Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

The HRP – a Pocket Guide

Why produce a guide to the Haute Route Pyrenees (HRP)? Well, I had various reasons:

• The Cicerone Joosten guide is heavy, not waterproof, has a significant extraneous information, a lot of confusing language/ poor translation & some inaccuracies.
• The Veron guide has been out of print for many years.
• Both guides seem to be heavily influenced by the desire to end up in civilisation for the night often taking what I regard as inefficient route options (e.g. deviations to get to a refuge, etc); since I (& others) predominantly prefer to bivouac I wanted a guide to place more emphasis on these opportunities.
• I also desired a guide that was capable of being updated more frequently & I’d hope that fellow backpackers would provide any updates to facilitate this.

The resulting Pocket Guide is concise with just the basic route description, no maps, no illustrations, no photo’s, etc. something that can easily stuck in a pocket & consulted when necessary (& pages disposed of as one progresses). The download is a native ‘Word’ document with the page formatting such that each A4 page can be easily folded into a size suitable for the pocket. Printing onto waterproof paper (e.g. Tyvek) is also an option, as is keeping a backup copy on the phone.
The route follows the premise that where options exist the primary route is that which generally maintains the ‘stay high’ philosophy this may not always be the most economic in terms providing the shortest/ fastest coast to coast itinerary or be entirely practicable in poor weather but I believe it’s the most scenic; variations are included that may help mitigate bad weather hold ups.
The route is described from West to East which does mean that climbs in the first part of the day are often in shade & the high passes encountered from Section 4 onward do get progressively more technical giving some opportunity to assess snow conditions, etc.
Rather that provide a daily itinerary (e.g. 45 days coast to coast) I’ve divided the guide into 13 sections with each section being between the possible resupply points; it’s up to the individual to decide how many days each section will take. Each section is provided with the overall distance, ascent & duration; the distance & ascent presented are computed from the GPX data using the Garmin Basecamp software, the stage durations have been compiled from my own experience. The time element is pretty subjective & some will find my pace slow & others fast, something the individual will work out for themselves on-route. The times do assume that the walker is trail fit & travelling fairly light (not lugging a 20kg pack). Each section is broken down into ‘legs’ which have distance, ascend & duration attributed; usually these legs will terminate at location where bivouac is possible.

Section notes:

The overall primary route is around 787km long with 52.6km ascent (according to Basecamp); about 325hrs of walking. Each section is provided with individual GPX files & also an overall KML (Google Earth) file.

IMG_1193 (Medium)
Getting to the start: Main line train service to Hendaye; flights into Biarritz with good bus service from airport to Hendaye (#816 hourly); flights into San Sebastian & then walk around the bay through Irun.
Section 1: Hendaye to Les Aldudes: [62km; 3400m, 21:30hrs]
No particular difficulties, rolling hills, good FP’s, forest tracks & route follows GR10 & GR11 for some distance with their good waymarking. Plenty of camping opportunities on the higher ground but finding water may be an issue. The Basque low cloud may spoil the views & complicate navigation.
Hendaye, a supermarket passed c100m from the start, with alcohol (fuel) & foodstuffs.
Les Aldudes has a good supermarket (at the garage) carrying a good range of foodstuffs & alcohol
Section 2: Les Aldudes to Lescun [98km; 5500m, 35:30hrs]
The Basque low cloud may spoil the views & complicate navigation in the early stages but the scenery gets better with distance!
Lescun has a small supermarket which carries a good range of foodstuffs & alcohol.
Access: Buses to/ from Pont-de-Lescun c5km down the valley on the D239 to Oloron-Sainte-Marie
Section 3: Lescun to Candanchu [36km; 2600m, 15:30hrs]
The small shop in Candanchu has a limited range of basic foodstuffs & easy-clic gas cartridges, I’d advise stocking up in Lescun for the journey through to Gavarnie & using the shop there for top up.
Access: Buses N to Oloron-Sainte-Marie from Col Somport & S to Jaca from Candanchu
Section 4: Candanchu to Gavarnie [76km; 5300m, 35:35hrs]
There’s 3 high cols to traverse, each increasingly more technical with the probability of snow.
The small supermarket in Gavarnie has a reasonable range of foodstuffs & alcohol, Sports shop has easy-clic gas cartridges, campsite ½ km S of town; Luz St Sauveur is a short bus ride N has a large supermarket.
Access: Bus from N to/ from Lourdes.
Section 5: Gavarnie to Besurta [100km; 8530m, 47:25hrs]
Several high passes & exposed ridges to traverse; near the end of the section both the Col des Gourgs-Blancs, 2877m & Col Inferieur de Literole, 2983m, can be problematic with the potential for snow cover. Most backpackers will use the Refuge Portillon in staging the passage of these high cols however it’s possible to avoid this by using a bivouac at Lac des Isclots, end leg 5.13, & then traversing Col des Gourgs-Blancs & Col Inferieur de Literole in one day to bivouac in the Remune valley, c15km, 1320m ascent & 9hrs.
The variation via Parzan offers an early resupply; shop at garage with a good range of supplies, 2 other supermarkets in town but they tend to cater for cross border shoppers (5L bottles of whisky, etc).
No resupply is available in Basurta but Benasque has 3 good supermarkets (alcohol) & is an easy 10km hitch S, OR from the end of June until mid-October the ‘Cloud’ bus runs down to town at 5pm & 7pm then back up the valley at 7:30am & 9am, ~€8. Sports shops sell easy-clic & screw top gas canisters. Two camp grounds available c3km N of Benasque. Benasque has a twice daily bus service to Barbastro.
Section 6: GR11 Var: Anescruzes to Espitau de Vielha [45km; 2580m, 17:10hrs]
Variant avoids the high cols on the primary route (end of Section 5.11 to 5.17 & Section 7.1 to 7.5), route passes though Puen de San Chaime (Camping Aneto), near Benasque, so resupply is straight forward.
Section 7: Besurta to Salardu [45km;2865m, 18:40hrs]
The last significant obstacle on the route is encountered on the first day, the Col Mulleres, 2928m.
Variation via Port Bonaigua bypasses Salardu hence provisions for through journey to Arinsal to be considered.
Salardu has a small shop with a limited range of foodstuffs.
Access: Salardu has bus service to Vielha e Mijaran (frequent) & during the summer there’s a twice daily Parc bus between Espot & Pla de l’Ermita via Port Bonaigua.
Section 8: Salardu to Arinsal [78km; 6120m, 38:00hrs]
The route has sections that have faint trails requiring good navigation & some improvisational skills, may be particularly challenging in poor weather.
Possible to bypass Arinsal & continue directly through on Section 9 if carrying sufficient provisions.
Variation via Tavascan has a small shop with a limited range of basic foodstuffs
Arinsal has 2 reasonable supermarkets & bus service to Andorra la Vella
Section 9: Arinsal to L’Hospitalet-pres-I’Andorre [51km; 4070m, 23:25hrs]
The route has sections that have faint trails requiring good navigation & some improvisational skills, may be particularly challenging in poor weather.
L’Hospitalet-Près-L’Andorre has a small shop with a limited range of basic foodstuffs.
A variation via Pas de la Casa is included which has a good range of food shops + lots of stuff for the cross-border shoppers.
Access: Mainline trains S to Latour de Carol & N to Toulouse from L’Hospitalet-Près-L’Andorre; Pas de la Casa has bus service to Andorra de Vella.
Section 10: L’Hospitalet-pres-I’Andorre to Bolquère [37km; 1970m, 13:20hrs]
A short stage, relatively straight forward apart from the unpleasant loose climb up Carlit.
The small shop in Bolquère has a good range of foodstuffs & alcohol, there’s also a large Casino supermarket about 800m off route in Super Bolquère (turn R on D618 c1km before the village).
Access: Bolquère has a frequent 1€ bus service to Perpignan & Latour de Carol
Section 11: Bolquère to Arles-Sur-Tech [85km; 4165m, 29:25hrs]
A straightforward section with no real difficulties, good walking on high ridges, thunderstorms always a risk.
The supermarket in Arles carries a good range of foodstuffs & alcohol.
Access: A frequent 1€ bus service from Arles to Perpignan & Latour de Carol
Section 12: Arles-Sur-Tech to Le Perthus [40km; 2615m, 15:40hrs]
Straight forward as trail predominantly follows the GR10, lots of walking on forest tracks & some minor Rds.
Several supermarkets in Le Perthus but they tend to cater for cross border shoppers (5L bottles of whisky, etc), I’d recommend only planning on purchasing top-up supplies e.g. bread, cheese, sausage, etc.
Access: Frequent train service to Perpignan also the 1€ bus service.
Section 13: Le Perthus to Banyuls [31km; 1665m, 11:50hrs]
Straight forward as trail predominantly follows GR10, plenty of bivouac opportunities but availability of water may be problematic.
The campsite in Banyuls is frequently very busy in July/ August, particularly on a weekend, you may not get a pitch! Large supermarket next to campsite.
Access: Good train service to Perpignan & also a frequent 1€ bus service.

Nomenclature

To reduce the guide’s bulk a lot of abbreviations are used within the text, 99% should be self-evident but here the list:
Blg building
Br bridge
BM border marker (stone or cross)
c circa (approximately)
B bivouac
CP Carpark
FB footbridge
FP footpath
HT high tension line (overhead cable)
L left
LHS left hand side
NP National Park
R right
Rd road
RHS right hand side
W water
WP waterpoint

General Notes.

When to start? Generally, a start early July from Hendaye will be practical for traversing the high cols without too much snow, however after winter with high snow fall departing 2 or 3 weeks later may be better. This does mean that as the Mediterranean is approached the weather will be hotter & finding water may be an issue.
The route passes through a number of national parks (French, Spanish & Andorran) & camping is not allowed outside of recognised camp grounds however an overnight bivouac is permitted between 19:00 & 09:00hrs, restrictions are usually posted on the trail signage. Fires are also prohibited in the NP’s but judging from the number of abandoned fire pits this is routinely ignored.
Shops: generally, in the smaller towns & villages they’ll open from 8 or 9am to 1pm then 4pm to 7 or 8pm, Sundays’ they may only open in the morning or not at all.
Thunderstorms are probably the most significant risk in the mountains; they tend to brew up for late afternoon & can be quite spectacular with heavy hail (1cm+) & rain, be warned!
The route utilises sections of the GR 10, GR 11 & GR 12 trails, these are generally well marked (red & white paint flashes) making for reasonably easy navigation; where the notes mention a GR look for the flashes!
Costs: I usually budget on an average of around €25/ day (2017) on a typical Pyrenees backpacking trip (excluding travel to & from). The use of the staffed Refuges may significantly increase this, typically €40 / night (dinner, bed & breakfast) then there’s the temptation for a cold beer! Vino at the refuges can be reasonably priced, €3 – 4 for ½ L, carrying an empty soda bottle can provide a bit of luxury if camping close by. Lunch is a good time to stop by a Bar/ R, typical 3 course menu including water & wine can be had for €13 – 20, you can always take the wine away in your soda bottle for later.

Maps/ GPS

The ideal would be to carry a full set of ‘Rando’ series maps but they’re expensive, several are out of print & unless you’re willing to get out a pair of scissors they’d be heavy. I generally use the Spanish 50k maps downloaded from Centro de Descargas in .tif format then printed out onto A4 ‘day maps’; the website isn’t the easiest to navigate & the maps not up to Ordinance Survey or French Rando series quality but they work for me. Another source is Viewranger Pyrenees mapping this is a splice of the IGN France and Spanish CNIG maps from which it’s possible to produce A4 day maps (not Rando quality) as well as having the mapping on the smart phone.
For the smart phone I prefer the Orux Maps App loaded with the mapping from Topo Pirineos, the mapping is very similar to OSM maps but have significantly more footpaths shown. Topo Pirineos can also be loaded onto Garmin devices.

Downloads

The Pocket Guide is 10 pages of A4 which I didn’t feel it was worthwhile publishing as a blog posting as the Word formatting would be lost. Below is a small sample of the content:

Section 4: Candanchu to Gavarnie: [75km; 5710m, 35:30hrs]
4.1 [3.5km, 180m, 1:10hrs] Climb Rd NE to Col du Somport (1632m). Bear R (NE) & continue along the Rd towards Astun, bear L at a fork to reach Astun (1710m). Bar/R’s.
4.2 [4.7km, 440m, 2:10hrs] From the end of the blgs climb on a dirt Rd for c700m then continue the ascent on a FP on the E side of the stream to Ibon de Escalar (2078m), B&W. Bear R, walk around the lake & climb E to Puerta de Jaca (2165m, BM 309). Enter NP, descend NE to reach a Jct in c1.4km, bear R a descend E to Lac Casterau (1960m), B.
4.3 [5.6km, 520m, 3:20hrs] Descend NE…………..etc

The full Pocket HRP Guide, GPX & KML files (Google Earth) of the route & variations can be downloaded HERE

 

 

 

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14 comments on “The HRP – a Pocket Guide

  1. Pirineum
    June 4, 2018

    This is great, thanks! Printable on 2 sheets of A4 🙂

    • Paul Atkinson
      June 4, 2018

      For my old eyes the guide (minus the intro) is 5 sheets of A4 printed double sided.
      Hope you put it to good use & enjoy your trip.

      • Pirineum
        June 18, 2018

        Thanks, and thank you again for the guide – it’s excellent. Are you interested in receiving updates and corrections?

      • Paul Atkinson
        June 18, 2018

        Definitely !!

      • Pirineum
        June 27, 2018

        Great, where’s best to send them? Comment here? trek-lite forum? email?

        One quick one: are all the places called “Pia de …” typos of “Pla de …”, or is “Pia” just a different language?

        Also a couple of queries:

        * is Section 6 completely optional?
        * why go via Salardu instead of Port de Bonaigua (Section 7.7/7.7Var)? Is this the truer high route? Does the choice just come down to either going North or South of Val d’Aran?

      • Paul Atkinson
        June 27, 2018

        Pia is probably just my dyslexic fingers (typo) I’ll have a check.
        Any detailed comments are best sent to email: pjachevron@btinternet.com
        Section 6 (following the GR11) is just an option for avoiding the high passes on Section 5.
        Section 7 (though Salardu) is a good option if you need to resupply (the Joosten route), though the shop there is poor, I prefer the Section 7 Variation but you’d probably need to think resupply at Benasque and Arinsal or carry a ridiculous amount of food.

      • Pirineum
        June 28, 2018

        I’d be really interested to hear which variations you consider to form the purest High Route. I assume this is mostly the main route, given this sentence in your guide’s introduction: “The route follows the premise that where options exist the primary route is that which generally maintains the ‘stay high’ philosophy”, but Section 7 seems to be an exception to this. Are there others you can recall?

      • Paul Atkinson
        June 28, 2018

        A tough question balancing the need for supplies with staying high but my personal route choice would be Section 1; Section 2 using variations 2.5 & 2.9, from the end of 2.14 at Source de Marmitou follow the border ridge bypassing Lescun (I’ve not included description but traversed it in 2016 HRP Revisited, spectacular, rough going but not technical. I’ve put a GPX on in the drop box – Section 2.15 Var); Section 3 – 5; Sections 7 & 8 variations via Port de Bonaigua, Sections 9 & 10 variations via Pas de la Casa, Section 11, Section 12 taking variation 12.6 then finally 13.

  2. Hike Hitching
    June 5, 2018

    Wonderful wonderful stuff.
    I’ve read a couple of anecdotes about the 1:50,000 IGN maps (at least of the French series) being better than the 1:25,000? Any thoughts on this? Certainly good to save paper! But it seems counter-intuitive to someone who’s always preferred 1:25,000 (but have little experience in the Pyrenees).

    • Paul Atkinson
      June 5, 2018

      If you want commercial paper maps IMO the 50K IGN Rando series are probably the best but a number of sheets covering the Pyrenees are no longer available (you may get 2nd hand). I’ve always got on fine with the Centro de Descargas 50k which covers both sides of the border + Topo Pirineos on the phone when I want to look at larger scale.

      • Hike Hitching
        June 11, 2018

        Thanks Paul. I do like the Rando series, but gets pricey, tricky to source and heavy. So printing my own I think.
        Were there any sections you found particularly troublesome with the 50k series navigation wise? I might print most of it in 50k, but if there are some more problematic areas i’d prefer to have 25k.
        There are quite a few sections of your GPX files that don’t have any trail associated with them on either the French or Spanish maps (but then most of the time, in your descriptions in the pocket guide, it does sound like there is something of a trail), so it’s kind of hard to tell where I might want more detail.

        It’s also interesting the spanish maps have a bad reputation, from my brief comparing of the two it seems they’re often more detailed than the French maps.

      • Paul Atkinson
        June 11, 2018

        I found 50k maps adequate though on some ‘busy’ areas I printed out at 40k to help my old eyes.
        Most of the time you’ll be travelling on an established trail though sometimes it may be a little faint or confused by animal trails but HRP is steadily getting more traffic so becoming more defined. Even the section across the north of Andorra which were infrequently visited is now part of their GRP together with its markings.
        Must admit to not visiting the maps much other than consulting at lunch & dinner to get an overview, far easier to consult my pre-prepared route sheets on the go (pocket guide) e.g. turn NE at the col. I find an altimeter helps a lot as does a small wrist compass (Suunto clipper). If I gets really tricky or confused I’ve no qualms in pulling up Topopirineos on the phone.

  3. Hike Hitching
    June 11, 2018

    Sounds good, reports are always so mixed on the navigation of the HRP. This eases my concerns. Older reports I’ve read always cite it being difficult, but I wonder if that’s an American thru-hiker perspective, where it seems navigation is barely required at all. More recent reports do seem to talk less about navigational problems, which makes sense with your comment about the path getting more and more beaten.

    • Paul Atkinson
      June 11, 2018

      Probably easier to get lost in Basque country than in the high mountains where ‘mountain sense’ often tells you where to expect the trail to run.

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This entry was posted on June 4, 2018 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .
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