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We step out of our shuttle van and onto the sloping streets of Boi—a tiny mountain village a few hours north of Barcelona. The skies are blue overhead, the temperature is comfortably warm, and we’ve got 7.8 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain between us and our camp for the night: a stone refuge tucked in some of Spain’s most scenic mountains in Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park.
The late-fall daylight is burning, so we lace our boots at a trailhead inside the park and begin our trek through the craggy peaks, rolling hills, and open pastures of Catalonia.
Our local guide maintains a sunset-beating pace as we climb from a subalpine forest to an exposed saddle above treeline. At the top, we gaze over a small, crystal blue alpine lake, the maroons and golds of fall’s fading foliage, and sweeping views of Les Encantats: twin peaks that jut up from the valley floor, making a gunsight-perfect notch that’s blushed with the season’s first snow.
I’m seeing possible tentsites everywhere, but wild camping is prohibited here—and everywhere in Spain—so we press on. Daylight softens into dusk, and we arrive at our stone mountain refuge at headlamp hour. We’re tired but not too tired to indulge in a bottle of Spanish red wine and a three-course meal prepared by the refuge host.
As I sip the last of my dessert liqueur and massage my quads, I think to myself that by swapping a nylon shelter for a stone one, the Catalonians got something very right.
The mountain spirits were angry that day, or so the legend goes, our guide Jordy tells us. Two men from the Pyrennean town of Espot decided to skip the annual September pilgrimage to the hermitage of Saint Maurici so they could go hunting at the base of the largest mountain around. Soon fog rolled in, then a deafening crack of thunder. When the fog cleared, that largest mountain had been split in two—the Encantats—and the hunters stood between them as pillars of stone, an eternal reminder of what happens when people lose their way.