Snow reports for walkers in the Pyrenees

Cet article est également disponible en: French

From mid-July to September, apart from occasional showers, the only snow in the Pyrenees is the icing on the glaciers. But for the other nine months of the year walkers need to take into account the possibility of drifts and avalanches.

So when and where can you hike in the Pyrenees this winter without crampons or snowshoes? Please help me to reply by filing snow reports below.

 

* indicates the first high ground encountered on the GR10, HRP and GR11 trails where snow may be a problem, between 15 October and 14 June

* indicates the first high ground encountered on the GR10, HRP and GR11 trails where snow may be a problem early and late in the trekking season

Climate

If you stick to the very ends of the mountains – from Hendaye as far inland as Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port at the west end or from Banyuls as far inland as Batère in the east – you can walk all year round without special equipment. Elsewhere, as long as you stay below 1700m you don’t need to worry either.

If, however, you are fixated by the heights or wanting to thru-hike one of the three classic routes – the French GR10, the Spanish GR11 or the Pyrenean Haute Route (HRP) – things get more complicated.

In general expect snow until mid-June above 2400m on sheltered north-facing slopes; at 2800m it will persist another week or so. At the other end of the hillwalking season the cut-off date is mid-October.

One strategy for thru-hikers is to start at one end and walk as far as you can inland until blocked by snow and then go to the other end and do the same. By the time you get back to where you left off the snow should have melted.

First obstacle Height (m) Walking day Usually snow-free
GR10 W–E
Hourquette d’Arre* 2465 15 14/6–15/10
GR10 E–W
Coll de Coma d’Anyell 2476 9 14/6–15/10
GR11 W–E
Collado de Tebarray 2750 13 21/6–15/10
GR11 E–W
Pic Superior de la Vaca** 2800 9 21/6–15/10
HRP W–E
Around Arrémoulit 2460+ 13 21/6–15/10
HRP E–W
Pic Superior de la Vaca** 2800 9 21/6–15/10

 

*Avoiding the Hourquette d’Arre will give you four more snow-free walking days

** Avoiding the Pic Superior de la Vaca will also give you four more snow-free walking days

 

Weather

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley.

Robert Burns – To a Mouse

Read: no matter how carefully you plan things can go wrong.

The hard winter of 2012/13 not only left snow on the hills much later than expected but also resulted in flooding. I was hiking the GR11 at the time. I arrived at the end of the Canal Roya (Day 10) on 23 June. Although the pass was only 2250m there was so much snow that all the walkers without crampons turned back.

Two days later the Collado de Tebarray (2766m) was very white. We walked the whole day with crampons on our feet.

 

Near the Collado de Tebarray 25 June 201325 juin 2013

Near the Collado de Tebarray 25 June 2013

 

The next day there was more snow to cross.

 

Ibón derro Brazato between Baños de Panticosa and Bujaruelo, 26 June 2013

Ibón derro Brazato between Baños de Panticosa and Bujaruelo, 26 June 2013

 

But snow was the least of my problems.

“I hurl the biggest rocks I can carry into the water in the hope of creating stepping stones. But although this creates some footholds the stones have the effect of damming the river, channelling it deeper and faster. I destroy my engineering and, leaving my rucksack on the bank, test out the waters. It’s too cold and uneven to take my boots off. The water comes above my knees and I have to lean into the current to maintain balance, grabbing hold of submerged rocks to avoid being swept away. But the test is conclusive. I rescue my rucksack and plough across. My feet are freezing and even wringing out my socks makes little difference. They immediately soak up the water from the boots.”

Crossing the river Batanes, Extract from Footprints on the Pyrenees [26 June 2013]

And so it continued. Two weeks later on 11 June, walking between the Respomuso and Ernest Mallafré refuges, I still had crampons on my feet.

Weather forecasts for trekking in the Pyrenees

For France I use Méteo Ciel extrapolating from the nearest village, in combination with Méteo France.

For Spain I use AEMet http://www.aemet.es/es/eltiempo/prediccion/montana

Webcams for walkers in the Pyrenees

Many of the Aragon Walkers’ Federation hostels on the GR11/HRP have webcams. For example

Please file your snow reports below. The information will help hikers assess whether crampons and an ice axe are necessary (or whether it is snow-shoeing is back in season). Thanks.

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