Discussion of Bushwalking, Hiking, Trekking, Tramping, Rambling and Camping elsewhere around the world.
Sat 09 Nov, 2019 3:00 pm
"How about walking from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea via the highest part of the Pyrenees?" I suggested to my friend Casey.
"It'll be fun!"
37 days of walking 760km and climbing over 50,000 vertical metres after our swim in the Atlantic - we swam in the Mediterranean. It was fun. But along the way it was also hard work, spectacular, humbling and sooooo satisfying.
We had both done lots of walking previously and loved hard trips which had plenty of camping - but also the odd refuge stay to keep things balanced and comfortable - and cleaner!
This was the HRP which is one of three well known routes through the Pyrenees, the other two are on the French side of the range being the GR10 and its southern sister, the GR11 being on the Spanish side. They all share the spectacular, less populated, less over-run mountain range that separates France and Spain.
We pretty much followed the route described in the most recent version of the Cicerone guide by Tom Martens. This is a new guide, updating and replacing the previous Cicerone guide by Joostens. Both guides describe the walk from the west to the east - which has the advantages of a more gently start before you hit the rugged high Pyrenees, and the morning shade on the early climbs. The original route was described by the Frenchman Georges Veron as a east to west route - and you will come across (mainly) French still doing this route. The Martens guide is excellent and Tom pretty much spends each year updating his knowledge of the Pyrenees so updated guides are current.
The walk is broken into 5 stages and each stage is roughly a week of walking - the guide details a 44 day walk - but as we did you may choose to do it at a different pace. Either way you are in for a treat.
The walking is generally on single track and well marked routes, but as the HRP is not an official Grand Randonee (GR) it doesnt have a dedicated way marking system. So some care is needed to find the way each day - especially when the route veers away from a GR route and you have to leave the red and white GR flashes behind. Having said that we used the Guide for navigation as well as having the route as a GPX file on our phones (we used the Gaia app but t here are plenty of others) and also on a Garmin GPS unit. We didnt take additional maps. The advantage is weight and bulk saving - the disadvantage is you have limited information on alternative routes you might wish to explore.
Knowing we were in for lots of climbing we took care with pack weight and had a base pack weight of about 7kg including full camping gear. We camped and stayed in refuges and it was good to mix it up a bit. There is not really any Australian equivalent to the mountain refuges of Europe (maybe the Three Capes Refuges in Tasmania?). They are fantastic and many (most?) walkers will use them every night - means you can pretty much do the walk with a daypack as all your food and accommodation is provided each night. Nothing quite like a cold beer and a hot (enormous) meal after a hard day in the Pyrenees. We probably mixed it 50/50. In the highest part of the Pyrenees it got too cold for our lightweight gear and we spent a week using the refuges. We were pleased to get back to the solitude and quiet of the tents after that - refuges (and particularly Spanish ones!) are quite raucous!
There were so many highlights of the walk they kind of blended together - each stage was slightly different in geography, terrain and culture as you move from the land of the Basque through Andorra to the land of the Catalan. It was great to talk local politics and culture with the fiercely proud and (hoping to be one day) independent Basque and Catalans!!
We loved the misty green hills around Arizkun in the first week and the wonderful mountain sheep dairies - buy the cheese directly from the dairy you wont get better. The first stage ends with the beautiful mountain village of Lescun and a shower, bed and restaurant meal is a great idea. Stage 2 takes us to the wonderful tourist town of Gavarnie and the high Pyrenees. Our high point of 3032m on the summit of the Petite Vignemalle was near the end of this stage. Stage 3 was high mountains all the way and we were forced into refuges on account of the freezing conditions. Stage 4 took us through Andorra and blizzard conditions over the 2605m Col de Certascan. Stage 5 was long and some big days and included our longest day of 37km and 2400m over 12hrs - sore feet that night! On the last day we were fog bound all day and at about mid morning we were coming down a ridge when we dropped below the clouds and there it was - the glittering prize of the Mediterranean and the seaside town of Banyuls sur Mer. What joy - but tinged with a sadness that our nomadic life was coming to an end and once again we would immerse ourselves back into the hectic pace of our "sophisticated" lifestyle.
I would recommend the HRP to anyone with a thirst for adventure and the fitness and tenacity to struggle through tough days to be rewarded by the incomparable rugged beauty of the remote Pyrenees. I would gladly go back.
Mon 11 Nov, 2019 3:18 pm
Ta for that. I enjoyed it.
Tue 12 Nov, 2019 10:16 am
Thanks for that scoha - you’ve taken us on a great vicarious journey. It makes my recent trip on the Tour du Mont Blanc feel wussy (it wasn’t!) Agree with you about the refuges, a fabulous way to end a long day and get re-fueled. But finding sometimes more than 100 people inside a remote hut is a strange and often noisy experience for an Aussie.
Thu 14 Nov, 2019 8:37 pm
deleted duplicate post
Last edited by wobbly
on Sat 16 Nov, 2019 11:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
Fri 15 Nov, 2019 11:43 am
Wow even with 7 kg packs that is very fast. Well done. It took us 28 days walking to get from Hendaye to Espot where we had to pull the pin. Hoping to get back and finish it next year.
Wed 11 Dec, 2019 8:50 pm
Hi, I was hoping do this in 2020 but doubt it will happen. Nonetheless, a couple of questions:
- how did you get as low as7kg with camping gear?
- realistically, what is the earliest you would consider starting walking? I have read early June is the earliest possible.
Sat 01 Feb, 2020 8:41 pm
There is a definite start to the season for the Refuges. From memory they started opening around the middle of June. Ditto for the lowland camping places - so on one 3-month trip we had to hop over the fence once or twice as we had started before June.
Start too early and you can find the Pyrenees still covered in snow. That did happen to us once too. Oops.
Sun 02 Feb, 2020 6:30 pm
Woops - sorry Ben only just saw your earlier query.
heres my gear list for the HRP
The key is Dyneema tent and pack
Typically we would have about three days food with us - restocking at villages and refuges as best we could along the way.
Roger is correct -you can start this walk too early - and have to deal with lots of snow. This will vary year to year depending on the season - I think July is earliest - but even in summer you can get snow - as we found out
Sun 02 Feb, 2020 6:50 pm
Ah yes, gas. When we started walking in the Pyrenees many years ago, it was a struggle to even find the Campingaz canisters with the Lindal valves. Usually all I could find were the horrible (dangerous) piercable canisters. Generally it was the larger 450 g Campingaz canister or nothing. One of those lasted my wife and I for 14 days for all cooking.
More recently we have found that the screw-thread canisters have become a lot more available, even in the tiny villages in the mountains. After all, walkers have money ...
Figure on 14 - 15 g/day per person with some care.
Mon 03 Feb, 2020 1:12 pm
No worries and thanks - unfortunately I wont be doing this this year but instead am doing the Alta Via 2. Similar problems with refugios opening a bit later in June than I am starting so taking a tent to be on the safe side.
Mon 03 Feb, 2020 5:28 pm
Ah, but with a light tent you can have much better views for the evening.
Thu 13 Feb, 2020 2:14 pm
I so agree, much prefer staying in a tent, at least you can stick your head out and see the stars!
Thu 13 Feb, 2020 2:52 pm
I remember going over a high pass in France once, in absolutely filthy weather. Rain+snow+wind, and ankle-deep ice water on the track. So we looked forward to reaching the Refuge in the valley below.
But when we got there we found, or heard, so much drunken carrying on inside the building that we simply kept going, despite the conditions.
So Refuges are not always wonderful places to stay. OK: most of them are, but ...
© Bushwalk Australia and contributors 2007-2013.