Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain

Aeri de Montserrat

Cable car descending from Montserrat

Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain

"Those shoes," said the man with the white mustache, "are good for La Rambla or Passeig de Gràcia. Not here." A few moments later, watching M. vigorously powering up the slope, he muttered to himself in Spanish. "But she does have a good rhythm."

In truth, neither M.'s little flat shoes or my DMs were really ideal for the conditions, but after a few days of plodding around the city, we weren't going to pass up the chance to do some hiking. Moreover, the looping trail from the Monestir de Montserrat up to Sant Jeroni, the highest of the adjacent peaks, was not a very demanding hike. The steeper sections had concrete steps and the muddy patches were few and fairly far between. It wasn't much more challenging than an extended stroll in a rather unkempt park.

The scenery was rather more impressive than most parks, however. The massif of Montserrat is composed of conglomerates that weather into bizarre rounded nubs and spurs whose smooth outlines give them an almost melted appearance. The higher parts offered a spectacular view over the surrounding hills.

Our new acquaintance proved a mine of information about the area. He showed us the muddy scrapes along the edges of the trail where wild pigs had rooted for nuts. When I caught up with him at the summit of Sant Jeroni, he pointed out the via ferrata (a steel cable and a few handholds dropping nearly vertically into a cleft between two outcrops) and showed me where to look for the Pyrenees, mostly lost in a blanket of low cloud.

The wild pigs proved to be shy and all that we saw of them were the scrapes they had left in the mud. We did, however, see a pair of ravens and, most impressive of all, a distant flock of ibex. The ibex were visible only as ant-like silhouettes outlined against the sky along a ridge of rock outcrops. As we watched, they shuffled down the steep rockface, tensed for a moment and then sprang, sailing through the air in a graceful arc to land on the far side.