Walking in the Pyrenees

Cet article est également disponible en: French

The GR10 crosses the Way of Saint James in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

The GR10 crosses the Way of Saint James in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

If you are looking for a walking guide to the GR10 trail in the French Pyrenees, I recommend the FFRP series. Even if you struggle with French, the terms are repeated so often that you’ll soon learn them. More importantly, the guides have 1:50,000 scale IGN maps, and profiles and times for each day. On the other hand, if you want to get a feel for the GR10 before committing yourself, or if you want to discover the Pyrenees from the comfort of your armchair, then If you only walk long enough: exploring the Pyrenees will be of interest. Let’s be clear, it is not a guide book to the GR10 walk. It is my personal experience of trekking from Hendaye to Banyuls. It took me 63 days.

“Changing valleys once or even twice a day, the GR10 snakes up minor passes but shuns the highest peaks of the range, passing through countryside which is sometimes rugged, sometimes bucolic, but rarely banal. At the end of the day it makes a detour to sniff out a meal and a bed.” — Steve Cracknell

Second edition of If you only walk long enough: exploring the Pyrenees

A updated edition was published in 2016, now with 30 photos. This edition is avaliable at Amazon, in print and on the Kindle. It is also available as an e-book.

Les Pyrénées tout en marchant sur le GR10

There is also a French edition published by Éditions Cairn.

Walking in the Spanish Pyrenees

Footprints on the mountains... the news from the Pyrenees

Footprints on the mountains… the news from the Pyrenees

And for those who are considering the Spanish alternative, the Senda Pirenaica trek (GR11) my book Footprints on the mountains was published in 2016.

 

32 Responses to “Walking in the Pyrenees”

  1. Barbara says:

    Dear Steve,

    I have only a limited amount of leave to take in early october, I am accustomed to the various routes of the Camino however I was considering starting at St. Jean and walking from there towards Hendaye for the duration of my leave before heading back by speed train towards Santiago de Compostela for my flight. If I wanted to just do 10 days is that feasible in terms of accomodation? Weather wise I’m accustomed to Irish climate and hike all year round in The wicklow mountains which is quite vicious!!

    I’m quite happy to walk in rain or cooling temperatures, I actually prefer it. Is the route populated in early October? I would be walking solo.

    Barbara

  2. steve says:

    Hello Barbara
    Ten days is plenty of time to get to the coast. However you will need to check out if the accommodation is open. You won’t see huge numbers of people but the GR10 is very popular with walkers based in the area so you will not be completely alone. It would be useful if you could let us know if there are any accommodation problems at that time of year. Thanks.

  3. Derek says:

    Hi Steve

    We are considering hiking somewhere in the pyrenees in the second half of April 2017. Two questions:
    1. Do you know of any website that has a collection of historical avalanche reports for the Pyrenees?
    2. For people with a reasonable amount of experience with ice axe and crampons, which part of the pyrenees would you suggest hiking at that time of year?

    Thanks!

    Derek

  4. steve says:

    Hello Derek

    There are detailed maps of avalanches available on avalanches.fr but the site is full of warnings saying that these are unsuitable for walkers etc

    « Cette carte N’EST PAS ADAPTEE A LA DEMANDE DES SKIEURS – RANDONNEURS et des alpinistes qui ont essentiellement besoin, pour choisir leur itinéraire, de connaître la fréquence ou l’époque habituelle des déclenchements d’avalanches ainsi que les relations existant entre ceux-ci et les conditions nivo-météorologiques du moment. Ces éléments ne sont pas pris en compte dans la CLPA. »

    To summarise: “This map is not suitable for walkers who need to know the frequency and avalanche season and also the relationship between these factors and the conditions of the moment. These are not taken into account on the map.”

    It is also true that the maps are mainly concerned with ski resorts and inhabited areas. They are great for telling you areas where there have certainly been avalanches but just because there are no recorded avalanches doesn’t mean that the area is safe. For example, I know that the slopes of Canigó are subject to avalanches but they are not indicated on the maps.

    The best source of information is the Meteo France Avalanche Risk Bulletin.

    You also need to study the slopes in detail. The free TopoPirineos GPS map of the Pyrenees is useful for this. In terms of safety the best areas to consider are the two ends of the massif.

    I hope this helps.

  5. steve says:

    Further info. I have just discovered the excellent slope maps on the French government site https://www.geoportail.gouv.fr/donnees/carte-des-pentes

  6. Daniel says:

    Hi!

    I’m plannin on walking the entire GR10 next summer, most likely starting from early/mid July. How are the laws regarding setting a camp for the night in the area? I would very much like to camp most nights not only to save money, but also in order to get the best out of nature.

    Another question I would have is about the accessability of the starting location etc. Where should I book flights in order to get to Hendaye and what is the easiest way back from Banyuls-sur-Mer?

    Kind regards,
    Daniel

  7. steve says:

    Hello Daniel

    You can camp in most places on the GR10, but camping is restricted in the Pyrenees National Park and regional parks. You will find lots of info on this page, in French. Les bivouacs et campings du GR10.

    As for access, both Hendaye and Banyuls have railway stations. The main airports for Hendaye are Bordeau, San Sebastian, Pau, and Toulouse but there are many smaller airports, depending on where you are coming from. At the other end of the GR10, there are international airports at Perpignan, Gerona and Barcelona.

    Have fun
    Steve

  8. Daniel says:

    Hi,

    Thank you for the answer!

    Unfortunately I don’t speak French. Do these restrictions to camping mean that it is possible only in campin areas or that it’s possible only for a limited time?

    If camping is difficult in these areas then is accomondation easy to find on demand, as arranging them in advance is difficult in such a long hike.

    Kind Regards,
    Daniel

  9. steve says:

    HI Daniel
    You can always copy the French and paste the text into the Google Translator. See also this map for the National Parks, Nature Parks and Reseves on the GR10 In the Pyrenees National Park overnight camping (19h00 to 09h00) is permitted if you are more than one hour’s walk from the edge of the Park or any road and there are similar rules in the Nature Parks and Reserves but I don’t have the time to go through all of them at present.
    Really camping isn’t a problem.
    Best wishes
    Steve

  10. Mat says:

    Hi,
    I’m planning a short hike in the Pyrenees for sept 2017. We where thinking of 4-5 nights to complete a loop from Cauterets to Liz. We would like to see the main sights taking in lac de Gaube, Vignemale and the Cirque de Gavarine. Do you have any other suggestions or help info or guidance.
    Thanks Mat

  11. steve says:

    Hi Mat
    It is a good circuit for that time of year. Although you are unlikely to get snow in September, if you have the choice earlier is better than later. My only suggestion is to stay in the Saugué refuge rather than in or near Gavarnie because the day from Gavarnie to Luz is rather long. By the way, the Cirque is further away from Gavarnie than most people realise. You need to allow two hours to get there and back.
    Best wishes Steve

  12. Naim says:

    Hi Steve,

    Your website and books are absolutely fantastic! 😀

    I really want to experience the GR10 or at the very least have a feel.

    Will be in Toulouse in the 3rd week of April for a few days, would the trail be impossible to do in the snow? Was thinking of doing Cauterets to Gavarnie in 3 or 4 days. Hike from Cauterets to Pont D’Espagne, then Lac de Gaube to Gavarnie, visit the Cirque de Gavarnie before going back to Toulouse.

    Thanks buddy!

  13. steve says:

    Hi Naim,

    There is still a lot of snow in the Pyrenees at present and the section from the Lac de Gaube to Gavarnie contains the highest pass on the GR10 trail. You would need crampons and an ice axe. From Cauterets you should be able to walk as far as the Lac de Gaube and back. But avoid going beyond the end of the lake as the area is subject to avalanches.

    Alternatively you could go to Gavarnie and see the Cirque and then walk down to Luz-St-Sauveur, but again beware of the possibility of snow near the gîte de Saugué near Gèdre. The gîte isn’t open until 1 May but they should be able to give you info.

    I don’t think the alternative route, walking directly from Cauterets to Luz-St-Sauveur will be all that praticable – see the webcams at the ski resort of Luz-Ardiden.

    But if you are really feeling adventurous contact the Bureau des Guides in Cauterets. They can propose guides and equipment for all kinds of treks.

  14. Naim says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks, I really appreciate your help! By the way, is it possible to get a signed copy of “If you only walk long enough”?

  15. steve says:

    Hi Naim, glad to be of help. I’ve sent you the details of how to get a signed copy by email.

  16. Andrew says:

    Hi. Thanks for all the great info 🙂
    I’m looking at just doing a week or 10days of the trail at the end of June, i want to do the most mountainous/ steepest part of it- could you recommend a stage to start off / finish at? We’d be flying to and from Toulouse.
    Thanks!

  17. steve says:

    Hello Andrew

    I’m glad the site is useful. Before I reply, can you let me know how much mountain walking you have done (above 1500m) and how much you have done in the way of multi-day walks. Thanks.

  18. Andrew says:

    Hi Steve, thanks for the fast response!
    I did the gr20 last September and found it pretty easy. I’ve also done some trekking in the jungle of Brazil for a week and regularly scramble in Wales, i also rock climb alot so am very comfortable with heights and know the precautions to take.

  19. steve says:

    In that case you should consider walking some of the section between Gabas and Luchon via the Hourquette d’Ossoue. You may still find snow on the north side of the Hourquette d’Arre (2457m) between Gabas and Gourette. And also on the Hourquette d’Ossoue (2734m). Easiest access points by public transport (and perhaps a short taxi ride) are Gourette, Cauterets, Gavarnie, Luz-St-Sauveur, and Luchon. See also my guide to walking the GR 10, especially the comments at the bottom of the page. Please let us know the conditions you encounter. Thanks.

  20. Judy says:

    Hello Steve, I have been invited to walk from Bayonne towards St Jean Pied de Port with 2 friends in early June. We do not have any experience of long distance walking but are reasonably fit. I plan to meet up with my husband & campervan each evening though they would camp. Do you think it is too ambitious and a good time of the year to start? Thanks, Judy

  21. steve says:

    Hi Judy

    Sounds just right, especially the husband to pamper you.

    Have fun, Dteve

  22. Kate Alfano says:

    Hi Steve!

    I’ll be starting the GR10 from Hendaye mid June. We plan to camp most nights and I’m trying to decide on a sleeping bag and/or liner. I haven’t found many resources on what temperatures to expect during the day/ night. What would you expect are the average and lowest temperatures we should prepare for?

    Thank you!
    Kate

  23. steve says:

    Hi Kate
    Thanks for asking this. I’ve realised that the info was missing, but I have now put it on my Guide to walking the GR10 page.
    Steve

  24. Mark says:

    Dear Steve

    The website/blog is invaluable; very many thanks for being so generous in sharing your experiences, advice and insights.

    I am in the early stages of planning an Hendaye-Banyuls walk for summer 2019 – so some way off! I am currently looking into the very wide range of GPS navigators – I have noted the one you use – and am rather overwhelmed by the choice. The Garmin range is clearly impressive – though the more expensive ones seem not to permit the downloading of maps; the cheaper ones don’t offer texting etc – so, less communication with the outside world; others have less battery time, while others – Garmin and other makes – seem to go wrong after a year or so, according to some customer comments posted on Amazon.

    It would be very helpful – if you are able – to hear your views on those that are on offer.

    Many thanks

    Mark

  25. steve says:

    Hi Mark

    I only have experience of the Garmin range (since about 2002). The three I have had have stood the test of time, being upgraded for new features. I’ve just been investigating one to be shared by members of my walking club and we are going to buy an Etrex 35 Touch. As far as I know all Garmins allow downloading maps. The 35t Touch comes with pre-loaded maps; perhaps that is what you are thinking of.

    In any case don’t buy a map of the Pyrenees. OpenStreet maps for much of the world can be downloaded for free. But better than that, for the Pyrenees you have TopoPireneos, which has better graphics than OpenStreet Map (follow the instructions carefully).

    Alternatively just use your smartphone and Wikiloc off-grid maps. The great advantage of this is that the screen is bigger.

    The main issue for both the GPS and smartphones is battery life. The 2 AA rechargeable batteries for the Garmin GPS last about 16 hours, so I normally carry 6 plus a charger because you can’t always find a socket to charge from in refuges. Unfortunately, my smartphone battery only lasts about 6 hours even in airplane mode. So I have now bought a battery pack 10,000mA which gives about 6 recharges, but weighs 200g.

    Happy planning.

  26. Mark says:

    Dear Steve

    That’s terrific; very many thanks. The Garmin that it seems does not permit the downloading of maps – according to some consumer comments – is the inReach Explorer; perhaps you have come across this one?

    Many thanks

    Mark

  27. Mark Jordans says:

    Dear Steve,
    Your website is wonderfully informative. Thank you. I am part of an international summercamp and planning to walk with a group of adolescents for apprximately 10 days, accompanied by a group of adults (experienced hikers). I am thinking of what route to take, and your website inspired me to go for the GR10; thinking of the section StJean de Pied – to – Gabas. As we will be hiking in the mid-summer (second half of July) my main worry is the climate. will it potentially be too hot? Will there be too much rain and mist (or so I have heard)?

    Thank you in advance.
    Mark

  28. steve says:

    Hi Mark

    I guess you are working on this with Michiel Blumenthal. Yes SJPP to Gabas is a suitable section. Walking in the mountains is always hot work on the uphills. But don’t worry, on that section you will be high enough – and as I said to Michiel if you set out early you will avoid most of the heat. Also, the main rain and mist is between Hendaye and SJPP. So again no problem. Have fun.

  29. Mohammad Akbari says:

    Hi Steve,
    I am sorry, some thing went wrong (and sentences mixed up..) please Re-read my write up.
    I am from Australia, planned to walk High route Pyrenees (hendaye- to Banyuls-sur-Mer). I start walking 5th August 2019 from West to East. I came to know there are Bears in Pyrenees.
    As I am solo hiker for safety I would like to carry with me Bears Spray Deterrent and loud noise making equipment in case if I be confronted with Bear(s).
    Please advice where in France I can buy them.
    Regards,
    Mohammad

  30. steve says:

    Hi Mohammad

    Nobody here uses bear spray and making loud noises is not considered a good idea. As far as I know you cannot buy bear spray. The chances of you seeing a bear are extremely low. So do not worry. It is much more important on the HRP to know how to navigate

  31. Susan says:

    Hi Steve
    For a week long hike in September, staying in hostels each night where would you recommend? Please not the Camino.

    Any help gratefully received 🙂

    Susan

  32. steve says:

    Hello Susan
    Guessing that you don’t know the Pyrenees, I would recommend Hendaye to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Green, and not too much climbing compared with the other end of the mountains. Alternaively Mérens-les-Vals to the Ras de la Carança on the GR10 and then down to Thuès-entre-Vals through the gorge de la Canança. This is more challenging, but wilder. All the end points are on train lines.
    Happy planning
    Steve

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