Yesterday was a day of suffering, but this morning I awoke in the comfortable surrounds of the Hotel Vall de Núria. White towels. En suite bathroom. Breakfast buffet. What more could you ask for?
I made the most of the self-serve breakfast with endless rounds of toast, plain yoghurt and café con leche. It was strange to be surrounded by normal people all of sudden. None of whom looked like they were mid-way through a cross-continental jaunt.
Once the waitresses appeared to be losing patience with me, I returned to my room, grabbed my backpack, checked out and then spent some time hunting for the GR11 continuation trail, which in fact turned out to be the very obvious pista heading north-east.
After feeling totally ill yesterday, I was a bit trepidacious whether my stomach would be OK, and whether any energy would have returned, so I set off slowly on the 700m climb to Coll de Noufonts. Thankfully as soon as I got going, the climb felt effortless, and I was soon at the 2645m col.
The next 3km follows the French-Spanish border along a high exposed undulating ridge, with great views north into France. This was quite pleasant, apart from the screaming wind that was trying to knock me off my feet. Once off the ridge it didn't take long to reach the Refugi d'Ulleter 2200m where I stopped for a coffee, and to get out of the cold misty conditions.
There was an option from Refugi d'Ulleter to follow the HRP high-level route to reach Molló, thereby missing out Setcases. But given the thick mist and imminent rain, this was not an appealing option, so I chose the straightforward descent to Setcases with the rain setting in.
Once at Setcases, I found a bar showing Stage 17 of the Tour de France from Pau to Col du Tourmalet. When I arrived, the riders were nearing the summit of the Col du Soulor, but still had 58 kilometres to go. The weather looked lousy. The riders were putting on jackets as they crossed the col. I treated myself to a bistec and greasy bread, but then thought I should get a move on and head over the hill to Molló.
A young Czech hiker who had just arrived from Molló warned me that the route would be tricky to follow in the mist. I liked the sound of a challenge so set off from Setcases, probably around 4.30pm.
As promised the route was extremely tricky to follow in the mist and rain, and I repeatedly lost the trail and had a few stressful encounters with cattle. But eventually the rain and mist cleared just as I was dropping into Molló at 8pm. My plan had been to stop here, but there were no obvious lodgings or decent looking bar/restaurants, so I just kept walking on autopilot.
I crossed the Riu Ritort and climbed over the Coll de la Boixera, now in grassy farmland. I was now descending towards Beget but it was almost completely dark. I dug out my headtorch and was thinking I really need to stop soon.
Passing the farmstead of Can Planas barking dogs alerted the owner to my presence, and the woman offered some flat grass beside the house for me to camp on. I was aware that the weather was looking pretty unsettled so asked about staying in the house, which offers accommodation. Unfortunately the woman refused to offer me any shelter since she didn't have a bed made up, and she didn't know I was coming.
I thought these were pretty lame excuses, and no sooner had I got the tent up than the most almighty electric storm broke out. My first thought was "thank god I'm not hiking down the trail to Beget in the dark, or I'd be soaked in seconds", but my second and longer-lasting thought was "how can that woman possibly leave me lying out here in this torrential rain when there is a perfectly good house 2 metres away". In fact the second thought pre-occupied me for the next 7 or 8 hours, since there was no chance of getting any sleep with thunder and lightning all night, and the heaviest rain I have ever experienced.
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