The start of the trek from Bocairent to Vallada was a gradual climb on a paved road, but there was no traffic. The road kept rising until it reached the top of the rocky, shrub covered hills before changing to dirt. After a short stint on dirt roads, the descent into the neighboring valley was on a rocky, single-track trail with some switchbacks, which slowed the pace. Once down in the valley, a series of dirt secondary roads connected to lead to the far side of the valley, where the next rocky range awaited. The roads again gave way to trails for the climb, and the climb was very steep and loose. It took a lot of time just to go the few hundred meters to the top, where the trail eventually joined a dirt road. The weather was warm and sunny, and until late in the day, there was very little shade. The dirt road finally entered some lush green pine forests that blanketed the hills, with some rock pillars breaking through to show their grey contrast in an otherwise bright green surrounding. The road soon reached the cliff top high above Vallada, which was a cue for the steep, rough trail down the cliff that I knew was coming. This trail was really tough and narrow, and it was really punishing my legs after a long day. I entered Vallada after around 30km, and stopped in town long enough to have a coffee and a sparkling water, and to find out that Vallada had no accommodation (despite being a sizable town). I didn’t want to camp because I knew that I would be camping the following night after a long day. I decided to walk the 8km from Vallada to a hotel in Moixent, even though Moixent is not on the GR7 path. While this would add a few kilometers to the following day, it was worth it to have a bed. During the 8km sidestep to Moixent, I met the husband and son of the Vallada mayor. They were out for a walk and asked about my trip. They also showed me their fruit field nearby, and gave me some loquats to eat while walking. Never had loquats before, and I cannot recall ever seeing them in the U.S. or Australia. Loquats are amazing. I wish they grew/sold these in Australia. Overall, this was a lot longer day than anticipated, racking up about 38km.
The following day, I met a guy from Tokyo at breakfast that was on pilgrimage on the Camino that runs through Moixent, but he was going to take a bus for a bit because he was having knee issues. After breakfast and a stop in town for groceries, I backtracked to the spot where the GR7 enters the hills on the two-day stretch towards Cortes de Pallas. I loaded up on water and tied an extra 1.5 litre bottle to my pack, knowing that it would be well over 30km for each of the two days to Cortes de Pallas, and I knew it would be warm. Hate carrying that much weight, but sometimes you can’t help it. The path immediately started throwing up challenges, with it following the dry creek bed at the bottom of a canyon. It was very slow going as most of the walking was on river rock.
At the end of the canyon, the path climbed up and out through the exposed shrubland that blanketed the hills. A long, rocky road section then took me to some pretty poor trail sections, with each one seemingly worse than the previous one. The first was a very steep and rocky drop off. Once the steep descent started to ease, the trail was barely noticeable, and I had to keep checking the GPS and looking for waymarks. It looked like someone just knocked over the shrubs and called it a trail. The second section was through a forest, but was more of the same. It was hard to find the trail, and I had to push through a lot of vegetation. The third section was essentially a climb up an embankment, with barely a hint of where the trail was supposed to be. To complicate matters, this section also had multiple fallen trees, some of which were not passable without major gymnastics on the side of the steep slope. I was certain that I was going to get injured there, but somehow avoided it. At this point I was exhausted and way behind schedule. I finally saw some decent track leading into Casas de Benali, which is a rural accommodation. While it would have been a lovely place to stay, I was still short of my goal and opted to stop for a water refill. There was a Dutch couple staying there that allowed me to use their sink, which was nice of them. I then continued on, pushing for another 7km before I was finally exhausted. I didn’t stop walking until about 8pm, so that was a 10.5 hour day. I only took two short breaks during the day, one for about ten minutes to eat and drink something, and the fifteen minute break that I took when refilling water. This was easily the most difficult/challenging day I have had thus far on the trip, and needless to say, I felt pretty beat up when setting up camp.
Since I wasn’t able to finish my goal from the day before, I knew that it was going to be a very long day into Cortes de Pallas. But, it was longer than anticipated. The road/trail conditions were not as bad as the day before, but the distance combined with the heat and diminishing water supply took its toll. In my tired state, I also took and wrong turn and ended up adding about 3km to an already ridiculous day. The forest service roads followed the hilltops out of camp before diving into a valley, and eventually climbing again near some tower-shaped rocky outcrops. Once through the outcrops and into the saddle, I bumped into two Civil Protection workers that were repairing cracks in a water trough used for fire protection. The road then made a gradual drop down to a paved section with switchbacks, where I came across four Forestry Services workers that were clearing brush near the road. Once down on the valley floor, the road was relatively straight to the other end of the valley, where the state of the road deteriorated before turning into a trail at the cliff banks of the Cortes de Pallas Reservoir. The reservoir valley was really stunning, with high rocky cliffs all around, and the remains of a castle on the highest point above the water.
By the time I reached this point, my feet were really hurting and I was battling serious fatigue. I was also worried that I would not make it to Cortes de Pallas before dark. I had to hustle along the trail while trying to ignore my mangled feet. Sabine helped by phoning ahead to make sure there was accommodation due to the lateness of my arrival. I got into town just as the sun was going down, but the last twenty minutes or so on downhill paved road was killing my feet. Ended up having to take a rest day in Cortes de Pallas because of my feet, fatigue, and a bit of dehydration. This last day into Cortes de Pallas ended up being about 49-50km (well over marathon distance) and took about 12 hours. Don’t plan on doing that again anytime soon.
Walking days: 41
Total distance walked: 1134km (705mi)