On the coldest weekend of the year it would not be a bad idea to light up the fireplace and make oneself comfortable on the couch with a cup of hot cacao in one hand and a good book in the other. Alternatively, one could put on a few layers of wool and head for the mountains to face the north-wind head-on. That’s what I did this weekend.
Shortly after five on a Saturday morning I stepped out into the dark and silent Barcelona streets. A sparse drift of snowflakes glided from the sky as I made my way to the metro station, wondering what the weather would be like in the Pyrenees. At Plaça Catalunya I met up with a group of friends to catch the first train of the day running north to the mountains.
After two hours and a half of dozing and sleepy train-ride chitchat we arrived to the Pyrenees town La Molina where two guides from the Cingles mountain-guide company awaited us, ready to take us snowshoeing through the Catalan Pyrenees.
The tour started with a warm-up coffee at a hotel bar between La Molina and Toses, where the guides explained to us the program for the day and gave a demonstration of how to fit the snowshoes. At half past ten we made our way out into the cold mountain air and headed for the hills with snowshoes in one hand and ski poles in the other.
The area around the hotel was mostly snow-free and thus we did not put on the snowshoes right away. According to the guides it had snowed the day before, but due to the wind, most of the snow had blown away. However, we had not walked for long until we hit the first patches of snow and it was time to strap on the snowshoes.
We made our way, gradually ascending through the sparse forest, north-east toward the French border. The air was bitterly cold, the temperature ranging between minus fifteen and minus twenty, excluding windchill. It was windy, making it even colder. The guides said that they referred to the cold northern wind as Siberian wind. The native Siberian in our group was not entirely convinced about the accuracy of that reference. Naming aside, we all agreed that the wind was really cold.
The initial plan was to hike to the French border and enjoy the scenic view from a naked mountain peak, well above the tree-line. Due to the strong wind and exceptionally cold weather, the guides prudently decided on a change of plan. Rather than leaving the woods and expose ourselves completely to the cold northern wind the guides judged it wiser to take an alternative route back trough the forest, enjoying the shelter of the trees.
We made circular route through Pla de l’Orri de Dalt, stopping a few times to look at a bunker from the Spanish Cvil War, to have a quick bite and to listen to lectures about mountaineering, the local geography, vegetation and fauna.
I was impressed by the guides. In addition to being fun people to hike with, they made sure we got the most out of the excursion by educating us. They explained the basics of mountaineering and how to avoid hypothermia. They cited names of surrounding mountains and explained the geography of the Pyrenees valleys. They pointed out to us footprints of foxes, rabbits, hares and birds, explained us the difference between the Scots Pine (pinus sylvestris) and Black Pine (pinus nigra), and urged us to taste the juniper berries growing along the route.
At quarter past two in the afternoon we were back at the hotel where we checked into the thermal spa and we enjoyed the massage pool, sauna and steam bath. It was a nice way to get heat back into our bodies, yet an odd sensation to be sitting in the warm sauna, looking through the window at the snow outside.
It turned out to be a great day in the mountains. I really enjoy outdoor activities in freezing temperatures, covered in layers of Norwegian and Icelandic wool, protecting me from the cold. Although I have walked in snow before, it was my first time snowshoeing. It was great fun and surely something I will repeat.