1. No quantity or number; naught; the figure 0.
  2. A day in which no miles are hiked.

Day 0

camp location
written Aug 3, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 0.00 miles

This story begins over two years ago, on July 22, 2017. On that day, I was hiking the PCT and began hiking with this hiker Crash. We hiked for a few days together and stayed in touch after. When he approached me last year about doing this crazy "Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne" thing, I said "yes" of course.

So that brings us to today: my alarm woke me up at 3:30am, I grabbed my backpack containing the gear I had been carefully curating over the past month, and got on a train for the airport.


Something like this


Essential piece of gear

So what is the Pyrenean Haute Route, or Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne? This guide had a good quick summary:

The Pyrenean Haute Route (or HRP for Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne) is an approximately 800 km (497 mi) traverse of one of Europe’s most beautiful mountain ranges. Stretching from the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean sea, it criss-crosses the natural boundary between Spain and France, staying close to its watershed throughout most of its undulating course. 


(borrowed from that site)

So this brings us to today: Crash and I are are starting an epic hiking adventure for the next four weeks. He's flying in from New Zealand, I'm flying in from Norway, and we're flying out from Barcelona in about a month. Simple.

One thing that's always super weird to me is the experience of flying to a hiking trip. You check in your pack, which is terrifying.


There goes my pack, disappearing around the corner

Then you roll up to the security check with .. well, nothing. Remember, anything you bring, you have to carry (or get rid of). One thing you definitely don't have is a carry-on bag.


Everything that I had with me, except the phone in my hand

After that, I hung out at the gate until it was boarding time, which was a breeze (definitely no fighting for overhead space!).


When in Rome ...

After arriving in Bordeaux, I killed some time while I waited for Crash to show up. After some audiobooks and crossword puzzles and some reading of the guidebook, Crash arrived!



After taking a bus for an hour+ into town, we walked half an hour to the hotel and checked in so we could drop our stuff and head it and get some dinner.

The trouble with this plan is that it was 3pm and everything was closed because it's the middle of the day. So we stopped by a small shop and picked up some refreshments to help us kill and time until the restaurants reopened.


Stay hydrated!

Eventually the pizza shop opened up and we finally ate (especially Crash, since he's been flying for some 24 hours).



After that was taken care of, it was back to the hotel so he could finally get some sleep and I could finish this entry (it was written throughout the day, which is why the tenses are all over the place -- sorry!).

Batteries on the chargers, hikers in beds, bullies full -- tomorrow's gonna be a good day!


camp location
written Aug 4, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 12.00 miles

After a miserable night in a stuffy room that very quickly smelled like hikers (only saved when we asked and borrowed a fan), it was time to get some breakfast and hit the road.

But first, a hike across town to the train station!



It involved lots of quintessential French streets so that was really pretty, of course.



We then for to the train station about 10:15 and asked about taking an earlier train, since ours wasn't until 12:50. She told us that wasn't possible (there wasn't an earlier train) so we killed some time in a park and then headed for lunch before the train. I took one last opportunity to eat some veggies.



After that, it was time to hurry up and wait in the train station.


Tick tock tick tock tick tock

Right in schedule, the train arrived and we began our three hour ride to Hendaye, the start of the trail.



Once there, we walked the two miles to the beach and began with the ceremonial dip in the Atlantic ocean. Well okay, we just got our feet wet because salt water chafe on day one is a terrible way to start a 500+ mile hike, but whatcha gonna do.


So fresh and so clean!

After that we began the hike .. which starts as a big walk through town. The first day largely follows the GR10 trail, which is marked by a pair of red and white stripes.


This little Polish flag will be our guide today

The route involved a fair amount of road walking (boo), some forest trails (yay), and some nontrivial climbs (boo/yay).


Crash hiking through the woods

These climbs were rewarding but brutal. We were hiking up into the clouds so the humidity was 100% and the temperature was .. I dunno what, but Google can tell you. It was hot.


From here you can see the beach where we started

We kept on hiking, over passes and through valleys, until Crash's jetlag said we were done. We were both pretty happy about that though since we have a lot of big days ahead and we don't want to burn out too early.

We found a reasonably flat spot on the trail itself (kind of a no-no but hey) and set up camp. Because of the clouds overhead, we set up our tents, just in case.

And so the first day ends, with birds singing, cowbells .. belling?, and a couple of legs that are happily sore.

A good day.



More clouds

camp location
written Aug 5, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 25.00 miles

Last night it did my favorite thing: rained! I'm bring serious -- I love camping in the rain (provided you have the equipment for it).


So cool

Around 7, we mobilized and Crash put on his poncho because we were basically still in the cloud and it was gonna be a wet one



After that, we got to going through the mysterious mist-draped country. Everything was so spectacularly green it was hard to not be happy, even if it wasn't sunny.


Shrouded in mysteries


Just look at this greenery!

On and on we went, plowing through the miles, green every step of the way.


So many ferns!

See some point we crossed into Spain, which complicated things a lot -- now when we passed another hiker, we didn't know what to say! "Bonjour!" or "¡Hola!"? I gave up and just went with "hei hei!" instead.

Many hours later we realized we'd taken a wrong turn, but that's okay -- we were just running parallel to where we wanted to be. If we push on, we'll meet up with where we want to be. This included going through the Spanish of Elizondo.


Beginning the descent into Elizondo

In Elizondo, we stopped for a resupply since it would be four days until our next food. It was fun walking through a foreign supermarket and getting new things (and some customary things)


Crash is ready to rock

After that we figured we might as well get some delicious Spanish food because duh. We found a little cafe, but were foiled by siesta! The town was just opening up again and the kitchens weren't yet ready for food. However, we got some potato-cheese-quiche thing which was better than nothing.


Only €2.20!

Then we got the trail and began the big climb out of town. Climbs mean one thing: few campsites. So after a while we found a flat-ish area and decided we should make it work even though we both wanted to hike a bit more. Oh well, we shouldn't get greedy!

It looks like it might be another wet night, so we set up our tents. If it doesn't rain, at least they'll dry out!


Ready for a storm!


camp location
written Aug 6, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 20.00 miles

After a night of terrible sleep (a herd of horses rolled up in the middle of the night with their bells clanging, plus it was super hot and humid), we got hiking around 7:30 or so. It was still cloudy, but we saw the sun making a valiant effort to show itself!


Go go go go go

Down the trail a bit we met a couple who had hiked the PCT last year, so we all chatted for longer than we should have before Crash and I moved on. It's always nice to reminisce over a shared experience.

Then we began a fairly long climb -- and we finally got above the clouds!


Oh goodness, blue skies!!

On top of this ridge was sunshine, green grass, and some horses and sheep.


The top of the ridge (we crossed right to left in this picture)


Just look at this view!

After hanging out for a while, Crash and I pushed on, down the other side. About a mile in, I realized we were off trail. And by that I mean on the wrong trail -- it wouldn't intersect the HRP again! So, back up we went.

At the top, we met that couple again and had another break where we are some snacks and tried to dry out our stuff a bit.

And some horses came wandering over to say hello!



We finally pushed again to find the trail we were supposed to be on.


Walk of shame

We couldn't find the trail, but we had GPS so we knew where we were supposed to be. We did the logical thing: climb over a barbed wire fence and go cross-country!

It wasn't pretty, but we got back on trail in the end. Unfortunately this trail led us way way way down into a valley, where we got some water, stretched, and had some lunch.

Then we began the hike way way way up out of the other side of the valley.

This hike eventually leveled off after several grueling humid hot miles .. and then kept climbing. I shouldn't be surprised because this is a high route but still. Oof.


Rewarding views though!

Eventually this climb joined a road, which was a long slow gentle descent down to a road, which ended that stage.


Enjoying the break


Neat mossy log

However, we weren't done because we had to hike more! So back up we went!

After a few miles, we found a section of trail that would make an idyllic campsite -- mostly flat, grass, trees to protect us, above the clouds. Perfect. We'll wait until we're sure there aren't any day hikers and then just go for it.

Unfortunately the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up, but by this point we were stuck, so we just battened down the hatches. We'll see how this goes!


camp location
written Aug 7, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 21.00 miles

So last night was windy with a little bit of rain, whatever. But buckle up because have I got a story for you!

So in the middle of the night (like 10:30), Crash yells and wakes me up. The next five minutes went something like this:

Crash: ahh!

Me: everything okay?

Crash: can you help me?? A moth flew in my ear and I can't get it out!

Me: ew, yes! I have some tweezers, gimme a sec!

(I find my headlamp and tweezers and suddenly Crash is at my tent)

Crash: it won't. come. out! (hitting the other side of his head)

Me: turn the other way, lemme look


Me: oh I see it, hold still ... (grabs it)

Me: ... except that's not a moth, dude. Look.


Me: you had an earwig in your ear!

And with my brain topped off with nightmare fuel, I put in my earbuds (safety first!!) and tried to go back to sleep. Gross.

But anyway, the night was fine and we both had terrible sleep (wind, a bit of rain, some distant lightning, invasive earwigs), but we got up around 7 and were hiking by 7:30.

We had a delightfully fast morning -- lots of gentle downhill miles, with a little bit of trailblazing.


Trailblazing down into a valley

At the bottom of this valley, we had a break (a sort of brunch) before we started climbing back up the other side. The other side was beautiful, but brutal.


So. Much. Green.

At the top, we had some road-walking ahead of us, but at least it was fairly pretty!


A look at where we're headed!

Eventually, we got to our next big descent, which meant another big ascent. I know I should be getting used to these because it's the high route and all, but oof! This one wasn't actually too bad because it was cross country so we got to set the grade.


Up and up and up we go!

At the top of this we were finally able to traverse a good way -- until we descended another 1200 feet down. At the bottom, we crossed a river which meant we took some time to do laundry, get water, eat, and rest before our subsequent climb.



Eventually, we topped out and began our traverse to an area we wanted to camp. We were both pretty sore, so this was an easy-does-it situation. However, we got some spectacular views in the process!


Crash looking at tomorrow's peak

Tomorrow we will summit our first real peak of the Pyrenees -- Pic d'Ohry. It's going to be a long hard day, but totally worth it.

But tonight, we set up camp in the yard of an empty farmhouse. Thank you, farmers!


We promise to leave no trace.

Our first summit!

camp location
written Aug 8, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 22.50 miles

Oh boy, what a terrible night. Not earwig-terrible, but still bad. An hour after I fell asleep, we had a family of horses (bells and all) decide the that grass we were sleeping on was the best grass on the entire mountain range. Crash got up and chased them off, but they came back an hour later. I got them to leave, but they returned even faster. However, when I got up and flapped my towel at them, they got startled and took off for good. Yay, sleep!

Then, it was super duper windy, which didn't bode well for either of our tarps. And the bad part was that it started to rain, so the tarps were necessary. However, around 5am it stopped raining, so we both took down down our tarps at 6:15 or so and got an hour of sleep because we'd need it.

Then disaster struck: I tore my sleeping pad. After dozens of trips and more than a thousand miles, it finally reached its literal breaking point. Crap. I reached out to my awesome friend Ari in Paris and asked her to start doing some research on options and we got to hiking. (It was at this time Crash realized that his bandana blew away in the windstorm. Damn.)


Bedtime (6:22am)


Pretty sunrise once we got up though!

We got to hiking towards our first peak, Pic d'Ohry. This peak was stunning in the horizon and I was excited to see what it was like to climb.

But first we had to get there. And thankfully, the weather was cooperating: clear skies and a positively howling wind. At least it's better than hot and humid and still!


Crash starting the sweeping bowl traverse

After a large -- but gradual! -- climb, we were at the foot of the peak. The climb was stunning: it was a sharp knife edge with no alternative.


Crash starting up the lower knife edge, with the sharp edge in the background

After some serious scrambling, we found ourselves on the actual knife edge. Thankfully (because of the wind) we didn't walk the actual ridge, but it was still quite the sight (and you could go look over any time you wanted, which I often did).


Sheer drop off to the left

When we got to the top -- 2017 meters -- we remarked that it didn't feel like we had just climbed an extra 600 meters. Maybe it was the dry air or the humidity or the scenery or our fitness or the grade, but it just felt like a good hike.


And what a view we had!

After we had some "lunch" (really snacks, meals out here are just different) we headed down the other side. It was fairly similar, but not as dramatic of a ridge.


I don't know if I'll ever tire of these views

Once we reached the parking lot, we set off cross country. Our goal was to reach the end of day 8 in the book, and we were only a third of the way through day 7.

But first we had to make some friends.



After that, we just cruised through the miles -- crossing valleys, jumping fences, going through forests.

At one of our stops to get water from a spring, we patched up my pad as best we could -- we'll see if four-year-old epoxy still works.


I can't believe walking through these all day is my life


We literally had to jump electric fences


Forests were a very welcome reprieve from the sun.

We ended the day with a hellacious brutal climb over a pass. Oddly enough, the elevation gain was almost exactly what we did this morning, but it was missing a lot of the crucial ingredients. In particular, it didn't have a well-worn trail or dramatic views. That's not to say it wasn't pretty, but it wasn't the same. There also wasn't a wind keeping us cool and we had the sun brutally beating down on us (we were both pretty scorched from today).

Oh well, we eventually got over the pass and into a camp with a wonderful ice-cold spring right next to it, and a nice grass turf to fall back on in case my patch doesn't hold.


Crash looking at the pass we need to cross

Near-o #1: Oloron

camp location
written Aug 9, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 5.60 miles

Zero days and near-o (hiking nearly zero miles) aren't just for the PCT -- they apply here too!

Plus, my patch didn't hold -- I will need to replace my pad entirely. Awesome Ari (her full name) did the research and found that, while the trail goes through a little town (village) called Lescun, they didn't really sell anything but food there. However, 45 minutes away (by car), there's an outdoor store that should set me up.

Let's get to Lescun!


Crash said "I didn't sign up for you taking pictures of me sleeping!"

We slept at around 1800 meters last night, and Lescun is around 900, so we gotta start the descent. There wasn't much to see (other than spectacular views, of course) so I'm not posting and highlights from that part.

However, all of the sudden, we could see the valley floor! The view was incredible.


There was a waterfall just right of frame

Before we could think about trying to find a hitch, we needed to make ourselves presentable. Neither of us had showered or done laundry since we left our respective countries, and we have spent the last week sweating more than any other hike we've done, so it was time for cleaning up.

Thankfully, waterfalls generally mean deep pools!


So fresh and so clean!

The water was frigid but man oh man it felt good. We bathed ourselves and did some hiker laundry and basked in the sun to dry off.

A dog even came along to say bonjour and we were fast friends.


Always cheers me up

Eventually though, it was time to go to Lescun so we could look for a hitch into the city.

This wound up being harder than I am used to, because I'm far from competent in either French or Spanish, and English isn't super prevalent. However, we got a lift from a nice French gentleman who I think was going to downtown Oloron anyway .. ?? Whatever, he was nice and refused payment and we went on our way.

The plan had been to head to the shop and pick up me pad, then find a hotel, then find lunch. But oh God we thought we knew heat until we stepped out of the car in the flatlands. It was like stepping straight into Hell.

We changed our plans and did then in this order instead:

  1. Get to a hotel
  2. Get lunch (Crash ran out of food at the waterfall)
  3. Hide from the heat (I get the siesta thing now)
  4. Run errands

So that's what we did, without any complications.




A brand new sleeping pad!


Cheese and baguette -- what else should one eat when hiking in France?

After that, it was naptime and then dinner time. We wound up at this cute little place around the corner and had some surprise dishes because we had very little idea what we were ordering. It was seriously good and creative, however. For example, the "cheesecake" below was the appetizer.

Anyway, during dinner, a thunderstorm rolled in and we rolled out. We looked at the forecast and it looks like we are in for a wet few days ahead.

(That's assuming we can get back to the trail tomorrow!)


Cheesecake? Salad? ¿Por qué no las dos?

Back to it!

camp location
written Aug 10, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 17.20 miles

All good things must come to an end, and that includes near-os. Plus, we were rested and ready to get back to the trail!

It seemed exceedingly unlikely that we'd find an English speaking driver headed to Lescun, so we took transit as far as we could and figured we'd try again the last 5km.


A single-carriage train!

This plan worked great and after twenty minutes or so with our thumbs out, a nice gentleman gave us a lift the last little bit, and we were back in Lescun, picking up the trail exactly where we'd left off.


Downtown Lescun

And so began the climb back into the mountains -- all 800 meters of it! It wasn't super hot, but the humidity was back and the breeze was gone so it was far from pleasant, but it was still a nice time since we were following a well-beaten trail (often times a dirt road).

Eventually we crossed the pass out of the valley and hopped onto the ridge which divides France and Spain. Naturally, the clouds disappeared immediately. However, we weren't going into Spain -- we were following the border, so back into the clouds we went.


France to the left, Spain to the right.

We were unfortunately in clouds most of the day, but they were patchy. Sometimes they would part and we would be rewarded with dramatic views of valleys and cliffs, previously hidden from us, but right there.


Like this one

We kept on climbing, up and up and up. Eventually we reached a refuge up by our first Pyrenean lake. We got an exceptionally tasteless beer and hung out with the mountain dog for a bit before heading on.


Sorry France, this just isn't your best work

After that it was time to crush some miles -- we had a lot of flat-ish terrain to cover (well, following ridgelines and staying at roughly the same elevation) before a big descent followed by a big ascent.

The periodic cloud-clearing would happen every so often and we'd still get stunning views.


Like this grand vista laid out before us

We also made some friends along the way (who started licking the salt off my knee, which tickled something fierce, and then tried to eat my hat for probably the same reason)


Yin and Yang

Eventually I hit the stage's nadir (which was a creek), where I ate my dinner before beginning my steep steep steep 400+ meter climb. It was largely in a beech forest, which I would've appreciated if it was sunny, but it wasn't, so all that meant was no breeze. Oh well, it was still a good time and it felt good to see how far my legs, cardio, and aerobics have come in just a week.


So much green (it never gets old)

The last 100 meters or so were above the forest and became pretty exposed, like this ladder situation.


This is definitely not PCT-grade

We eventually reached the goal though: an alpine lake high on the Pyrenees. There was forecasted to be a storm (or at least rain) tonight, so we sought out a high campsite with good drainage.

This is my first night on my new pad -- I'm excited to see how this goes!


The fog is starting to roll in with some scary clouds behind it

First mountain storm

camp location
written Aug 11, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 20.30 miles

So those scary clouds that rolled in last night were accurately scary. The whole night was super windy and really rainy, but thankfully never at the same time. However, right before we decided to pack up, a monster gust howled down the valley and pulled out one stake from Crash's tent and two from mine, so we got up. Of course right after that it started to pour, but we had already put away all of our water-sensitive stuff (read: anything with feathers).

One of the stakes that got ripped out must've been thrown really far because it didn't show up in our canvassing. Damn, looks like I'm down a stake until our next town.

Anyway, we started hiking in an absolute downpour. Like, 1.5cm of rain in four hours. (This is the reason for the lack of pictures of this stretch.)


Crash rocking the poncho again!

After some time, we finally reached a ski village where there was supposed to be a hiker refuge. We couldn't find it, so we just stretched out on the floor in a building that was being remodeled -- quite the crossover between hiker and vagrant.

The town was odd -- lots of buildings were really rundown and it felt like a set from The Walking Dead, but we'd see people out walking their dogs and cooking in their kitchens. Maybe it's more likely during the winter.

Anyway, as soon as we got set up, the skies broke and the sun was shining. Of course. We ate some lunch and waited to see if it was a false positive, but it only got more clear so we packed up (again) and hit the trail.


The ski village from above, on the way out of town

We kept hiking, doing lots and lots of climbing, and stayed above the clouds. It sort of ruined the views, but also made them more dramatic in their own way.


The ski village is down there somewhere (we had just climbed up out of this valley)

When the clouds permitted, we did get to see the stunning raw upper (if not lower) landscape of the Pyrenees.


Like this range


Or this valley, with the neighboring peak shrouded in clouds

The day ended with us doing a massive (1000-meter) descent down into a valley, followed immediately by another massive (1000-meter) ascent up the other side, where we camped close to the top. By this point, we were thick in the clouds and it was doing a persistent drizzle, which is why the pictures yet again end.



One last look at the clouds which can ruin your day

Wet wet wet

camp location
written Aug 12, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 16.30 miles

So that cloud that we camped in that sent us to bed with a drizzle? Yeah it kept up all night. And all morning. And on into the afternoon.

I'm trying to remain positive but it's really annoying to be on Europe's most-views-per-mile trail and have a visibility of like 10 meters. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to do it again!

So anyway, yeah, very few pictures from today.


The first lake we passed, just after camp


A ravine that we thankfully don't have to go down

At one point we reached the Passage d'Orteig, which is a dramatic traverse across a cliff face. Below is the only picture I took :-(


It's not often you see traverses with safety cables!

Doing it with wet shoes on wet rocks was a little nerve-wracking, but it was still a fun experience.

After that, we punched through the clouds (above? below? I can never tell what's going on) and got a quick glimpse of the valley we were skirting.


Thankfully we don't have to go down to that lake

After that, we were on the hardest pass of the trip (so far!). It had a very narrow (and hard to find) entrance into a ravine to climb and then descend. Crash got some pictures of me; I'll update this with one when I get it.


Crash on the ridgeline, trying to find the pass (we were way off)

After that, we had a grueling 1000-meter descent, followed by -- you guessed it! -- a 1000-meter ascent over another pass. This one had a great trail up to it though, which let us just fly up like 90+%, until the final switchbacks.


Look at this highway!

Then we had another 1000-meter descent down to a refuge, where we had some dinner (ours, not purchased) before continuing on another few kilometers to knock out some of tomorrow's hike.

I had my rain jacket on for the entire day -- and needed it for virtually the entire day. I need a good sunny afternoon to fully dry out all of my gear; I hope I get one soon.


A waterfall we passed on the descent; Crash for scale


camp location
written Aug 13, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 18.10 miles

Yay, another town day! It's still cloudy but at least it didn't rain last night. But our next town (and shower and laundry!) is less than 20 miles away, so we wasted no time getting up and out.


Yikes, another one of those mornings

However, as we climbed (and climbed and climbed) we got above the clouds! Or at least the first layer of them.


Leading to sights like this lake!

Pretty soon, the clouds were filling in the valleys below us, leading to some dramatic sights


It's always so cool to see them pool like that

Eventually we even got to see a dramatic peak, with a glacier at its foot! It was neat to see, and even cooler to see how many people on the trail were carrying ice axes, presumably to go scramble around on the glacier.


I don't remember the name of the peak


Another picture as we climbed higher and higher

Eventually we crossed our pass and began the long long long descent down into the town of Gavarnie.


Looking down into the first valley floor

About halfway down, the sun was out, the birds were chirping, the bees were buzzing and I figured "hey, let's use this chance to dry out some things since the sun is better than hang drying in a hotel room".

So I had a pack explosion and ate pretty much all of my remaining food.


What a life.

After forty five minutes or so, my gear was all fully dry and happy, so I saddled up and finished the hike down a beautiful valley. Crash had gone on ahead to scope out the hotel situation and he said he would text me with where he was.

When I reached the bottom though, I was crushed: Gavarnie wasn't a town. It was some tourist trap hellhole, with only one room available that night -- for $250 USD!

Crash and I grabbed a sandwich at one of these tourist traps and then headed for the campground. So much for a town stay with laundry and showers. We resupplied at the miniature grocery store they had, grabbing only enough to get us to the next town, some two days away.

Once we got the the campground, we were able to snag the last two tent sites. We wasted no time setting up camp and just calling it a night.

What a disappointment (mainly from my unfounded expectations but still).

(Oh and even the cell service in town was god-awful. No redeeming qualities as far as I'm concerned.)


Pretty hike in, though!

Cliff Walk

camp location
written Aug 14, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 15.00 miles

Rise and shine! Let's get out of this snorefest of a campground and back into the mountains! And from what I could see from inside my tarp, it was (finally!) going to be a glorious day.


Beautiful view from the campground though

Today we actually strayed from the HRP and did an alternative (which Crash put together) to hit some of the highlights of the Pyrenees. So first things first: go into the Cirque!


This doesn't capture it but maybe it will inspire you to visit some day?

The route we were talking started at the top of the Cirque, some 1500 meters above us.

Directly above us.

Getting up there was definitely not hiking -- it was pretty much scrambling and climbing. It was a marked trail, but that's only a comfort in that we knew we were on trail.


Crash scrambling up

Once we reached the first plateau (maybe 1000 meters up), we found a herd of sheep and Crash and a foot-stamping standoff with one of them that decided the trail was his.


Crash accepting good defeat and going around. (I did the same)

After another 500 meters or so of climbing, we found ourselves at La Brèche de Roland, which was an amazing geologic formation.

Er, sorry, an amazing result of a French hero trying to destroy his unbreakable sword. My mistake.


This vantage point helps hide the mobs of tourists

Anyway, we passed through the breach and began a cross country adventure loosely based on a trail which the GPS indicator insisted existed, but was otherwise imaginary.


It led to views like this, though


And scrambling down-climbs like this one


And this one

Eventually, we reached our goal: the mouth of the Ordesa Canyon, and the cliff walk that followed a sediment band around, in the middle of the wall. It was a truly unique experience (to me). I'm familiar with the tops and bottoms of canyons, but never right in the middle of the wall!


Super duper cool

The whole canyon reminded me a lot of the Grand Canyon, actually. It had trees in the wrong spots and the colors were sometimes wrong, but overall it had a familiar vibe.


Another shot of the canyon

At the end of this, we weren't near the HRP, so we had to begin another multi-hour cross country adventure to rejoin it. This was pretty, but very painful as those days of rain had left my foot in a pretty torn-up state. I need this dry streak to continue for quite some time if I'm going to continue.

Anyway, we eventually got within spitting distance of the HRP and set up camp. All in all: a very tiring but very unique day. (I feel like I think that a lot on this trip ...)


That's Crash nestled down to sleep

Near-o #2: Bielsa

camp location
written Aug 15, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 8.10 miles

Okay, let's give this town thing another try -- just a few kilometers away we have another town, called Bielsa. But once again: gotta get there first!

The sunrise from our mountain ridgeline was spectacular, highlighting the valleys and peaks below us.


That's the start of the canyon we walked yesterday


The light changed dramatically by the minute

We had a high trail with some slight scrambling sections, which made our time fly by. Maybe an hour later, our destination valley was in sight!


Just over that ridgeline is the river valley which takes us to Bielsa.

Once we got a proper look at the valley, we realized it was a(nother) proper Cirque, with waterfalls and dramatic cliffs rising from the valley floor.


Looking down into the valley


Bielsa is somewhere there off to the left

Now all that was left was the descent -- all 1500 meters of it. Straight down.


And I mean it: Straight. Down.

After a long journey (just ask our knees), we got to the bottom of the valley. We hung out in the shade for a bit, eating some snacks and drinking some water. Eventually, we realized we were burning Town Time, so we shouldered our packs and began doing the 16-kilometer road walk into town.


Ah, nature.

It didn't take long for me to realize this was a bad idea for my injured foot, so I stuck out my thumb instead. In a few minutes, a wonderful Spanish couple pulled over and gave me a lift into town center.

I made a few calls and, after calling a few fully-booked hotels, landed us the last room at this little family-run place that was quaint and nice.


The streets of Bielsa

They didn't have a laundry we could use, and didn't know where one would be, so we bought a bar of soap at the store and just did laundry in the tub -- better than nothing! To help things dry, I put on my wet clothes and went and walked in the sun/wind and was dry in no time.

During this walk, I find a Spanish woman feeding a stray cat and get kittens, which was really cute. She walked me through which one was the madre (pretty obvious) and the niñas y niños (less obvious), and what all their names were.

Overall, Bielsa is much better than Gavarnie.




camp location
written Aug 16, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 24.80 miles

Since this trip is so short (and ambitious), we weren't going to take a zero day in Bielsa. This meant we needed to get back to the trail, which was a 3-kilometer road walk, taking us through the town of Parzán.


Yay road walks

This town had four buildings: one hotel, and three supermercados. We chose the middle one and went our separate ways, aiming to get four days worth of food. I grabbed some stuff and eventually just paid for it and left (I'll later realize that I forgot some staples but it should be okay).

We then went to the trailhead and began actually hiking. For most of the day, we would be following the GR11, a well-established Pyrenean route in the Spanish side of the border. It climbed for most of the morning, and Crash and I just agreed to hike at our own speeds (mine reduced because of my foot) and rendezvous at the top.


The valley we would we climbing this morning

At the top, we sat and chatted. The HRP guidebook we have been following says that the next three days are some of the hardest (in terms of trail conditions) of the whole route, which made me foot hurt just to read it. However, it also details a three-day alternate (along the GR11) around the whole thing if you don't want to summit Pico de Aneto, the highest summit in the Pyrenees. We obviously wanted to do that, so we came up with a plan:

  • I keep hiking the GR11
  • Crash does the HRP
  • I take a road that links the GR 11 with the HRP about halfway through (before the summit)
  • Crash and I meet there tomorrow night so we can summit together

So that's what we did.


The beautiful valley, before the split

At the split, I followed the GR11 to the right and Crash kept going straight. My trail took me straight up 600 meters, up (and over) a pass.


The trail climbing and climbing and climbing

It was a well maintained trail though, which made my injured foot happy (well, happier).


I would've killed for a bridge like this on the PCT

At the top of the pass, it was still a few hours until sundown, but because the pass ran North-South, the valley (which ran East-West) would very quickly be in shadow. I decided to enjoy the golden hour from above while I ate some dinner before descending.


I needed to camp in the far side of that forest

The descent down the valley was (of course) pretty, with lots of little side canyons and waterfalls.


Like this one. I was too lazy to go back in it to get a better picture of the waterfall within

As mentioned, the sun hadn't really set, but the valley was dark. This created some pretty great effects when turning around and looking to the West.


Like this dramatic shot looking back uphill

I wanted to camp within spitting distance of the road, to give myself a short day tomorrow. It turns out that this was a very good ambition because there wasn't anywhere to camp until then anyway. I wound up rolling into camp just as it got dark -- not so dark that I needed to hike by headlamp, but dark enough that I set up camp with it on.

The skies are crystal clear, so I won't be needing my tent tonight (though it's almost a full moon, so I might want to just to let me sleep!)

The well-trod trail felt much better on my foot than scrambling over boulders; I think this alternate was the right choice for me.


Sunset as I hiked to camp (I found a spot in about 20 minutes)

Pico de Aneto

camp location
written Aug 17, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 7.50 miles

Yesterday's trail was fantastic (and felt fantastic on my foot, too!) so I'm hoping for more of the same today. Thankfully, I don't have too far to hike until I hit a road, and then only a few more kilometers until I reach my end destination and rendezvous with Crash.

If I do it right, this will basically be an on-trail near-o.


A lake I passed with stunningly pretty water

Once I hit the road, I realized that it was a proper highway, but with a cliff face on one side, and a cliff edge on the other. (And no proper shoulders or anything to walk along). Looks like I'm gonna hitch this one!

Of course, right as I was about to stick out my thumb, a bus pulled up! It was like the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. Anyway, I pointed to where I wanted up go (on my phone) and the driver said "¡Sí!" so I gave him €6.20 and climbed aboard.

A short while later (during which I looked out the window and the width of the road only confirmed my decision to not walk it), we were at the trailhead -- which I learned was very popular with day hikers -- and I hopped out and started hiking. Five steps later, I realized that I'd left my hat back at the bus stop where I had been picked up. Damn. Oh well, I guess I'll suncreen it up!


The view from the trailhead

After lathering up, I got to stepping -- it was only a few kilometers to our rendezvous point. The chosen point was a refuge right at the start of the trail up to Pico de Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees. Our plan was to meet there, camp somewhere nearby, then climb the peak early the next morning.

In (comparatively) no time, I reached the refuge. It was only about 11:15 am, and I had no idea when Crash would show up. (He also didn't have a SIM for his phone so I really had no idea (not that I had service at the refuge))


Flawless weather

There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and there was a creek nearby, so this meant a few things:

  1. I'm gonna get fried since I lost my hat. Double-damn.
  2. I can totally dry all my gear <3
  3. I can do hiker-laundry! <3 <3
  4. I can hiker-shower! <3 <3 <3

Let's get these feathers happy and fluffy again!

After doing all the above, I was clean, my gear was clean, and we were all dry. And it was only like 1pm. What a day.

In order to avoid the roasting sun (now that it was a liability instead of an asset) I went into the refuge. I only lasted in there maybe 15 minutes though because the kitchen smelled amazing and I was hungry .. but I had run out of cash. Sitting in there was torturous, so I headed back outside and reapplied sunscreen before finding various grass patches to nap in (there were essentially no trees, meaning no shade).


They had cows roaming about the property, performing the landscaping


I also befriended the property's cat. She had kittens who I didn't try to bother because they were running around doing their kitten things.


At least I think we were friends .. ?

Around 7, Crash showed up. We chatted with some hikers returning from the peak and asked them about the conditions and they insisted that crampons and ice axes are essential -- damn, neither of us have these things. Okay, well let's scrap the summit plans.

We hiked out a few kilometers and set up camp in a grove of trees under a clear sky (yay, cowboy camping).


camp location
written Aug 18, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 22.00 miles

Today, Crash and I are parting ways again (for a few days). I'm headed off to continue hiking the well-established GR10 trail while he continues on the HRP. The GR10 follows the French side of the Pyrenees, and they meet up again a few days down trail, near Andorra. These few days on smoother (but not easier) trails should be great for my foot.

The trouble is that we were currently on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, and the GR 10 is on the French side. The border (roughly) follows the watershed, so that means I have a big climb ahead of me to hop countries. Oh well, at least it's a nice day so it'll be a pretty climb!

In fact, on the climb up, I could see the peak we were going to summit.


It's that one left of center, in shadow. That shadow is hiding the problematic glacier as well.

Once I was done with the climb (some 800 meters), I was greeted with a view that reminded me of the one I got after climbing out of Seiad Valley -- the only difference being that this was sunrise and that was sunset.


Layers of mountain ranges never get old to me

After that, it was another 1,100 meters down the other side, into the valley. At the bottom, I had a several-kilometer road walk ahead of me. And then more roads after that.


It was pretty, though!

At some point, I reached the bottom of the bottom: a little Spanish town on the highway which would take me to France.


I forget the name of this town, but it was cute and quaint

Since it was noon (and I was low on food anyway) I stopped in at the (singular) restaurant for some lunch. I made sure that they accepted cards before I ordered because I didn't have any cash, and they said the nearest cash machine was a few towns away.


Yes I had food too

After that, I went to the highway and stuck out my thumb to get a ride the remaining 12 kilometers to France (once again, it wasn't really safely walkable). A nice couple picked me up and, due to a mixture of language barrier and my social awkwardness, they dropped me at this Spanish village called Canejan which was only 1.5km from the border, but was also on top of a mountain. Welp, looks like I'm in for a long walk of shame back down.

1,100 vertical meters later, I was back at the highway with my thumb out once again. A nice French kid picked me up and he actually spoke English so I made sure he was going to Fos. I asked him to drop me near a market so I could get some more food and he said "We don't have one. The nearest market is in Spain."

The capitalist in me doesn't understand how this society functions.

Anyway, he dropped me somewhere near the GR10 and I got to hiking.


A well-maintained trail!

I had a huge day of climbing ahead of me, but it was all at a reasonable grade and with a decent trail surface. The only thing that was concerning was that clouds started to roll in around 5pm. This matched with what my last hitch had told me: thunderstorms this evening. Damn. Oh well, I'm trying to hike out of this valley; maybe I can outrun it?




But very pretty!

The clouds were very unstable: sometimes I could barely see, and sometimes it was clear. I guess I'll just set up my tent tonight and see what happens.


Trail? What trail?


Oh this trail

I wound up setting up camp just as night fell on the fall line of a ridge, because it was the only got spot until the bottom (judging by the topographic map). Higher than I'd like to be if a thunderstorm might roll in, but let's see how this goes.

Au revoir!

camp location
written Aug 19, 2019 @ 12:00 am after hiking 15.60 miles

So yeah, I screwed up with that campsite last night. Thankfully nothing fatal (obviously) but it's not a mistake I'll make again. Around 11pm, the rain started; a lovely pitter-patter on the tent. Around 11:15pm I saw (through my closed eyelids) the first lightning. I instinctively started counting until I heard the (thankfully distant) thunder -- 25 seconds. Then I saw another lightning flash and did the same thing -- another 25 seconds. A few minutes later, there was a very bright flash, and we were down to 8 seconds. Uh-oh, this means the storm (which was a hellacious downpour by now) is just a few miles away -- essentially right on top of me. I weighed my options:

  1. shove everything in my pack (getting everything soaked in the process), put on my headlamp, and start hiking down a steep downhill in a ferocious thunderstorm;
  2. wait and hope I don't get struck -- it was only one bolt after all ..

I chose (2) and decided to ride this out. The next bolt was ten seconds away, then twenty, then forty, then I was unable to hear the corresponding thunder. Phew, this thunderhead must've been moving quickly. (By now the rain had slackened back to a steady drizzle)

When I got up a few hours later, everything was wet. Not from the rain directly, but because I was basically inside the raincloud. And, based on the skies, it didn't look like I'd have a chance to dry anything today. Barf.

Oh well, let's start this big downhill hike.


This is as clear of a picture as I could get.

Everything was completely muddy and super slippery. Even if my shoes and socks had been dry when I put them on (they weren't), they would've been saturated within minutes (they were). This can't be good for my foot but hey maybe I'll get a break?

The trail passed lots of old mining gear, which was neat to see and hard to photograph because of the clouds and persistent wetness.


Like this .. thing?

Eventually I broke out the bottom of the clouds and arrived at the village at the bottom of the valley. I'll be honest: I'm only calling it a village because that's what they call it -- I would call it five houses sitting next to each other with no clear purpose.


It was cute though

After a quick lunch of crabapples (I found a tree) and M&Ms (peanut), I began the 1,100-meter climb up the valley on the opposite side. This trail had clearly been hammered by the storm last night, too: it was wet and muddy and slippery.



This wouldn't be so bad if I got to enjoy the rewards of hiking mountains: seeing something. But alas, not today.


View from the very top, where I had lunch round 2

After a disappointing summit view, I began the equally-long (1000+-meter) descent down the other side, which was even more muddy and more slippery because there was less vegetation on that side for some reason.

Just like this morning's descent, I eventually broke through the bottom of the clouds and had relative .. dryness? Almost? That's a stretch, but I wasn't getting actively soaked anymore. I could shed my rain jacket, at any rate.


The French side is so lush and green!

At the nadir of the valley, I reached a literal fork in the road:


Which way to go?

Taking the right-hand trail takes me back up another 1,200 meters, along the GR10.

Taking the left-hand trail takes me down, to a road, which takes me to a town with a hotel and a market.

I went left.


Yay, lots and lots of road walking

This was a very quiet country road, so getting a hitch anywhere was going to be almost impossible for quite some time. However, I made some more be friends!


Cluck cluck cluck

When I made the decision to go left, it was not just for resupply reasons: I was also looking for a train station. I had made up my mind: I'm calling it quits on this particular hike for now. Between my foot getting worse and worse, and the forecast indicating another few consecutive days of rain, I realized that I just wasn't having a good time (which is the whole reason I was out there in the first place).

The guidebook had warned that August was the driest month and that creeks would be empty and springs would be dry, but I had the opposite experience. Very odd.

Anyway, I'm super happy that I went! I saw amazing things (on clear days ;-) ), hung out with an awesome friend (Crash is continuing on), and -- aside from the skin on my foot falling apart -- didn't have any physical troubles. I'm very excited to see that I've apparently still got it, and I'm looking forward to my next adventure!

(That next adventure might be picking up this very trail where I left off -- or at least where I want to see repeats again!)