Haute Route Pyrenees

Atlantic ocean to Mediterranean sea · August 2019

After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail last year, I really wanted to do another longer hike this summer. Throughout winter, I looked at many options and in the end settled on the Haute Route Pyrenees. Running in between the more famous GR10 and GR11 on the French and Spanish side of the mountains. As the name suggests, the Haute Route tries to stay as high up in the Pyrenees as possible going over countless cols. Being more remote, easy wild camping and the distinct start and endpoint sold me. Hiking from Atlantic ocean to Mediterranean sea sounds pretty good to me.

Near the end of the Gentse Feesten, I boarded a bus towards Biarritz and a short trainride later I arrived in Hendaye at the Atlantic ocean near the Spanish border.

Campspots along the Haute Route Pyrenees
Section 1: Hendaye to Lescun · 5 days

As it started thunderstorming halfway through France last night, I had to bail on my idea of swimming in the Atlantic. Didn't plan on much hiking this first half day. Just get out of Hendaye and pitch my tent at the first available spot. Apart from the rain, there was also a horse very interested in my tent all night long. Off to a great start.

Given the rain and the HRP being lesser known, I hardly saw anyone the first couple days. The trail also has some pathfinding where the trail only seems to exist as a dotted line on your phone. In reality you are staring at bushes on a slope. So when you turn left leaving the road straight into the bushes and notice someone else doing the same a few hundred meters back, you can be pretty sure they are also doing the HRP. And so I met and hiked together with a Dutch guy for the next few rainy days up to Lescun.

Section 2: Lescun to Gavernie · 3 days

The forecast said it would clear up late morning. And as a scientist, that worked for me. Late morning I hiked out in the rain but as I climbed higher and higher towards the Spanish border, I felt the weather shift steadily. By the time I made it to the mountain pass right on the border, the sun was out and I could gaze down into both countries.

Lescun is where you enter the Parc national des Pyrénées and enter the higher mountains. Lots of dayhikers in this part doing either sections of the GR10 or GR11. The HRP zigzags between both and often I have no idea which country I am in.

Right before getting to Gavernie, I run into another former PCT hiker. Easily recognizable by their gear. We hike the last stretch together and pitch our tents at the Gavernie campsite. The only available spot as the little town is crowded with tourists. Dayhikers to visit the cirque de gavarnie.

Section 3: Gavernie to Salardu · 7 days

More PCT hikers. Four of them randomly running into eachother in the middle of the Pyrenees. Flora, Jukebox, The Darkness and Colonel Sanders. It's really nice to meet other thru-hikers with similar gear, routines and habits as you.

Talk to eachother using trail names, wearing nothing but your rain gear when going to a restaurant because everything else is in the washing machine, sitting down in front of a supermarket to get rid of all the packaging after a resupply. And hike out at sunrise.

As my daily routine and pace is fairly similar to those of Jukebox and Flora, we start hiking together.

A few days in we opt for a couple of days along the GR11 as bad weather is predicted. As there is no one fixed route for the HRP - we mostly follow the route from Tom Martens' Cicerone book - and a GR trail on either side, you have great flexibility. First lake swim in the stunning Lac de Mar at 2264m. Comboy camp the same night, high up in the mountains to watch the Perseids. The next morning we reach Salardu where we booked the lovely Refugi Rosta. Half hostel, half Pyrenees museum. Even though Salardu seems rather touristic, there is only one small supermarket.

Section 4: Salardu to Hospitalet pres l'Andorre · 6 days

The second night out of Salardu was quite eventful with an animal screeching throughout the night, a rockfall and thunderstorm. After some pathfinding we make it to camping Graus. A morning roadwalk to Tavascan to resupply. Shop isn't open yet but they tell us to just ring the doorbell. A little later we are scouring the tiny shop to cobble together a few days of food. And we join the breakfast buffet in the hotel across the street. Excellent! Back at our campsite around noon to continue our trip on the HRP again.

Right after crossing the border between France and Andorra, we set up camp at the bottom of a ski resort in between a few dozens of horses. Not really legal or ideal but the patrolling security guard is ok with it, as long as he doesn't see us *wink* *wink*.

Next day we cross most of Andorra pitching our tents at Refugi Juglar at the Eastern border where we have our first refuge dinner. Definitely better than the 20th day of noodles. The day after we end this section at Hospitalet pres l'Andorra. Another small town with basically no supermarket.

Section 5: Hospitalet to Banyuls-sur-mer · 7 days

They did have an excellent bakery in Hospitalet though with sandwiches, pizza and everything in between. The weather forecast for the upcoming days is not the best but as we are in the mountains and constantly moving, it is hard to get accurate predictions. The next day, after passing through Bolquère, the weather started shifting for worse and just before we made it to Col de les Nou Fonts we were greeted by a thunderstorm. As the rest of the day would consist of staying up high, going over 5 more cols, we opted to go down into the valley on the Spanish side and consider our options.

Taking the GR11 we got to Nuria, quite the fancy ski resort. Getting closer to the Mediterranean though, we couldn't just follow the GR11 as we would end up on the Spanish side, rather than the French side where the GR10 and HRP meet the sea. We took a trail parallel to our original route but at lower altitude. After too many long hours beneath the constant threat of dark clouds, we finally make it to refugi Coma de Vaca by 9 in the evening. Well over 14 hours after setting out in the morning.

From there we take another trail back up to Refuge Ulldeter where we reconnect with the HRP. The final days towards the Mediterranean are blessed with the most magnificent views. Walking across the French-Spanish border with the sea in front of you, gazing far into both countries. And finally after 28 days, a swim in the Mediterranean sea.

Planning

To get to the trail I booked a bus from Ghent to Biarritz where I took the train to Hendaye, the starting point. And that's about all the planning I did apart from searching online for .gpx tracks to put on my phone.

Navigation. I looked for apps to navigate for quite a while. I wanted it to do two things. 1) Allow me to load .gpx files. 2) Tell me the distance between two selected points on the track. The main .gpx track used was the one from Tom Martens' CICERONE Pyrenean Haute Route book. It worked really well.

I ended up using the following apps

  • mapy.cz · a czech app that has all major trails preloaded. Download maps when you have WiFi in town
  • OruxMaps GP · some nice features to easily save waypoints so I could create a list of all my camping spots
Trail info
Haute Route Pyrenees
Countries
StartHendaye
FinishBanyuls-sur-mer
Length497 mi / 800 km
Elevation gain171.000 ft / 52.000 m
Best hiking seasonMay - September
Official website/