We visited one of the iconic landmarks on the Camino de Santiago this morning (there seem to be so many) – La Cruz de Ferro, or The Iron Cross. Getting there required a bit of exertion since this is the highest point on the Camino (1,505 meters/4,940 feet.) The climb was not too steep but the elevation change was about 400 meters from Rabanal and the condition of the trail was not always the best. It was quite chilly as we departed the albergue and the winds were fairly strong as we crossed the mountain range. It had been threatening rain, but we didn’t see more than a few isolated sprinkles. We may see more rain in coming days. But, the cool weather is conducive to hiking, so we didn’t complain too much.
We have also ascended into a very mountainous region and are being treated to spectacular views such as we haven’t seen since we left the Pyrenees. The trees are just starting to display their fall colors and we were treated to that as well.
The Cruz de Ferro itself is a simple iron cross that has been mounted atop a tall (about 40 foot) post. It is surrounded by a veritable mountain of stones – which carries the most abiding significance for the landmark. Over the centuries, pilgrims have carried stones with them from their hometowns. As a pilgrim approaches the Cruz de Ferro he or she thinks about issues, concerns, or thanksgivings that are especially meaningful. Upon reaching the cross, the pilgrim tosses the stone(s) onto the pile with the intention that the specific issues or concerns will travel with the stone and be left behind at the landmark. I have been giving this a lot of thought for months and had brought two stones from the top of Cowles Mountain in San Diego (the highest point in the city) and one from our family farm up in Washington. It was a simple but moving ritual to leave these stones and their assigned meanings behind at the Cruz de Ferro. I felt emotionally lighter as we walked away.
The trail leading away from the cross and down the other side of the range was steep and fairly treacherous with loose stones and ruts that needed constant attention to safely navigate. We were reminded that walking downhill can be as strenuous (or more so) than walking uphill. We are spending the night in an albergue in the town of Acebo, a typical mountain town that provides support and comfort to tired pilgrims such as us. Tomorrow we will continue on the the city of Ponferrada (population of 62,000.). It is amazing to me how our pilgrimage along the Camino has taken over our lives and become our sole focus as we walk relentlessly toward our goal – now only a little more than a week away.