Writing this trail report in the cold, fading light of autumn, some 8 weeks or so after our return to the UK, I smile wistfully at the summer adventure we enjoyed in the beautiful Spanish Pyrenees. It’s easy to wish we were back amidst incredible vistas, wandering the GR11 in relative isolation, under a blazing sun. Who wouldn’t want to re-set the clock and start their summer holiday all over again?
Camping out in the wilderness without the luxuries of home and walking great distances for no other reason than the adventure and challenge of it, may not be everyone’s idea of a great time. But the purpose of our travel is to experience life not as we know it, but to learn, share and connect to it, as it exists with nature, untouched, in a place that is new to us. And the Pyrenees certainly provided us with such an experience and has made a deep and effectual connection.
In fact, this little piece of the world, so close to home, has left such a lasting impression on the both of us (and unexpectedly so) that we can’t wait to return…
The mind wanders effortlessly to the fantastic days we had walking the GR11 this summer under bright sunshine and blue skies (not always the norm for our thru-hikes!)
Sunday 13th August 2017 – Day 3 – Sallent de Gallego Municipal Campground to Wild Camp at the southern shore of Embalse de Respomuso – ‘Wild Camp Wonder!’
Start time: 10:57. End time: 16:56. Distance: 14.4km. Ascent: 1,715m / Descent: 903m.
Usually by ‘Day 3’ we’re back into the swing of things and our bodies are getting back on track to becoming refined, trail fit, hiking machines once again. However today was different. It seemed a long, long, long hike out-of-town and up to the reservoir – Embalse de Respomuso – our end point for the day and where we intended on wild camping that evening. I put it down to the fact my pack had been giving me some jip the previous day, the load not carrying very well as on close inspection we discovered the stitching had come away at a section of the hip belt. Not good news at any point as backpacks are expensive to replace, but especially worse when already on the trail and relying on it to perform! (Hence the need to carry a needle and thread in the emergency repair kit, which this time without realising, we had omitted!)
Before we could make our miles on Day 3, an emergency hip belt repair was needed!
Due to needing to make an emergency repair, our planned early start then turned into a fairly late departure from Sallent de Gallego as we waited for the shops to open. As Wayne went in search of a needle and thread, I sat on a bench at the edge of town keeping an eye on our backpacks, whilst also trying to dry out the tent fly as it had been fairly wet from condensation that morning. Thankfully both the sun and a light breeze were working their magic. In the meantime, I had tried to use several safety pins along with gaffer tape to secure my hip belt back in place as best I could, (purely a temporary measure) until we had the chance to sew it properly, as by now it was 11am and we really needed to get going!
Hence, it was not a particularly comfortable walk. As my pack wasn’t tightening and thus fitting properly, it was causing my shoulders (the right one in particular) lots of discomfort as the pack weight was now pulling on them and was no longer being carried and spread evenly by my hips. Largely because of this, it began to feel like one of those never-ending trails that keeps on going up several switchbacks, but you never actually seem to get any farther forward (much like hiking down from Mount Whitney to Whitney Portal at the end of the JMT, an endless descent that plays havoc with your morale when you just want to get there as beers and a burger are awaiting!) In comparison, it was no way near the same distance, but it generated the sentiment all the same – in the end, we just wanted to get there!
Finally leaving Sallent de Gallego and heading for Respomuso Reservoir.
The GR11 is well signposted in and around Sallent de Gallego and when we finally headed uphill out-of-town, it was on a well-trodden, easy to follow track. We then took the path along the southwestern shore of the Embalse de la Sarra, which we found was busy with day trippers. At the northern end of the reservoir there is a large car park and conveniently, a café-bar/ restaurant where we decided to take a pit-stop and cool down with an ice-cream! We sat outside in the sun and enjoyed the rare luxury of a table and chairs. We also wanted to fill up with fresh water supplies from the ‘water point’ that was marked on our map in this location.
Note: The water point is at the very end of the car park on the left hand side beyond the café. (Bar/restaurant/café is known as – Asador de la Sarra.)
The path was well-trodden and easy to follow. (I was thankful of that having to make do with a hip belt secured with safety pins until we had time for a more permanent fix!)
Water was plentiful – but instead of spending time filtering, we decided to wait and fill up at the water point situated at the northern shore of the reservoir.
We took the SW path around the Embalse de la Sarra (1,438 m), which was a vivid turquoise colour, tempting us for a swim.
Whilst there was a café, we couldn’t resist indulging in an ice-cream! On the trail, Magnums are a girl’s best friend!
Time to hit the trail again… Hiking through the Tena Valley on the southern side of the Pyrenees.
Then started the big climb of the day! Much like the area around the Ibones de Anayet, it became a very busy trail once again especially with day trippers hiking up to the reservoir and back. We also found that this section of the GR11 trail is very exposed, e.g. you will be walking for the best part of the day in full sun, (perfect if you are in need of topping up your hiker tan like myself, but not great if, like Wayne, you burn easily and don’t want to resemble a mixed grill!) Part of the trail does pass through a wooded gorge, with the trees offering some shade. So we took advantage of this whilst we had the opportunity, also making the time to take our packs off and have a sit down on a rock.
Note: At one section, the GR11 path follows a ledge along an exposed cliff face. As it is also a ‘tourist path’ leading up to the reservoir, fencing has been put in place as a safety measure – however at the time of our hike, some fence posts lay flat on the ground at particular sections as the area had experienced a rock fall.
The Rio Agua Limpias flows through the Tena Valley affording lots of good photo ops with a mountainous backdrop.
Wild high mountains – the perfect motivation to keep walking.
From the Mediterranean coast to the highest peaks, the Spanish Pyrenees has plenty of flora and fauna to admire.
Heading into pretty spectacular scenic stuff!
Looking back down the trail. Despite the heat and dry climate, the mountains were cloaked in a striking green.
Catching a glimpse of some rushing cascades.
Intoxicated with the sheer natural beauty of our surroundings helped me take my mind off my pack for a while!
Spain is not just great food, sunshine, beaches and brilliant works of architecture! It has wild high mountains and varied landscapes offering impressive views in every direction.
Slowly but surely making our way up the trail towards Respomuso Reservoir. It seemed a long, long way up in the intense heat of August!
Beautiful panorama looking back through the valley.
Enjoying the view under a slither of shade. We had lots of rest breaks and lots of snacks as it was so HOT!
Checking in with our guidebook, it had said that we were entering “… A region of granite mountains which provide much of the most spectacular scenery in the Pyrenees”. So we were very much looking forward to the next few days, especially as the High Sierras we had lovingly hiked through on the John Muir Trail in the USA, remains our favourite scenery and terrain to hike through to date. At that moment, we were even more excited as we were expecting the Spanish side of the Pyrenees to be very similar!
Wowed by spectacular granite peaks – we were expecting the scenery and terrain of the Pyrenees to be similar to California’s Sierra Nevada.
Around 4 hours after leaving the café at Embalse de la Sarra, the Respomuso Reservoir, or rather the huge dam holding the waters back, finally came into view!
We were not the only hikers on the trail, but it was much less busy on the final section than what we had anticipated.
Seemingly in the middle of nowhere! To the left of the reservoir is a church perched high on a rocky ledge, known as Capella de la Virgin de las Nieves.
Wow, just wow! The mountains are alive with colour!
The Capella de la Virgin de las Nieves or the hermitage of Virgen de las Nieves, next to the dam of the reservoir of Respomuso.
After a long hike uphill, we made it to the reservoir and were rewarded with incredible views!
Here we came to a trail junction. If you continue along the southwestern side of the reservoir, the path leads to Refugio de Respomuso situated on the western bank at 2,177 metres. Alternatively, you can walk across the top of the dam and take the trail along the eastern side of the reservoir. As we didn’t want to stay at the refuge, we decided to follow the old GR11 route that crosses the dam and goes around the southern bank to the east of the reservoir.
From the map, we had a wild camp location in mind, but ultimately we were on the look out for any good-looking spots with a pleasant view. Well we weren’t disappointed – the views were simply incredible! We spotted a pre-used camp spot almost instantly and it ticked all the right boxes, affording us a stunning view of the mountains that dominated the skyline at the northernmost end of the reservoir. (We thought the location would be hard to beat and writing this retrospectively, it was without a doubt the best wild camp spot of the entire trip!)
From here the path runs along the southwestern bank of Embalse de Respomuso to the refuge – Refugio de Respomuso. However we decided to walk across the dam and wild camp on the southern shore of the lake looking onto the peaks of Gran Facha (3,005m), Pico Campoplano (2,727m) and Pico Llena Cantal (2,956m).
Crossing the reservoir. Ibón de Respomuso sits at 2,100 metres.
Taking the eastern path around the reservoir and enjoying the mountainous scenery!
Looking for a flat spot to camp… And feeling unsuccessful so far!
The reservoir is crystal clear!
Continuing along the eastern shore…
Looking onto the peaks of Pico Cambales (2,965m), Gran Facha (3,005m) in the distance, and Pico Campoplano (2,727m).
I spy a perfect spot… Making our way down to a flat plateau.
A wild camp spot with the most incredible view – what more could we ask for?!
Who needs five-star luxury with this view all to ourselves? (Oh and a camp chair! Wayne’s new kit addition weighing in at around 500 grams!)
Enjoying the last rays of light before it goes off the mountains. Wonderful, just wonderful!
As we arrived at 5pm, we had the chance to get everything out of our packs and warmed through as the sun was still strong e.g. sleeping bags, pads etc, so that they were back to optimal performance. Making the most of an early-ish finish, we then enjoyed a leisurely evening drinking tea, sunbathing (for a while), taking in the changing the light casting a glow over the surrounding mountains, and we even had chance for a strip wash with our collapsible bucket as our camp was close to a stream.
Wayne tried his best to sew my hip belt and repair my backpack, but to no avail – the needle unfortunately snapped! So we resorted to safety pins once again, with a dab of super glue and extra layers of gaffer tape. We hoped it would hold for a while longer until we came up with another plan, but it would get a real testing the next day.
To accompany the tremendous view, we also indulged in one of our favourite camp dinners. (So far, our ration choices are keeping us happy and fulfilled – but as it’s only Day 3, we’re yet to see whether we can keep our insatiable hiker hunger at bay!)
To match the view, Wayne cooked up a feast with one of our favourite camp meals! Thai flavoured noodles with a fried egg on top, perfect!
Feeling well rested and completely in love with our temporary residence, we even set the alarm for an early hours wake-up call so that Wayne could set up his equipment for some star photography. He’s been wanting to get a tent shot with the Big Agnes lit up under a starry sky since our thru-hike on the Kungsleden! Surely this fantastic wild camp spot will prevail!
It’s true that majestic mountains stir the imagination of hearts and minds across all corners of the earth. Although we have compared the Pyrenees with the Sierras, not one long-distance hike is the same, and we never get bored with waking up somewhere new. But this wild camp wonder will sure take some beating!
Magnificent walkers’ country in its own right, after our experience on the GR11, we would also like to explore more of the Haute Route through the highest central Pyrenees. The rich cultural diversity arising from the two very different cultures that the Pyrenees spans, also means we feel compelled to plan for a future trip that will allow us the time to venture into neighbouring France and take on some of its counterpart – the GR10. (We have the PCT coming up in 2018, but we’re always two steps ahead into the future… So watch this space!)