Two Irish sisters staying with us at Orisson told us they had checked out the trail past Orisson yesterday and it wasn’t too bad. But they were wrong and hadn’t gone far enough. It seemed okay at first , but then the road went up and up and up. The grades were not as steep as yesterday, but the clouds and mist and rain made up for that.
At times the visibility was down to less than 50ft, and although it didn’t rain, the mist was so thick it was like walking in a blanket of wetness. We could hear but not see the bells hanging on the necks of cows and sheep. Their tinkling made a mysterious melody in the mist, the cows with their deeper bell clangs and the sheep with smaller, lighter, higher pitched ringing. At times we walked into the sounds until the shape of a cow emerged and disappeared again behind the cloak of fog leaving the melodious slow clanging and ringing as proof that they existed.
Up until almost the summit, we followed a one-lane track. Four taxis went past – passengers on the way up, empty on the way down. I was very tempted. At one corner where two roads met, a multi-passenger van dropped off 4or 5 backpackers. A little further on 6 motorcycles drove past and the odd bicyclist passed by. And one ingenious Frenchman pulled a trailer. Two Irish sisters told us they had checked out the trail yesterday and it wasn’t too bad. But they were wrong and hadn’t gone far enough. It seemed okay but then went up and up and up. The grades were not as bad going up but the clouds and mist and rain made up for that.
At times the visibility was down to less than 50ft. Up until almost the summit we flowed a one-lane track. Four taxis went past. I was very tempted. At one corner a van dropped off 4or 5 backpackers. A little further on 6 motorcycles drove past and the odd cyclist passed by. And one ingenious Frenchman pulled a trailer.
At 1100 metres I rejoiced when I saw a downhill section, but it was a bitter joy when I realized it only meant I had to reclimb and regain those hard-earned metres. From that point on downhills lost their appeal. Until the summit, they were merely places where you can slow your beating heart until the inevitable uphill.
Just before the summit, a truck had set up shop for the pilgrims: coffee, hard boiled eggs, bananas. I had my snack bag of nuts and carried an uneaten baguette from yesterday, and both Linda and I had our made-to-order ham and cheese baguette that the Ruge at Orisson had prepared for us. If the rain ever lets up, we’d stop and have lunch. Somewhere preferably in the dry.
Going over the summit was a multitude of danger signs, and I could see why. The path often had only 6 inches between it and a drop-off. In the rain and mud, it was safer to walk on the uphill side of the path. In some places were small markers every 6-12ft which in whiteouts would be needed. Even now with this fog, they were useful.
This route closes for the winter in a month. The snow would obliterate any signs of the trail except the higher trail posts.
Somewhere in the pass, we came across a hut set up for emergencies like having lunch in a dry spot, and we took shelter there along with two English women. I towel dried the inside of my new Gortex waterproof jacket. Waterproof – Ha! Although, it was hard to tell if the inside dampness was poor waterproofing or my sweat. Maybe the ponchos which cover both you and your pack, but leaving open side vents would be better.
Somehow we took the wrong trail down behind the cell tower. The trail all the info says to avoid in wet weather. The one Simon, the volunteer, specifically told us not to take. The one he so carefully pointed out. The one with a picture we were to memorize so we could avoid it. But in the fog, we couldn’t see much and just followed someone ahead of us. It was a beautiful trail, going down through a beech forest. The beech tree leaves had mostly fallen littering the ground so thoroughly that in some places it was hard to see where the trail went. It quickly became steep. So steep I considered sitting down and sliding on my butt – which I did unintentionally, as did a woman in front of me. Rocks and mud make it a messy and sore business. Picking myself up gingerly and seeing the slick mud covering my coat and pants made me think about dangers to the body. It would be awful to sprain an ankle or break a bone on day two. A couple of days later I heard that one woman had done just that.
Two weeks ago a woman got to the cell tower as darkness was falling and called the emergency number. While looking for her, the local bomberos (rescue crew) also found a group of nine Koreans and a solo pilgrim who also needed rescuing.
We made it to the 11th-century monastery cum pilgrim hospital. A woman welcomed us, pointed to the room where we were to leave our shoes, then Walter greeted us, asked for our pilgrim passports, stamped the passports and gave us our dinner tickets. I asked where he was from.
‘We are all Dutch volunteers.’ He pointed to a large sign which declared the albergue as one organized and run by the Dutch society of pilgrims. I had not expected that not that I even had thought about it. People not only come to walk the Camino, but they also come for the joy of supporting others to walk it.
From the outside, it is a large imposing dull grey building, but the inside is grand, and modern with clean lines. Large enough to accommodate 180 pilgrims in four rooms. It isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact, the room was set up with a ceiling height 10 ft wall splitting the room lengthwise into two and on each side were a row of aisles separated by 8ft walls with two bunks (four beds) per aisle against the walls. At the end of the aisle were four cupboards to store our packs. A young Italian couple shared the aisle with us.
We had the pilgrim menu for dinner (I don’t think there was a choice) and saw Steffen in the dining room as we were being encouraged out the door, to make way for the second dinner seating. He had gone to the 6 pm pilgrim mass with Brad.
I climbed into my bunk well before 9pm, sore and tired. We have done what is known as the worst section of the Camino. What a way to start.
Time on trail: 6hrs
Distance travelled: 18k
Distance to go: 774k
Food: not much and nothing to rave about. Baguette and jam, hot chocolate, some nuts, a few pieces of chocolate, ham and cheese baguette, vegetable soup, chicken and fries, lemon yoghurt or maybe it was pudding and a very good cup of cafe au lait.
Lesson learned: always have a dry set of clothes. Keep dry socks in a ziplock. Offline maps only work when there is a cell tower somewhere close by.
Feeling: feet are sore. Hips too.