Peering out of the refuge door in the morning was not encouraging, the heaviest of the rain had stopped but there was a swirling mist. Set off in full waterproofs expecting more downpours but as so often happens things weren’t so bad. We were walking on tracks through magnificent pine forests with the occasional tantalising view of limestone cliffs and formations on adjacent mountainsides.
This is all part of the El Ports national Park. The maps we had were inadequate [about 1:70,000] for this sort of territory and we were reliant on the frequent red and white way marks of the GR7. These two days also coincided with a five day circuit of the park, called Estels del sud. [http://www.estelsdelsud.com] This would give some wonderful walking and I intend to return, if only for the views. The route is well waymarked with blue stars and we found these a great help in supplementing our own fading GR7 marks in the bad weather.
By afternoon we were following an amazing mountainside path below the crest of a ridge with steep cliffs above and below us. Lots of ups and downs but we maintained a roughly 1100m height. Towards its end we delved into the mountains to cross a pass at 1200m — all very dramatic in the misty conditions. At one point we caught a glimpse of an Iberian Wild Goat with its magnificent horns.
We were virtually dry when we eventually reached the Refuge Caro, run by The Catalonia Hiking Union. In England we don’t often use the description “hiking” any more, a throwback to another age. Being a weekend the refuge was fully open, the lovely Maria made us welcome and looked after us well. She is the guardian at weekends with her husband and young child. The big problem was the language, we had now passed in to Catalunya and they all speak Catalan which is strange to our ears. Obviously Castellano Spanish is also used, but we struggled to understand when they turned to this — I suspect it is spoken with a strong accent. Despite all this we had a great night, only two other people turned up, with a very satisfying [we were stuffed] meal.
It rained all night and by morning was getting windy too. We procrastinated over breakfast whether to set off in such conditions. The weather was set to rain most of the day and the guardian warned us to be very careful watching out for the way marks. Over a second coffee we imagined an improving of the storm so agreed to set off, after all this is sunny Spain! We never did see Mont Caro 1447m the highest summit in the area.
To be honest there was little rain,by our standards, for the first couple of hours. The obvious problem from the word go was following the way marks in the mist, especially on more open ground where the path was not obvious and only the odd stone had paint flashes. There was a lot of scouting around to make sure we were on track because as stated our maps were pretty useless.
We reached a small open refuge where we took an early lunch out of the wind and by now heavy rain. Following this the route left the forest and took us up onto exposed ridges. Here we took a real battering, hardly able to stand up in the gale and all the time aware of the need not to get lost. There would be no escape routes in these wild mountains and in this poor visibility.
At one point on the track we came across the largest toad I’ve ever seen, a good 6 inches long. In view of the weather, I was trying to keep my camera dry but tried to get a shot of it — see the size against basket of trekking pole.
After 7 hours walking and lots of cols up to 1200m high in the unseen terrain we wound our way down tracks into Pauls, a drop of over 800m. It never stopped raining. This is how Spain makes up for not having had rain for months, only a shame we hit the washout.
Nothing much to say about Pauls, a larger town of 800 people. It was rather dreary and our Alberg not very welcoming. At least we were able to get everything dry by transforming our bedroom into drying room. Rather alarmingly when I was removing my waterproof jacket it literally fell apart at the seams. I was rather concerned how it would be able to perform for another wet day.
The evening was brightened by a good supper and the usual lively Spanish hospitality in the local bar. The only difference was that it was run by a Rumanian lady and her son. Didn’t understand how they had arrived here of all places, but they were well patronised by the locals. One of the locals [the chap on the right of the picture] was unfortunately deaf and dumb – I think we could communicate with him easier than in Catalan! Had been a baker all his life and was a charming fellow.
Quite an exciting two days. Glad to get through them unscathed, but they do add to the overall experience and memories of a multi-day trek. To be continued….
Carrying on along the GR7 looks like a much better option than the route I followed along the E4 (which after following the GR7 all the way from Tarifa shoots off down to the coast at El Boixar) – no idea why the E4 goes that way although I suspect it has something to do with crossing the border in Catalonia.