Planning the Haute Route Pyrenees

Pic d'Anie, Cirque de Lescun
Pic d'Anie, Cirque de Lescun

On June 28th I start the HRP.  I try and avoid flying if I can.  The train works really well in France and its the same price or less to get us nearer, in more style and in due course, so why bother with planes.


Rail Europe

Its possible to book the French train journey separately to the Eurostar and you save money – 24£ cheaper this year.  Rail Europe may not show all the fares they provide – call them for advice before you book online.  Also, the  overnight sleeper trains are often the cheapest way to get there, and comfortable enough in my view – you may not get lots of sleep but you do get a bunk and enough to make it workable.

This time is easy.  I’ve only booked one way, from London to Paris and then Paris to Hendaye on the Atlantic.  I know there’s a sleeper back from Banyuls Sur Mer on the Mediterranean at around the date I may be coming back, but I don’t want to box myself in so I’m chancing that they’ll have seats.  It’ll probably be more expensive to leave it till then to purchase, but not as expensive as missing my train, or as annoying as thinking about missing it.

Once in the foothills, these are also useful to get you around the villages and to entry and exit points, the main towns being Pau, Lourdes and Toulouse:
Local trains (and bus replacements from Pau) – TER SNCF
More local buses - transports-maligne
Even More – Reiseauskunft

If you feel comfortable with it, hitching is also an option in this part of the world.

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Caldera Sunset, from under Grand Fache

Whats it like? Its jawdrop beautiful, the weather is pretty excellent in the summer, except when its foul, and its perfect for wild camping.  It can be hot and sunny, and sometimes very stormy.  There are snowfields and glaciers in the high mountains, some of which you will need to traverse.  You don’t need winter skills/gear for most of these by July and August, but you might for some – if you don’t want to do this, there are walkarounds mostly using the GR10 and 11.  Its quite tough going in places but you don’t need to be a sponsored athlete to enjoy it here – last year we saw families with babies at 2400ms up for day trips.  Anyhow, don’t take my word for it, listen to the experts.  The following are some pages I have drawn on over the last year or 2 – you might recognise a few:

A general FAQ from Andy Howell

Mark runs ULOG, his trip report is in 2 parts is well worth a look.

A very comprehensive TR on the BPL forums

Great TR from Peter on his always fabulous blog

Phreerunners trip report (alot of GR’s but some overlap)

A good first time walk in the Pyrenees for those who aren’t up for the whole thing, by you know who.

An informative thread over at OM.

A nice podcast from Andy and Shirley for background, maps and reading matter.

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planning - not my forte, but worth it

Books:  I am taking the Joosten Guide to the HRP (despite the weight!) – I have tried repeatedly to find the English version of the original George Veron guidebook but all library copies seem to be removed and its no longer in print.  It is possible to get the original French version in France, I saw it last year and should have got it then (though my french is bad).  The Joosten book is famously ambitious with its timings, and has a typo or 2, but is still invaluable.  The 2 routes differ, especially around Andorra where I think Joosten stays south for longer.  Another great book is Kev Reynolds Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees – this comes more and more into its own now, as I study the maps more and begin to join regions.

Maps.  I use the map shop who are helpful and cheaper than elsewhere I’ve found.  This picture link on map regions is useful for planning.  The direct link for choosing from the 1.50K French Randonees Pyrenees is here, but use their picture link to show you which ones you will need for your trip.  I spent £100 on maps.  Ouch.  I then spent 3 evenings plotting the route and cutting them up to save weight.  Cutting up new maps is unsettling but saved me 600gms.   Chris Upson’s google map gives a good digital overview of whats involved.

I am also going to use ViewRanger on an iphone as a backup in case I get lost – they kindly sponsored me for this, as the walk is for charity.  Mapping in Spain is always much looser and VR were not able to supply me with digital maps for Spain, only France.  I’m toying with the idea of using Social hiking to show where I am on googlemap, but the jury is still out on that one.

The Structure, Route and Timings: The structure of the walk is to allow others to join in for a week or 2 at a time, so they can come and have a great experience without committing to 550miles approx, and in the meantime hopefully raise more money than I can raise on my own.  Everyone is paying for their own trip and therefore all the money raised goes where its needed.

I’m going in the summer because that’s when I have the time (sort of) to do it, and also because late June is supposed to be a fairly good time to start weather wise.  I wonder if anyone has ever done a winter HRP?

Those who know the territory will see we are not hurrying – some have done this route (minus the Spanish detour) in 30 days or even less.  But thats a really punishing schedule, and means no summits.  These aren’t the alps, but they are still pretty big.  They are more remote than the Alps in places, and therefore arguably as tricky in their own way, despite only being made up of mostly 2-3000m peaks.  Anyway, here’s the precis I sent to my co-walkers:

(dates underlined are the days you could aim to arrive.  leaving days will be early starts – walk early, avoid heat and storms)

1. Hendaye, west coast – arrive 28th eve, leave 29th june
train from Paris
STAGE 1 – lo land ascent, tricky navLake District stylee.

2. Lescun arrive 8th, summit 9th (…unfinished business with Pic D’anie), rest 10th, leave 11th july
bus from Pau drops you at foot of road, hitch uphill 5miles – we did this last year, no problem got lift straight away.
STAGE 2 -  combo of hi and lower level, tres beau! We will drop down to GR10 and walk to Borse, then on to the Chemin de la mature before summiting Pic du Midi and the high mountains beyond.  At least, that’s the plan.

3.Cauterets arrive 19th/rest 20th, leave 21st july
bus to/from from Lourdes, i think…but check that!
LA DETOUR in ordesa canyon, Spanish week, hot and lovely, over Goriz path and Ascent of Tallion via Breche de Roland if weather good.

4.Gavarnie arrive end 26th, rest 27th, leave 28th july
bus to/from Lourdes, paris train
STAGE 3: the next level, as they say…some snow and lots of rock, more remote.  may require ice axe/crampons and ability to use for ascents …not compulsory, there are workaround routes. Aneto summit also depends on winter gear dropboxed in….

5.Salardu – 9th august arrive, rest 10th, leave 11th august
bus to/from Lourdes, then paris train. Update: Train from Luchon - Lourdes, bus to Bossost and then hitch to Luchon.  The most direct transport connection is an overnight train to Barcelona, then a bus to Vielha and transfer to Salardu.
STAGE 4: allowing 10 days, most remote and wild part of the trip, no resupply, high mountains into Andorra.  my birthday wilderness.

6.L’hospitalet pres d’Andorre arrive 20th august, rest 21st, 22nd leave
train to/from paris at Latour de Carol 20mins away
STAGE 5: allow 10 days to Banyuls sur mer, may take less.  last part of the trip, descending onto coastal plain, Mediterranean climate, 2 big summits en route.  The big comedown.
Planned to arrive Banyuls sur mer, east coast around 1st September, train to Paris then Eurostar home.

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Balaitous and Pic du Midi d'Ossau from summit of Le Grand Fache

You can probably do about 2/3’s of the HRP by going hut to hut, but to do the whole thing you need camping gear – tent or shelter, sleeping bag or quilt, sleeping mat, a stove, fuel and dried food for a week or more.  We’ll be camping whenever we can.  Food is the subject for a separate post soon, but you can resupply in the towns/villages mentioned above, as well as dropping down to Aux les Themes and Luchon in the back half of the walk, according to Joosten and others.  Don’t rely on refuges for resupply – most only provide meals and have no spare food to sell in the busy summer season.

I hope this has been of some help.  If you have questions or advice then please leave a comment or get in touch.  Please note this post appeared originally on Andy Howell's blog.

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Bon chance, mes amis