Pre-race trekking through the Pyrenees

Before the World Rogaine Champs in La Molina, Tim and I arrived about 10 days before the race. Our priority off the plane was to get up and into the Mountains as soon as we could. Our flight into Barcelona arrived around about 3pm in the afternoon, so once our bags had arrived on the carousal, we quickly did a repack and started our journey on foot. We headed out of the air conditioned airport and into the heat of the subway to the centre of town. In town we wandered around, found a book store, bought some maps and some food and quickly made our way back to the train. We sort of made our plan up on the fly, we would go just up beyond La Molina to Puigcerdà and from there we would walk into the mountains.

The heat in Barcelona was something else, very intense especially in the train station so it was a relief to finally get onto the train and back into some air conditioning. The trip was about 2 and a half hours, so our arrival time was going to be something like around 8pm. Much of the train journey became a haze due to the jet lag starting to kick in. We arrived in a very quiet evening in Puigcerdà, and wandered around a bit to find a camping ground. We followed the basic map we had for a bit and then spotted a couple of trail markers (that we were soon going to become a lot me familar with) and eventually we rolled into the camping ground at Saneja, about 3 or 4kms outside of Puigcerdà.

Much to our amusement, we spotted some other Kiwi’s there straight away, Mike and Stephen Harding. They were able to give us some good ideas of what we could potentially do over the next week or so. Eventually we were able to finally crash for the night and get some sleep after the Catalan standard 10pm dinner.

The following morning with jet lag on our side we were up early, so we headed into town to get some more food and supplies for our planned trip. On the way out of the camp we ran into a Finnish woman that had just finished her trek on the GR11 trail and she kindly gave us her map of the area, and a run down of the area which was very handy!

After collecting our supplies in town, it was time to head back to camp and get moving. With the morning all but gone the temperature had really ramped up into the early 30’s. Reluctantly we slung our packs on our backs and started out on the road. About an hour out of town we sat down for a quick break, it was then that Tim realised that he had inadvertently left his drink bottle back at the campground when we stopped briefly to use the Wifi at the office, whoops! A bit of a mistake in those conditions, but we figured somewhere along the way we would be able to find some water.

After grinding our way up the hill for another hour or so we wandered out into the open fields into a bit of a plateau. A short walk across the field full of very tame horses and cows with bells on, we came across a Refuge. Unlike our mountain huts in NZ these Refuges had all the essentials like water and food! as well as accommodation. The guys looking after it were very friendly, and again we picked up some good tips. It was too early in the day to stop so we kept going, onwards to the next refuge not too far away.

Following along the GR11 trail markings was quite similar to the Continental Divide trail in Wyoming, it was really good most of the time then it would split and trails became vague and difficult to follow. After a slight wrong turn we managed to get back on track and arrive at the Refuge in time to have a quick run around of the Permanent Orienteering course setup there! It was quite tricky and just after starting the afternoon thunderstorm rolled in and instantly we were soaked.

The night was reasonably pleasant, but as we were now up at around 2200m above sea level it was quite cold. I resorted to my pulling out my bivvy bag part way through the early morning. Rested and recovered we spent a bit of time drying our gear out as the sun rose. As we had all of our gear for the whole trip with us, repacking was quite a mission.

Campsite at 2200m

By mid morning we were on our way, we decided to walk through into Andorra and find somewhere to camp there. The heat and the climbing was pretty energy sapping and at around lunchtime after passing over a range at 2800m we had to stop and refuel. It just happened that where we stopped was a whole lot of trail markers which looked to be part of an Ultra Marathon. Slightly confusing was that the markers said “Andorra” but we were still just in Catalan…

As we boiled up the last of our food, a bunch of very hungry looking runners came through, one runner even paused and readjusted his sock, close enough to give us the impression that if we had any extra food he was pretty keen for us to offer it up to him. Sorry buddy, we were on rations already and there wasn’t enough for you too!

The crossing over into Andorra was fairly uneventful, if we didn’t have a map we would have never known! There was however a pretty solid looking “hotel” in the mountains that we though we better check out. It had been a long day, already it was near enough to 5pm. There was lots of action at this refuge, plenty of people out on the deck enjoying the sun and watching the Helicopter ferry gear from the race backwards and forwards. We were tempted by the idea to stay here the night, but chances were not looking good for space, so we settled for a sandwich and a Coke before heading back off into hills. Topping out at around 2800m we headed down this crazy valley and into the Ski resort of Grau Roig.

A rather spectacular view

It was almost 9pm and getting near dark by the time we entered the Ski resort. According to the map there was a Hotel there, so we rocked on up, hoping to get a fed and potentially stay the night. As we approached the front door, it looked pretty fancy, and had a 4 star rating. Inside we went, Tim asked about how much a room cost… we were met with the very concise response: 216 Euro!

Tim’s face went blank and I think I silently coughed a little bit… currently we were lacking any other options for food and we were fairly desperate, so just dinner it was. Luckily we were able to store our packs in the luggage room, and change our shirts at least. Dusty, and generally looking a disheveled after a long day out in the hot we were ushered to a table surrounded by tidy and made up people, dressed in their best for dinner. To say we looked a bit out of place was an understatement.

As soon as we sat down we were offered water, great, just what we needed. Large glasses were placed in front of us… and then filled up about 2 centimeters. By the time my glass was “filled” Tim had knocked his back and immediately the waitress filled his glass up.. to all of about 2 centimeters again! When the menu came out, it was all in Spanish/Catalan and French so we had to take a bit of a guess at it. As the food came out I caught a glimpse of it and I realised I’d made a bit of a mistake…. Beef tartare… good old raw mince. It was accompanied by a salad of sprouts… As I was starving (and had paid 20 Euro’s) I had to make the best of a bad situation and gradually made my way through it. Ordeal over, dessert was required to wash it all down.

Dinner time

When it was all done and dusted the concierge came up to us and offered us a discounted rate on a room… we didn’t even hesitate to take him up on the offer! The bell boy came to help us out with our packs from the storage room, he tried and failed to pick up Tim’s pack, he didnt even bother to try lifting mine!

The best part of our stay there was the included Breakfast. It was the greatest spread of every imaginable breakfast food you could think of! We sat in the breakfast room and gorged ourselves for over an hour. We both ate so much food we had to sit around in the hotel room until checkout just to get over the food coma….

After mid day we left the comfort of the Hotel for the hot sun, Heavy packs and Steep hills yet again. Up and over into the Boarder town of El Pas de la Casa we went. What a strange town it was! A real duty free zone, but good enough for a fuel up and brief stop. We crossed over the boarder on foot, and wandered along to the French town of Porté-Puymorens. I was starting to get nervous that my feet were getting really sore and Jet Lag was really making me feel tired today… anyway its was a real relief to get to the campsite. Being France, there wasnt a lot of English spoken so we had to wing it a bit.

On the move through France

First surprise was the reaction of the camp owner when we said we wanted to stay 2 nights… it seemed a bit like a place where people pass through. Second surprise was the lack of eating facilities in the town, the only place to eat was the camp ground food caravan, other than that there was a 24hour Bread vending machine! Third surprise was for Tim, who had a bit of trouble with the language barrier. Luckily there was a helpful local who knew a tiny bit more English than I knew French, and we worked our way around the menu. Tim was most impressed when I managed to use the french word for Orienteering to explain why we were there and she understood immediately! Unfortunately for me the fourth surprise was reserved for me, I mis-translated the word for mushrooms (I have a mushroom intolerance) and ended up with a pizza full of mushrooms…whoops… tow out of two failed dinners so far.

We got up early the next day and walked to the train station down the road. Finally we had got rid of our heavy packs for a little bit and we headed north to Foix to see the Tour de France. We arrived in town pretty early and things were just getting setup, so we did some touristy things such as visit a castle. It was pretty interesting and good way to kill a few hours. Just as the riders were set to come through the town a huge downpour hit and cooled everything off a bit! A brief respite from the roaring heat. As the riders came through there looked to be a bit of a breakaway, we got to see George Bennett doing his job at the base of hill putting in the hard yards for the Jumbo-Visma team leader.

And just as soon as they arrived they were gone again, so we headed back to the train and back to the campsite. Next morning we were up and away while most of the town appeared to be sleeping, back to the train station and back to Spain was the plan. It was just a short trip on the train, so short that the ticket person didn’t get to us before the end of the line, latour de Carol. Instead of trying our luck with the next train back to Puigcerdà we chanced our luck with cutting across the river and the border to the camp ground in Sanjea. Unfortunately we came up against some private property and ended up having to walk around.

It was already mid day by the time we were back at the camp ground where we had set out from a few days before. It was super hot, and while we were waiting for the office to open we sat outside and waited. There was a dude there from Belgium, he had already had 2 beers to keep himself hydrated, and after about 10mins he bought us all one too! After quite some time we eventually left him to make his way further along the GR11, I suspect had we continued to wait there he would have been there all day getting drunker and drunker. We took the afternoon to rest and recover, do washing and generally just relax. As it came to about dinner time we ran into another set of kiwi’s, the Millow’s who pulled up in a rental car.

That sorted us out for the next day, as we joined them for a day trip, followed by a much needed trip to the super market, where we got most of our race food…and of course lots and lots of liquids to survive the heat of the afteroon. Mat Bixley arrived in camp that evening, so we devised a plan to visit Andorra for the day yet again.

Driving into Andorra with Matt and Tim

View from the top of the gondola

No overseas trip is really complete with a bit of a road trip. So into the rental car with Matt we weaved our way into Andorra and up to Encamp. A stressed Matt emerged from the car looking relieved to be out and about. We rode a gondola up to the summit and let Matt off to play in the hills. Tim and I mucked around a bit at the top chatting with an ex-Russian Ski Orienteer, who now lived in Andorra. We eventually figured out she was also a ski instructor at the resort, which made sense that she seemed to be well known by all of the gondola staff!

We wandered down the hill from the gondola in search of the Via Ferrata that was apparently on the map, but it turned out to be non-existent. Back down the gondola we went and as you seem to do when away overseas, looked for a supermarket to buy something to drink! As we waited at the car for Matt to arrive back from his 5 hour run, you would never guess who we ran into… the Belgian dude from two days previous. Unsurprisingly, he was equipped with a beer in hand! He was a bit more focused today and only stopped to talk for about 5min before moving on.

Not too much later Matt finally turned up and we jumped back in the car to escape the city. We decided to to a round trip of Andorra and cut back through France on the way. At the boarder we stopped again at El pas de la Cas. This time we had a proper look around… and eye opening experience… everything tax free you could think of, Wine, Beer, Spirits, Cigarettes… and lots of Bulk tubs of Washing detergent… getting out of Andorra had passport-less Tim sweating a little as the car in front of us was stopped and inspected! This time France was uneventful, and soon we were back in Spain again.

The following day, it was holidays over and we moved up the hill into our accommodation at the event headquarters in La Molina. Luckily we managed to get registered, checked in and an elusive training map to get out on model map before the sun went down!

Categories: Exploring, Orienteering, Rogaine

1 comment

  1. Other than running around in the hills, Andorra is a shithole.

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