These hike report series is going to feature our long distance section hike of GR11 trail. We started doing it in the very end of July 2020 and were very excited to discover what this trail would bring us. The GR trails in Europe are very similar to the popular AT or PCT trails you can find in US and can extend for many miles in the distance crossing pretty much all the European countries. So there is plenty of choice depending on the direction you want to take. The term GR itself stands for the Grand Randonee or the Great Trail. We had been willing to do this trail for a while but before we always had other hiking plans for the summer season far away from where we live and that year it was a wonderful opportunity to finally tackle it. We were sure that it would be a fascinating trip that will allow us to discover the unknown high mountain part of Pyrenees where we have never been before. Of course we were carrying all the necessary camping gear in our wilderness backpack and planned to do the bivouac or stealth camping all the way through.
For that first day we started from Cerdanya valley in Spain and were planning to move closer to Andorra. We wanted to do just 12 kms for that day, as we knew from experience that the less is more with the long distance hiking especially in the mountains. Studying the map beforehand, we saw that the trail would probably be quite tedious as the elevation change each day is big enough. But we hoped that the slow approach we planned to tackle it with will help us to advance steadily every day without getting too exhausted.
We started our day quite late at 10am at the outskirts of La Tour de Carol village where the bus left us. So first we had to cross several fields with little farms and pastures with little shade and then the trail turned to a more forest path. We felt quite hot right from the start as the sun was already high on the horizon. We were moving relatively slowly also because we were fully loaded with food supplies. As we planned to hike as independent as possible and knew that we won’t meet many grocery shops to resupply we needed to carry the food for at least 3 days ahead. So Dima’s backpack ended up weighing more than normal at around 16kg as he was carrying most of the supplies. The aim was to decrease the weight down to 12-14kg as the days go by and we still hoped we could handle it.
So soon we arrived at the small rocky village Guils de Cerdanya where we had a little refreshment by washing our faces with the cold source water. And then we moved towards the 900m uphill we needed to tackle that day. We were pleasantly surprised to see the fresh painted red and white signs of GR right from the start as it meant we could relax and go with the flow without checking our maps constantly. Luckily there was only one GR passing by this area so we couldn’t confuse it for the other as there were typically no numbers on such universal signs.
The trail went quite steep from the very beginning and was quite rocky too. It was a definite challenge to walk on it in the bright hot sun with no shade around. We definitely decided to start the following days very early in order to avoid walking in the hottest part of the day. But as this day we had to get to the starting point first we had no choice really. Also we were glad that the warm weather has established finally because the start of the summer was very unstable and quite cold.
Then we came out to a more open mountain plains with river stream and started to see the single trees appearing here and there as well as the fresh breeze started to blow towards us and it felt very nice. As we were getting higher the wide angle views of the Cerdanya valley were opening to our eyes and it was nice to see it from a different angle where we hadn’t been before. There was a lot of haze though so the picture wasn’t as clear as we wished.
This way we came to the Guils Fontanera area which was basically a mountain plain surrounded by the pine forest and made as a pasture for lots of cows and horses. There was a parking lot nearby so we met quite a lot of people having their picnics there and there was probably a restaurant bar serving the food. We felt like having a siesta time too as we already made half of the distance for that day and were very hungry. So we did find the quiet place in the forest shade and had around an hour for having our lunch and some rest.
Then we collected some water from the source and were ready to tackle our last 5 kms of the uphill that promised to be quite gentle looking at the elevation levels.
So first the trail continued to go through the open fields accompanied by the magnificent views of the mountain ranges in front and behind us. At that point Angelina felt like getting out the trekking poles and start walking with them. And it was the first time for us when we took the poles for a long distance hike. Previous year doing the Tour du Mont Blanc hike showed us the necessity of having the extra support on the steep mountain trails especially descends. And this time we hoped it would give us the needed help and be a life saver at some parts.
It felt like the hottest time of the day finally is left behind and thus we were hiking more refreshed and energized the last part of the trail. Soon it turned to the forest path and it was a joy to finally walk in the shade. As we were getting close to our final destination – Estany Sec, we were already looking for the potential camp spots around and hoped to find a good secluded spot in the forest. We saw several houses looking like shelters on the way but as we were going to wild camp we just passed by them.
We almost got to the Refugi Malniu when we found our place to camp on a relatively flat terrain on the mountain plain. We had to wander away from the trail a bit but luckily not to far. The place got quite a bit of unevenness to it but we couldn’t really complain hiking in the high mountains, as any more or less flat spot was a happy encounter.
Then we were going to try our wood stove for the first time in real trail conditions and first we wanted to take our warm shower so we needed to heat half liter of water for it. We collected some dry wood and twigs as well as dry moss and it seemed to work the best out of all for putting up a fire. Then we poured the water in our 2 liter water container mixing it with the cold and could set up our shower structure using the flysheet of the tent. Even though it was a nice warm weather and we could have the shower under the sky we still preferred the comfortable option using the shelter as it blocked the cold wind often blowing in the mountains. It felt so nice and fresh after taking the shower as if half of the tiredness and soreness went away from the body.
Then we had to put up a fire again to cook our dinner. It was much easier as there was still some heat left in the wood stove. Our water boiled in 10 minutes and in 15 minutes more we were able to cook our grains. One of our concerns for the wood stove was how easy it would be to spot us from the side. As we knew that it may give a lot of smoke and fumes. But it actually wasn’t the case at all as the fumes it was giving weren’t going a long way and then simply dissolved in the air. So we thought that it was all thanks to its small sizes and so we appreciated it even more.
Initially our idea for taking this wood stove was that by using it we could save up our gas fuel and didn’t have to worry much about not finding a refill which can be quite a problem in rural areas. We still took our gas container and the gas stove with us as we knew that in a bad rainy weather the wood stove may not work as great. And also for the cases when we come late to camp and don’t have much time to set up a fire and collect fuel. But luckily as it didn’t add much weight to the pack at all we were happy to have this little helper with us.
While our meal was cooking we set up our tent at its place and then had our dinner inside. We had the delicious combination of different kind of wheat, including buckwheat, our cherry tomatoes and dry bread. Then we had a little time to rest and went to sleep.
It was quite tedious day for us because of the heavy weight carried on the shoulders and also the hot weather and no shaded trails. The 900m uphill wasn’t extreme and was climbing gently and the marking was great. We met no people on the trail itself hiking alongside us and we thought it was a bit unusual for the high summer season. So if it wasn’t for the hot sun it would be a nice easy going day and we definitely planned to get up at 6am the next day and start the trail at around 8am, not later. We wanted to keep up with this habit the following days and enjoy the trail more as the weight carried decreases. Overall it was a successful day for us and a good start of this trail.