Sunday, 15 April 2018

Snow in Catalonia

The Montseny Natural Park.
No need to go to 'The Office" today.
The "Beast From The East" even hit Sabadell and BCN.
Winter has set in here in Spain - the "Beast from the East" has come and gone, leaving cold weather and snow in it's wake, as well as plenty of news stories for the TV and papers. This weather phenomenon was given this name by the British Press for a bit of drama as we all know they love their weather. By mid-February there was snow in the mountains and even snow in the cities - Barcelona had a flurry of the white stuff, just enough to get the kids off school and for people to be out with their phones clicking away to fill up social media. I actually got one day off school and I did get out with my camera too. I have to admit that I like the snow - for me, being an Australian from Sydney, you don't get to see it that often. So whenever it does happen, I have to get out there in it and enjoy it like a child. I'm not much into making snowmen or those silly 'snow angels' that people seem to love, but there's nothing like a good snowball fight! Even Sabadell has a bit of snow, which is very unusual. From the city, as I've mentioned before I'm sure, you can see 3 important peaks - Montserrat, La Mola and a little further away, Montseny. In February I walked up La Mola twice and although there was no snow there, there was ice and it was cold - from the monastery I could see much more snow on the other mountains... so it was off to Montseny for some fun in the snow!
The snow in Spain does not stay on the plane.
El Pantè de Sante Fe del Montseny - The Sante Fe Dam - all frozen over.

Mist and snow.
A walk in the snow.
Around this time last year I hiked one of Montseny's peaks, Matagalls, in the snow. Although most people had snow shoes, there wasn't a big need for this but it did make it a little easier. Some people, I noticed, even had skis - hiking up to the top, then skiing down. There was a lot of snow on the peak that year and it was truly a great day. This time though, I headed over to the other side of Montseny, to the Pantè de Sante Fe del Montseny - The Sante Fe Dam. Although many walks start from the Restaurant here, such as the Turro de l'home, I'd never actually done this walk along the dam. We started off fairly early, around 10 am after a 1.5 hour drive up the winding roads of the national park, and from the word go we could see the heavy snowfalls of the past few months. Snow, which had since turned into hard-packed ice, formed a tall white barrier between road and forest, the roofs of the buildings were also covered in inches of the stuff. The parking lot was muddy and icy and very busy, but as we'd turned up early we managed to find a spot. Today was going to be a short walk, maybe 3 hours return, and we aimed to walk past the dam and find a small, light aircraft that had crashed somewhere around here in 2000. Bad weather was the cause and the pilot lost control and hit the wooded mountainside 900m above sea level. The pilot was the sole occupant of the plane. The weather today wasn't as bad as that day, but there was a fair bit of fog over the water but that quickly cleared up with the slight breeze and warm sun took hold. Most of the dam was frozen solid and some large rocks tossed from the dam was unable to break the tough layer that had formed - not something you see everyday. The water was a soft, icy white, the trees a winter-brown but the sky was a brilliant, deep blue and the sun was shining like it was summer.

A Winter beach scene - boots instead of bikinis and jackets instead of tans.

The top of Turo de l'Home - 1,708m and the highest in Montseny.
No brain no pain... but they have guts!
No swimming...
I'd heard of this walk but had never done it, and it was so close all this time. As I walked, I kept thinking of that light aircraft crash. It would be exciting to see a plane stuck on the side of a mountain, but then you think of the terror that the pilot must have gone through. I'm not a fan of flying even in big 747 jumbos, but small planes scare me even more. I've been on a few, including a propeller plane in the Canary Islands, which didn't rock around too much but it was tiny and out of my window I could see the blades spinning a million miles per hour, I prayed they would stay on, just like when you were a kid and the classroom fans were turned all the way up in Summer but they looked like they were hanging on by one loose screw and at any moment... disaster. Silly I know (nor did any fan ever fly off at school) but there was the noise of the engine too, I could barely hear anything else except that loud, whirring drone. Anyway, as we drew nearer to the crash site, we became more and more excited and then excitement turned into a searching frenzy that lasted for about an hour - we couldn't find it! We left the trail and headed into the forest, following the instructions from the Wikilocs app and website - I kept seeing the plane, or what I thought was the plane, a part of a wing, the cockpit, a slice of metal panelling, but it was all an allusion and turned out to be rocks. We split up and searched the area in our quest to find this bloody ghost plane. We met back up on the trail to eat and relax a little, after having got separated and lost for a while in the woods. My friend decided to read the description of this walk again and to our horror (and embarrassment), someone had commented on the page and reported that the plane hasn't been there since October 2017. It didn't say if the government or the natural parks services dragged it away, or whether just people had taken bits and pieces away with them when they come here. We did find some parts from the plane, a bit of a panel, some pipes and broken glass and had to be satisfied with that... and the lovely walk of course! We walked back to the bar and the car, passing the dam again but this time there were more people there. It was almost a beach scene but in white - people were crowding the banks of the dam's water, instead of bikinis they wore ski jackets and pants, instead of towels they rode on toboggans - it was the same yet so different. We also watched at 3 crazy people who had decided to walk across the ice - they managed it, sliding along its slippery surface, and then posed for a group shot to the cheers of the crowd, but the weight of 3 grown adults in one spot on the thin ice was too much and in they went! It didn't seem to bother them, red skinned but smiling, but I could only wonder how cold they were and how much it would have hurt! No brains no pain right?

The peak of Las Agudes.

Hikers on Montseny.

The trail to the top.
A sprinkle of snow still.
A beer at the end of a hike is always a nice little reward for what you've done, and that's exactly what we did. It was warm, cold beer in hand and a plate of olives on the table. I looked up at the snowy mountain of Montseny behind me and decided that next week I'd be back up here again - make hay while the sun is shining, or in this case, go hiking while the snow is still there! I didn't know how long it would last so I had to do it now - snow is a treat and should be taken advantage of whenever possible. I returned the following Saturday and already the snow had melted somewhat but there was still enough to make a cool hike. This time was a little more ambitious though, walking up to the Turo de l'Home, one of the peaks of Montseny. Not a hard walk, rather a steady up-hill walk, zigzagging along a wide, well-beaten path. Starting off from the start point as the dam at Sante Fe, the path follows the road for a little bit then starts up going uphill - you have two options to ascend and I usually take the easier path up to the main peak first, as coming down is easier and so I take the harder path for that and it also makes a loop. I was surprised by how much snow there was still, at the same time thankful that there was. The path was a little slippery in places where the snow had hardened on rocks but overall it was a nice, easy walk made more enjoyable by the fact of the white snow that added to the beauty of the place. It was also more peaceful than normal - people had chosen to be in the snow with their kids rather than hike a mountain in snow and wind. This is why I come to the mountains - to exercise of course, but also to feel the peace and just be away from the crowds. Too many people and too much noise can spoil a good day in the mountains - if you want to talk loudly with your million friends and make noise, then go to a bar. You can't change anyone else, only yourself, so when this happens I try and block out the noise, not let the chatter annoy me and think that everyone is allow here to enjoy themselves... and then hope they bugger off and leave me in peace.

The top of Turo de l'Home's second peak - Les Agudes.

The weather station.
The Marker on Turo de l'Home.
Even rabbits get up here!
Even though it was snowy and cold at the top, it was still quite busy. In fact, someone had even hiked up with their pet rabbit, which received the 'royal treatment' of being carried in a special backpack. My friends and I sat a little away from the marker at the top, choosing a sunny rock to recline on while we ate our sandwiches and drank our beers. I even took my boots off and rolled my pants up to tan the milk bottles a little - I got some strange looks, not just because my feet are so pale you'd think they've never seen the sun before, but people here don't usually go barefoot anywhere, unlike South Africa and Australia. It was cold and there was snow on the ground to be fair - I chose a warm rock for my feet and enjoyed it thoroughly. Crazy Australians and the sun. We of course got the photos in with the concrete marker at the top, with its Catalan "Senyera" painted on - it's a must even though it's a touristy thing to do. The highest point in the park at 1,712m, you can see for miles - the other peak of Matagalls (1,697m), all the towns and villages in the valley below and more mountains in the distance.  I hate coming back down the same way so we chose the circuit route, skipping the second peak of Les Agudes as it was very windy and starting to get colder. Although you feel tired after a hike, even one that isn't very tough, just a tightening in the legs, a yawn when you sit down and maybe even a quick nap in the car on the way home, you know it's been a good day out, some exercise and a 'good' kind of muscle soreness. Hiking a mountain leaves you on a natural high, one that restores energy and happiness, making you just want to do some more. That's what I did the following weekend too

The Catholic church in Gósol.

Nobody is having a picnic today.
A lovely snowy day!
The view from la Collell.
I returned to Pedraforca, having been there for New Years Eve just 2 months ago. Around that time there was very little snow - this time was a little different. As we drove up towards Gósol, the town that many of the hikes start from, we could see snow everywhere but no sign of the magnificent mountain itself. Normally it rears up as you turn one particular corner on the road, today it was all foggy and nowhere to be seen. We stopped in at the village bar, which sat next to the old Catholic church, for a quick coffee to get warm before the walk. There were 7 of us for this walk - 5 adults and 2 kids. There were only 3 pairs of snow shoes to go around so we all did a bit of sharing - they are fun and make the deeper snow far easier to walk to, but with some extra effort at times, lifting up a huge plastic foot. Without the shoes, you had to stick to the path and where the others had walked first and even then you still fell quite deep - sometimes up to waist high! The first part of the walk was easy, following a dirt road up the mountain, then it became easier as it flattened out towards the picnic area. This would be a lovely spot without the snow, a place to rest and enjoy the mountain view, but today nobody was sitting at the benches. We continued on, now heading uphill towards 'El Collell,' the other side of the mountain and we were hoping to see 'The Rock' on the other side. Although the views of the valley were nice when we arrived, sadly Pedraforca was still lost in the clouds. We got our photos in, played with the snow by jumping into the softer powder to see how far we'd go down, which turned out to be so deep I needed a hand getting back out! It was also getting cold and my feet were now soaked from the snow which had managed to get its way into my boots via the top - mainly from all the jumping in the snow I'd been doing. I love the moments when you finally get back to the car after a long hike, maybe a cold and windy walk or when you're really hungry and have run out of snacks - then you see the car and it's what I call a "Hallelujah" moment... you see the car and it's nearly like a miracle - you've made it back alive to warmth, food and civilisation. The walk wasn't that bad. I am, however, a very cranky man when I have wet feet! I'd packed fresh shoes and socks so I was extremely happy to be back in the car and out of the snow.

The clouds finally cleared, giving us the 'money shot' of Pedraforca.

The main square of Bagà
View of the mountains.
Bagà and the Lobregat river.
We all headed back to Bagà where my friends with the kids have a small holiday apartment. The village is quite small but very beautiful and not just because it sits right in the Cadí Mountain Range. Apart from the mountain vistas from nearly anywhere in the streets, the buildings are typical Catalan mountain houses - stone houses with slanted, slate roofs, all squashed into narrow streets, old wooden doors and small decorations on the windows. The streets are quite steep in some parts but the solid stone paving makes it easy and when you're up the top the view is nice. At the bottom of the town is a fast flowing river, coming straight from the mountains and above are the huge mountains themselves. It was a Sunday so the few shops that are there were closed, apart from one bar on main plaça, which had the usual crowd of any bar in this country - a few blokes smoking, drinking their coffee with rum (carajillos) and talking in their gravelly voice. The town is also historical. It was founded in the 9th Century by WIlfred the Hairy, the man responsible for the re-population of much of area in response to the Moorish presence, including the city of Vic and Cardona Castle. Many people believe that the creation of the coat of arms, which is now the Catalan flag (la Senyera), is accredited to Wilfred - after being wounded in battle by the Moors, the Frankish king, Charles the Bald, rewarded his bravery by giving him a coat of arms. The king slid Wilfred's blood-stained fingers over the copper shield, and thus the Senyera was born - a yellow flag with 4 red stripes down it. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence to this, but it is a lovely story. Poor Wilfred did, however, die fighting at the battle of Lleida in 897 and is now buried in Ripoll. I loved walking around the village, reading about it's history and seeing it in the buildings. We had dinner after a walk around and then went back home - tired but content. Although I've loved this Winter so far, I truly am looking forward to being warm again!

The view of the mountains from the village of Bagà.

Good Pedraforce and goodbye Winter.

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...