Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Torla, or the time we almost froze to death

Ever since Justin saw a photo of Torla in the Spain Lonely Planet back in Toronto, he had his sights set on reaching the tiny medieval village in a valley in the Pyrenees and exploring the natural beauty surrounding it. The snow-capped peaks of the mountains that form the town's backdrop and make up the famous Parque Nacional de Ordesa draw scores of Spanish and French tourists but few English speakers, making the locale even more alluring.

Two months after that travel guide book photo caught Justin's eyeand a few bus rides away from civilizationwe found ourselves in Torla gazing up in wonderment at a sight more beautiful than the pictures. They really nailed it with their church:

We checked in to a refugio, or a very small, basic hotel primarily for hikers. A nearby bar doubled as the check-in counter. After dinner, we visited some grocery and camping stores and began to make plans to climb to another more rustic, spartan refugio in the mountains, with the goal of eventually summiting the nearby, 11,000 ft. (3,355 m.) Monte Perdido.

The refugio was booked months in advance, though, so we rented a tent. A guy at the camping store looked at us increduously when we told him we didn't have sleeping bags or sleeping pads; he said it'd get cold up in the mountains and suggested we purchase fleeces and then take blankets from the refugio.

We set out the next day on a beautiful four-hour hike that passed tons of waterfalls and wildflowers. The views were spectacular. A couple different Europeans we met remarked that the scenery probably looked like that in American national parks, effectively making them way less exotic and cool in our minds. Lame.

We eventually rose up above the tree line, passed a point where most day-hikers turn back, scaled a cliff with the help of bolts and ropes permanently tied to the rocks, and finally made it to Refugio de Goríz. Located above a valley at 7,200 ft. (2,200 m.), it was officially the most incredible place I have ever pitched a tent.

The weather was warm and so were the people. Or so we assumedthey didn't really speak English. A herd of 1,000 sheep and a toothless Spanish shepherd wandered by:

(If you can't see the video, click here.)

As night set in and the sun began to descend, the temperature started to drop. Frenchmen whipped out down jackets. "Oh, crap," we thought.

Turns out the fleeces weren't enough, and sleeping on the ground with no padding or sleeping bag is not the most pleasant experience either. Unsurprisingly, covering ourselves with random things from our backpacks didn't help too much. We asked at the refugio if we could borrow blankets. "Nope," they replied.

When our fingers still worked well enough to take photos.

After drifting in and out of sleep, wondering whether various appendages had succumbed to frostbite, we glanced at the thermometer: 8 degrees Celsius, or about 46 Fahrenheit. A plan was hatched, and we unzipped our tent and stealthily disappeared into the night.

Tiptoeing into the silent, dark refugio, we made our way to the dorm rooms on the second floor. Justin swiped two blankets, and we made a break for it. Glancing up, I noticed there were more stars in the sky than I had ever seen beforea magnificent, awe-inspiring sight. "Cool," I thought for about one tenth of a second before diving into the tent and under blankets.

I've never before stolen for survival, but I believe we did just that that night. I felt absolutely no remorse. Too bad it didn't really work. Still freezing cold, we hardly slept under the thin blankets and had to abandon our plan to climb Monte Perdido the next day.

Instead, defeated, we marched into the refugio in the morning, dumped the blankets on the ground, and then walked back down to Torla.

But not before we vowed to one day return to that godforsaken refugio and climb the elusive Monte Perdido. I think we'll bring some winter gear next time. Or reserve a space inside.

Thawing out in the refugio the next morning. Note the matching fleeces.

No comments:

Post a Comment