Entering The Posets-Maladeta Natural Park…
Having already been blown away by the spectacular scenery in the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park just a few days earlier, we didn’t expect more ‘wow’ moments so soon on the trail. But as we stepped foot in the Posets-Maladeta Parque Natural, once again we found ourselves walking through grand valleys with magnificent mountain peaks dominating the skyline, including that of Aneto (3,404m) and Pico Posets (3,375m) – the two highest summits in the Pyrenees, and from which the park takes its name.
With such raw beauty to behold in every direction, it’s easy to see why the nature reserve area is also a favourite with visitors to Spain. Formed in 1994, the park showcases a stunning mix of scenery – from lush meadows and shady beech and pine woods down in the valleys below, to rocky summits, glaciers and exposed ridges towering above. So today we didn’t rush our way through the trail. Instead, we took plenty of rest breaks and spent more of our time soaking up the scene as both the mountains and sweeping valley views were truly captivating…
Mesmerised by such raw beauty… The incredible Posets-Maladeta Natural Park.
Monday 21st August 2017 – Day 11 – Camping Forcallo, Es Plans to Camping Aneto, Puente de San Jaime – ‘Back To The Good Stuff!’
Start time: 08:36. End time: 17:32. Distance: 22.6km. Ascent: 1,616m / Descent: 1,956m.
After yesterday’s bit of relaxation in the sunshine, having arrived at camp around 2:30pm, it was a rude awakening to have to get up and face another 21km day with an ascent of over 1000 metres at the get go! But we did have something to spur us on – the thought of another proper campsite in Puente de San Jaime, complete with supermercado, which we were now in need of since we were low on rations again.
It was not so easy getting an early start however, as we slept through the 6:30am alarm and still struggled to get up before 8am. But it had to be done. Miles had to be made to get us to our hotel in Forcat, (pre-booked for Wednesday) – the end of the line for us. The date was non-negotiable as we had already purchased bus tickets for 6am on the Thursday, when we would be Barcelona bound for a long weekend to end our trip. (We’re all for trying the local delicacies and had to finish with a little luxury by way of tapas and sangria!)
Leaving Camping Forcallo, a little gem of a campsite in Es Plans.
An easy start on track, and we were also thankful of some good shade.
Another sunny day on the trail!
What helped us on our way was that the scenery was yet again immense! Jagged peaks dominated the skyline in every direction as we walked through another beautiful valley, and once again we were just a tiny speck in the vastness of nature.
Huge peaks dominated the skyline as we headed off towards the Pleta d’Anes Cruces, our next trail junction.
Looking back along the trail. We were soon overtaken by the young hiking group whom we had been leap frogging the past few days.
The high point of the day would be reaching the pass of the Puerto del Chistau (or Collado de Estós) at 2,572 metres, so when we came to the trail junction at the Pleta d’Anes Cruces (2,080m), we took our first rest break before the big ‘up’. This is a natural junction where the GR11 crosses three streams before the ascent up to the pass. Here, we took the opportunity to take off our trail shoes and bathe our feet in an icy cool pool, making the most of the beautiful surroundings.
Other hikers also downed their packs and rested by the streams, this section being comparatively busy to the previous few days where we had predominantly been alone on the trail. A large walking group passed us, but they did not take the GR11 route, instead heading off in a different direction. By the time we were ready to get going again, we had already been overtaken by the younger hiking group, whom we had seen at Goriz (with the Spanish ‘Ed Sheeran’). From the other side of the stream, the route up looked long and steep, but they covered the trail quickly as there were good switchbacks and they made quick progress up the mountainside.
Looking up towards what we first thought was the pass. But our route took us down to the river, before turning right to the collada.
We cooled our feet off in the stream before tackling the big ‘up’ of the day!
We were soon powering up the mountainside too – with around 500 metres of ascent to go to reach the collada. After a couple of hours or so, we knew we had almost made it as spray painted on a large boulder, just before the very top, was the name of the pass, which was the first time we had seen this kind of waymarking. The younger ones were lounging out on the grass having lunch by the time we arrived at the top of the collada. We were more than ready for a rest and in need of some food to recharge the batteries, so we took off our packs and decided to do the same, taking our time up there.
From across the way, the trail heading up the mountainside to the Puerto del Chistau (or Collado de Estós) appeared steep going across the scree. But in reality, it wasn’t as bad as it looked! (We had already tackled much worse on the GR11!)
Crossing the stream and looking back down the valley before we started the ascent.
Pushing on in the heat! We took a rest break every 100 metres of ascent as it was such a hot one!
Taking a rest break partway to the pass. Looking back down the trail where other hikers were also making their way up.
At 2,572 metres, the top of Puerto del Chistau (Collado de Estós) afforded us a fantastic view looking back down the valley, so Wayne did a video update and took photographs from the collada to capture the incredible panoramic scene. Then we devoured a hearty lunch that consisted of our last rations – giant door step baguettes with queso and salami – our reliable hiker staples. (After 3 days, and in such heat, the bread was a little dry, but when you’re hungry on the trail, just about anything tastes good!)
Enjoying the incredible mountain views!
Panorama shot whilst heading up to the pass.
Almost there… After such a strenuous morning, we were starving and couldn’t wait to eat our lunch rations!
From the top of the pass, the route to the Refugio d’Estós over the Puerto del Chistau was fairly straightforward. The trail is well-marked along the way with regular paint flashes and although it is steep in places, there are good switchbacks which helps to take the toughness out of it – especially with the descent – our least favourite direction of travel.
Looking down to the Estós valley from the top of the collada!
After all that up, we now had to face a long descent!
Wayne takes the lead… We felt so insignificant in the vastness of nature.
The view was so tremendous I kept stopping to take it all in, otherwise I find myself looking too much at my feet whilst descending on scree!
With hardly a breeze and a blazing sun overhead, we found today was incredibly hot. During this section of the GR11, the route meanders along the mountainside as opposed to down in the valley, where it looked much more inviting and pleasurable to be walking alongside the river. But that being said, the mountainsides had one advantage – trees were sporadically growing in patches, which afforded us a little shade for the few moments we passed them. We were even more thankful of the larger thickets in some places that provided more sustained periods of coolness, which was very welcomed (even by this avid sun worshipper!).
It was so hot that when we got our Haribo sweets out for a snack break they had melted into one giant jelly goo! (We didn’t fancy eating that, but I’m it would have provided the ultimate sugar boost!)
So when we reached the Refugio d’Estós (1,890m), we stopped and treated ourselves to icy cold cans of Fanta that we guzzled down in seconds! We also took off our trail shoes and let our feet breathe during the short rest stop. From the veranda, we enjoyed excellent views again, this time looking onto the two highest peaks in the Pyrenees – namely, Aneto (3,404m) and Pico Posets (3,375m). The young hiking group were already there and refuelling again by way of bread and tins of tuna and baked beans. They were planning on hiking up Aneto mountain in the next day or so, whereas we would be finishing our hike in the village of Aneto, therefore we knew this would be the last we saw of them. We wished them well with their onward journey, as they were thru-hiking the entire distance of the GR11, finishing at Cap de Creus, located at the far northeast of Catalonia, sometime next month.
A real treat – cold fizzy drinks and chairs in the shade!
After leaving the refuge, the descent towards Puente de San Jaime was along a good track – picture a ‘tourist path‘ nicely levelled on good gradient. We passed some joggers heading to the refuge and back and agreed that’s dedication for you, running in such heat! We followed the river to the Cascades de Rio Estós, then instead of the GR11 route, we decided to continue along the road. We thought it was easier than taking the trail, which cut out the switchbacks by descending more directly, but this was over rocks and roots that required more concentration and slowed our pace. After such a demanding morning, largely because of the intense heat, the road was much more appealing!
Crossing over the Rio Estós and looking forward to another campsite that evening. We really needed a shower after sweating so much!
Rocky summits, glaciers and exposed ridges dominate the skyline in the Posets-Maladeta Natural Park.
We passed a sign saying no ‘free’ camping allowed in the valley bottom. (Wild camping is therefore illegal on the descent below the refuge.) This is because campsites are available at Aneto, with hostel and hotel facilities also provided in the town of Benasque, a few kilometres further along the main road. We hadn’t planned on wild camping anyway as we needed more food supplies; we just hoped the supermercado at the campsite was open until late as it was already nearing 6pm.
Almost at Puente de San Jaime, we took a few minutes to enjoy a fresh, icy cold drink of water from a natural spring. Having enjoyed several sustained rest breaks because of the heat, today’s hike had taken us far longer than expected, so by the time we walked down the road into town it was already 6:30pm.
Another refreshing cold drink courtesy of the trail, but this time completely free!
Enjoying more fantastic views on the way to the campsite…
We crossed the bridge over the Rio Esera to get to the ‘Reception’ area at Camping Aneto. We were excited to find a huge campsite complete with cabins, caravans and camping, supermercado and even a swimming pool! Thankfully, the pool and shop were both open until 8pm. But having arrived so late, by the time we had pitched our tent and got organised, we only had the chance to go to the supermarket to resupply. (Food was our main priority as usual!) After our shopping was done, the sun had gone off the small terrace area where we had camped anyway. But it was still good as we had a bench to sit on close to our tent, so we took the opportunity to indulge a little with ice creams and more fizzy drinks. We also made use of the phone signal we now had to update everyone with our progress and catch up with news from home.
Crossing over the Rio Esera to Camping Aneto.
We made good use of the well stocked supermercado on site and indulged in a few treats after today’s efforts.
The swimming pool that sadly we didn’t get the chance to use!
By now it was completely dark, but we showered, then had dinner late. By camping standards it was a proper home-cooked meal – with instant mashed potato, a tin of meatballs, and tomato and red pepper cupa soup mixed into the gravy to try and make a more flavoursome sauce. (We don’t really like to think of what the ‘meatball’ is really constituted of!) It was actually OK, but we much prefer instant noodles with a fried egg on top!
Camped next to us, we found out the following morning, were another English couple who were hiking the entire GR11 route. They were ultra lightweight, carrying small packs of no more than 35 litres capacity! And here was us packing up and heading off with huge, heavy packs in comparison! (After meeting them and seeing their limited gear, we decided that we need to reassess our kit and compromise a bit more on comfort and start weighing things again! Wayne’s mantra of “every gram counts” had certainly gone out of the window on this trip! I, for example, had brought far too much winter stuff!)
Having spent an evening with such great facilities on-site, the worst bit of news was that the campsite didn’t have an ATM and having checked the booking T&C’s of our forthcoming stay in Forcat, we realised we could only pay with cash. Wayne looked at several options using the internet for trying to acquire some paper money before Wednesday – but the only real option we had if we wanted to stick to our schedule, was to head to Benasque in the morning as there is a Santander bank located in the town. It was not really what we wanted on top of an already 18km day as it would be a 6km ish round trip from the campsite and back before we even got started back on the GR11 route. But needs must! (Note: All the little settlements along the GR11 route do not take card payments and have signs saying ‘cash only’. So be prepared, and carry enough cash to see you through these areas, as it is difficult to come by an ATM without diverting off-trail to a main town. At Camping Aneto it is possible to pay by card, and we also paid by card at the supermarket in Parzan. But it makes you realise how much we rely on the feature of “contactless” with our debit cards at home. We virtually never carry cash! Note to self – when in mountains always have an emergency cash reserve!)
With the thought of hot-footing it to Benasque at first light on our minds, we didn’t have a great sleep that night. Neither did it help that there was a bright light shining above our tent leading the way to the camp toilets! It was the first time I had used my eye mask on this trip as we were so used to it being pitch black when camping! So I was glad to have carried the extra few grams in this instance.
With just two days left to go, we were hoping our ‘cashless’ situation was not going to impact on our final experiences of the GR11 trail!…