4:30am I wake with an anxious feeling in my stomach, today I’ll be joining two well-experienced mountaineers up in Andorra and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep up. The idea is that we will be hiking over 6 hours straight up into snow covered -15 degree conditions, climbing the highest point that separates Andorra with Spain crossing the frontier arriving at a refuge just on the other side.
I cook my 6 bacon n egg sandwiches, strap my mega-mountain-space boots on, throw my warmest climbing gear in my backpack n’ race out the door. I meet with Jose, aka the Terminator outside the metro station on the edge of town and we drive another 3 hours north/west until arriving and meeting his life long mountain friend Ramón in Andorra. These guys have shared more than 300 days up in the mountains together and you can tell from the moment they meet this certainly isn’t their first time into the unknown.
After a quick coffee boost, we park the car at the base of the first mountain and kick off around 10:30am, a little later than we anticipated but with enough time to arrive at the refuge before sundown. As we progress up the unforgiving mountain the depth of snow increases, with every step our boots sink a good 5 cm’s down into the snow. We decide it’s time to attach the rackets and continue trudging. 5 hours of constant uphill battle pass until we take a routine check of our position on the map. Turns out we’ve hiked an hour up the wrong valley and we will need to make a 2 hour extension to our journey.
Another hour or so passes until we find ourselves at the base of the final mountain. Like a monstrous white beast towering up ahead I question if I’ll be able to make it. This thing is not for the faint hearted, we had already been climbing constantly uphill for hours and to see this massive wall quite honestly scared the shit out of me. With our already empty energy we continue up closer until Jose, asks us to hold up.
He confesses with emotion and disappointment in his voice that his body does not have the energy to continue up and over the mountain. His vision had been blurred and he was having difficulty standing. It was at this moment I saw true friendship shine in one of it’s finest colours. His friend Raimon had such an instant understanding and respect for Jose’s condition there was no second-guessing his words. It was a massive change in plans but we all agreed that we should try to make it to the other refuge we saw in the area before nightfall.
We collapse through the door of the vacant refuge only to find 4 dirty walls, an old fireplace and 4 cold metal beds welcome us. Far from the heated cabin filled with warm soup and comfortable beds we had previously anticipated…We hadn’t brought sleeping bags or enough food for this situation which put us in a tricky situation; we knew the night ahead was not going to be an easy one.
We pile our rations on the table and try to decide how much of it we could eat if we wanted enough for the next day. We scramble together the remaining firewood and try to warm the house before nightfall. We cook the left over rations and huddle on the cold metal bed for warmth as we try to get some shut eye.
After a maximum of 30minutes uncomfortable rest I’m woken by Raimon walking around trying to stay warm. It’s around 1am and we notice our fire reserves are not going to last the whole night, it’s 15degree’s below 0 and we’re already shivering. It was at this point we had to make an important decision; stay in the refuge for the night without fire or venture out into the unknown. After 15 minutes of contemplation and discussion we decide the best thing to do in order to stay warm is to hike down the mountain.
The decent lasted another 3 and a half hours, the shadows of the tree’s filled my mind with second guesses as we marched our own march down into the darkness.
We arrived back at the car around 4 in the morning, cranked the heaters and slept until sunrise before making our way back to Barcelona by 10am…This journey was a truly exhilarating 24 hour experience into the unknown that reminded me of the importance of respect for yourself, your friends and the nature!
Over and out.