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Wild and without warmth: Overnighting at lake Trullo

On a previous hike in the Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici national park we decided that we absolutely had to do another hike here and stay in a mountain refuge. We were quite happy to stay in the same one that we found on the last hike but the excitement of seeing some more untouched beauty has overcome us and we are now on our way to visit the national park information centre to see if there are other nice hikes and refuges we can stay in. We’ve got our eyes on lake Trullo.

Since we noticed the gas canister in the previous hut we made sure to check that any recommended huts will also have gas canisters so we can stay warm and dry. It turns out there is another hike we can do, and we can avoid the taxis and save some money.

The lovely lady informs us that we can hike to lake Trullo and stay at the mountain hut Josep Maria Blanc (Refugi Josep Maria Blanc). There is just one problem. There is A LOT of snow. You can see from out last post that Espot is covered in snow and this hike contains a 1200M elevation gain so you can be sure that there will be even more snow up there. We understand that we should be able to hike to the mountain hut without too big a problem, there are no steep drops and technical paths, but we won’t be able to go much further, since there will most likely be ice and dangerous drops around lake Trullo.

Unprepared as ever

To add to the complications we don’t really have the right kit. We both have just trail running shoes. Since we are hitchhiking we can’t carry all the different kit required for every situation. The trail runners will get wet very quickly, but on the upside they dry very quickly. Since we have a gas stove and a heater in the room, we can dry them out for the next day down from lake Trullo.

We stock up on some food and let our hotel manager know that we won’t be back until tomorrow and if we don’t come back please call mountain rescue. It won’t be the first time….

Bread and Aioli should do it again for lunch, ramen noodles for dinner and cereal bars for breakfast, we want to keep it light since this hike will be a lot harder than it normally would be without the snow.

We don our packs and head up through the side streets of Espot, past all of our kitty friends and cute old stone houses, typical of the Pyrenees. The houses are decorated with flowers, it’s all very quaint. We head upwards weaving around the buildings until we reach some steep steps towards the back of the village which head up to the road to the ski centre. After a few hundred metres we take a right turn on to the trail which we will be walking along for the remainder of the hike. It’s just one path all the way up to lake Trullo.

In to the snow

There is snow on the path but only a little, and it is soft so it’s easy to walk on. The trail is not so steep, so we’re not slipping or anything so that’s a good sign. After a while the trail heads in to the forest where we’re protected from the elements. The forests are stunning with snow crystals sparkling in the mid day sun. The snow is completely untouched, there are no footprints other than ours. We’re the first people to hike this trail to lake Trullo in the fresh snow!

Naturally I run through the dense forest paths shaking tree branches scattering snow showers everywhere whilst giggling like a little boy. The happiness soon turns to nervousness when the snow begins to deepen. So far we’ve managed to keep our shoes fairly dry. Well that is about to change.

We cross a wooden bridge over the river, completely covered in snow, the bridge is just two trees resting over the river, nothing to hold on to. I go first treading ever so lightly and making sure that each foot is completely grounded before taking the next step. Caroline follows using the foot holes I’ve left in the snow.

Snow tree trunk bridge crossing a river in the woods near Espot

The trunks are wet from the snow and it’s all very precarious. Luckily we make it across unscathed. The bridge leads out of the forest in to an open area. The path is non existent now, a field of snow lies instead, we navigate the field of snow using our common sense, trying to pick the safest way across, the least steep.

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Looking over the full lower reservoir to the valley below
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View of the Dachstein ridge where we got stuck
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Wild and without signal

Fasten yourself in for a ride – this is a good one. The events of this post take place over one year ago. The 14th September 2017 to be precise. We had planned to take a cable car to the top of Dachstein (the second highest mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps) and maybe hike […]

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In too deep

The snow is coming half way up our shins, it must be 40CM’s deep and our trail runners are beginning to get wet. We’re not too worried though because we can just dry them out when we get to the hut. We might have to suffer a bit on the way up but we’ll survive.

We continue on and completely lose track of the trail, we can’t see anything at all that resembles it and when we try to use our GPS position to realign with it, we don’t have much luck. At some point we find something reminiscent of a trail and manage to make a bit of distance. The trail has left the river and is climbing up the valley side. We’ve gained some elevation now, coming in and out of forest areas.

The snow becomes even thicker and it becomes hard to walk at a decent pace, we are moving slow, sinking down in to the snow. There are still no other footprints to be seen anywhere, we’re the only people here and the first ones since the big downfall of snow. The open patches are the worst, we lose all sense of orientation. The snow here is thicker, everything is covered. We just head in a general direction of up. Hoping to be heading towards lake Trullo.

Back in the forest and the snow lessens, we find the trail and make big elevation gains. The valley sides become steeper and it seems the snow has fallen down them rather than settling. There are other obstacles though, lots of half frozen animal poo. You laugh but it is quite the annoyance! I slip multiple times sliding on lumps of frozen poo and fall over a few times, damn animals.

Half way to lake Trullo and half covered in snow

After one last upwards stint we emerge in to a flat open valley, a dam wall is in front of us, behind it a semi frozen lake. Unfortunately it’s not lake Trullo. We decide to take a break and eat our lunch. We sit on some boulders from which the snow has melted, the sun has been quite strong today, luckily for us. At this pointed we have conquered a lot of the up, 910M to be exact. We have 2.8KM of walking left with a 290M ascent. We break out the Aioli and bread, everything is good for a short while.

Frozen Lake Lladres

After around half an hour we decide to set off again. Our shoes and socks are soaking and we’re beginning to get really cold. The path resembles a 4×4 trail here, which is strange becomes it doesn’t seem like a 4×4 could have gotten up the first half of the trail.

The path is icy in parts and is hard to walk over. Instead of heading through the valley towards the head, we circumnavigate the floor, heading right up the valley side. At first the trail is fairly flat which is good for us. We are feeling very drained at this point, taking lots of breaks to catch our breaths. We stop often to scrape the snow off our feet. When it begins to build up our feet become even wetter and colder. It’s almost futile but that extra minute where our feet don’t feel like they are in a bucket of ice cold water is bliss.

Be beary careful

Then we notice the tracks, animal tracks. Very large animal tracks which we can only assume belong to a bear. No other person has been up here in the snow since there are no other tracks up here. It looks like the tracks of an adult and a child. That is usually when a bear is at its most dangerous, a mother protecting its child. The bears must have been here recently too, since the snow only fell recently. We are pretty terrified. We figure as long as we are following the tracks, we know they are in front of us somewhere, most likely they’re already a long way away.

The valley view up to lake Trullo

The road begins to ascend, the snow not so deep because we’re covered by the trees now. The path steepens and we slow down, almost crawling instead of walking. The morale is lowering with every passing minute. We hike some switchbacks, and then the final ascent comes in to view. Just behind the last stretch lies lake Trullo and our mountain hut. The snow is incredibly deep here, at some point reaching almost all the way to our knees. It’s ridiculously hard to hike in, we have to take huge steps to pull our legs out of the snow. At some point we make it to the top, but we’re not at the finish line yet.

The final ascent to lake Trullo

Only the second predator of the day

We’re completely exhausted but there are some hills in our way and we are not quite at lake Trullo. We have to go down and around and up a little again. In normal weather it would take us five minute, but in our exhausted state we take another thirty minutes.

We slide across a frozen part of the river, careful to not break the ice, then head down and around a corner and then just as I pass under a tree I hear a huge swoosh and jump out of my skin. I look up and a huge bird of prey is flapping it’s wings and flying off from the tree. I can only be maximum one meter away from it, it’s wings spreading out in slow motion, or just slow because it’s so huge. It must be two metres wide from wing tip to tip or even more. It’s a magnificent beast, I’ve never seen anything like it before. It swoops across the valley before landing in another tree, annoyed it was disturbed from its previous cosy look tree.

Scorched tree in the snow

Lake Trullo winter wonderland

Around the corner a dam shaped stone brick wall appears, we know we are close now. This must be the lake. The paths goes up to meet lake Trullo and we are rewarded with views of the surrounding mountains reflecting in to it and the cutest mountain hut, engulfed in the snowy landscape, lying on the shore of the beautiful blue waters.

Just as we make the final few hundred meters to the hut it starts to snow, the wind blows harsh and we feel the cold burn. We can’t wait to get warm in the winter room. As we reach the hut we can’t help but admire it, it’s a beautiful wooden chalet type building. Not like normal mountain huts which are usually built with function over form. Nope, this one is something out of a snowy fairy tale. We walk around the side of the building to find the winter room, a huge steel door is bolted shut from the outside. It takes a while to adjust the bolts and heave open the heavy door but when we finally get inside we both let out a massive sigh of relieve while tossing our packs to the floor.

Refugi Josep Maria Blanc at lake Trullo

Not so cosy lake Trullo mountain hut

On one side of the room is a desk and a chair. Amazingly there is a WIFI router here but it doesn’t work. A bunch of emergency equipment and some left over manky looking food rations. On the opposite wall is a huge metal rack containing about 50 thick fleece blankets and next to it a huge gas canister connected to a heater (thank god).

On the other side of the room are the beds, two rows of beds, one on top of the other. We take the top ones, heat rises and all that. Next step is to get this place warm. We can hear the wind howling outside and it begins to darken. I go over to gas canister/heater and read the instructions. It basically consists of turning on the gas and turning some dial on the heater, while holding the ignition switch. I open the gas valve, turn the dial and hold the ignition. Nothing.

Shit. I can’t hear any gas at all. I roll the canister trying to determine if there is any gas left. It sounds like there is. I try again. Nothing. Shit shit shit. Our clothes are soaked and we are freezing. We planned to explore around the lakes and maybe hike further up tomorrow before descending, we won’t be able to do that unless we dry our stuff. I spend the next half an hour trying to get the heater to work, before giving up.

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Shivering to sleep at lake Trullo

It’s absolutely freezing inside, we can see every breath we take. There are clouds floating around the winter room, coming from us. We change into what dry spare clothes we have and cook dinner on our gas cooker, hoping that will at least warm us a little. Afterwards I use the burning flame to attempt to un numb my toes, it doesn’t work.

The snow is coming down thick and fast and we begin to worry. Worried if we will make it through the night alive we ponder whether to call mountain rescue again. We can’t bring ourselves to make the call, surely it’s not cold enough to die inside here. Utilising every single blanket available we wrap ourselves up like cocooned caterpillars. Even after half an hour under the blankets my toes are still numb. We cuddle up to try and share heat. At some point, a few hours later, I manage to fall asleep.

In the hours I was trying to fall asleep, I panicked a lot. Why do we keep getting ourselves in to situations like this? Why is this happening to us?

We wake up and realise all of our stuff is still wet and it is still snowing. It must have been at least minus 10 degrees outside last night. Not much warmer in here. We make the only decision that can be made in these circumstances and put our wet clothes back on with the view to climb down the mountain as quick as possible. We had originally planned to explore the area around lake Trullo before heading down but it’s too dangerous now, we will freeze. Also the weather could get a lot worse.

Home made water proof socks

We can’t bare to put our freezing cold wet shoes back on so we improvise. We use plastic bags as waterproof socks, putting them on over our socks to keep the heat in and the cold and wet out. I had to take pictures because we looked just ridiculous. We vowed for no-one ever to see them at the time, but looking back they are pretty funny!

Before leaving we admire the beautiful early morning scenery and take some photos. The area is just incredible, we’re upset we can’t explore but our health is more important. The snow falls ever so softly but we’re expecting a storm any minute now. We’re also nervous the bear might return…

Sunrise at lake Trullo

Retracing the bear from lake Trullo

We wave our final goodbyes to lake Trullo and head towards where we saw the huge bird of prey. We can almost see all the way down the valley back to Espot. The weather is not looking so bad from here, we can see patches of blue skies. Maybe we will be fine after all!

The snowy path back down to Espot

We pace down the mountain to where we ate lunch yesterday. Going down is a lot easier and faster. The plastic bags are helping, our feet are warm from the trapped heat we are generating. We continue on, past the bear tracks, and back in to the forest. It’s easy to follow the path now since we left tracks in the snow, even though it snowed more last night. We pass several beautiful waterfalls, surrounded by snow and autumn shades, oranges and yellows. The snow gently starts to float down from the sky again. We’re not worried though, we have but one or two hours of hiking left.

Waterfall in Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici national park

Sometimes the higher more exposed paths are a little tricky, we slip and slide on the snow. Determined to get back to a warm room we keep on going until we reach the last low section of the hike. We meander through the snowy forests, carefully crossing the snow covered bridge and find more secret waterfalls hidden just off the trail.

Covering the final final stretch, we probably have one kilometre back to town. We have made it. We managed to sleep the night in a snow storm at some ridiculously cold temperature, while all our belongings were wet and then make it back down safely. Caroline suggests to go drink a coffee and then go back to our room to rest while blasting the heating. Tomorrow we leave our beloved Espot for Olot.

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

Easier said than done. You will have much more success with your own car. Hitchhiking works great too. Failing that you can at least get close to Espot with some public transport. In summer there is a national park bus connecting some of the smaller towns around the Pyrenees. See here for more information.

Things to do in Espot

Hiking, hiking and hiking! There is nothing to do in Espot itself apart from a few cafes so grab your hiking boots and get in to the mountains!

If you are in Espot in the winter you can also go skiing.

How to get to lake Trullo

From the centre of Espot you want to head towards the ski centre and then turn off to the right just after town. You can use these GPX logs to find the way. The text is not in english, but the trail is the one we took.

If you need maps or any other information, head in to the national park information centre, they are very helpful and speak great English.

Accommodation

We stayed at the campsite Camping Solau which was nice enough. They also have rooms, which we stayed in one night when the snow came. The lady running the place is not the warmest, but she is helpful.

Check out some deals on Booking.com below

Booking.com

Pro Tip

Bring waterproof stuff, dry clothes and don’t assume the heating will work!

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