called the Sendero de Camille, which is a hut to hut walk of about four days in the area. In fact, everyone in the refugio, 10 of us in total was doing the route, except me. After a shower and hanging up my gear, we had a mountain paella and more food and a great chat and hit the hay early as the forecast was good.
The next day I set off back up to the Paúl de Vernera, and caught up with the girls and hiked with them and their dog (Panda) for a while, an Andalucian hunting dog, similar to President Obama's Portuguese hound.
On the way up next day…
Paúl de Vernera
Hiking buddies for the morning
We walked through the Valle de los Sarrios, which I have written up about before in a previous trip report, and at the end of the valley, the girls headed off east, and I broke new ground for me, and hiked down to the Ibón de Estanés, an high altitude lake famous with day trippers, as it sits on the border between Spain and France.
As we were descending we were sent off from the high mountains by a herd of mountain creatures smaller than deer, more like ibex, looking out over the cliff at us passing by.
Ibex sending us off.
The Ibón de Estanés is reached by joining the GR11 and following it for a hour or so, until you can take a path off and go down to the lake. By now it was hot and it was lunchtime, so I spend a couple of hours soaking my feet, eating an enormous feast, popping blisters etc by the lake in the shade of a tree. The water was beautiful, with fantastic views in all directions, including a great view of Pic de Midi Osseau in France in the distance.
Ibón de Estanés
I thought about camping by the lake, but it was still early and I felt like walking, so I set off for Aguas Tuertas, a high plain about an hour an a half up and down the other side of the mountain to the west of the lake. I met a few people on the way, and said hello and had a chat for a few minutes each time, something easy for me as I speak French and Spanish, but I was feeling a bit lonely, missing my wife (who was working in the fields in her village) and not really relishing the thought of another night being hammered by weather, as I could see clouds building up again from the south west.
On the GR11
Lunch spot Ibón de Estanés.
Down to Aguas Tuertas
Animals everywhere Aguas Tuertas
Life and death
The going was good, and as an UL hiker, I really turned on the pace and did some serious miles that afternoon, which amazed me, and I thanked my pack for being so light, and making this all possible. I drank from some incredible mountain fountains along the way, and the scenery was incredible. The Aguas Tuertas is a flat valley, with a well marked path on the GR11, so the going was really good. I didn't see anyone until the mountain hut at the head of the valley, where a forestry track takes you down to the Selva de Oza and civilization. I powered my way along, and thought I could make it back to Gabardito that night and sleep in the car, and head back to town the next day, as the forecast was pretty stormy for the rest of the week. I even slacked off the shoulder straps and let the pack hang back, giving me great ventilation. I have to say, as this was the first trip with the Ion, I was loving this pack- packed right, it is really comfy and I can't wait to get out on the trail again with it.
Looking back Aguas Tuertas
I realized that my trip was taking me back to where I began my UL journey four years ago, when I approached the Selva de Oza from the west, from another refugio called Linza, carrying an obscene amount of gear (25 kgs) that I had been using for twenty years since I was twenty years old. It seemed fitting that I should end stage one of my UL journey by blasting along with about 5 kgs on my back, happy as a bird, walking the same road, but with a different mindset and outlook thanks to the UL movement and everything I have learned from BPL and the people here.
Looking down to Valle de Echo.
I passed some people who had driven up the forestry track and said hello, as you do. On the other side of the valley, I had walked an ancient path with dolmens and menhirs, so it was a familiar warm feeling to be back in the area where I began my hiking journey in Spain four years ago. I hadn't hiked at all in about 20 years until then, and the pneumonia notwithstanding, it has been a long an enjoyable learning experience over these four years learning how to do these types of hikes again with UL gear. I should say that I suffer from a hip problem as well, having fallen off a horse in the Kimberly Range working as a stockman in Australia twenty years ago dislocating my hip and splintering my femur. The doctors told me I'd better have an easy life, so it means a lot to me to be doing what I love in the mountains through the UL techniques I've evolved.
I hiked until about six in the evening, until the same young couple I'd said hello to earlier drove passed and offered me a lift down to the trail head, which I accepted. They actually drove me all the way to the refugio at Gabardito, which was fantastic, and I was able to arrive in time for a shower, dinner and reunite with the Catalan ladies Eva and Glòria, from the day before at Lizara for a beer and more stories. I had dinner with a family from Galicia, and the dad was an UL fan, having read BPL and bought some gear for the family on their holiday in the mountains. All along the way people were amazed at how light my pack was, and I did my best to turn them on to the right places to find out how they too could go lighter and enjoy the mountains. The next day I gave Eva and Glòria a lift down to their car.
I don't know if I can make it out again this year as I've walked back home into a wall of work, but I'll try and if not, I'll be just that bit more confident with my gear next time, having slowly pushed the boundaries of my experience and skills over the last few years by focusing on a particular area of the Pyrenees, really getting to know it and see its different facets and test myself and my skills and gear knowledge at the same time.
Thanks for reading, I hope you liked my trip report.Aug 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm #1772246
Jay WilkersonBPL Member
@creachenLocale: East Bay
Excellent TR and photos John and thanks for meeting up with me in Barcelona this past January. I was just in my Sierras this past weekend.
CheersAug 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm #1772276
spelt with a tBPL Member
@speltLocale: SW/C PA
Beautiful countryside and nice write up. Thanks for posting.Aug 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm #1772284
@elf773Locale: Vancouver, BC
Beautiful pictures and excellent trip report. Thanks for sharing.
That lightning would have freaked me out too. I fractured my femurs a long time ago, and have some metal in my legs. I know that little tidbit of information, however insignificant, would have been in the back of my mind as the lightening struck all around me .. haha.Aug 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm #1772338
Steven ParisBPL Member
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
Thanks for sharing a great trip report, John. I really like the photo with the caption "Looking down from Collada de Secús towards Paúl de Vernera, with the storm approaching". Just a stunning picture!
It reminds me of a great photo from Andrew Skurka's trip in Alaska's Brooks Range has that same quality of light.Sep 3, 2011 at 11:42 am #1775715
John Frederick AndersonMember
Thanks for all the comments, and a big hello to Jay, nice to hear from you again, I hope all's well, mate.
fredSep 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm #1775730
@mad777Locale: South Florida
Thanks for posting all the beautiful pictures.
Spain is truly a wonderful landscape.
My wife and I hiked in the Picos de Europa in the Cantabrian Mountains in Asturias this past May. We were in awe of the scenery every step of the way.
And, I must add that we met the nicest people. They made us feel right at home. We can't wait to go back there!Sep 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm #1776294
Tom ClarkBPL Member
@tomclarkLocale: East Coast
I hope that you blow up some of those photos and buy a few nice frames to show off your adventures/memories.
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