14 Jun The Man On the Mountain
We were high in the Pyrenees, mid-way through a whirlwind of non-stop adventures: electric bicycles through the forests surrounding the old train station at Les Preses, a hot-air balloon over the Garrotxa National Park, riding horses up to the Castell de Llívia, and archery contests in the Nuria Valley. We had indulged in gourmet experiences too, such as wine tasting in Llívia, a lunch prepared by none other than Chef Pep Nogué in a sheltered section of the Santa Margarida de Bianya, and an exquisite dinner of horse filet at Can Jordi restaurant in Espinavell.
So when they told us that we were heading up to the mountain village of Meranges to meet Eduardo Jornet — father of famed runner and mountaineer Kilian Jornet, who just summited Mt. Everest in a record-setting 26 hours, without oxygen or fixed ropes — it felt almost too good to be true. During our nearly three months as resident bloggers in the Costa Brava and Pyrenees region, it seemed that every time we turned around, there was another “once in a lifetime” opportunity before us.
Kilian had originally planned on being there, but the earthquakes in Nepal struck just before our visit in May of 2015, so he flew to the devastated nation to donate his time and resources to the recovery effort. His father, ever the consummate professional, was ready and willing to take us on the hiking trip of a lifetime, which ultimately fulfilled one of Cristina’s lifelong dreams.
The road in through the foothills leading up to Meranges where we first met Eduardo, and then up to the trailhead beyond, was a winding snake of pavement curling this way and that, inclining ever upwards. Lush, spring-green panoramic views spread out in all directions as we drove, and then suddenly we were stepping out into it: fresh, crisp, clean mountain air, the kind that only exists in the Pyrenees of Catalonia.
From there, we began the ascent through the forests to reach the refugio where Eduardo had lived for years, and where Kilian had been raised. In between the sections of rock and slab where we climbed, the ground was mossy and damp beneath our feet, spring runoff working its way down the mountains in every nook and cranny possible. It was still fairly chilly, enough so that some of us were still wearing jackets even after a couple of hours of hiking.
Though not, of course, Eduardo. He was in his element and, despite being in his late 60s, moved at twice our speed, with zero issues as far as breathing went. He was born and bred in this country, and his lungs and body thrive in the thinner air and rugged landscapes.
Eduardo spun tales while we hiked, pointing out places where his son had enjoyed playing as a child, identifying animal tracks and nests here and there, and showing us the routes where his nimble son had first begun his climb to the top, not just of the mountains that surrounded his childhood home, but also of his career. We picked fresh dandelion greens along the way, a perfect accompaniment for lunch when it came later that afternoon.
Eventually, we made our way to the shelter where Eduardo had spent decades of his career as guardian over the surrounding woods, a ranger in every sense of the word. The shelter was undergoing modern renovations, making it a far cry from what it was when the Jornets first lived up here in the pre-satellite television days, long before Internet and cell phones made it onto the scene.
But it was further up, in the mountains surrounding Lake Malniu, where Cristina was able to see snow for the first time of her life… and bombard me with wet-packed snowballs as her inner child was released. We were two weeks into the melt at this point, and long gone were the fluffy, bright-white snowbanks of winter; this was the spring thaw in full effect, and the lake was brimming full as we circled beyond, to the fresh spring flowers that were eagerly reaching towards the sun above.
We took the scenic route around the lake to work our way down the far side, and at this point all hope of keeping feet dry was lost. First we nimbly (some more than others!) made our way across stones stretching across a waterway, and then we entered into the bog of fresh-water runoff. Eduardo was an expert guide, showing us the gaps in the earth where we could look down to the streams of water bubbling away beneath our feet as we hiked. Every step brought water that gushed out around our feet as we made our way from moss-covered heap to moss-covered heap until we moved into the forests beyond.
From there, it was on to an early afternoon meal at Restaurant Can Borrell de Meranges, where feet were dried amid a meal of steamed snails, salads that included our freshly-harvested dandelion greens, bottles of wine, cheese and vegetables, and meats sputtering and searing on top skillets and hot slate rocks set in the midst of our tables. Tired muscles rejoiced, and lifelong friendships were sealed with raised glasses and full bellies in a tradition that we had finally begun to understand was just the way of life in Catalonia.