Hiking the HRP in the Pyrenees

06 Aug 2019 11:25 - 06 Aug 2019 14:31 #75212 by Stijn
As above, this June & July, I did a hiking traverse of the Pyrenees mountains via the HRP route, over about 6 weeks, mostly solo. It was an incredible experience, and in my very biased opinion, possibly the best thing a hiker could do with 6 weeks available! I'll share some photos and a high-level write-up in the posts below, with links to my strava activities if you want more details.

All-in-all, one of the things that appealed most to me about this trip is that it is a complete journey. You get to traverse an entire mountain range, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and I really enjoyed the process of starting in civilisation, gradually immersing myself in bigger and wilder mountains and then gradually returning to lower altitudes and civilisation again at the end. It is remarkably wild by Western European standards and the experience was closer to hiking in the Berg in terms of the path quality (and sections without paths) and feeling of remoteness. Don't get me wrong - you are much closer to civilisation in the Pyrenees, and you do still see a few other hikers every day, but this is not like the Alps with hundreds of ski lifts and infrastructure everywhere. It really felt like an adventure.

It is also a very challenging hike which makes the DGT look like child's play in comparison. The main difficulty is that it never stays up at altitude - you are constantly climbing up to high ridges and then descending to cross the next valley again. The route doesn't usually go all the way down to the villages like the GR10 or GR11 routes do, but you are still looking at a consistent 1500m+ of ascent and descent on every normal hiking day. I wasn't taking a fast approach on this trip and stuck to the guidebook times more-or-less, and would encourage anyone else doing this hike to pack as light as possible! It took me a while to adjust to my 18kg pack weight on those big climbs. Overall, I did 780km with 48000m of climb in 38 hiking days + 5 rest days. It can certainly be done a lot faster if that's the approach you want to take - the FKT is currently just under 14 days, but that's an entirely different experience!

There are some technical sections in the high mountains with steep snow fields, which require an ice axe and crampons, especially early in the season. I have some experience with alpine mountaineering, so was happier starting early in the season when there was more snow, it was less hot, and the mountains were quieter. But if you have no experience with snow, a later start (early July) would be better as only the very highest passes would involve some snowy sections then.

Cost-wise, this trip can be done very cheaply, as you never have to pay for accommodation by wild-camping every night. No permit fees either, so food is the main expense. I mostly camped-out, but did treat myself to a refuge stay or a hostel in a village on rest days from time to time. The temptation for a beer or a coffee as you pass the refuges during the day is also difficult to resist! :-) It cost me about R25k in total for 7 weeks, including flights, trains to the start and back from the end as well as 4 days in Barcelona after the trip. And it could be done even cheaper if you roughed it a bit more. The costs while on the hike were probably only about R2000 per week, which is cheaper than staying at home... #justsaying ;)

Ok! Let me get stuck into the detail and pics...

Section 1: Hendaye to Candanchu
9 days, 203km, 10744m climb

Hendaye - Col des Poiriers - Picnic Spot - Aldudes - Refugi d'Azpegi - Base of Pic d'Orhy - Belagua - Lescun - Sheperd's Hut - Candanchu


The first few days of the hike go through the Basque area and pretty much feel like one big green hilly farmyard. There is quite a lot of walking on gravel roads and farm tracks as you leave civilisation, but it's a good way to warm up into the hike, get used to the pack weight and get into the groove. I was lucky with mostly sunny weather, except for 2 days of drizzly weather around Aldudes and then 2 stormy days right at the end of the section, which forced me to move my rest day from Lescun to Candanchu to rather sit out the weather during a day off. The first experience of feeling like I was getting into the proper mountains was on day 5 and boy was I excited! Pic d'Orhy (2017m) is the first real peak you climb and it has a fantastic airy ridge-line route to the top. The first patches of snow appeared on day 7 into Lescun - didn't need to use my snow gear yet, but enjoyed glissading down the gentle snow slopes :-) I also really got into the wild-camping, finding some brilliant spots to pitch the tent for the night. An overnight camp is usually technically illegal, but tolerated as long as you are discrete. i.e. Only set up your tent after 7pm and leave again at 7am in the morning and you can pretty much camp anywhere.

On the beach at the start in Hendaye

Climbing out of the village of Aldudes on day 4

The spectacular ridgeline route up Pic d'Orhy (2017m)

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Last edit: 06 Aug 2019 14:31 by Stijn.
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06 Aug 2019 11:28 - 06 Aug 2019 11:31 #75213 by Stijn


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Last edit: 06 Aug 2019 11:31 by Stijn.

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06 Aug 2019 11:43 #75214 by Stijn
Section 2: Candanchu to Gavarnie
4 days, 79km, 5302m climb

Candanchu - Lac Pombie - Campoplano - Oulette de Gaube - Gavarnie


Into the thick of things in some big snowy mountains! I was really in my element in this section, loving the feeling of being in the high mountains on my own, with the added challenge of the alpine sections to deal with. The views were breathtaking and every campsite better than the last... There were a few sections where I would have preferred full crampons rather than the microspikes I was using with my trail runners, as there were some very steep & exposed snow slopes where a slip would have been rather terrifying. At least there was the safety of having the ice axe with me, should I have to arrest a fall, but it can feel pretty sketchy nonetheless! Gavarnie was a great little village to have a rest day at the end of this section, before hitting the next set of high mountains.

Pic du Midi d'Ossau dominates the view for a few days

Refuge de Pombie

Camping under the huge face of the Pic du Midi d'Ossau


Refugi Respomuso

Camping at Campoplano before going over the Col de Cambales the next day

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06 Aug 2019 11:46 - 06 Aug 2019 11:47 #75215 by Stijn

Col de Cambales

The good life!

Camping under the Vignemale north face


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Last edit: 06 Aug 2019 11:47 by Stijn.
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06 Aug 2019 13:11 #75216 by Stijn
Section 3: Gavarnie to Hospital Benasque
5 days, 102km, 7807m climb

Gavarnie - Cabane des Aires - Crete camp - Refugi de Viados - Lac des Isclots - Hospital Benasque


We were in the middle of a heatwave which was affecting the whole of Europe, but it was more manageable in the mountains and the weather was very stable, with no rain on the forecast for 7 days+. I set off out of Gavarnie with Ettienne, a French hiker I had met in the hostel there. I ended up hiking with him for the next 2 days before we chose to take different variants after Lac de Barroude. One of the things I really enjoyed about the traverse was the sense of community amongst HRPists - I probably only saw 20 other people also doing the HRP, but would bump into them regularly, sometimes a few weeks apart. It felt like everybody had also bumped into everyone else you had met at some point, so news would travel up and down the trail in the most old-school way possible ;) I stuck to the border ridge after Lac de Barroude, which was a wonderfully remote, and at times technical route along a fairly narrow ridge. The crux passes of the entire traverse were also along this section - Col des Gourgs Blancs & Col de Inferior Litterole - the day that I crossed over those was one of the highlights. Proper alpine conditions, with snow and frozen lakes everywhere, without actually being on glaciers, which means it's quite safe to do solo. A really wild and engaging experience!

Refuge des Espuguettes

Cabane des Aires

Lac de Barroude from Pic de la Gela (2851m)

Camping on the "Crete"

Lac des Isclots

Wild camping doesn't get better than this!

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06 Aug 2019 13:20 #75217 by Stijn
In my happy place

View ahead from Col des Gourgs Blancs

Lac du Portillon & Col du Inferior Litterole

Lac du Portillon

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06 Aug 2019 13:35 #75218 by Stijn
Section 4: Hospital Benasque to Salardu (including Pico de Aneto side trip)
5 days, 68km, 4682m climb

Hospital Benasque - Refugi Renclusa - Aneto summit day - Hospital Vielha - Colomers - Salardu


I had a few days in hand before when I was meeting my wife in Salardu, so decided to add a side trip to climb the highest peak in the Pyrenees, Pico de Aneto (3404m). After a short approach day to the refuge, I got a nice early start at 5am, while everybody else in the refuge was still having breakfast. This meant I had the peak and summit to myself at 8am after a gorgeous walk up over the glacier at sunrise. Saw plenty of people on the way down of course and then had a chilled afternoon in the refuge. Continuing with the HRP the next day, there was the last crux pass to negotiate - the Col de Mulleres - probably the most technical of them all, with an exposed C-grade downclimb scramble and a very sketchy transition to a steep snowfield in poor conditions. I was very relieved to get down there safely and onwards in friendlier terrain! I spent a full day in the Aiguestortes National Park with an overdose of beautiful mountain lakes before a gentle descent to Salardu.

Sunrise on the way up Aneto

Aneto summit (3404m)

Col de Mulleres

Lac del Mar

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06 Aug 2019 13:54 #75219 by Stijn
Section 5: Salardu to l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre
9 days (incl one rest day), 132km, 9830m climb

Salardu - Refugi Gracia Airoto - bad weather rest day - Refugi Enric Pujol - Camping Bordes de Graus - Pla de Boavi - Lac de Soucaranne - Refugi de Sorteny - Refugi Juclar - l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre


My wife joined me in Salardu for this section and it was wonderful to share these mountains with her! In some ways, she joined for the most difficult part of the entire traverse. Not from a technical perspective (as there were no snowy sections anymore), but purely a physical one. These were big days with plenty of climb on often very rocky/bouldery terrain. It was also a highlight as we were in some of the more remote areas with very few paths and other hikers around. Fran brought the bad weather with her, but rather than spend 2 days in town, we decided to push on up to an unmanned refuge and sit out the rainiest day there. We shared the refuge with a few others, including a brief appearance by a guy attempting to break the HRP FKT. He was on day 8 at that point and I was on day 27! The weather was beautiful after that and we traversed over some big rocky passes, managing to stay in unmanned refuges most nights. We were able to resupply our food in the village of Tavascan after hitching a ride from Camping Bordes de Graus and back, so no need to carry 9 days of food on this stretch. As always, there were gorgeous lakes around every corner so I'm glad Fran got to experience those too :-) The last few days were in the tiny mountain country of Andorra. It does seem that their trail-builders like steeper gradients!

Beeeeeg smiles!

Refugi Gracia Airoto

Refugi Enric Pujol

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06 Aug 2019 13:58 #75220 by Stijn

Camping at Lac de Soucaranne

Wildflowers everywhere!

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06 Aug 2019 14:13 #75221 by Stijn
Section 6: l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre to Banyuls-sur-Mer
8 days, 201km, 9891m climb

l'Hospitalet-pres-l'Andorre - Lac del Forats - Eyne - Refugi Ulldeter - Cabane Arago - Arles-sur-Tech - Las Illas - Refuge Tanyareda - Banyuls-sur-Mer


Fran caught a train back to Barcelona and I was on the final stretch to the Mediterranean! Just like the first week of the traverse, I was now gradually leaving the mountains, the terrain was getting easier and I covered some long days in this stretch. It did get much drier and uncomfortably hot as I got closer to the end and I would say that the last few days were just a bit of slog to get to the end, without much to write home about scenery-wise. It's all part of the journey though, I guess. The route did go over some last iconic peaks before dropping into the foothills, namely Pic Carlit (2921m) and Pic du Canigou (2785m). It was surreal hiking down to the sea through vineyards and scrubby thorn bushes - such a contrast to the lush, mountainous terrain I had been crossing. The finish was, of course, bitter-sweet - elated to have completed the journey, but sad that it had come to an end. I do feel that 6 weeks is about right for a long-distance hike. It can start feeling like a bit of a routine if you're doing the same thing for a few months or more. Anyway! Long story short, if you are lucky enough to find yourself with enough time off for this sort of thing - the HRP should be right at the top of your list!

Camping below Pic Carlit

Pic Carlit summit (2921m)

Cabane Arago

Pic du Canigou (2785m) - I would be down at 300masl later that same day!

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