Return to the Foces

Foz de Lumbier (Morning Sun)

Marketa and I started the second day of our road trip with the Foces of Lumbier and Arbayun to the east of Pamplona.

Rushing brown waters in Foz de Lumbier

I’d visited the Foz de Lumbier before, but I was happy to return – the foliage had changed from autumn colours to winter, and the morning sun lit up the side of the canyon that was deep in shadow during my last visit. Weeks of rain and recent snows had turned the waters turbulent and brown. Of course, the visit was also much more convenient by car: we paid 2 euros to park in the nearby lot, and then we could walk in and through the canyon and back in about forty-five minutes.

 

"The" view over Foz Arbayun

Just a few kilometers down the road is Foz de Arbayun. Arbayun may be even more spectacular than Lumbier, but it’s somewhat less accessible, with no easy path going directly through. There are some hiking trails that go through the gorge leaving from the village of Usún, but as we had lots we wanted to do that day we opted merely to drive to the lookout point on the road between Lumbier and Navascues. It’s well worth a quick stop – the view is stunning.

 

Foz de Lumbier

 

The Plan

The Foz de Lumbier is a beautiful and distinctive canyon in the east of Navarra. Photos of its green waters, soaring cliffs, and hundreds of resident vultures tantalized me from every pamphlet and guide to the region. I wanted to go, but with my access to cars essentially non-existent, I wanted to see if there was a way to reach it by public transport. I could think of a few potential issues – 1.) Is the canyon within walking distance of a bus stop? 2.) Is the canyon easily walkable without a guide, map, or prior knowledge? 3.) Is there a bus to the nearest bus stop at a reasonable time? 4.) Is there a bus back from the nearest bus stop at a reasonable time? Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy guide to day-trips from Pamplona, but after a bit of Googling and guesswork, the answer to all the above seemed to be yes, and there was nothing for it but to try. I found my opportunity on a beautiful and unseasonably warm November Friday. I thought it could easily be my last chance, so even though my friends were tied up in class, I set off.

I went to the bus station after my morning classes and ordered potatoes with garlic sauce and a bottle of water. The whole package cost me less than four euros, and was lovingly packaged to go – a quick and easy alternative to packing a lunch for day-trips. With just this, my camera, and a basic plan, I caught the one o’clock bus to Liedena, to the slight surprise of the driver. On Google Maps I could see that the canyon itself was halfway between the small town of Lumbier and Liedena (smaller yet) – and it looked to me as if I could walk easily between them, following the river. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure it would work, as all online advice was written to reasonable people with cars, but I figured that if the path became impassable, I could always return to Liedena and take the bus back from there. To be safe, I had copied down the times of all the returns from both Liedena and Lumbier. If things went well, the walk would be about 8 km = 2 hours, and I had four between my arrival in Liedena, and my last chance of departure from Lumbier. I couldn’t find the exact location of the bus stops on Google, but I figured that Lumbier was a bigger town, and the stop would be more likely to be marked, or if not it would be easier to find someone to ask about it – by arriving in Liedena I would know immediately where that stop was in case of having to revert to plan B.

The Escape from Liedena

I got down at Liedena. I was glad I’d done the walk in this direction, as the official stop seemed to be the parking lot of an auto-body shop. An older woman got off with me and asked me twice if I was really going to Liedena – the first time I merely said ‘yes’ and smiled, the second time I explained that my plan was to walk to Lumbier. She brightened at this, understanding, and told me that it was a lovely walk and popular in the summer – and that right now the first bit was under construction for the new highway, but I could still pass through. I followed her into Liedena proper, which consisted of a few rows of houses, a little cafe, and a church up the road. She showed me the best spot to photograph the town was, so that I’d have a memory of her pueblo, and pointed out the path to Lumbier. I thanked her and set off.

The first part of my journey was through a field of mud – the ugly construction site the woman had warned me about. My original plan had been to try to follow the river, so that’s what I did… at least, until I ran into a rope and a sign prohibiting unauthorized access. Perhaps I wasn’t on the right path after all? Backtracking a little ways, I found a more suitable looking path, much less muddy, that still kept fairly close to the river. I really thought I’d figured it out this time, and was walking happily along a shady path with little farmhouses beside me, when the path suddenly came to an unceremonious end. Looking to the right, I saw for the first time an extremely nice looking path, well maintained and continuing on towards the canyon. This, I thought, must be the path – but I didn’t want to lose another half hour retracing my steps. Summoning up my courage, I cut across a tiny bit of land, dodging planters and sheds (the owner’s house was nowhere in site) and threw myself up the muddy hill on my hands and knees. Triumphantly I landed on what I hoped would be the actual path, and started for a third time on my way. After another kilometer or so, a little path broke away from mine and led into the mountains – here I found a sign at last, confirming that the path I was on led to the canyon. Finally!

The Devil’s Bridge

I followed this path for some time. As much as half of my total walk was on this side of the foz, and the woman in Liedena had told me to just walk until I got to the tunnel. It was a pleasant walk, through, once I had left all the mud and construction behind. The river ran beside and below me, and there were more leaves on the trees left than in Pamplona. Dozens of vultures were flying above me, but in the perfect fall air and sunshine they didn’t seem threatening or ominous at all. At last I reached the tunnel the lady had described, and a good sign post explaining my options. There was a very easy walk through the canyon, or a much longer round trip that also took me up into the mountains. To be on the safe side, I opted for the easy walk, since I didn’t know how well the mountain path would be marked or how long it would take. First, through, I was distracted by a smaller sign, just to the side of the tunnel entrance.

This sign said (in Spanish, Basque, and English): The Devil’s Bridge – 16th century – a bridge of great historical importance until its destruction during the War of Independence (1812). DANGER! Access to the bridge is highly dangerous (danger of falling). Proceed at your own risk.

The path was narrow and high, but wide enough, and one side was against the mountain, and the rocks beneath my feet were solid. I’m not sure I’d want to take the trip with a toddler or two in hand, but it was perfectly fine as long as I didn’t do anything stupid. Soon I was hiking almost directly above the blue river and a few ruined houses. The bridge itself was pretty thoroughly destroyed, and what is left isn’t fantastically interesting, but it’s a cool spot to go to nonetheless. On one side you can look down the river towards Liedena, and on the other you can -almost- see into the canyon itself. When the bridge was complete I’m sure the view from the middle was marvellous, but the way it is now it’s so tempting to try to lean just a bit further out and see the canyon open up – maybe this is the danger the sign warned about!

 

Enter the Foz

I worked my way back to the tunnel and entered. The reason there’s such a convenient path through the canyon is that the tunnels were once part of a railroad. The tunnel is long and slightly curved, but never so dark you can’t just make out where to walk. Before I knew it, I had reached the end, and I was in the canyon. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I followed a little path down to the water on my left, where I could look out back towards the Devil’s Bridge. A lone kayaker was practicing in the rapids here as I snapped a few pictures, enjoying the sense of calm and quiet.

The canyon itself was so short it only took me half an hour to cross, even taking dozens of photos. The afternoon light was hitting one wall of the canyon and making it shine brilliantly, while the other was in deep shadow and the water separating them seemed to glow faintly as it wound its way through, cutting every second a tiny, tiny bit deeper into the rock. I sat for a few minutes to take pictures of the vultures that flew overhead, and enjoyed the half company of a bunch of schoolchildren who marched through with their teachers, acting exactly like my class would have, at that age. The canyon path ended with another tunnel, a bit shorter than the first, and shortly behind me one of the schoolboys came running and hollering, throwing his bag up in the air. You could hear the voices of his teachers calling behind him, exasperated, but sounding more annoyed than worried.

 

Lumbier

There was a little picnic area on the Lumbier side of the Foz, and I stopped there to eat my little lunch and let the schoolchildren pass by me. They taunted a herd of sheep as they went by, and the sheep went running for the hills. I mean literally – I’ve never seen sheep move like these, running so fast that at times they seemed to have all four feet up in the air. As soon as the children left, they ran back towards the path just as quickly. The walk to Lumbier was nice again in the golden sunlight, as I passed old men tending old vineyards and several pairs of old women walking two by two for exercise. Before long I rounded a certain corner and could see Lumbier ahead of me, with its city walls and church up on the hill. I followed a sweet looking path towards the town, crossing a tiny patch of woods and a little river on a medieval bridge.

I was quite a bit ahead of schedule, so I headed for the Tourist Information Office/Foz Nature Interpretation Center, where I paid 1.20€ for entry to the center (the information office is free). I was the only one there, and the woman working the front desk had to run up the stairs to turn all the lights and sounds on for me. The center was small but nice, with a variety of different exhibits about the geology of the canyons, the resident vultures, and about nature in general. I suppose the grand majority of it was marketed for children, but I enjoyed the little models and illustrations and the translation of everything into Basque. I even got private showings of the two short movies about the area. On the third floor there was a strange ‘tunnel of sensations’ where you could go through, learn about living in peace with nature, and feel different objects from the forests and canyons to guess what they were. I would have loved that as a child!

 

Back to Pamplona

When I’d seen all there was to see in the center, and it was getting closer to time to catch the bus, I asked the woman where the bus stop was (it was very close and impossible to miss) and caught the bus back to Pamplona with no issues. All in all, my daytrip to Lumbier was a success. Other than a bit of confusion at the beginning due to the construction, things went easily and according to plan. Although visiting by car would be quicker and more efficient, I also got something special out of doing the trip this way. After all, it’s not only the destination that matters, but also the journey.

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 23:03  Leave a Comment  
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Selva de Irati

Sunday morning came cold and wet, but I wasn’t about to let such a trivial thing as the weather keep me from another Club de Montaña adventure. This time we were off to La Selva de Irati, Europe’s second most important forest after Germany’s Schwarzwald. The drive there was lovely at first, as we passed charming Basque houses and valleys that reminded me of New England. Then we drove into the mists, and saw nothing but white on all sides…

The bus let us off, and after a long hike through the fog, we entered the forest. Immediately I felt like I was back home in Missouri! Some things were subtly different, but much was the same, and I breathed in the smell of wet leaves and moss with relish. The fall colours came as an exciting novelty to some of the exchange students, but coming from Missouri I found them to be a welcome reminder of home. The time vanished quickly into a blur of yellow and green leaves, interrupted only for a lesson on identifying mushrooms.

This hike wasn’t as exotic as some of the other Club de Montaña activities have been, but in a way it was lovely to be, for a few hours time, back home in an Ozark forest. And I came home with a big fat mushroom!

Petretxema

The final group who made it to the top.

The Club de Montaña Pyrenees Hike yesterday included an optional ascent of Petretxema, which someone on the group told me was the highest mountain in Navarra, but that’s wrong on two counts – it’s about 50 meters shorter than Mesa de los Tres Reyes, and, more importantly, the peak of the mountain isn’t in Navarra, or even in Spain – to get to the top, you cross the border into France. No one who knows me would ever believe I would have worked so hard to get there, of all places. 🙂

Petretxema is higher than Ben Nevis, which I climbed in Scotland, so it is technically the highest mountain I have climbed. It was a shorter hike, though, as we didn’t start from sea level. For me it was still a greater challenge, as we had already hiked for several hours before tackling the mountain itself, and we took it at a quick pace, without any stops. On top of that I wasn’t feeling extremely well that day, and in fact hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Until the last minute, I wasn’t sure if I was going to try the mountain or not. In fact, I had decided against it, as most of the inexperienced walkers weren’t doing it, and I didn’t want to slow the hard-core group down. I started out at the front of the group, and tried my best to keep up with the leader. As we climbed higher and grass gave way to rock, the group split into two – the faster ones, who hadn’t needed a break until then, and the much slower half. It was just then that I started to fall behind, so for the rest of the climb I was my own middle group, pacing myself and listening to myself breathe. I kept looking behind and trying to keep going as the distance between me and the last climbers quickly narrowed. I knew that if they caught up with me, they would pass me and I would never make it to the top in time.

The Final Ascent

The last section of the ascent, just before the summit, is a strange miniature landscape of rock and ferocious wind which blows down from the top, slowing your ascent further. By this point, I was pushing myself by not letting myself stop until I reached this or that rock, and sometimes almost crawling.

The Summit

Finally, I was able to hear the voices from the people who had already made it to the top. One last push, and I was there.

I made it!

The views from the top were spectacular – almost as good as the satisfaction of having made it all the way up there. And I wasn’t even last – three or four people came in a few minutes after me, and a few more had given up along the way.

Anyone who’s never climbed one of these mountains must think I’ve gone crazy, or that I simply enjoy pain… but I’m two in now, and I’m absolutely hooked!

Back to the Fields...

When you’re so focused on getting to the top, sometimes it’s easy to forget that you still have to get back down. But although it’s quite rough on the knees, and you have to watch where you put your feet, it’s still infinitely easier to have the wind on your back and gravity on your side. Everyone is relaxed and talkative on the way down, a marked contrast from the windswept isolation and struggle of individual wills on the way up.