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Descent through the woods to Roncesvalles

colinPeter

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
SJPP-SDC (2009) Somport-Jaca, Burgos-SDC, Cee-Muxia (2012) Le Puy - Aumont-Aubrac (2014) SJPP-SDC (Oct 2015)
Hi,

I read in the various guides that the descent through the woods to Roncesvalles is a bit on the steep side. Given reasonable conditions, just how steep is it? Is it only for the mountaneers & military types, or is it OK for average first time walker with trekking poles?

Col
 
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Pablo2007

Member
Hi Col,

I walked through the forest"decent" to Roncesvalles in late Sept 2007.
I was 48 at the time relatively fit but no Climber. I found it no major problem.

However keep in mind, if it has rained heavily it may be slippery and muddy in parts, I think we also climbed over a bit of a log, which again normally would be no problem at all but after a very difficult first day with jetlag (Departed Sydney on a Wednesday, arrived SJPDP Thursday and was going to rest on Friday but decided to walk - excitement got the better of me) even getting over a log with a pack on when your tired can be difficult ... Laugh Nobody wants to twist an ankle on day 1.

So if conditions are OK and your relatively fit (no major impairment) its relatively easy. Just keep your wits about you at the end of a long day.

If you are going directly from Sydney to SJPDP I would strongly suggest a rest day.

I started of at 8.00am - all guns blazing - great day beautiful scenery - it was just fantastic ..... till about 12.30pm when it seemed someone just turned the energy tap off. I literally had trouble putting one foot in front of another. and was starting to think I'm not going to make this and I can't go back either because its just as far. Luckily after some lunch and a decent rest All was well again.

I'm going over again in late April and I won't be making the same mistake again.

I see you're from Sydney, so am I. Fell free to ask any question either here on the board or send me a message if you like.

Take care
Pablo
 

Arn

Veteran Member
Col,

You have two choices...once you get to the top of the trail and can look down into Roncesvalle... you can either go straight...shorter and steeper...or, you can turn to the right and follow the wider path/roadway that takes you thru some Franco era bunkers, past a shrine and then down thru the woods and into the monastery from the back.

regards

Arn
 

sillydoll

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
There are no trails on the camino Frances that one could call 'mountain trails'. Nowhere where you'll need to scramble or go down on your backside!
There are a few short, steep paths - both up and down - and many rocky, stony, rutted, gravel-pit, torrent course paths, but no mountaineer ascents or descents.
 
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For me, what made the descent into Roncevalles especially difficult was my exhaustion, and I cried every step of the way. The first day, as you've heard over and over, is hell. But I believe that is because like you, a first time distance trekker, I did not listen to my instincts that told me to break this up into TWO days... and instead listened to a well-meaning hospitalero who said, "It's no problem, you can do it!"

Well, it almost was the end of me.

I'd STRONGLY suggest that you break this stage up into two stages if you are not in shape. It can mean the difference between a wonderful start and a horrible start. (in my opinion).

Just cutting off the few kilometers (which are very steep uphill climbs) and staying at Hunto or Orisson means you wake up next morning, refreshed, with a good idea of what you are facing, and you pull into Roncevalle tired, but not half-dead!

You will need to make reservations for the one where you stay because they are small. But I promise you, you'll be much happier.

I realize many people will disagree with me... but I nearly injured myself getting into Roncevalles and there was no reason for that... if I had just broken it up into two stages.
 
D

Deleted member 3000

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Many people find a great sense of satisfaction in completing the first day. Like Anniesantiago, they are put to the test, but they succeed. Just as she was not deterred, do not be deterred without valiant effort.
 

KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
I am going to agree with Annie here, though as with everything on the Camino, each person makes their own decisions about how they want to walk.

When I picked up my info for Spain from the Pilgrim Office in SJPP, they recommended the road route to descend into Roncesvalles.

I had been walking for nearly six weeks by the time I reached SJPP, so I was comparatively fit. And I chose to have a break at Orisson, as I had heard a lot about how tough the climb over the Pyrenees was. It took me about two and three quarter hours to reach Orisson, with time to stop and watch some eagles soaring along the way.

I am really glad I broke it there. The weather was just right, and that evening in Orisson it happened that we got to view the most exquisite rainbow with the mountains behind, truly one of life's treasured experiences.

Since I was quite fit, I wasn't expecting the next day from Orisson to Roncesvalles to be especially difficult. And I chose the right-handed road descent. But even with my fitness, and the break at Orisson, I found I was feeling very tired by the time I reached Roncesvalles.

I recovered quickly from my exertions though, as I was quite fit at this stage. But there were some others, just starting out, for whom the trek over from SJPP in one day really was too much. Some of them ended up taking the bus for some subsequent sections just to recover.

I don't think you always have to have 'valiant effort' on the Camino - though that is my personal opinion of course. The French had a saying I often heard when starting out on the Le Puy route, "Il faut aller doucement, doucement, pour aller a St Jacques" - You need to go gently, gently, to reach Santiago. When I started walking from Le Puy, people were very very conscious of how great a distance lay ahead, and most tried to 'pace' themselves for the long walk ahead.
Margaret
 
D

Deleted member 3000

Guest
During the evening tales around the campfire, you can see the wistful look in the eyes of those who did not gut out the first day. It is not a race or a contest, but the look of accomplishment is most evident in those who pressed themselves. Even Shirley MacLaine writes of conquering her doubts.
 
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CF 2006,08,09,11,12(2),13(2),14,16(2),18(2) Aragones 11,12,VDLP 11,13,Lourdes 12,Malaga 16,Port 06
Believe me, around the campfire anybody who has made the trek from SJPP to Roncevalle, whether in one day or two, has made an accomplishment. I guess my testosterone just isn't so high that I care -- I'd rather get there without injury.

By the way, there is an interesting "free" stop at a tipi, which I did NOT take, but heard from some very happy pilgrims about. It is apparently about an 18 foot tipi ( that is HUGE) with stacks of firewood and a wonderful night out under the stars but sheltered from the elements. There is a funny little signpost on the right hand side of the road telling about it... an adventurous pilgrim may want to try it out!
 
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KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
Anniesantiago said:
By the way, there is an interesting "free" stop at a tipi, which I did NOT take, but heard from some very happy pilgrims about. It is apparently about an 18 foot tipi ( that is HUGE) with stacks of firewood and a wonderful night out under the stars but sheltered from the elements. There is a funny little signpost on the right hand side of the road telling about it... an adventurous pilgrim may want to try it out!

I never saw it Annie...maybe it was there later than I crossed (which was at the very end of May.)
Margaret
 

colinPeter

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
SJPP-SDC (2009) Somport-Jaca, Burgos-SDC, Cee-Muxia (2012) Le Puy - Aumont-Aubrac (2014) SJPP-SDC (Oct 2015)
Thank you all for the excellent replies/advice. Together they give me a better understanding about the the route overall, and the descent in particular.

We're booked in at Orisson to break the stage & hopefully ease the pain. Therefore, I'll remain subdued come "campfire night".

Again thanks to All.

Col
 

KiwiNomad06

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy-Santiago(2008) Cluny-Conques+prt CF(2012)
Col... I took two days and I did not feel any reason to feel 'subdued' come campfire night. (Perhaps, like Annie, I don't have enough testosterone for that :lol: )

I imagine we all have different moments that give us deep satisfaction along the way. For me, one of those moments was actually standing at the gate that led into SJPP at the top of the hill. It meant I had completed the French section of the walk from Le Puy, and I felt very peacefully happy about that. I wanted someone to take a photo of me at the gate, at this momentous moment. But there were no other pilgrims around, and I sought help from a holidaying couple who were nearby. Although willing to take a photo for me, they seemed a little bemused that I should want one. Then after the photo, they wished me "Happy Holidays". I thought, if you only knew........ as I remembered things like the heavy rainfall and mist over the Aubrac Plateau, the walk in the heat on the plateau above Cahors, the long days that took me out of my comfort zone, the day I got lost and had to walk extra kms with blisters... And for all those reasons, as well as all the beauty I had seen along the way, standing at that gate, having safely reached SJPP, I was absolutely happy and at peace.
Margaret
 
Seriously, y'all, just how many people do you know who crossed over an entire mountain range on foot (be it in one or two days)? It's bragging rights for life. I used to think I wasn't so "tough" when it comes to physical activity, & even now, when I find myself wimping out, I remind myself that if I could cross the Pyrenees on foot, I can do anything!

dg
 

jeff001

Active Member
It is important to recognize that an individual's experience with this route is very subjective and variable. My experience was apparently somewhat different from that of some of those above. I was a not-too-fit 66 yr old when I did it. I stayed at Orisson, which took about 2.5 hrs from St Jean. The next morning I left about 7:30 and arrived in Roncesvalles at 11:30. After a leisurely lunch and some sightseeing I went on to Espinal which is another 6.5k or so. I am not saying that I would recommend this to others but am only suggesting that for someone in reasonably good condition this should not be considered to be an extremely difficult stage.
 
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sillydoll

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
I met a lady from Australia in Roncesvalles who was really chuffed with herself because she had taken under 7 hours to walk (race-walk?) from St Jean to Roncesvalles - and had beaten her friend's time of 7 hours.
Each to his/her own!
 

jl

Veteran Member
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Indeed Col, I would reccomend that the best thing to do is listen carefully to what they tell you at the pilgrim offce in St Jean. It is not really the steepness that you will have to concern yourself with, but rather the weather conditions, and the people in the office are the ones best equipped to give advice. Remember that you are walking in mountains with the potential for swift weather changes and I must admit that I was somewhat concerned with the blaise way that many approached that mountain range when I crossed. They reccomend that if the weather is inclement you don't take the descending path through the woods and I would second that. It is a very clay type surface and feet come out from under you very easily in that sort of surface! Don't forget to confirm you booking at Orrison the day before otherwise you might not get a bed there.

Regards, Janet
 
D

Deleted member 3000

Guest
Okay. Break out the camomile tea. Reading pilgrims describing their exploits years after they walked a Camino, then reading that they are not competitive simply does not ring true. I suspect that a friendly game of Monopoly with these folks would leave you feeling like Shaquille O’Neal had dragged you around a basketball court for an hour! Take their advice with a grain of salt. We are proud of our accomplishment. A little braggadocio has been earned. Do not spoil it by denying it!

Health and safety ARE important. Preserve them when you should. My brother’s college roommate, a retired “Time” magazine writer, “blew out” his knee on the way to Roncesvalles and spent most of the next month on taxis, trains, and buses instead of walking the Camino. Was his experience ruined? He has a movie treatment in the works on Rogelio Maynulet, http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?sect ... icle=28133 who he interviewed for a week as Roger walked the Camino to sort out the strange twist his life had taken. The writer is now married to a German woman he met on the pilgrimage.

The Camino provides.

Occasionally a discussion thread morphs beyond my comprehension. I am hearing that the first day out of St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port is among the proudest days on a poster’s Camino even as that poster counsels taking two days. It is almost as if the writer wants to keep the proud moment to himself. Unless you are saying that you were a fool for doing it in one day, and regret it beyond all measure, perhaps you should stop trying to talk others out of it. It is a tough 25 km, but it is only 25 km. Shirley MacLaine did it, for goodness sake. Prepare the new pilgrim for the rigor, and describe where you found the inner strength to marshal on, in order that he can find that strength as well.
 

cilento

Member
As I sit and plan my second camino, I'm struggling with this issue.

The first day from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles took us 13 hours, longer than anyone I've ever heard. We arrived that night just as mass was beginning, and we were too exhausted to take part. In the morning I felt fine and we moved on, but I worried as I fell asleep in Roncesvalles that I had overdone it on the first day.

On the other hand, I look back at the photos of that day with such pride and a real sense of accomplishment. It's 2 years later, and I can still see every segment of our trek very clearly in my mind's eye.

However, we did take the path along the road to descend into Roncesvalles, and I think that took way too long. Next time I will definitely take the downhill on that last leg. I also consider staying at Orisson because it seems so nice there, but I think I'd rather just get an earlier start in the morning from Saint Jean.
 

diaz1350

New Member
Hi Colin,
It appears your question is having a great debate and from these it has helped me make up my own mind. I will be walking this section in two days. The main reason is because I carry a 'healed' broken ankle from 2006 and do not wish to agrevate it unecessarily. I believe we all need to take and look at all the options availabe to us along with our own health and fitness levels.
Good luck.
Regards Begonia :D
 
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Arn

Veteran Member
Excellent comments and suggestions...one and all!

Make your plans at home, based on the best information available.

Update your plans at your starting point, based on the most accurate and timely information available.

Begin each successive stage the night before you depart, based on how you finished that day and the best information available.

This is Your Camino and, while each of use can relate the why's and the hows of our Camino...yours will be unique...Just be safe!

Buen "up the hill" Camino,

Arn
 

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