Hiking the HRP in the Pyrenees

22 Aug 2014 11:31 #61573 by Sabine
The HRP is the Haute (or High) Route in the Pyrenees, which runs along the length of the mountains from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea on the border of France and Spain. It is a hiking trail that is not marked very well and one needs a map and a book with a description of the route. I used the map and the book by Ton Joosten to draw a track on google earth of the complete route which I could load on my GPS. Having the GPS really helped decide which track to follow, and how to get back when we did get lost.

Two friends, Cathy and Hilke, came along on this adventure. As a warm-up, we hiked the GT over 11 days in April. We had decided on 45 days for the roughly 800km, averaging 20km per day and were hoping on about five days rest in between. However, things never go as planned and we hopelessy under estimated the time we would need for some of the extremely difficult sections. Plus I had lost 3kg in weight in the month of June, due to the passing away of my mom, which set me back from the start. But everything had been planned, so we still went ahead with the trip.

On this route, there are four villages one walks through for resupply – Lescun, Gavarnie, Salardu and Hospitalet. In Hendaye we posted parcels to those villages with the relevant maps, sections of the book and some food supplies.

Starting date was 28 June in Hendaye, the southern most western point in France, where we started on the beach with our feet in the water. The first section of 200km to Lescun we covered in nine days, six of which were in the rain! I already gathered that rain in the lower regions meant snow in the upper Pyrenees, which is exactly how it happened.

Here we are on top of Pic d' Orhy, the first time over 2000m

The next section was seriously snow covered and we would have needed crampons at least. Most people even had ice axes with them. With the weather being so lousy and misty, we would have not had much views at 3000m and we were a bit weiry of those snow and ice fields, and steep sections, so we decided to do this section on the GR10, which is an alternate route a bit lower down, going through more villages but still with a lot of climbing. We hit a snag four days later, when hikers coming towards us, said that the next section is snow covered on a steep slope and very dangerous and they had to turn around or take yet another route. We decided on the route taking us north and nearly out of the Pyrenees. We were way off our actual route and when we got to the next village, we caught a bus and a train to get to Gavarnie, the start of section three.

One of the first lakes over 2000m at Refugi d' Ayous

From Gavarnie we followed the HRP for three days and then changed to a variant onto the GR11, missing out the snow and glacier sections of the HRP. We had bought crampons to use over snow sections that were fairly steep but our crampons were mickey mouse compared to the real ones (very heavy too) and we didn’t feel confident enough to tackle that section of the HRP. Most people we encountered, who didn’t have crampons or were locals, did the three day variant route.

Some stunning lakes
Eight days later we arrived in Salardu, where we had a well-earned rest day, and then continued on the HRP. It was on about day 32, that I realized we were running behind in time and would not get to the end point, Banyuls, by the 11th of August. The sections were more difficult than we had anticipated, managing only just to keep up with the daily stages in the book, where I had thought we would be walking faster. Also, the weather had turned for the worse again, making our walking very miserable and difficult at times. At Refugio Vall Ferrero we considered different options, but then decided to continue. We got as far as Refugio Baiau, where we were stopped in our tracks by bad weather and hikers telling us of the next really difficult pass not to attempt in this weather. We stayed at this hut, where a couple of Spanish hikers arrived later. Depending on the weather the following day, they would attempt the crossing of another pass near the very difficult one. By 10.30am the next morning, the weather had cleared up sufficiently to attempt the crossing. The Spanish youngsters were happy to accompany us. The mist closed in on us again and once we were on top, we could hardly see where to go down the other side - it was completely covered in snow and extremely steep. We went around the snow which meant extra climbing on rocks and boulders and loose scree. At times I would be sliding down on the scree as if I was skiing, it was crazy. We finally got safely to the bottom of the mountain, where the weather was much better.

We would have still had another five days of tough hiking at least (this is the toughest section of the HRP) to get to Hospitalet. However, we didn’t have enough time, and here was a possibility to get to a village and catch several buses to Hospitalet-pres-I’Andorra. A surprise awaited us in Hospitalet when one of the parcels had not arrived. We could not believe it! So, no snacks for me and no maps or book. As I had the track on my GPS, it was not a train smash. However, a map helped to show where shops were in the last section, as we were coming closer to civilization. So we bought new maps as we went along. Most of the HRP in this last section was along the GR10, which was well marked.

And so, we started the last 10 days of our journey. We had become more and more hungry as time went by and I was eating huge portions of food and was constantly hungry. We were also getting tired, not of the trip but physically tired, our bodies were crying for a rest, and these last days were pure endurance to make it to the end. This last section was by no means easier because we were getting closer to the coast and lower altitude, no, we were still climbing to 2740m to Peak de Canigou just four days before the end. In fact, the last day we still climbed to 1200m after having been at 280m in Le Perthus the day before.

On our way to Pic (peak) de Canigou.

We were happy, yet sad that this extraordinary hike had come to an end. It was an experience of a life time, of endurance – we had to really dig deep some days to finish. The bad weather put a damper on the trip, it was really miserable at times. Would I do it again? Yes, but I would add another month for more time.

I took a small Samsung tablet with me, yes extra weight, but worth it to update my facebook blog, wherever I could get wifi, and stay in touch with family and friends. A couple of people from VE followed me, and Grandeur asked me to do a write-up for VE. Here is the facebook link, where you can see the whole trip as it unfolded. Best is to scroll right to the bottom and then read up, otherwise the trip is backwards. Please feel free to comment on the Facebook page.

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The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, Stijn, anthony, jamcligeo, brio, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, Grandeur, pfoj, HFc, Viking, Spykid, Riaang, andrew r, eras, Dave

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22 Aug 2014 12:02 #61574 by Grandeur
Thanks Sabine
Certainly did sound like a long and testing trip when I followed your progress on FB. Well done for persisting and finishing it even with the trying weather conditions.
I know you said the GT was easy in comparison so I hope people that have done the GT will appreciate your efforts.

It is comforting to know that other countries have problems with their postal services as well... but it doesn't help planning a difficult hike like this one. Glad you found a way to overcome this hiccup.

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22 Aug 2014 14:03 - 22 Aug 2014 14:04 #61576 by Stijn
Wow Sabine - thanks for sharing! That looks like a trip of a lifetime and a proper adventure :thumbsup:

Maybe it's time I posted a write-up of the (significantly shorter) TMB my wife and I did last year - would be nice to beef up the site with some trips from further afield as well.
Last edit: 22 Aug 2014 14:04 by Stijn.

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22 Aug 2014 14:36 #61577 by Sabine
Here is a before and after, each time on a different ocean:

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22 Aug 2014 19:18 #61579 by intrepid
Great achievement, nice pics!

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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23 Aug 2014 07:53 - 23 Aug 2014 09:06 #61581 by Sabine

Final stats:

40 days of walking
5 days of rest/transfer
Total distance walked: 752km
Total ascent: 40 249m
Total descent: 41 529m

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Last edit: 23 Aug 2014 09:06 by Sabine.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, Stijn, tonymarshall

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11 May 2019 12:03 #75017 by Stijn
So I'm busy prepping for the HRP, starting in Hendaye on 13 June and heading east. @Sabine - I finally remembered that you had made this post on VE and it's been great to read about your experience again. It certainly sounds tough, especially with the weather you guys had. It seems this winter has had fairly low snowfalls, so I'm hoping for good conditions on the higher passes, but will be taking micro-spikes and an ice axe in case, since my start is still pretty early in the season.

I've got about 40 days to do the entire 800km and am planning to wild-camp pretty much every night - can't wait for this adventure!

Thanks for the report Sabine, and looking forward to digging into more of the detail on your FB entries!

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11 May 2019 16:20 #75018 by Christinejvr
I am planning on doing a 220 km section of the GR11 in about 8 days from 28 June to 6 July. I will start at Canfranc and end at Conangles. The GR11 runs parallel to the HRP on the Spanish side, and at some places so close to the HRP that it is easy to jump between the routes. I might consider this. So, Stijn, are you suggesting I can leave the crampons at home? I did a section of the GR5 in the Alpes last year mid-June and there was still loads of snow in the high passes but I took the crampons out only twice. So, I am a bit in two minds about it.
Enjoy your trip! 

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11 May 2019 17:26 #75019 by Stijn
That sounds great Christine! Your best bet is probably to keep an eye on the "PyreneanHauteRoute" Facebook group closer to the time. Plenty of questions & updates on there about snow conditions for specific passes.

I know that the GR11 in that section is often used to bypass the highest passes on the HRP due to snow or poor weather, so in a low snow year, you may be fine without them. I have no experience in the area though, so best to check with the locals on that group.

Enjoy the hike - I may even see you out there as our dates align pretty closely :-) 
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14 May 2019 09:24 #75030 by Sabine
@ Stijn, glad my write up helped you prepare for your trip.  It is an amazing experience and with your expertise, you will do great.  Wild camping is prohibited in Spain, so if you do plan wild camping, make sure you are setting up camp late and leaving early.  France is no problem, so just make sure you know which side of the border you are.  We loved the wild camping, was one of the highlights of the trip.

any questions, feel free to ask or pm me
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