Walking the Pyrenees: the French GR 10 or the Spanish GR 11?

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GR11: flowering pastures above Estos; in the background the Maladeta massif

GR11: flowering pastures above Estos; in the background the Maladeta massifmassif de la Maladeta

 

I’ve now walked the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean twice. First on the north side, then on the south. Having written about the first trek (If You Only Walk Long Enough: Exploring the Pyrenees), I’m trying to put my thoughts together for my book on the southern option, the GR 11. [Update 2016. Book now published as Footprints on the Mountains: The News from the Pyrenees]

So what are the differences for a walker between the GR10 and the GR11?

A comparison of the Pyrenean Way (GR 10) and the Senda Pirenaica (GR 11)

 

GR 10 (red) and GR 11 (blue) compared. The loop halfway along the GR11 is where I had to divert to avoid snow between Góriz and Pineta

Routes of the GR 10 (red) and GR 11 (blue) compared. The loop halfway along the GR11 is where I had to divert to avoid snow between Góriz and Pineta

 

As I did them, the French GR 10 worked out at about 900km with 48,000m ascent and the GR 11 960km but with only 42,500m ascent. This might give the impression that the Spanish GR 11 is the soft option, but that’s not my impression.

 

Profile of the GR 10 (red) and GR 11 (blue). The 2734m peak on the GR 10 is the Hourquette d’Ossoue (GR 10 variant). Otherwise the GR 10 in general stays below the level of the GR 11

Profile of the GR 10 (red) and GR 11 (blue). The 2734m peak on the GR 10 is the Hourquette d’Ossoue (GR 10 variant). Otherwise the GR 10 in general stays below the level of the GR 11

 

In fact the GR 11 spends much more time higher up, with a dozen passes above 2500m. The French trail tops out at 2509m: if you want to go higher you will have to take the diversions which pass over the Hourquette d’Ossoue (2734m) and Canigou (2786m) (both recommended). The difference in height means that there is more rock and less grass on the GR 11.

As for weather, there is a clear contrast between the wet, cold Basque country in the west and the dry, hot Mediterranean coast in the east. On the other hand the differences between the north side of the Pyrenees and the south are less marked, insignificant in the Basque country. In the central section, the relative height of the GR11 compared with its French counterpart means that it is cooler than might be anticipated.* Although you can expect to avoid snow after 14 June on the GR 10 you will need to wait until 7 July for the higher sections of the GR 11 to melt. In 2013, unable to delay my late June start, I had to take crampons.

 

GR 11: 25 June 2013 on one of the flatter sections between Respomuso and Baños de Panticosa

GR 11: 25 June 2013 on one of the flatter sections between Respomuso and Baños de Panticosa

 

On both sides of the watershed the thunderstorms start at 16h00 so I planned to arrive before then.

 

GR 11: Bestué after the storm

GR 11: Bestué after the storm

 

In terms of company, there are more refuges on the GR 10 and more walkers, which makes it more sociable. I kept arriving at refuges to be greeted by walkers I had seen on previous days. Sometimes we were walking in parallel for over a week.

 

GR 11: cooking in the Illa hut

GR 11: cooking in the Illa hut

 

Another factor to take into account is the maturity of the paths. The GR 10 was traced out in the 1960s and 1970s while the GR 11 is some 20 years younger. This means that GR 10 has, as well as more refuges, better waymarking, and a more gentle profile – sometimes I had the impression on the GR 11 that the planners had drawn a straight line on the map and followed it up the hill.

As the profiles show, both paths start out similarly in the Basque country, before the GR 11 begins take on height after 250km or so. At the Mediterranean end, the GR 11 descends earlier, while the GR 10 keeps relatively high until just before plunging into the sea.

Visually, both paths are spectacular and varied. The luxuriant Basque fields shade literally into the woods of Iraty.

 

GR 11: Basque pastures

GR 11: Basque pastures

 

GR 11: forest between Burguete/Auritz and Hiriberri

GR 11: forest between Burguete/Auritz and Hiriberri

 

Then come the high mountains, intersected by deep valleys sometimes glacial in origin, like the Cirque de Gavarnie and its Spanish counterpart, the Ordesa canyon.

 

Añisclo canyon

Añisclo canyon

 

GR10: sheep in the Ariège

GR10: sheep in the Ariège

 

GR 10: Seix in the Ariège

GR 10: Seix in the Ariège

 

GR 10: cork oaks near La Jonquera

GR 10: cork oaks near La Jonquera

 

Whatever the path, before reaching the Mediterranean you will pass through straggly cork oak forests followed by regimented vineyards. Either way there is sustenance at the end of the trail – the town of Banyuls on the GR 10 and a bar-restaurant at the Cap de Creus on the GR 11.

Ken Applegate from Hike Pyrenees has recently written a concise guide to walking the Spanish GR11.

*For every 100m of ascent, temperature descends 0.65 degrees C, on average.

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One Response to “Walking the Pyrenees: the French GR 10 or the Spanish GR 11?”

  1. Dermot Dolan says:

    Well done Steve, very much looking forward to the book as the last one was a cracker. I have walked about 8,000 km in the last few years and the GR 10 IS STILL THE SPECIAL ONE, Canigou and Vignemale. Yes I may some day do the GR 11, may finish the GR 5 first.

    Look forward to the book and very best to you in writing it.

    Regards Dermot

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