Tuesday, 7 August 2012

GR 11 Part 2

The GR 11 has been very beautiful and very brutal. I am not quite sure whether I like it or not. My opinion changes everyday depending on how many steep metres of elevation gain I had to do...

The worst part so far has been Portella de Baiau, a high mountain pass. First there had been an endless ascent of almost 2,000 metres straight. But this had been nothing compared to the view down the other side of the pass: several hundred metres of almost vertical descent over loose scree. I could not believe that this was seriously meant to be the GR, but there was no other way... And of course no waymarks. So very slowly I started to descend, sometimes sliding down on my butt and always scared shitless of killing myself. It wasn't only me who was scared. A Spanish hiker behind me said that he as well thought that this was too dangerous for a GR. He skied down constantly falling. After that you descend over more boulder fields and of course again no waymarks when you need them but a posh refuge. I wish they would spend the money on marking the trail better and making it safer instead of splurging on refuges.

Thus had been the worst post do far but almost every day I fight with incredible steep ascents and descents and scramble over boulder fields. For me, this is not fun! I wonder why it is do difficult here whereas I can't remember anything that difficult on the PCT! Are the mountains so different here? Why can't there be nice and easy trail like in the Sierra?

Every day I kept running into my Spanish friend. In the beginning he was very shy but after I talked to him in Spanish it turned out that he had just hiked the Camino del Norte and Primitivo that are next on my list. He is also hiking the GR 11 in my direction. Although he is a much faster and younger hiker than me he takes as long as I do because he is taking hourlong breaks. His biggest problem is food. He is convinced that dehydrated crap hiker food will kill him and insists on a diet of brown rice. Only that he could not get brown rice in the last resupply town of Espot. I found resupply options pretty decent there but he could not find anything for his ecological palate. Despite having no money he decided to eat in the refuges instead and was surprised when he had to pay 18 EUR for 3 crap sandwiches. Other hikers took pity on him and gave him some dehydrated noodle soup but he told me he could not eat it after reading the ingredients. Last time I saw him he was so hungry he wanted to leave the trail. I thought of giving him some of my food but he would not eat that either... Some people have too delicate a stomach for the trail.

But I had another great encounter on the trail. I tan into an American hiker and after chatting a minute I told him about the triple crown. He then asked me whether I am the "famous" German Tourist! What a surprise! It turned out that he had hiked the AT the same year I had and had always been only a couple of days behind me reading my register entries. The hiker world is so small and I could have chatted with him forever. It came as a great relief to me that Two Litres (that is his trail name) found the trail as demanding as I do. He was well behind schedule as well. And I had thought that it was just me who suffered...

But it was not all suffering. I had a lovely half day rest in Espot where I decided to treat myself to a restaurant lunch that filled me up so much that I rolled out of the restaurant. And then I discovered a free swimming pool! It was a beautiful sunny day and I spent the afternoon with a full belly lounging in the pool and lying around reading. Wonderful! The next stage was through the National Park of Sant Maurici where camping is prohibited and I did not want to risk a fine. The park was full of tourists and rangers but luckily I managed to make it through the park in one day.

The weather is usually great but I managed to run into one of the rare extended lows. Of course this also happened to be one of the more difficult hiking days. The whole day I hiked under black clouds and rumbling thunder. Progress was incredibly slow and boulder hopping almost all the time. This is not made easier by wet rocks and I started to hate the GR 11. The weather threatened to be really bad and I wanted to camp as low as possible. I had just made it to the first rare trees when a storm was rolling in and I set up my tent not a second too early. It turned out to be a horrible night. The first storm raged for an hour and ended in bean size hail. I was worried how my tent would hold up to these big hail stones. To my very positive surprise my tent survived the rain, hail and wind almost dry! Outside you could barely see and the landscape got white with hail. I managed to fall asleep when two hours later the next storm moved in, again with heavy rain and hail. I thought it would never stop and it continued until daybreak. I woke up to singing when a hiker group passed next to my tent...and there was beautiful sunshine now. I was fed up and just wanted to get to Benasque.

It still took me half a day with no food left. When I arrived I went to the first restaurant and ate before finding a hotel. Benasque is quite nice although overpriced. I managed to buy a Spanish SIM card but no internet coverage. At least there was wifi although it does not seem to work very well on my smartphone.

I am hiking out today and hope to soon be done with the high mountain stuff. I want to hike, not climb...

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