May 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm #1290262
I'm planning a long walk in August, either in the Pyrenees or possibly part of the Nordkalottleden in Finland and Sweden, but for now I want to ask about the Pyrenees.
If I had the time I'd love to do the entire coast to coast Haute Pyrenees walk, but I only have three weeks before I will meet my girlfriend in Chamonix.
Might anyone have any suggestions of the best section to walk that might last about three weeks? I doubt I'd be able to handle the very technical sections, so somewhat easier, but not as easy as the Tour de Mont Blanc. I'd be camping most of the time, with occasional stops at mountain refuges.
Thanks for any suggestions!May 23, 2012 at 8:59 pm #1880590
This URL was about our gear list for the GR10:
and this covered a post-trip assessment of the gear. There are some photos along the way.
This URL is to a write-up of the actual GR10 and GR11 tracks.
This last might answer some of your questions.
But really, if you get either the French FFRP guide books or a Cicerone one and skip the first few days (lower country), starting most anywhere is GOOD. I suggest the GR10 rather than the GR11 in Spain or the HRP.
CheersMay 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm #1880609
Michael SchwartzBPL Member
@greenwalkLocale: PA & Ireland
I'd recommend the middle section of the HRP, which is the best section. In August most snow should be gone. The Cicerone guide gives 500 GPS references to help with navigation, but the middle section is pretty well marked. Check out trip reports posted here at BPL. I believe the GR10 and GR11 have greater elevation gains and losses since these routes go thru villages for lodging and food. MikeMay 23, 2012 at 11:45 pm #1880640
> GR10 and GR11 have greater elevation gains and losses since these routes go thru
> villages for lodging and food.
Well, both run parallel to the watershed, but a little off it. Yes, lots of up and down (all good exercise!), but mainly for food. There are high huts, especially on the GR10. We really liked the GR10, and would go back – except that there are so mnay other long-distance trails in Europe to do.
CheersMay 23, 2012 at 11:57 pm #1880645
John Frederick AndersonMember
I would start in the west, in Aragon, and walk east to the Med as far as you can, through Aragon, Andorra and the western part of Cataluña. Hiking in the Pyrenees is wonderful, and you can buy food along the way, and stop and eat in manned huts and camp along the trail or high up as you like. Water is good and plentiful, and you can choose to cross the borders and do your own route following all three designated trails, the GR 10, 11, and HPR.
Have a great hike, and I may see you along the trail as I am doing some sections this summer myself.
FredMay 24, 2012 at 1:37 am #1880650
A very strong and committed hiker could walk the entire HRP (the GR10 or 11 are longer) in 3 weeks but it wouldn't be so fun. As others stated, skip the ends. It's beautiful all along but necessarily mellower in the lower altitude, more inhabited east and west ends. If you hike west to east (most, all? guidebooks seem to follow this) I suggest you could start in eastern Navarre at the Port de Larrau road access, the terrain from there is truly spectacular and it never stops.
As for which route: the HRP will take you further east, it's wilder (less civilization, less people), it probably has lesser ups and downs than both GRs but expect 1000 m climbs regularly anyway. It gets a bit technical at times, just a bit beyond plain walking: some talus/scree near the passes, some big boulder fields where hands may be needed, some snow sections, some really steep slopes… I'd say (and I know this is somewhat subjective) that except for a couple of spots the rest is mostly fine for any good walker that's used to mountain terrain. Beware also this is in good weather. Bad weather conditions are a different game, can get very serious in the high sections. This applies also to the GRs but the passes are usually less exposed and the tread is usually better and easier to follow.
The GRs will take you closer to civilization which may be a bad or a good thing depending on what you're looking for. People from abroad sometimes prefer to visit villages more regularly to have a taste of the human landscape which is also interesting. The GR10 is probably better in that regard and it's also easier walking. The GR11 still has some steep sections near some passes where the tread is closer to a talus field than a trail. In general, I'd say the 11 is rougher than the 10. The terrain is also greener along the 10 but this is most notorious when coming down to the valleys. The weather tends to be drier and warmer on the south slopes and it can get uncomfortably warm sometimes during the day. On the north side, fog is common in the afternoons, it can be annoying but the trail is usually good enough to be easy to follow anyway.
I wrote an extensive report on the HRP for my website and the version in english is particularly geared towards potential visitors from abroad. I'll mention I've also got there a yet more extensive piece on the Nordkalottleden which was at the time a big void even on the internet and hope you can use it when the time comes.May 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm #1880967
Thanks everyone, for your advice and suggestions. One of the reasons I am considering the Pyrenees is because of reading the lyrically waxed accounts of all of you in both forum threads and blog posts that you all wrote. And the photos you all took, definitely inspired me. Inaki, while I was planning for the Nordkalottleden last year (but unfortunately couldn't do because I got very sick and was hospitalized all August), I read your very thorough account and information very carefully. I still find that it is one of the most realistic and useful articles on the Internet about the walk, including your thoughts on hiking it alone for the first time, and taking on something so unfamiliar.
Everything I've read about the Pyrenees makes them sound remarkably similar to the mountains of Japan, including the heights of the highest peaks. I was shocked by the overdevelopment of the Tour de Mont Blanc and other walks in the Alps; the mountains trails in Japan are far more rugged and cut off from civilization, in spite of having a hut system based on that of the Alps. So, experience-wise, the Pyrenees fall into what I regularly do in Japan. I have little worry that I can handle most of the regular routes… I'm just not sure about the sections without waymarks or with a lot of snow. Weather-wise it sounds exactly like Japan, including the big storms, heavy fog, and heat. Japan probably has a lot more rain, so I think I'm set up for what to expect on that score. I was surprised by several accounts which spoke of the 3,000 meter heights of the peaks as being exceptionally big. I find them to be average now, especially after having visited the Alps and being almost awestruck by how huge and foreboding they were compared to the mountains of Japan.
Gear-wise I'm all set. I'm using either my Solomid, Notch, cuben Duomid, or Trailstar. Most likely the Trailstar is out because I'm worried, as in Japan, about limited footprint space, though it would probably be the best shelter for heavy weather. I just received the Notch a short while ago and will be trying it out several times during the summer to determine whether or not it can handle mountain storms… if so, I'll probably be taking that. If not, it's either the Solomid or the Duomid. I like the Duomid, but again it needs a big footprint, and another funny thing is that at times I find it a bit too big. It takes more to warm up the inside with my body heat than with the Solomid.
I'll just take my MontBell Down Hugger #3 and augment that with a MontBell Ex Light Down Inner Parka for colder nights.
I love my Granite Gear Crown 60 and that is what I will use for a pack.
Inov8 Terroc 330's for shoes.
As soon as I get the route figured out, I'll post a gear list and hopefully get some feedback on it.
Thanks again!May 24, 2012 at 9:36 pm #1880973
>I'm worried, as in Japan, about limited footprint space, though it would probably be the
> best shelter for heavy weather.
Ah, but the Pyrenees are NOT Japan.
Most places, you could pitch a circus tent with room to spare. Me, I would take a pretty rugged tent if you are going to camp up high. Yes, we had some bad weather I would not want to try with a light tarp or tarp-tent.
> I was surprised by several accounts which spoke of the 3,000 meter heights of the peaks
> as being exceptionally big
No, 3,000 m is not *exceptionally* big – but those peaks do seem pretty solid. And being on the crest of the Pyrenees, it's a long way down to the plains of Spain.
Lots of French bread and cheese!
CheersMay 24, 2012 at 10:53 pm #1880989
Well, I've been to the base of the Pyrenees before, have traveled throughout Spain and France (five times), walked the Picos de Europa, and spent a month traveling in the Alps, besides my 30 years of walking the alpine regions of Japan, so I think I do have at least a teensy-weensy bit of a background in what I'm getting into. ;-)
I was thinking for a while that I should try to come up with a joke about not having Caffin Tents commercially available… but thought perhaps I'd stomped on that one a fair bit, so perhaps I'll stick with the shelters I am sadly relegated to above ;-)
The bread, cheese, and sausage way of life is perfect for walking all day with energy to spare! With you all the way on that!
Here are some images of the 3,000 and 2,500 meter mountains I regularly walk here in Japan. I think it might give you an idea of what experience I have and whether or not I can imagine what the Pyrenees are like:
My main obstacle is psychological. Going solo, with diabetes, to a foreign country, up into unfamiliar territory can be terrifying. I try my best to overcome this fear and not let diabetes impact the dreams I want to follow, but nevertheless there are real dangers I must consider every minute of the every day, and going to the Pyrenees is something that I need some level of reassurance about before I can get over the fear. The Norkalottleden even more so. My biggest fear, and something that very strongly impacts my ability to even get out the door and get started, is food. If I don't get that right, it can easily kill me when I am far from food sources or help. I almost died on the 2nd day of the Tour de Mont Blanc, simply because the chocolate I was eating for snacks along the way was not giving me enough carbs to overcome the bonking I was going through… and it wasn't even a particularly difficult trail.
I need to look at the sections of the Pyrenees carefully, see if my body can handle it, where food sources are, and whether I can feel safe enough to handle it mentally. Otherwise it's just not worth it… this is supposed to be fun, not a measurement of how man enough I am.May 25, 2012 at 3:04 am #1881009
Very nice mountains!
Carbs – yeah, we need lots too. We don't use chocolate much for snacks, prefering good solid bread & cheese and so on. We only eat 'snacks' late in the day for a last minute boost.
What we did find was that everyone was friendly. Actually, we have found that anywhere in the alpine regions.
CheersMay 25, 2012 at 4:57 am #1881022
I don't think you should worry about trail marking on the HRP. Some sections are rough but I find there's always *some* kind of marking. Sometimes it'll be just rock cairns, very typical in the highest, rocky areas when the HRP takes some climbing route to a nearby peak. But there's always something. Following the route in good weather conditions shouldn't be a big problem for anybody used to be in the mountains as it's your case. Bad weather is the potential problem because these high sections with no tread and marginal marks may be difficult to very difficult to follow but if that happens there's always the option of taking an alternate or at least wait the weather. In August, bad weather spells shouldn't last more than a couple days, typically from some weather system coming off the Atlantic. In summer, this systems usually stay further north but in three weeks time there's a good chance you meet one or two. Thunderstorms sometimes degenerate into day-long instability too.
Camping shouldn't be a problem, space wise. There's usually meadows in the high areas, just below the crests.
In your condition maybe the GRs are a better option, if only psychologically, because you visit the villages more often and you'll meet more people on the trail to the point you'll hardly ever feel alone. Mind you, on the HRP you cross tarmac almost on a daily basis (depending on pace) but you don't usually go through villages and there's less people on average. Then, the HRP takes on both GRs here and there so you could hike a mix. Nordkalottleden would be indeed much harder in that area, very few people to meet and long distances in between inhabited places.
Ressuplying shouldn't be difficult but in some villages the selection may be tiny. Plan accordingly if you have specific needs. Surely the bread, cheese and sausage is ubiquitous and an excellent option. When on the french side, be sure to get some cheese off the shepherds at the huts. In Spain, be sure to try the mature cheese out of the local sheep, easily found in the village shops.
I don't know the mountains in Japan (beautiful pictures, indeed) but the Pyrenees are quite impressive. The Alps probably have longer, flat-bottomed, inhabited valleys where you can get impressive views that are not so common on average narrower valleys in the Pyrenees and the Alps have all the glaciers and the massive extension of the range that the Pyrenees miss. Other than that, the Pyrenees have a good amount of rock walls and towering peaks to leave a print on anybody's eye. Hope you can go and enjoy them.Jun 3, 2012 at 6:18 am #1883484
Sam SockwellBPL Member
Miguel- look for a description of a route by Andy Howell available online using his name and search a great walk in the pyrenees. He has a hybrid route of about 18 days that we really enjoyed last year. We really enjoyed Torla and a day hike around Ordesa, for example. If you have more time then you could start further north in Basque country say around st Jean de Pied, and I think that might be nice too. Lots of elevation change some of the days, but overall a winner.
Sam.Jun 5, 2012 at 8:25 am #1884184
Regarding routes, I yield to others who have hiked a greater diversity of routes in the Pyrenees (especially to Roger who has hiked GR10, GR11 and HRP), but thought I'd chime in about your concerns about access to food. Jim and I walked the HRP abut have not been on any other trails/routes in that range.
On the HRP there are several fairly long sections without a food store (at our pace 5-8 days between stores). However, in those sections there are staffed huts on a pretty regular basis and those huts serve food, even if you're not sleeping there. So if you got grounded by storms and ended up taking longer than expected to travel to the next store, you could camp outside a hut (or get a bunk in the hut) and take meals at the hut so as not to deplete your food supply while waiting out the storm. In our limited experience, the huts served a limited menu all day long. I suspect you've seen it already, but in case you missed it, take a look at the Re-Supply and Restaurants/Refuge sections of our trip report – not that you would eat in the same refuges, but it should give you comfort to see how often we had access to food:
We bought food in the stores assuming that we would not be able to find food at refuges; we didn't adjust our schedule in order to eat evening meals at refuges, but we found that nearly all of them were willing to feed us at whatever time of day we showed up. We passed numerous refuges without stopping to eat.
Also, we don't hitch while hiking, but you would have the opportunity to leave the route to access food stores more frequently if you found your supplies dwindling to an uncomfortable level.
We didn't carry gps device, but given your diabetes, I'd recommend taking a gps device that lets you load good maps so you can carry maps of the surrounding areas in case you need to leave the route unexpectedly in order to get food. If you've got an iPHone then you could carry the IGN maps as well as the OpenCycleMaps and Satellite images; not sure what Garmin provides; Android would give you at least OpenCycleMaps and Satellite images, not sure about IGN maps. Get a gps file of ALL staffed huts, including those off route, giving you info you'd need to leave route to access food. You could do this on paper maps, but the $$cost and weight of carrying paper maps of the lower elevations on the Spanish and French sides in addition to the maps of the route itself would start to add up. I'd carry paper maps of the intended route, with additional map coverage electronically.
The HRP in July/August when we hiked it had plenty of people around; it's not an "alone in the wilderness" experience. In the lower elevations, especially in Basque country, we saw few hikers, but there are nearly daily villages. The higher sections through the middle of the HRP had plenty of hikers. "Going solo, with diabetes, to a foreign country, up into unfamiliar territory can be terrifying." Again, I can't really speak to the added complexity of diabetes, but I wouldn't spend another minute envisioning that you'll be in unfamiliar territory going solo — there are super-friendly people around (other hikers and staff in the refuges) and if you're a social friendly person you'll be making friends and hiking with others on a regular basis should you choose to do so. Although many of the locals tending shops and refuges don't speak English, nearly all of the hikers we met spoke at least basic English, if not fluent English.
About route finding… if you have good mountain sense, and aren't intimidated by travelling without a well-marked tread, then you'll be good to go. Based on your photos, I wouldn't worry about this. I wouldn't say that to somebody who has only hiked on well defined trails, as you do need to be able to pick a route through rocky slopes in foggy weather, and although there are rock cairns to guide you we frequently found that there were cairns leading in all directions, so we became very wary of cairns. We believe that cairn building is a national past-time in the Pyrenees.
Good luck, and have a fantastic trip. AmyL and Jim
P.S. – we'll be tapping your wealth of knowledge about hiking in Japan sometime in the next couple years. Taking a 5 or 6 week thru hike in Japan is in our top tier, but probably not in the next twelve months. I'll get back to you when we start serious research :)Jun 5, 2012 at 2:22 pm #1884298
Thanks everyone for taking the time to write some pretty involved replies! Very useful information. I've been scouring the internet for trip reports and logistical information, and aside from the recommendations here, have found quite a few sites that offer great suggestions in routes and things like dealing with food. I'm thinking of walking part of the GR10, part up on the HRP, and part along the GR11, to get some variety, and see both sides of the peaks, while also getting some time up in the highest sections. Still have to look at the route possibilities themselves, but I'm still waiting for the arrival of the Cicerone books that I ordered from the UK. Amy, the suggestion of having GPS maps on an iPhone of surrounding areas for just in case is a great idea. Will make me feel a lot safer if anything should go wrong with my diabetes. I do know that the mountains in Europe, like those in Japan, are never really wilderness the way they are in the States or Canada or Australia, but when you've got diabetes and suddenly you're hit with hypoglycemia and there's no one immediately around, even the middle of a city can be dangerous. I plan for this, of course, and all I need is the right kind and amount of food, and I'm good to go. It doesn't stop me from still getting out there and doing the walks I want to do.
I take it the IGN maps are the ones to go for? Do yo buy them when you arrive in France or Spain, or do you order them online?
I speak rudimentary French (can understand more) and Spanish (also better at understanding) (and pretty fluent German), so I can also get by when English isn't possible. I don't think I have too much to worry about language-wise. Don't forget, I'm not Japanese! I'm German (who has only lived there a short while), and have traveled all over Europe, many times!
Amy, if you do decide to come to Japan, please don't hesitate to contact me. I have a lot of information that you can't get online and from guidebooks, in part because there are very few guidebooks in English on hiking in Japan (my friend Wes Lang… his blog, "Hiking In Japan"… is presently writing a book that should be out next year. I'm putting something together, too). I'm planning a thru-hike of the entire length of the country, perhaps in 2015. If possible I'd like to propose putting together a long-distance trail from north to south, but don't know how feasible that is. Bureaucracy here is a nightmare.
As soon as I know more about what I will be doing and preparing, I'll write here again. So far I've put my entire gear set together, including items just for traveling. I'm happy with the gear list and I'll get it up here soon. Please let me know what you think.Jun 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm #1884302
IGN (http://www.ign.fr/) is the French national mapping agency. Those are the maps to get for the French side, and each map includes adjacent areas of Spain too. You'll probably also need to get some Spanish maps. The Joosten guide lists the required map set for the route proposed in that book. We bought the whole set of maps by mail ahead of the trip and photo-copied them into strip maps. Each map sheet is large, so the entire set would be quite heavy. Although it was time consuming we were happy to have made strip maps.
There's an iPhone app called iPhiGeNie which gives you unlimited access to ALL maps that IGN publishes, including all scales of topo maps and the satellite imagery. I have just poked at that app, but didn't yet have an iPhone when we were in France, so haven't used it in the field. Based on what I saw I believe it will be a good app. If you've already got an iPhone then using that app would let you get a wide margin of maps. If you end up with using an iPhone, be sure you read the article Alan Dixon and I wrote about battery conservation: http://adventurealan.com/iphone4gps.htm
(and we'll be in touch later about Japan!)Jun 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm #1884305
@337guanacosLocale: Pirineos, Sierra de la Demanda
You can find maps for the whole Pirineos here:
Free, legal, with a raster file attached. Currently they are better than the French IGN maps (this has been a surprise for everyone as usually it was the opposite).
In most of the Spanish huts you'll need to make a call in advance to have dinner, also you can't miss Refugio de Lizara, close to the Pic D'Arlet, the cook there used to work in Akelarre in San Sebastian. Juan Tomas (the cook at Oulettes de Gaube, in front of the Vignemale) just moved to Chamonix this winter, he used to be the best, so I guess the level is still high.
Avoid Goriz and Besnasque, it's absolute hell. If you plan to climb Aneto, choose the original route by the Collado de Coronas (rocky aproach UIA grade I+ chimney and a bit of snow) avoid the normal route it's always full of people and it is really ugly.
Respomuso, Viados, Amitges, Pineta and Bujaruelo are my favorite huts in Spain.
In France Oulettes de Gaube Pombie and Baysellance ( specially the last one).
Hope this helps
Every time you see a hut, ask for the rescue service numbers, it's much faster calling the helicopter office directly than the 112. either in Spain and in France you are only 15 min away from a ICU helicopter. If you are member of an alpine club with UIAGN reciprocity, it's freeJun 6, 2012 at 10:05 am #1884569
Something I regularly do in my trips to be able to plan escape routes to civilization is carrying a (paper) road map of the area I'm hiking. In the Pyrenees, I needed a single map. I don't carry any map-enabled electronic device so this suits me better.
In the HRP, at around 40 km/day, you'd cross tarmac every day.Aug 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm #1900211
Thanks everyone for all your help and advice. It was invaluable in preparing for this trip. I'm leaving for Europe Monday morning, and will start climbing in the Pyrenees on the 10th. Really looking forward to a nice long walk and great encounters!Aug 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm #1900234
Miguel – have a fantastic trip. We're looking forward to hearing your stories and seeing your photos. Amy and JimSep 12, 2012 at 4:21 pm #1911727
Got back from Europe last week. I had a fantastic time, although my plans and routes completely changed due to a number of factors. One was that it was an incredibly hot summer (with the rescue helicopters continually flying to get victims of heat exhaustion and heat stroke down off the peaks), and some days I just wasn't up to taking on the sun. I also got quite sick for one day and had to pull out and recover, before heading back in, from further down the trail. Then there were the two times when the information in the Cicerone books was so inadequate and confusing that I lost two whole days walking the wrong mountains! Also, because of my food needs as a diabetic I had to carry a lot of fresh and canned foods, and that made my pack far heavier than I ever carry here in Japan. That with the huge elevation gains and losses… average 1,000 meters up and 1,000 meters down each day… made for some pretty exhausting effort. I was also not in the best shape on the first part of the walk.
I'm busy with school semester preparations right now, but I'll get a report on the trip, photos (I took LOTS!), and reviews of some of the gear I used (Tarptent Notch, Gossamer Gear Mariposa 2012, Exped Synmat UL 7, Kühl Liberator Convertible Pants, Montane Bionic SS T, and Montbell Windblast Windbreaker), when I can.
My only disappointment is that I didn't spend a lot of time up in the higher alpine regions of the Pyrenees, along the Haute Route. The mountains were both more developed than those here in Japan, but also felt more remote in the higher regions. Even though the mountains are the same height as those here in Japan, they felt much bigger in scale. Go figure.
I will say, though, that the Pyrenees are incredibly beautiful, the people wonderful fun to meet, the food out of this world, and I didn't see nearly as much as I wanted. Definitely will have to go back. I found the Pyrenees much closer to what I was looking for in the mountains than what I saw on the Tour de Mont Blanc. And I learned a thing or two about getting around in a place where I can barely speak the language, and on going light. Great, great trip.Sep 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm #1911749
Miguel – sounds like the full trip report will be full of interesting stories. Can't wait to read it.Jul 2, 2013 at 1:16 am #2001596
Richard DeLongBPL Member
@legkohodLocale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Yeah, waiting for that report. Just a bit of friendly encouragement from a fellow report writer:-)Jul 2, 2013 at 3:35 am #2001602
Thanks Richard. I'm actually in the midst of writing one portion. I've already finished two parts, but they are not hiking related. The third is. The main obstacle is processing all the photographs. I want to try to get this done soon. I'll let you know when I get it up on my blog. :-)Aug 8, 2013 at 4:05 pm #2013709
Hart –BPL Member
@backpackerchickLocale: Planet Earth
You have generated a fantastic thread here. Thanks also to all the contributors. Some great specifics here. I do not have diabetes but I must eat carefully and take care to stay warm and dry!
I am happy you had a good trip. You are inspiring! And thank you for the photos from Japan. I too would like to hike in Japan. I hear the huts are very "strict"!
Inaki: You clearly know these mountains! I think you use the phrase "depending on pace" or similar in a few places. Do you mind if I ask…roughly, how many days would you allow for the entire HRP as described by Joosten (or whoever)?…just to put your excellent insight into perspective…3 weeks? 4 weeks? 5 weeks?
Cheers!Sep 7, 2013 at 6:59 pm #2022818
I've finally managed to find the time to get the writing and photos together for the first part of the actual Pyrenees portion of my time in Europe last summer (there are two earlier parts, but they are not hiking related). Two more parts will follow, but for now, the first three days in beautiful Lescun. Listening For Pyrene's Echo 3: Village In The Mist
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