The next morning, after once again a loaded carbohydrate breakfast, it was time to go Joseph M Blanc, an amazing refuge nested in between emerald lakes and surrounded by pine trees. Getting there was absolutely dreadful with vertical drops off rocks that needed to be carefully mastered, but once at 2350 meters, I was rewarded by a very comfortable bed and hot shower.
The stream beside me on the way down dropped into a succession of small idyllic ponds, each crowned with an effervescent little waterfall. Along the path, bluebells nodded in the grass; the amanita mushrooms highly poisonous, were shining a brilliant scarlet. After a vertiginous descent along a rocky mountain face and the constant ring of the cowbells rhythmically accompanying my steps, I saw the refuge briefly, hidden from view by pine trees, a small stone house perched on a low finger of granite jutting into a lake, the water virtually surrounding the refuge. At JM Blanc, one can sit by the cottage and see trout in the ice clear water. However, the weather was deteriorating and an orange alert was in effect for the next day with snow at altitude and sleet below. Before dinner my traveling companions challenged me to an oversized MIKADO game and we shared many funny moments while waiting for 19.00 and our famous dinner. It came this time paired with chicken and of course the ever present pasta. Dessert was again a piece of apple and I was off to bed early for a very much needed rest before the next portion of the trek.
Day five was a long one with a quick stop at Mallafre for lunch and on to Amitges for the night. Little did I know that I would end up with 38,800 steps, 236 floors and 28.36kms… Had I known, I probably would not have left Joseph M Blanc! Early morning after breakfast I started under a light drizzle and cold temperature. I had decided the night before to go around the next col as the weather was menacing and deteriorating and the guides were not recommending to go to altitude. That would add a lot of miles to my already long day but was safer.
I started full of enthusiasm and enjoyed a gentle upslope path followed by downslopes around misty landscapes. The path around the mountain was unmarked and I had to go by the very vague information that the guide had shared with me at the refuge the night before. The map was helpful but unfortunately not detailed enough to navigate by. I had been told that I would reach two tunnels and to make sure I had new batteries in my head lamp. When I reached the second one and realised that it had collapsed, I was a little disheartened but soon found a path around this new obstacle. The wet terrain made it hard to navigate but after another 5 kilometres I was on fairly flat slope waving my way through fields of rasperberrys and blueberrys. After lunch at Mallafre, it was on to d’Amitges, the biggest refuge of the trek. The walk to d’Amitges was long and strenuous for me having suffered an injury on my knee, but I was rewarded by stunning sights along the way. Beautiful deep lakes and big thick waterfalls, ducks waddling on the lake shores and wild berries lining the path. After a well deserved shower and the customary securing of your bunk for the night, I enjoyed great conversations with my fellow hikers at the main table as we shared a hearty meal. My feet were absolutely destroyed and I spent 15 minutes disinfecting, bandaging and preparing for the next day. That night, before going to bed, I was surprised by a white landscape. It had snowed while we were having dinner and the already peaceful mountains were covered in a sparkling new coat of white blanket. Sleep eluded me that night as I knew it was the last evening I was to spend in the mountains and I wanted to enjoy every single second of my stay…
Breakfast was awaiting at 07.30 and as it was the last day of the trek, I was a little sad to leave this beautiful park. I had to detour to make the Saboredo refuge and earn the right to say that I completed the Carros de Foc. So off I went in the snow and ice, each step a careful one as the terrain had become very slippery. Slowly I climbed again to pass yet another col and the wind was howling around me, slicing through my light jacket. I was reminded of the fickle nature of mountain weather and how much I was unhappy to carry my winter gear at the start of the trek, thinking that I would not get to wear it; I could not have been more wrong! At the top, it was so cold that I could not really stay and enjoy the scenery. My camera froze and I had to press on to get on the other side of the mountain where the wind would be less fierce.
As I was going down, I saw a group stopped ahead of me. I learnt that one of the men was seriously injured and had to be air lifted from the mountain. This was the Spanish gentleman I met in several other refuges who was traveling by himself and only last night actually started trekking with a group of his countrymen. He could not have chosen a better day to be with people as they cared for him while waiting for the rescue.
They did not need my help so I continued on to Colomers knowing that I had to beat the daylight remaining. Along the way, I was welcomed by huge cows either laying down and relaxing or grazing. Their constant cow bells felt comforting. The last part to Colomers felt impossible as my knee was screaming in agony. Once I started though, there was no way I was going to quit my quest of completing the trek. My trekking partner took off and left me behind and I kept fighting mentally to finish as every corner seemed to be the last but was not. I guess the hardest part of all was to not have progress points or information. Suffering is easier to bear when you know more or less how long it is going to last. But in this park, the indication boards are few and that is part of the charm but also an obstacle to surpass.
I finally reached yet another dam with what seemed to be the refuge on the other side. Elation engulfed me as I crossed the dam, only to realise that what I thought was the last check point was… not! The abandoned house standing in front of me was not the refuge. The dirt track weaved along a stunning azure water lake but to be honest, all I was concentrating on was finishing and reaching the refuge for my last stamp. I was getting hypoglycemic and my legs were aching, but as I arrived at the real refuge, victory felt very sweet. After drinking coffee, eating a dry sandwich and bandaging my feet once more, I started my way down, right from where I had come from.
Carros de Foc, I have conquered you and I have learned a lot from you. I will recommend you to healthy outdoors enthusiasts as it was an absolutely fantastic experience, and as one of my traveling companions said, this place has been struck by the Hand of God. A word of caution though; it is not for the faint of heart…expect sore legs but happy spirits!
Words + Photos by: Anne Elizabeth Cecillon