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18/05/2016

Walking the Pyrenean Haute Route (HRP)

What follows is a post I wrote on a previous blog in 2013 following our first full crossing of the Pyrenees. We have previously been criticised for calling this an HRP crossing when we avoided what one correspondent referred to as the "crux sections". In some respects I understand this playground mentality, however every crossing is different, fast or slow, camping or huts, heavy snow year or no snow year they will all present their own challenges. In my own view Joosten's route (the one most commonly followed by the British) misses some of the toughest days to be enjoyed in the Pyrenees, so far better look at the maps and look to Veron and make your way.


This has been a long time coming. Having walked the HRP last summer it was always on the cards to write something about the experience, if only to encourage others to go for it and to acknowledge and thank those who's previous accounts helped in our planning.

First up has to be Andy Howell's blog that some years ago pointed us in the direction of Cauterets where our love affair with the Pyrenees began.

What followed, over a number of years, were a series of multi-day hikes criss crossing the border visiting truly breathtaking scenery and feeding our growing obsession. This was superbly supported by Jean and Chantal, then owners of Camping Cabaliros in Cauterets and by their daughter and successor Fanny and partner Fred.

Did we need to move on to mountains new? Well maybe one last challenge, the Haute Route and we would be free to explore other ranges. David Lintern wrote a great account of his crossing in 2011 with a huge amount of additional detail, but it was perhaps Amy Lauterbach's account in backpackinglight.com that proved the most relevant, you see we had a slight timescale issue due to work and Amy and Jim crossed in 35 days! which would be perfect and allow a couple of days on the beach in Banyuls sur Mer at the end.

Pic d'Orhy from Les Chalets d'Iraty
So, best laid plans and all that, we arrived in Hendaye 4hrs late and exhausted in some of the hottest most humid weather we had experienced outside the tropics. We found ourselves a camp spot much to the reluctance of the campsite owner, showered, fed and crawled into our tent for the first night just before midnight.

26/7/13     Hendaye to Col de Lizuniaga

Sweltering at about 6.30am. Jo throws up several times, not ideal. Nice rest at the Col d'Ibardin, beer and peaches for me! Finished about 5pm, Jo picked at some food but still not great. Big storms through the night.

Leaving Hendaye

27/7/13     Col de Lizuniaga to Elizondo

Still really hot, set off at 7am into a day of frequent thunder storms. Camped on the GR11 path east of Elizondo at 7.30pm.

Leaving Col de Lizuniaga

28/7/13     Elizondo to Roncevalles

7am start, beautiful clear day, fantastic brunch from the little store in Aldudes. Camped by the stream just outside Roncevalles at 6pm, washed and fed before the rain starts again

Aldudes

29/7/13     Roncevalles to Bar Kayolar

Another good 12hrs with a very steep grass valley to cross whilst being eaten by horseflies, unfortunately this would happen a few times on this trip. Chalet Pedro was very uninviting but a little further on is the fabulous Bar Kayolar, omlettes aux cepes, beer and profiteroles, so good. Nice camp spot along the river opposite.

Bar Kayolar

30/7/13     Bar Kayolar to Col Uthu

Cold and misty at 7am, walk through fine birch and pine forests before arriving at Col Bargargui in clear blue skies. Breakfast on the terrace and stock up at the shop before the long climb to Pic d'Orhy and a summit lunch. Continued along the border ridge, but had to descend towards Cabane Ardane in search of water. Fed and washed we returned to the ridge to camp 9.30pm.

Pic d'Orhy

31/7/13     Col Uthu to Lescun

Usual 7am start on a clear cool morning along stunning ridges as the day heats up. After a short stop near the derelict Refuge Belagua we enter the beautiful but brutally hot and dry limestone area before the Source de Marmitou, water so clear, cold and plentiful in stark contrast to the previous 3hrs. Lescun was another 3hrs but with the prospect of a restaurant and a shower there was no stopping us. Finally turn in at 11pm.

Sources de Marmitou

1/8/13 Lescun to Pla d'Espelunguere

Bit of a lie in as we wanted to stock up at the shop in Lescun so a slow start and a good breakfast, finally hit the trail at 10am. Nice easy walking after the horseflies at the start of the initial climb. Set up camp by the stream at 7.30pm.

Leaving Lescun

2/8/13     Pla d'Espelunguere to Lac de Peyreget

6.45am and its clear and hot already, after a pleasant start the route goes through the rather shabby ski resort of Candanchu (small supermercado), on to Col du Somport where we stopped for a rubbish sandwich and on to the ski resort of Astun where a super little restaurant was doing brisk business, we wished we had known!
Fairly long and steep up is swiftly followed by an equally steep down and another up before we reached our camp spot below Pic du Midi d'Ossau, shared only with Marmots and Izards. Wind and rain throughout the night.

Lac de Peyreget

3/8/13     Lac de Peyreget to Embalse de Campoplano

A big day starting at 6.45am, stunning cloud inversion, we head to Refuge Pombie for breakfast before the long descent and re-ascent to Refuge d'Arremoulit for lunch. Further ascent to Col d'Arremoulit before the long descent and traverse around to Compoplano stopping at 7.15pm, shattered.

Col d'Arremoulit

4/8/13     Embalse de Campoplano to Oulettes de Gaube

A very tired start at 6.40am through lots of snow to the Col de Fache, very much home turf. After coffee at the Col its down to Refuge Wallon for omelettes au jambon and bol de chocolat chaud. We make good time to Col d'Aratille across to Col de Mulettes and the long descent into La Gaube. Washed, well fed and relaxed.

Vignemale

5/8/13     Oulettes de Gaube to Gavarnie

So difficult to get up, but still manage to be on the trail by 7am. Its a struggle on the long pull up towards Bayssellance but we are there by 9.30am for crepes and chocolat chaud, we are keen to get going with the promise of restaurants, shops and a shower in Gavarnie. Unfortunately a little too much enthusiasm in running down from Bayssellance leads to a pulled thigh muscle which will add to my general grumpyness over the coming days! However pastries and coffee, a shower, beer, three course supper, a large carafe of wine and the prospect of a lie in followed by a good breakfast helps to ease the pain for now.

Refuge de Baysselance

6/8/13     Gavarnie to Cabane de l'Aguila

Breakfast in bed before collecting more provisions and setting off at 9.30am. Lovely climb up to Horquettes d'Alan with stunning views in all directions. From here I find out just how painful the downhills are going to be and its a long hobble to Heas. Beer in the Auberge but camping complet, so we set off again towards Barroude. With the growing threat of a storm we bail to the Cabane de l'Aguila, its not long before the storm sets in for the night.

Cabane de l'Aguila

7/8/13     Cabane de l'Aguila to west side of Paso de Los Caballos

Its very cold following last nights storm, off by 7.15am to climb up to Horquette Heas before traversing along the Barroude Wall to the Refuge for brunch. With the weather still cold and threatening we get going on the long descent towards Parzan. On reaching the road the heavens open and its a miserable walk down the road to pick up the GR11. This turns out to be an endless climb up a dirt track for a further 3hrs accompanied by constant thunder and pouring rain before finding somewhere flat enough to pitch, its 9pm.

Horquette Heas

8/8/13     Paso De Los Caballos to Refugio De Estos

Battered by storms all night we wake to a freezing morning, very difficult to get going and its 7.30am before we set off. A beautiful walk through alpine meadows before reaching Refugio Viados who appear particularly disinterested in supplying anything to eat so, disappointed, we head on. Its here we have to make the decision whether to head up to Portillon or follow the GR11, the pouring rain made the decision easy. So cold again as we make the Col Gistain and my leg is very sore on the descent as we look for a camp spot, finally stopping at 6pm next to the stream just before the Refugio.

Storm clearing Posets

9/8/13     Refugio Estos to Camping Aneto

Another freezing morning, but a really short day, arrived at Camping Aneto at 10.30am. Pitched the tent and raided the supermercado for a huge breakfast. Lovely long shower and clothes wash before supermercado again, for provisions and lunch. Afternoon between the swimming pool and the bar before supper in the restaurant, just like a holiday!

Camping Aneto

10/8/13     Camping Aneto to Lagos de Anglos

Not even the hint of a hangover despite our best efforts last night. Off at 7.20am, cloudless and hot already, 6hrs climbing to Colada de Vallhiverne takes it out of us but the scenery is stunning. Set up camp around 5pm and watched the trout rise around us whilst eating supper.

Lagos de Anglos

11/8/13     Lagos de Anglos to Estany Tort de Rius

Woke late to another glorious day, long descent through forest before reaching the friendly Refugio de Conangles for brunch before the even longer ascent to Port Rius and on to our camp before Collado de Lac du Mar. Only 4.30pm and still very hot so swam in the lake, cold! Stunning.

Estany Tort de Rius

12/8/13     Estany Tort de Rius to Salardu

Set off early to catch the sunrise from Collada de Mar, well worth the effort. Very steeply down to the beautiful Lac de Mar and the first of several large boulder fields in the increasing heat. Disappointment as we find the Hotel Bahns de Tredos obviously damaged in the spring floods is closed up, within minutes more disappointment as the first thunder crash brought the rain, so we headed down the road on the long walk to Salardu. Given our drowned state the staff at the Hotel Mont Romies were great. Showers, bar, restaurant and supermercado, a great end to a difficult day
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Lac de Mar

13/8/13     Salardu to Refugio d'Airoto

Very leisurely start, breakfast and supermercado for supplies, its nearly 10am before we hit the trail. Very humid and heavy packs make for pretty slow progress. Then more boulder fields and the steep ascent of Tuc de Mirimaya and onto the ridge. Some fun scrambling until the clouds bubble up once again and the first rumbles of thunder hasten us along to Col d'Airoto and a steep descent onto another huge boulder field. The little refuge was occupied so we set up camp nearby at 6.30pm.

Salardu

14/8/13     Refugio d'Airoto to Refugi Eric Pujol

Up early to a cool clear morning and watched the sunrise from the Col. Sleep had been somewhat broken by the wild boar rooting near our tent. Steep descent from the Col led to a small hanging valley with a large herd of Izards grazing so we just sat and watched for a while. The way down to Alos de Isil consists of a dirt road and then bushwacking through abandoned terraces to the village. Following more road and track the trail becomes truly alpine again passing steeply through a number of Cols, crossing scree and boulder fields until Col de Calberante overlooking Estany de la Gallina, a long walk through glacial landscapes brought us to a camp spot by the lake at 7.30pm, really cold evening.

Collada del Clot de Moredo

15/8/13     Refugi Eric Pujol to Estany Romedo de Dalt

Had a bit of a lie in and started walking at 7.30am in a cool morning down through an alpine landscape to a very pretty valley around the hamlet of Noarre. Then steeply up through woodland and back into high mountain landscape of small lakes, rock and snowfields. Stopped at Refugi de Certascan for sustenance before setting off again to a campspot recommended by a group of young French hikers we met at the Refuge. Camp set by 5pm so time for a good bucket shower, seriously cold!

Certascan

16/8/13     Estany Romedo de Dalt to Pla de Boet

Cold again as we set of at 7am, 3hrs clambering downhill trying to follow a faint path, across a rotten snow bridge and a bushwack through the forest to Pla de Boavi where we pick up a better trail. Horse flies bad again lower down and its a relief to get higher only to have to descend again through endless scrub and forrest on a rather vague track, my fault I think! Called into the bustling Refugi de Vall Ferrera, 5pm, for coke crisps and muesli bars. Feeling refreshed and to the sounds of the impending storm we set off again, after about an hour with the storm nearly upon us we pitched just in time to get out of the hail which battered us on and off through the night.

Estany de Romedo de Dalt

17/8/13     Pla de Boet to Llorts

Struggled out of bed to a cold morning and set off at 7am. Some great alpine walking, high Cols full of scree and snow fields, a slight nav error led to some scrambling much to Jo's enjoyment! Finally a 2hr descent through grassland and pine forest led to Llort, arrived at 6.30pm. Booked into campsite and restaurant. Long shower followed by an even longer supper. Both feeling very tired and skinny.

Wrong Col?

18/8/13     Llort to Etangs de Fontargenta

Nice lie in waiting for the bakery delivery, set off at 8am in a clear cold morning. A very long climb through pine forest and some very pretty meadows, even saw an adder. Having reached a good altitude the path contours and crosses a number of steep Cols before reaching the final one for today, Port d'Incles at 6pm. Very tired we sat at the Col and had supper in the last of the sunshine before making our way down to the lake to camp, getting very cold again now.

Val de Sorteny

19/8/13     Etangs de Fontargenta to Etang de Besines

Off at 7am, cool but clear on a great walk through Col de Juclar and Col de Alba, lots of boulder fields and lakes. Had lunch at the last of the lakes before the descent to Hospitalet Pres d'Andorre. Arrived at 2pm to find it shut, shop, campsite, even the restaurant had stopped serving, although he very kindly made us pate baguettes and advised us the shop would certainly be open at 5pm, it didn't! No supplies and a wasted afternoon, we set off in the now intermittent rain to climb up towards Besines. The weather worsened, as we climbed it got colder and we were losing visibility so we set up the tent at 7.30pm as it started to pour. Last handful of peanuts and cold chicory coffee for supper, mmmmmmm!

Col de l'Alba

20/8/13     Etang de Besines to Estany Negre

Another freezing night, it takes a while to knock the ice off everything before heading up to Refuge Besines for breakfast. Fantastic welcome from the guardians and visitors wanting to know about our walk, we are rather more interested in eating! Bought sandwiches and mars bars for lunch. An easy walk to the base of Pic Carlit where Jo took one look at the scree slope and decided to backtrack to the GR10 we crossed earlier to meet up at the bar at the end of Lac de Bouilleses. Both had great walks but had to wait until 7.30pm for the restaurant to open, great Tartiflette then off to find a camp spot by the amazing full moon.

Estany Negre

21/8/13   Estany Negre to Cabane de l'Orri de Baix

Cold and slow again, washing done we leave at 8am, my leg very sore, not sure if it was a stumble on the way up to Besines or running down Pic Carlit. A long trudge through forest before arriving at Bolquere, excellent shop, we set off with very heavy packs and its now very hot. Just down the road in Col de Perch a rather uninteresting hotel had a little terrace tucked away where we enjoyed steak hache frites and icecream. We continue pretty slowly in the heat of the day to Vall de Eyne, and having climbed about two thirds we stopped to enjoy the early evening, get washed, relax and eat again! Superb views back to Pic Carlit.

Pic Carlit from Val d'Eyne


22/8/13     Cabane de l'Orri de Baix to below Pla de Coma Armada

Off at 7.20am, cool and clear for the remaining climb to Col de Eyne, and then an amazing ridge walk taking in Pic de Noufonts before continuing along the ridge, all the while aware of the building clouds. My leg really sore having run out of neurofen. Hot chocolat and biscuits at Refuge d'Ull de Ter before heading on again to try and beat the storm. In the end we are chased off the ridge and find a safer place to camp at 6pm, rain thunder and cold not far behind.

Col de Nuria


23/8/13     Pla de Coma Armada to Refuge de Cortalets

6am start, still nearly a full moon and then a stunning sunrise as we walk along the ridge. Leg quite swollen now so cut up a sock to strap it up. Had lunch at Refuge Marielles before setting off towards Pic Canigou. The afternoon is very hot and the clouds build again but we need to cross Canigou today, the thunder starts as we reach the final scramble so on we go. No views, now surrounded by very cold clouds. Long descent before finding a pitch near the refuge but the mossies drive us to bed, very smelly so hopefully campsite and shower tomorrow.

Dawn near Roc Colom


24/8/13     Refuge de Cortalets to Arles sur Tech

7am and a superb Mer de Nuage across France, with a glimpse of the Mediterranean for the first time. Easy walking as we lose 2200m today, by mid day we are in thick cloud, the first rain starts at 2pm and by 3.30pm we are in the midst of the most amazing electrical storm, the thunder is physical, running water up to our ankles and broken down steel rigging from abandoned mines all around, nervous! Arrive at the campsite cold and soaked, but a hot shower, supermarket and a huge poulet frites in the campsite bar restore our flagging limbs.

Balcon de Canigou


25/8/13     Arles sur Tech to Col de Porteile

Breakfast from the boulangerie at 7am on our way out of Arles, cloudy and humid as we made our way to the first Col 2.5hrs away mainly through chestnut forest. Stopped at a lovely Eco Gite d'Etape for Chocolat chaud and muesli bars to keep us going. Leg really swollen and painful now the neurofen I had been given by a Kiwi HRPer had worn off, plod plod. Beer in Las Illas before carrying on for another couple of hours, found a pitch on the track crossroads overlooking the Med and Perpignon.

Col de Porteile


26/8/13     Col de Porteile to Pic Sailfort

Both woke up at 3am and just stared at the lights of "civilization" below, didn't quite seem real. Broke camp at 7am for the descent to Perthus, which was only too real and horrendous. Grabbed supplies of food, Rioja and neurofen and were off again to gain the ridge that would deliver us to the sea. The winding ridge seemed to take forever before we arrived at Pic Sailfort, 6.30pm, the Mediterranean laid out below us. We decided to stay here for the night and enjoyed a fine supper washed down with a bottle of wine.

Cote Vermeille


27/8/13     Pic Sailfort to Banyuls sur Mer

So much for a relaxing night, storms rolled in again and at one point it seemed likely we would be blown down to the Med. Up and away at 7am the descent to the finish raced by, obligatory completers photo at 9.40am. Finis!!

Banyuls sur Mer








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