An essay of this exciting experience follows after the main selection of photographs:
Seventy minutes up the trail and a splinter of light shines on the back mountains.
Nature was becoming a little wild and erratic, the town of Ordino below.
'Life couldn't be better', so portrays the editor's face. Weather great and the peak just ahead.
One of the finest sights that we've seen, following the first hail storm at the top.
Earlier, before 'losing' a dear partner and less valuable editor.
A view from the peak looking mostly south. The town of Ordino is visible but about to be pummeled. Guess who else?
Earlier, the editor called for a 'smoke' break as the first of five false peaks appears ahead. Heck, I miss the Cokes.
A view from the peak toward the south, weather not 'improving' although the trail looks clear.
In case editor asked, needed proof of reaching peak. Still optimistic about a breakthrough of the sun...eventually.
The editor's choice, no arguments on this one. From peak, looking north and into the valley.
Beginning the descent.
Things looking a little bleak...you might say.
Bleak, yes, but some amazing scenes and coloring yonder, seen earlier.
The big and bold, typical of Andorra.
After at least nine hikes in Andorra this trip, we took pleasure just in thinking about a return to Pic de Casamanya, the first repeat from a previous visit. We deliberately delayed the hike until we felt we would not be able to contain our enthusiasm and that the weather would be reasonable. On Friday 22nd of July, the hot weather would be returning to Andorra, or so the forecast predicted. Thus far, in four weeks of hiking in Spain and Andorra, we had yet to be soaked other than a couple of sprinkles on an occasion. How long could this streak last? Dumb question.
The revised weather forecast called for thunderstorms from about 3 pm. No problem. We arrived at the trailhead at 8am, leaving from our new apartment in Llorts, the northwestern part of the country. Previously, we stayed on the northeastern side, in a town called El Tarter. The weather looked a little bleak but knowing how quickly it changes (for the better), we set off to reach the peak at an altitude of over 9,000 feet with an elevation gain of over 2,500 feet, including reaching both peaks which would then add more gain as there's a valley between them. Man plans and God laughs. In horseracing parlance, the ‘going was good’ and we made great timing as we ascended this steep mountain. The distance was short, making the rate of elevation gain fast and furious, at an average of 1,000 feet per mile.
After 80 minutes, lightning struck. The editor, correctly fearing the phenomenon, decided she wanted to return to the trailhead. Before we could enter into meaningful discussion other than my requesting her not to run, she turned and began to run down the mountain. I can be most persuasive. I was left stranded and in a sense, conflicted. ‘I should return with Jenni,’ I thought. However, I foresaw the storm passing, I needed the challenge and, knowing the editor is correct about lightning, she’s also more sensitive about it than the average person. I’m average so that puts me in a different position from her. The trail was well demarcated so I did not worry about her losing the path but the thought of a fall on this very steep slope was a deep concern. There is another aspect. A person has to meet the challenges one sets for oneself. An issue is that it is easy to lower the ‘bar’ and kid oneself that one is meeting such challenges notwithstanding the standards are being lowered, often subtly. Enough with all this, Hamlet.
Jen continued down and I watched her for a few minutes. A short while later, I turned to continue upward and noticed the mist or fog had moved in so quickly that I could no longer see the mountains. By the way, there are about five false peaks before the real top. I waited for the mist to lift and it did. I continued up and after about twenty minutes, the sun shone through. All that time, I was wondering whether Jen was safe. ‘You should have turned around…no, you need to go on and she should do that which makes her comfortable.’ I made good time and was able to see sights that for me were unique. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen views more formidable, enticing, intimidating, breathtaking, uplifting…The clouds covered the mountains and every so often gaps formed between the two which allowed a little sunshine to filter through creating shadows and sunspots on the mountains and the town below . Heavy black clouds descended onto the lower white formations, and at times, blue sky appeared as a bond between them. The town of Ordino, reappeared and disappeared every few minutes, depending on cloud and mist movement. In fact, at one stage, it felt like nothing existed wherever my eyes focused. It was black, white and grey masses of ‘nothingness’.
The wind picked up, little icicles began to fall which was followed by rain. It then ceased, allowing me to reach the peak and see more amazing sights and vistas. A heavy hailstorm had almost covered a mountain yonder and the contrast of the partially green and purple grass provided a sight I found stunning and was fortunate to capture on camera, multiple times. Other contrasts of shiny rocks, mountain walls in red, bronze and brown provided a kaleidoscope of colors and images that stunned the senses. Meantime behind me, the clouds turned black, a few were dark blue but all were ominous. White and grey-shaded mist peeked through every few minutes, creating colors and sights that were bold and daring. At times during the period, and most other times, too, one feels the power of nature: its brute and raw force contrasted with the insignificance of self. This was another of those frequent occasions. I continued to observe and absorb the magnificence occurring about me knowing that a major storm was imminent but I was reluctant to break the spell that had developed between me and the powerful, natural forces.
My senses felt sharp and alive. I felt different from most other times on a mountain peak. I wondered what that was all about. It was only later that I realized a couple of things. Firstly, I was the only one on this large mountain in an electrical storm. I understood the inherent dangers of such a situation but I felt little, if any, fear. Furthermore, and perhaps this was the what struck me as the difference. I was seeing and yes, feeling sights that I had never experienced before. It was powerful, awesome and the feeling stayed with me much longer than usual, in fact, for days. This is in itself unusual.
The forecast was correct should one ignore it occurring six hours earlier than scheduled. I knew I had to leave (a lot sooner) but was drawn to the miracles, wonders and action that abounded on these mountains of Andorra. Then it happened. Strong winds gusted, heavy hail fell which was followed by rain with lightning and thunder thrown in for good measure. At that stage, I was at the furthest point from the trailhead of the hike. Great!
I began the descent while being pounded by hail which hurt wherever it struck, soaked from the rain and trying to anticipate the lightning. Unfortunately, there was no shelter. The rocks contained iron oxide, I thought. This is not exciting as metal attracts lightning. Just when I thought things could not get worse weather and track-wise, I noticed the trail was covered in ice—from the hail. This, of course, created slippery conditions. Add in the rain and it got worse. I never want to fall, obviously, and don’t often. However, I slipped in mud at the end of a dangerous hike last week (safe the whole way but for a silly part near the trailhead) so I was nursing a possible broken finger. I could not afford further damage. A further complication was that it was so cold at the higher elevation that my hands were freezing. Trying to tie bootlaces that loosened because of the rain became a major and uncomfortable task.
The trail, as mentioned, is steep but terrific—we love this hike. Unfortunately, there are two sections with jagged rocks to be negotiated. Normally, that’s great because one gets a good grip on such surfaces. However, with ice and water sitting upon the sharp stone, it’s not as pleasant as some would say a dash of whiskey brings to the cold liquid. Slippery as all he.. I then noticed white clouds covering some of the mountains contrasted with pitch-black ones and the occasional dark blue sky beyond. I could not help but stop for the shot even as a bolt of lightning reminded me of my foolishness.
An advantage of the rain was soon apparent. It began to wash away the ice in places, allowing me to jog at times. Lift the feet to avoid protruding rocks, keep the eyes open, ignore the beautiful sights while in motion and hope Jenni reached the car before the storm or at least was safe. That was my mantra. Well, it worked.
Jenni was fine, although a little warm in the stuffy vehicle. Instead of breakfast on Pic de Casamanya, we ate in the car while awaiting the storm to pass. She had three things to say:
1. "I knew you'd be sensible and turn around when the weather deteriorated." 'Oops!'
2. "I was angry that you did not have a rain-jacket." 'I have my windbreaker with me.' I still don't know why getting wet was an issue but I realize I'm a dumb male.
3. And the one that made it worthwhile. "I'm pleased you're back. Give me a hug, you big lug."
Will we do this hike again? Let us put it this way. Health permitting, we don’t think a thousand horses could drag us from Casamanya. Three days later, the editor 'persuaded' me to return which we did. Wasn't a difficult 'sell' and anyway, there weren't many horses.
Jenni and Jeffrey
A different angle, equally stunning.
The return of the editor to the peak, three days later.
Contrast the background without the ice, rain and light of the previous occasion. (The peak at rear with some snow on it
is Pic de la Sererra, one we climbed the previous week.