Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Being in the mountains is the best way to celebrate a birthday.
Winter was setting in by November, and although we were still getting sunny days, there was a fair bit of rain around. There was also snow in the mountains already and I was excited! I always love a bit of snow, such a rare thing when I lived in Australia, and not that common here either really. I live in a city of around 200,000 people just outside of Barcelona, so when it does snow, it usually doesn't come near me. It did a few years ago, even if it was only for about 2 hours and the snow was light and quite slushy. I love going hiking in the snow, hearing and feeling the crunch of the white powder under your boots. When I get a chance to do it, I take it, and actively look for it. There is a problem though - I don't have a car, and all the good places that I want to go need a car. As my birthday was coming up, I started looking for car rental deals and was lucky enough to find one. I booked it and then started thinking about where to go. Although the weather was a bit cold, I wanted to go to the mountains - this is where I feel that happiest. There is nothing like being outdoors, going from the bottom of a mountain to the top, all under your own steam. I love the views at the top, but this isn't the same if you drive there or get a chairlift. Although there are plenty of mountains to hike around here, I love Pedraforca. There is something magical about this big forked rock that I just can't describe. I made a phone call and organised with a friend to rent out his small holiday flat for the weekend, in a village called Bagà. When he found out it was for my birthday, he offered it as a birthday present which I could hardly refuse (thanks Bernat and Maite - love you both!). So it was set - transport, accommodation and somewhere to hike! Let's do it!
The drive is up the C-16 towards Manresa, with Montserrat in view most of the way. Every time I see this mountain, I am impressed by its sheer size and weird shape. I've hiked it, climbed it and also caught the cable car and also by funicular. Designated a National Park in 1987, the name Montserrat means "Saw Mountain," and looking at those serrated, teeth-like peaks you can see why. Each 'peak' has a name, the main peaks are Sant Jeroni, Montgrós and Miranda de les Agulles. Montserrat is famous as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary. At any time of year, there are plenty of people here for sightseeing, religious reasons, hiking and maybe even a little bit of the local delicacy, 'Mel i Mato,' or honey and goat's cheese cream. But our destination wasn't this mountain today, so we continued up past Manresa and Berga, the home of the 'patum.' Duing the festival of Corpus Christi, which is held in June every year, the townspeople dress up and dance, playing music and have lots of fire displays and fireworks. I've never been to this event, but it is on the list. Maybe next year. Still going, we drove past Cercs and the Panta de la Baells (Baells Reservoir). The town is not worth mentioning really (sorry, I've never been there but probably never will either), but what you see is the huge power station sitting just off the road and looking out over the water. This power station always reminds me of The Simpsons and Springfield's famous 3-eyed fish, but this isn't a nuclear power station, instead burning lignite (poor quality coal) which is mined locally. There are water sports that you can do on this reservoir and well as a mine tour nearby. But, we were so close to our destination that nothing would stop us - on to Bagà!
We arrived in town around 4pm and the sun was already starting to set. Managing to park the car right outside the apartment was lucky - the old part of town has very small, narrow streets, most of which can barely fit a normal sized car. Then there are the corners which can take off your wing mirror without a second thought. As this was a rental car, extra car was paid and I parked it safely, with only a little bit of wiggling back and forth. I'd worry about reversing out later - can't have all the fun at once. We dumped our stuff and headed out for a walk around before it got too cold and dark. Without going too far away, it was just a walk near the river and around the outskirts of town. If we'd had more time, we could have walked to the Bagà lookout, a short walk from the centre but offering a great view of the area. From the town you can see mountains already - you're right in the pre-Pyrenees here, in the Cadí-Moixeró National Park. It's a beautiful place - not exciting, but it has a few nice little bars, a great bakery a small supermarket and plenty of hiking stores. What makes it special is its location - you're so close to the mountains you can nearly touch them! This is the gateway for a lot of hiking in the area. We headed back to the house, put some logs on the fire and relaxed with some wine and homemade tapas, watching a bit of tv before going to bed. Tomorrow was hiking day!
Heading out of Bagà and going a little more north, we took the turn off for Pedraforca. I love this road in the morning - the sun coming up and shining its pink light on the rock. It is always beautiful and today was no exception. What worried me a little was the snow - there was a decent amount of dusting on the mountain. I kept driving, following the road past Saldes and onto Gósol, where we'd have a coffee and breakfast before starting our walk. From here with Pedraforca much closer, the snow looked thicker. Although it was a sunny day, and I was sure that it wouldn't snow anymore and that what was there already would probably melt somewhat, I felt there was still too much to risk hiking up to the top. This was disappointing. Although I'd been to the top a few times, nobody wants to be told no, especially on their birthday. I checked with a friend who knows the area well and is an experienced hiker. No was the answer, too much snow, don't do it. So, we got back in the car while I thought about an alternate route. Although not hiking right to the top, another path was to start from Saldes, walk up and past the Castell de Saldes, to the Mirador Gresolet and then finally up to the Refugi Lluís Estasen. I parked the car, grabbed the gear and started - I wasn't sure how long it would take, but I wasn't in a hurry either. I remember the first time I did this hike, was back in 2007 or 2008, my first year in Catalonia, and the first time I saw Pedraforca. There is something special about this place that will always be in my heart. I enjoyed this walk immensely. We stopped at the castle ruins for a quick snack and drink, enjoying the view. It wasn't quite silent though, there were a few big groups of people up here for selfies and photos, but you get that everywhere. I knew that as soon as we got back on the trail and headed up that we'd leave them behind - most people don't hike to the top, preferring to drive as much as they can, then get out at the top and take a few pics for Facebook.
There is a special word for those people in Catalan, people that have brand new shoes and professional hiking gear, just to drive to the top for a photo: "pixapins." Basically these people are weekend excursionistas, weekend warriors, who live in the city but on the weekends drive to the mountains in their sparkling clean SUV, get some photos of the 'countryside,' and as the name suggests, pee on a pine tree, and say they hiked a mountain. It is a little nasty I admit, but sometimes I can't help but look at these people and get annoyed - they are noisy and many. But, live and let live, so as long as they don't litter, start fires or do anything too stupid, let them have their fun, their time in the 'great outdoors' with selfies sticks. Just as I predicted, as soon as we got back on the train and starting skirting the big mountain, there was nobody to be seen. It was just us and the birds. Perfect. It was warm and sunny, and without too much effort we reached the lookout. There were plenty of people here - we heard them well before we saw them. I took some lovely photos from the viewing platform, which juts out from the rocky cliff. After the photos and a bit of time to enjoy the wonderful panoramic view, we got back on the trail and walked the short distance to the refuge. At this height, there was a bit of snow on the ground and when the peak came into view, there was still a fair bit there too. It was a good idea not going to the top today. I was hoping for a sit down on a bench in the sun, sip a beer or cold drink from the bar, but sadly the refuge was closed for fumigation (of all things). We stopped for a bit, munched quickly on chocolate and nuts, had a sip of water, then headed back down.
The hike down is never as exciting as the way up, but more often than not, more dangerous. The time went by quickly and we made it back to Saldes to catch a little bit of sun and have a beer on the terrace of the one bar in town. I remember this bar and enjoying a beer here back in 2017 when I hiked/climbed the Pollegó Inferior (the smaller peak), which was a tough 11 hour day. I felt my knees were broken and if I sat down that I wouldn't get back up. One way down Pedraforca is directly down the front, with loads of scree, big and small loose rocks, for 2.5 hours. This time was much easier, but the beers (plus olives and chips!) were just as welcoming. It had been a good birthday weekend. If only there could be more weekends like this - get away from it all, put your legs to good use and feel happy and healthy. If I can do something every month, even a short hike, I feel much better and more myself, more level. These last 2 1/2 months of confinement have been extremely hard. Physically I am still well, and although I haven't been able to even walk much, daily exercise has kept me reasonably fit and ready for the real thing when the time comes. Mentally however, has been tougher. The feeling that you're trapped between your 4 walls, only going outside to the supermarket or dump rubbish, all the while wearing a mask and gloves and being worried about the virus. I know that it is nearly over and life is slowly getting back to normal, but it hasn't been easy. I've missed the outdoors as well as my friends. Soon I will be able to see both again!
Remember to also follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/myuncletravellingmatt MyUncleTravellingMatt. November 2019.