Saturday, October 15, 2016

Àger - Hostal Roig

GR1 Sendero Historico day 37.
Distance: 33.0km (1080.0km), time spent: 10:12.
Waymarking: Good, but not always as easy to follow.
Weather: Brilliant.

From an accommodation perspective, the next two days on the trail is difficult, there are no places to stay on the trail until after 55km, in Massanés. And if the small place that offer accommodation there is either closed or fully booked, it becomes even longer. That was however not what occupied my mind on this day, I carried a tent and intended to use it.

Àger, with its large church that has a tiny church on top of itself.

For on this stage, you could get an amazing ridgewalk at the top of Montsec de Rùbies, with brilliant view to all sides. Instead, they have chosen to let the trail disappear into an indistinct forest below the top of the ridge, it is a totally incomprehensible choice. As John Hayes himself writes in his guidebook, when you first has climbed as high up, you want to stay at the height you are at and enjoy the views the ascent has given you.

Àger is situated in the middle of the valley with the same name, Vall d´Àger, and it is not a huge difference between the eastern part of the valley and the western. Which means that the first part of this day’s stage goes in the same pleasant atmosphere as the end of yesterday, but is not the most interesting. I mostly walks and wait for me to arrive at where the ascent begins, which I can see in the horizon, there are not a single cloud in the sky and the mountains forms sharp contours against the blue background. The most interesting with the first part of the day is the large group of people that I meet after L’Amettla de Montsec. It is a walking group, formed by a Dane, which is also hiking the GR1. They meet up once each month and walks a small part of the trail; they probably have enough weekends to look forward to. I get some chocolate of them and has to try drinking red wine from some kind of saddle-bottle, to much amusement from the group.

The ruins of La Pedrera de Meiá.

South of where the climb begins, lies La Baronia de Sant Oïsme, dominated by a large stately house with multiple spires above Panta de Camarasa. The ascent is steep, but rewarding. Small pauses to catch my breath provides me with views back over Vall d´Àger and Montsec d’Ares, which from this side makes the cliffs look far more dominating than from below them. From here, they pushes themselves up from the ground, with uppermost part of the cliff like the edge of a knife. I walk past remains of yet another farm; I have lost count of them.

Climbing up alongside the cliffs, partly on something resembling an old mule track, with exquisite views over Congost de Terradets.

The trails meanders narrowly upwards along the edge of the cliffs. Steep, but also significantly cooler, on one side the slope inclines more and more downwards. Above are the cliffs like small spires. You walk across a large area of scree that feels strangely out of touch, probably caused by La Pedrera de Meiá, an old quarry that is now in ruins. The difference between the first part of the day and this is like night and day, although the last part of the climb to Rùbies seems a little bit like two steps forward and one back.

The abandoned and dilapidated houses of Rùbies with the cliffs of Montsec de Rùbies towering in the background, the trail is going up into the gap to the left above.

Beneath the almost vertical cliffs that the route climbs up into afterwards, lies the ruins of Rùbies, an abandoned hamlet that also gives its name to the ridge I am on my way up into, Montsec de Rùbies. Again, the houses are left behind like fallen monuments over people having lived in a remote place. Oh, the locations they have left. Where no one should believe that anyone would live, and indeed they would not want to do it longer either. The ruins of the small Romanesque church is open, I have carried with me a small Lego-figurine, which I leave behind in the church. It looks like at least one has spent a night here, a rather dusty, mouldy and decaying shelter, a fitting place for a tiny jewel-thief.

Finding the path from Rùbies is a little bit difficult, here too has the waymarks faded like the houses in the hamlet; but after some pathfinding, I manage to find my way. Also on the lookout for the path, I meet a French couple, who are planning to climb in the cliffs above; I do not know which path they really need. It gets steeper. And then suddenly there are two small adorable black goats standing looking at me, weird. When I walk through what is called Portella Blanca, a distinct gash in the rock, I have finally reached the top of the ridge. The climb up as been hard, but great.

Inside the ruined church in Rùbies, for those with very good eyesight, you can see my tiny Lego-thief that stayed behind in the church.

At the top, the view is great, nothing else to expect in this weather, so I should be satisfied. To the north lies a jagged line of mountains, the Pyrenees, there are even snow at some of them, white peaks against the blue backdrop, which blends in with the few existing clouds. From where I stand, the ridge goes undulating upwards, with one side slowly rising, for then to be abruptly cut off. At the edge of the ridge there is a near vertical drop. I have arrived in the middle of the undulating tops of the ridge. Behind me, Montsec d’Ares appears to break even more up from the ground. I walk up to the small top above Portella Blanca, Roca de Migjorn (1465m), and eat my lunch that is served with the great view. I can look down upon the remains of Rùbies.

Two small and cute dwarf-goats (?) met me at the climb up to Portella Blanca.

Even so, there is something entirely wrong about where the GR1 goes from Portella Blanca with its views. For instead of walking up to the top of the ridge, which will give an amazing ridge walk, the trail disappears into the woods below on a forest track. After having struggled up to the top, I want to continue walking with well-earned views, not hidden away inside a forest. It is a disappointing end of a hard climb. Shortly after I have begun walking on the forest track, I do what I should have done at once, finding the first and best way up to the top of the ridge.

So, I will now describe how you turn a disappointing stage of the trail into a wonderful walk, if the weather allow it. If it is bad weather and no visibility, it has little purpose. Instead of following the GR1 into the woods, climb up into the small top that is situated just to the right of where you come up to at Portella Blanca (I did walk up to it for the sake of the views, should have continued walking). From there, you can follow the top of the ridge further, finding the way is simple; there are also visible tracks along the edge. On top of the ridge, you will pass by the top of Tossal de la Torreta and Tossal de Mirapallars. However, it is a little bit cumbersome (but not much) in the gap you have to climb down into and up from before the last mentioned top. From that top, Tossal de Mirapallars, there is a path / track that you can follow back down to the GR1 again (from GR1 there is a signpost pointing the way up to Tossal de Mirapallars). Walking across the ridge, you will get amazing views to all sides. Recommended.

View back towards Vall d´Àger and Montsec d’Ares.

Walking along the edge of the ridge, it is as I am literally screaming ‘this is how it is supposed to be done’. At the top, the landscape is open and to each side there are views far away into the horizons. You are undulating up and down from top to top. That they have not made the GR1 go over here is perhaps the greatest mystery of them all when it comes to route planning. To the south of me, the walls of the cliffs are dropping almost vertically downwards. At the top of Tossal de la Torreta (1676m), there is a small white pillar (trigonometry point?) and a plaque fixed into the ground. There are several places where you can pitch your tent, although it is a little bit too early to stop for the day and where I can find water I do not know, but something is telling me that I should stop here. After a marvellous ridge walk, the time is ebbing out and I walk down to find my way back on the GR1 again.

It must be said, though, that the view does open up later on the forest track and the views towards the north and north-west at least gets better. After a while, I can see the cliffs of the Roc de Benavent, which the trail passes below later. The last long kilometres down to Hostal Roig varies between paths and the forest track. On the way down, I have begun to notice a slight discomfort in my feet again, small jolts from the sides of them. Not good. I have at this time abandoned my plan of camping and down by what once was a hostel for a very long time ago there is now a taxi standing waiting for me.

Montsec de Rúbies seen from Roca de Migjorn, you can see where the forest track that GR1 follows goes, instead of at the top of the ridge.

When I read about Hostal Roig, the first thing I thought about it, was that it was a place of accommodation that had probably closed for a few years back, but it is actually a very long time ago. The place is supposed to be built on top of what once was a village called Montllor (or Montllobar), which is documented to have existed in 1359. The hostel shall also have been in use at the end of the 18th century. At the start of Franco’s period, in 1938, a series of violent and cruel confrontations is said to have happened here. There are clear traces of the soldiers from that time here, and also up at the Castell de Montllor that I passed by on the way down. Now the remains of the houses and yard is used as a sheep enclosure. On the metal gates, someone has sprayed Hostal Roig.

At the top of Montsec de Rubies, an amazing ridge walk, Montsec d’Ares in the background.

Of some reason, I really want to have a proper name of the place that I am walking to, and not going to a place without a name or to an accommodation that can disappear. I am probably a little bit weird in that way. It feels better to say that I have walked to Montllor than Hostal Roig, but after being at and read about the place, I kind of actually like it. Now the name has given a mark to the place.

The taxi ride down to Vilanova de Meià is almost alone worth the additional cost my stupid decision not to camp inflicts on me. The road goes down in hairpin bends between steep cliffs, past the towering cliff Roca dels Arcs, an eldorado for climbers. We drive past several camps, gathering places for climbers. The accommodation in Vilanova de Meià is not a hostel or a hotel, but an apartment for rent. I care not now, a lot of place to rest my weary legs and feet in.

View further along the ridge from Tossal de la Torreta, further away is Tossal de Mirapallars.

I stumble away to a place to eat, led by the taxi driver (who are married to who owns the apartment and runs the local store in the building next to). Clearly also a place inspired by the climbing possibilities in the area, on the wall there is a huge map of all the climbing routes on Roca dels Arcs, it is an impressive number of route to choose from. No climbing for me now, my feet hurts, I am just happy to sit down and relax with some few cold beers, for then to eat a large portion of platos combinados (eggs, patatas, salad and croquetas). A football match is screened on a large TV, I watch it half-heartedly. In my mind, I am still back on the wonderful ridge walk, and wonder why the GR1 does not go there. Not much that has to be done to make what could be a disappointing day, something a lot better.

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