You came from New York City to get lost here?!, the lady at one of the refuges exclaimed when we told her where we came from. “Here” was the Pyrenees on the Catalan side, six hours from Barcelona by bus through the town of Vielha, and “lost” were two amateur hikers in the middle of the mountains, cold, soaking wet, scared and panicked about sundown.
Our adventure in the Pyrenees started four years ago, when we read about Carros de Foc, a company in Spain that established a route to connect the nine existing refuges in and around AigÃ¼estortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. Each stop at a refuge earns you a stamp
on your “forfait,” or hiking passport, and ten–the last one is the same as the first, which completes your loop–earns you a T-shirt exclusively given to those who finish the trek. At first, it was all about the T-shirt, but as we ascended over granite after granite in the rain and descended down slippery trails in the snow, our goal became more simple: to live with ourselves shamelessly afterward.
Aiguestortes means “twisted waters” in Catalan. Every hike up gave us clear lakes and ponds to look at. Every trek down showed us waterfalls coming out of every crevice. We had never seen anything more beautiful in our lives.
If it weren’t for the hail striking our faces, the wind pushing us back and the snow freezing our hands, we would stop and enjoy the view. There were days when the sun came out blazing, and those were the days we enjoyed the most, even with our 25-pound backpacks. But the most rewarding were those we spent wet and miserable on the trail, finding our way to the refuge we were scheduled to spend the night in after eight hours of hiking, coffee with brandy waiting to warm our bodies and our hearts.
It was definitely the most emotional and the most physically grueling trip we’ve ever taken together. Nothing could have prepared us from trekking the Pyrenees, Catalan style.