Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 15 - Pla de Boet to Encamp

35km, 2500 metres of ascent
My high camp at Pla de Boet 1850m was by far the coldest start of the trip, and it took a while to warm up after my usual 6.30am start.

Today was arguably the toughest day of the trip, with some incredibly steep climbs and descents, and scorching temperatures in the middle of the day.

The initial section of trail was thoroughly wild and alpine, leading up to Estany de Baiau which I reached just as sunlight was breaking over the ridges. I prematurely stripped down to shorts and T-shirt thinking I would work up a sweat on the climb to Port de Baiau 2757m, but in fact the climb was absolutely freezing since I was back in the shade and a screaming wind was blowing up to the col. The climb to the pass was across a mix of awkward boulders and old hard snow patches, before hitting steep-angled almost unclimbable fine scree.

My body was aching with cold as I popped out onto the Port de Baiau, so I relieved to emerge into bright morning sunshine with a nice easy-angled descent towards the semi-frozen lake of Estany Negre.

Suddenly I was amongst day-hikers out for their Sunday stroll, and the surrounding didn't seem quite so wild any more. The Andorrans certainly appear to take their hiking more seriously than the Spanish.

Spurred on by some human contact, I felt more energised for the descent down past Coma Pedrosa to Arinsal. This was my first experience of Andorra, and it is quite clear that they cater for international visitors in precisely the way that Spain doesn't. For example they had the novel idea of having a supermarket open in the middle of the day, which was ideal for my lunchstop.

After Arinsal you are faced with a surprisingly tough climb up and over the Coll de les Cases 1965m, where the trail hardly bothers with zig-zags so you are on a brutally steep gradient.

I was starting to feel a bit jaded when I reached Arans, and completely underestimated the remaining effort to reach Encamp. I thought my estimate of 8pm was perfectly achievable, but after La Cortinada the trail takes on a roller-coaster profile to drop you back on a pista just above Ordino, which you could have reached in half the time if you'd just walked down the road past Sornas.

So I was a bit wasted when I started up the final 600m of ascent to Coll d'Ordino, and I had pain in my heels and my left calf kept cramping up, so I was having to ascend sideways like a crab to take the strain off my calves and heels.

It took me a ludicrous amount of time to reach Coll d'Ordino 1970m, and all the while I was hoping Jason would appear for a bit of morale support. When I finally reached the col, I slumped on the ground for a few minutes, texting Jason to discover that he failed to find the GR11 and was waiting on the campground at Encamp.

Once again, the descent to Encamp was far steeper, rougher and more awkward than I could possibly have imagined, so it was a major relief when I shuffled onto Camping Internacional at Encamp to be greeted by Jason, Daisy and the 3 boys, shortly after 9pm.

The rest of the evening was complete luxury, slobbing around drinking beers and chatting.


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