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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

TransCatalunya: Day 2

Events, dear reader, the nasty little bastards creep up on you. And even though you know they're lurking, when they tap on your shoulder you still turn round, startled, thus offering them an undefended punch on your noe.
It happened to me. It happened to 48% of the UK electorate. I stood there, stunned, for a minute but by the time I'd come to my senses the culprit had already scarpered was on its way to spread its poisonous, xenophobic elsewhere. I'm still hot on its heels and if I ever get my hands on it I swear to God I'll batter it to bits.
Fortunately, I was in Girona when it happened, inured from the inanity of the situation by hot sun, cold beer and tapas. And the lilting, calming tones of the Catalan language. It was only when I jumped on the train and headed north, up into France to Paris and then London, that the cracks began to show. Even more fortunately, my sojourn in the UK was a brief one, just enough time to do battle with the University of Exeter's ethics approval submission process. That's done, now I'm kicking at my heels, waiting to get back on the trail. Only a week to go.
I arrived in Girona after a week's walking from Prades. Well, the intention was to walk the whole way, via the GR83, GR1, GR2 and Ruta de Carillet but circumstances that had nothing to do with the events of June 23rd put paid to that. Here's why:


The mill lode

The GR83 climbs out of Prades on a gentle gradient then contours the wooded slopes by following a mill lode. I'm barely out of my traps and already the enchantment's set in, I hadn't anticipated a relatively gentle stroll nor the sudden appearance, through the trees of the abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa. It threw me, knocked me of my stride and I dawdled - like Alison Moyet, I went weak in the prescence of beauty

GR83 from Prades to Taurinya, via St-Michel-de-Cuxa

The climb didn't begin in earnest until I'd passed the village of Taurinya, at about 600m In terms of horizontal distance, my destination - the Cortalets Chalet high up on Canigou - was less than 10km away but vertically I had my work cut out; another 1400m of ascent and clouds were gathering. 

GR83: Taurinya to Chalet de Cortalets

The GR83 twists and turns, a good path but Dios mio, doesn't it just go on and on and on. I'd purchased, at considerable expense, a 1:25000 IGN map of the Canigou massif. In many ways it's a work of art but for one used to the simplicity of following the ubiqituous yellow arrow, there's just too much detail and although I never got lost I was never quite sure exactly where I was

The highly-detailed IGN 1:25000 map. Infuriatingly, I reckon I got as far as 1500m, just 500m short of Cortlates. Still, je ne regrette rien

It was a lonely climb, until I came across a large group of teenage schoolchildren coming in the opposite direction. Now, I'm the kind of person who likes to see plenty of people out in the field, especially if they're kids; it's an essential tenet of ramblanismo. I stood to one side as they processed down passed me and do you know what? Almost each and every one of them, students and teachers, wished me a hearty bonjour. I replied to them all, with a widening smile; the acscent was becoming tedious, they cheered me up no end. 
And for some reason, it lead me to beleive that I wasn't far from a car park where I'd come across the bus which had surely dumped the kids off a few minutes earlier. From there a rough track would surely lead me, safely and securely, up to Cortalets where I'd booked a bed for the night.  

Canigou massif from Taurinya

Turns out the kids, looking remarkably fresh-faced, must have hiked down all the way from Cortlatets, still a good 900m above; the path continued to wind upwards, past abandoned shepherd huts and into pine forest. 


It was the first rumbles of thunder which sowed the seeds of doubt in my mind. Several times I paused to consult the map but on each occasion I decided to carry on; I had, after all, passed the point-of-no-return, theoretically at least, my destination was closer than my origin.

So near and yet so far

Discretion is the better part of valour. How much was aphorism reverberating around my increasingly concerned mind? The thunder rolled on, now accompanied by lumpen spots of rain; I looked up at Canigou, the summit was well out of sight but I'd worked out that to get to Cortalets the path would traverse an exposed ridge.  


Let's get one thing straight, I'm not a novice. I've been up on the mountain in a thunderstorm before and I'd spent the Christmas holidays hiking up to 4000m in the Mexican and Central American volcanic belt. But here, alone on the hill, I didn't feel adequately prepared, mentally or in terms of equipment. Ultimately, the decision to turn round and descend was an easy one; in fact, it more or less made itself. 

Abandoned shepherds' huts

And it was, as it turns out, the right one. The following morning I caught a glimpse of Canigou from Prades, overnight the upper slopes had received a good coating of snow. It was almost midsummer, I hadn't bargained for that. The rain came on hard and I picked up the pace, soon it became a race between the well-being of my right knee and the desire to get back down to the valley. The latter won and by the timeI got back to Prades the knee was giving me sufficient grief to worry about my ability to continue with the hike. 

The gathering storm

Later that evening, over a cold beer and take-away pizza, I mulled over the options. Though climbing Camigou was now out of the question, all was not lost; a bus up to Vernet-les-Bains would allow me to pick up a good track to the Mariailles refuge where I'd booked a bed for the following night. From there the GR83 would take me over the Pyrennees and down into Prats-de-Mollo. Despite a dodgy weather forecast, it all seemed relatively straightforward but deep-down inside I wasn't convinced.

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