Follow one of our students, Carter, as he recounts his weekend adventure hiking in the Pyrenees with fellow student Alex.
The text message came in from Alex Wu at 6:04am:
“Meet me at the post office around 6:45.”
I lazily swung my legs out of bed and rubbed the heaviness out of my eyes. The two of us were headed on an Easter weekend excursion to the Pyrenees Mountains, split by the border between Spain and France, to get a break from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona and spend time in the beauty and solitude of nature.
We heard about the hike through Charles Harris Inman, the Executive Director of ALBA. He told us that a student from a few quarters ago did the hike and had an unbelievable time, so expectations were high. The student hiked through the Pyrenees to Refugi Coma de Vaca, a refuge in the form of a tiny idyllic hut for hikers and mountaineers.
After doing some research on transportation to the Pyrenees, Alex found the train we were to take from Barcelona to the mountains. With little information apart from the name of the train and the towns we were stopping at, we excitedly departed for our Pyrenees adventure.
After two hours on the R3 Rodalies, we found ourselves at Ribes de Freser, a small pueblo known for its fresh mineral water and paper products, with a population of about 2,000. We couldn’t explore the town because we had to make our second train connection 45 minutes north up to Queralbs, an even smaller town with a population of 184. We spent little time in the quirky, stony structured town because we were too excited to begin our hike.
We quickly realized how underprepared we were for the frigid climate in the Pyrenees Mountain range. Alex was wearing skate shoes, a shirt and a thin workout jacket, while I had on running shoes, sweatpants and a sweatshirt. However, we were not going to let a small wardrobe malfunction hold us back from our mountain hiking adventure.
We began our hike at the base of a valley where we found ourselves surrounded by a densely wooded forest, much like one you would find in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest. We hopped from rock to rock as we crossed large streams that cut through the valley floor. As we ascended in elevation, incredible waterfalls cascaded off both sides of the valley. Alex and I could hardly share a conversation due to how awestruck we were by the beauty of our spectacular surroundings.
As we gained elevation, groupings of trees began to diminish until they were nothing more than specks in the background. We decided to take a break on a pile of rocks that overlooked the entire valley in total splendor. We pulled out our gourmet lunch consisting of bread, strawberry jam, and peach sour candies. Well, definitely not gourmet, but anything tastes good when you’re hungry, right? After lunch, we reached for our journals as we found ourselves in this idyllic setting. Within 45 minutes, we were back on the trail.
As we continued our ascent, we began to notice that we were getting closer and closer to snow-capped peaks. We got to a point where the entire trail, which was on a 45-degree slope, was covered in a mix of ice and snow, and although our shoes were not designed for this type of terrain, we decided to push onward. After another hour of trekking through the snow, we came around the corner of a mountain where it opened up to another valley, split by a river, and covered completely in snow. A thin wisp of smoke rose behind a hill; we had made it to Refugi Coma de Vaca.
We reached the small hut with sopping wet shoes and smiles from ear to ear. The refuge was full of Spanish hikers, most of whom kept to themselves, but a few shared their many hiking adventures with us. That night we had a delicious dinner consisting of lentil soup and paella, served to us by the owner of the refuge. Afterward, we slept in a bunkroom with the rest of the hikers. The beds were far from comfortable, but after hours of hiking it wasn’t hard to get some much needed sleep.
The next morning we hiked out a different trail than we had explored the previous day. This route had much less snow and the presence of wildlife was greater. On may occasions, we would come to a vista and a herd of Pyrenean chamois, known as goat antelopes, would be found grazing the fields before us. A little farther along the trail, a massive bearded vulture came to say hello. It flew over us, circled around a few times, and upon realizing we were too big to eat, soared to another part of the valley. For Alex, this was his first hike of this magnitude, and he was awestruck by the experience: “I’ve been on a lot of hikes in the states, but nothing compared to how impressive and beautiful our hike in the Pyrenees was. From snowcapped peaks, to all kinds of wildlife, I was in constant awe. It really felt like a completely different world.”
The rest of the hike was a cakewalk and after two hours we arrived in Nuria, the final stop of our 20-mile hike. At that point, we hopped on the train and rode directly back to Barcelona. Our Pyrenees trip was truly amazing for both of us. It was great to get away from Barcelona to experience the peace and solitude of nature. I strongly recommend this excursion to other students who love mountain hiking and are planning to study abroad in Barcelona.