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How long and steep are the downhills going from St Jean to Roncesvalles?

alafter

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
June 2018
#1
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, May-June (2017)
Ingles-Finisterre (2018)
#2
I feel your pain, literally. The decent into Roncesvalles, in the forest, lasts about 1.5-2 hours and can be quite steep, I believe that there’s a road route that you can take about half way down. There are decents all the way across Spain, coming down from the Alto de Perdon is steep too. For me, trekking poles are a must. Good luck, Buen Camino.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino frances (2018)
#4
Did this April 30. I do not remember thinking it was steep. There is still more uphill from SJPdP to Roncesvalles than downhill. Staying at Orisson is a great way to save your legs for the downhill. Definitely do the road into Roncesvalles, not the woods trail. Coming down from the Alto de Perdon ( after Pamplona) was steeper in my memory.
Yes, use poles. They really can help on hills.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Nearly every year since 2006, often walking more than one route. 2018 will be Camino #14.
#5
If you are starting in orisson you won’t be so tired. If you are starting in SJPP you will be exhausted and the trail is VERY steep and slippery in places going down into Roncesvalles as well as down into Zubiri and you will be more likely to injure yourself. There are options to walk the less-steep road on both sections.

That said, if you already know you have knee issues, I suggest you begin in Pamplona.
 
Camino(s) past & future
SJPDP-Finisterre X 2, El Norte incompleto
#6
There are two paths downhill into Roncesvalles. The path to the left through the forest is shorter but much steeper. The path to the right is a much gentler descent. It's the way that I walked, and I don't remember it being particularly steep. Last year when I was there someone had painted labels on the ground of "hard" and "easy" along with arrows.
 

tillyjones

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances June 2015
VDLP May 2017
del Norte Sept 2018
#13
Steep and long. I recall this as the most challenging part of the Frances for me. Granted, part of that may have been because I wasn't Camino Fit yet but it was a bugger. In my opinion. I'd have rather walked up it than down it.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances: September 24 - October 31 (2015); February/March (2019)
#15
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys[/QUOTE
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
If you look at the profile map in the resources section on this website you will see that the descent into Roncesvalles is quite steep. Two trekking poles used properly can make a huge difference on knee strain. I would look up YouTube tutorial videos on how to use trekking poles properly. An awful lot of people use them incorrectly. Going downhill you lengthen the poles a bit. Then you plant the pole before stepping down on the opposite side foot (right pole before left foot, vice versa). This way the poles serve as a strain reliever for your knees. As others have written, a single pole won’t cut it.
 

tillyjones

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances June 2015
VDLP May 2017
del Norte Sept 2018
#16
Counterintuitive though it may seem, going up is easier in many cases than going down. I agree with Tilly.
It's not counterintuitive....its science! Eccentric load on the muscles is much more straining than a concentric load.

And most of our joints are designed to bend you forward. So you can lean/bend into an up-hill, to prevent gravity rolling you down the hill backwards, far better than you can lean backwards to prevent gravity from taking you down the hill frontwards. So it ends up being much more work.

(I spend my non Camino days in musculoskeletal injury prevention/ergonomics/bioechanics )
 
Last edited:
Camino(s) past & future
May - June 2018
#17
Definitely get trekking poles. The downhill will test the knees and thighs! However, there is also a steep descent into Zubiri for the next stage.

But it is worth the views!


Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
up
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Francés Sept. 2017
Camino Portugués Apr-May 2019
#18
The downhill stretch from Cruz de Ferro is also quite steep and rocky. I had one pole (never used one before and wasn’t sure I would use it) but I wished I had two. So definitely take trekking poles...as stated above they will help the descent not be so hard on the knees but will also help with your balance on the steeper & rockier sections. And ditto...I would rather go up than down.
Also, before you start down you will see this sign. Follow the “alternativa suave” (to the right). It is less steep than than if you continue straight. They will give you this info at the Pilgrim’s Office in SJPP as well.
I know you will have a great Camino!
 

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Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances...
Sept. 2017: SJPdP to Burgos
Sept./Oct. 2018: SJPdP to Santiago de Compostela
#20
I actually have looked at the average grade of the ascent and descent between SJPdP and Roncesvalles, and I used an app on my iPhone to take sample measurements at various locations to see how the other reports on those gradients compared.

On the ascent: the steepest gradient approaches 22% in some small sections. However, the overall average from SJPdP to Col de Lepoeder is around 12%. Subjectively, that matches with my backpacking experience.

On the descent -- using the narrow road to the right of the path: the average was about 10%. Again, there were sections on that route which were steeper and some more shallow, but those were short sections.
 

RJM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
A few times, but soon again I hope....
#21
Numerous charts, maps and other illustrations on the net and in guidebooks, etc.
I suppose this one is fairly accurate. Some make it look way steeper and scarier than it actually is.
760807cb3aa9e27ea63b7cdf71b96290.jpg
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances...
Sept. 2017: SJPdP to Burgos
Sept./Oct. 2018: SJPdP to Santiago de Compostela
#22
Numerous charts, maps and other illustrations on the net and in guidebooks, etc.
I suppose this one is fairly accurate. Some make it look way steeper and scarier than it actually is.
View attachment 42524
:) It all depends on how many inches long they make the X axis.
 

Anamiri

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances
#23
Take the road option, its easier on your knees, plus the bonus was the horses we encountered. And two walking poles, your knees will thank you for it.
Most people take the steeper trail, so you wont encounter many other walkers on the road.
 
Last edited:

owms2323

Credential question
Camino(s) past & future
Camino de Frances (2014) Camino Frances (2016) Camino Finisterre/Muxia (2017)
#24
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
Take the less steep rt down and I definitely would invest in some poles. Also, IMO the descent from Roncesvalles to Zubiri is worse. You can bus from Roncesvalles to Pamplona
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2013)
#25
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
Have you thought of having someone look at your knees? I experienced strange pains in my knees early in my downhill training. I went to a sports clinic, was given some advice and strengthening exercises to do and haven’t had any problems since. Take the shoes you plan to hike in so they can be looked at too.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2016)
#26
Take the road option, its easier on your knees, plus the bonus was the horses we encountered. And two walking poles, your knees will thank you for it.
Most people take the steeper trail, so you wont encounter many other walkers on the road.
I took the road and my knees survived, I didn't see another soul the entire decent.
 

alafter

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
June 2018
#27
I thank you all kindly for your advices. Really I can't thank you enough. I will do my best to think harder what I shall do:
-learn walking poles
-check knees
-note down all the routes contributed by folks here
-***GET GOOD KNEE BRACES

Very grateful.
 
Last edited:

alafter

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
June 2018
#28
I pray I meet some of you and perhaps join you for some parts of the walk. I leave St Jean on 27th. Cheers!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Hopefully 2014
#30
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
 
Camino(s) past & future
Hopefully 2014
#31
In the steep downhill situations, I would use a side to side, like skiing, technique. This takes some of the pressure off your toes as they push into the front of your shoe and reduces the angle somewhat. It worked for me.
 
Camino(s) past & future
March 2018
#32
You’ve been given great advice. Im just throwing in my two cents. I ended up injuring my knee on the downhill to Roncesvalles and it put a huge damper on my Camino for the next two weeks so you are very wise to be checking this out in advance!

Here is what I wished I had done in advance:

1) Go to a doctor and/or medical supply pharmacy and get strong knee braces designed for walking. This is important because many are designed for rest and can cause other injury (including blisters on your knee) I have been home for almost a week and I still have red marks on my leg from a knee brace not designed for walking (and a blister on my shin from shin leg tape!)

2) practice going downhill with your trucking poles before you leave. There’s a definite technique to taking the weight off and while i did eventually learn this I did not have it down by the first or second day. A good outdoor shop will demonstrate their use for you. I saw many people using their poles incorrectly on the Camino. Correct use can make a huge difference to your knees shins and ankles

3) if you already have knee trouble consider having your pack sent ahead for just the Pyrenees. It was very important to me to carry my own pack but I would have had a better Camino if I had sent it ahead for just this one spot

4) buy the 600mg ibruprofen at SJPDP and take it in the morning and at lunch for the first few days and also to sleep (and in Spain you can buy otc sleeping pills that work well and don’t leave you groggy)

5) study the route carefully and don’t take the forest route down. We were tired and just wanted to get down; this route looked faster but it was raining hard and was very treacherous and added to my injury

6) when you come to any downhill take a second to study it. Especially to Roncesvalles there are parts of the trail (along the sides usually) that are not as demanding. Choose your path carefully and go slowly. Notice how you feel and adjust your step. You can go sideways or lead with a stronger leg if needed. These are things I learned after I was injured as a matter of necessity in order to keep going but I think they would have prevented injury if used from the start. as people have said there are other worse downhills (but none that are so steep, rocky and long lasting) and you will be dealing with this your entire Camino

7) lastly don’t let fear cause you to skip the Pyrenees unless you have a serious medical reason not to do so. I ended up injured but if I had it to do again, would not have skipped the beauty and sense of accomplishment I got from the portion of the journey

Good luck and Buen Camino!
 

Walking Lover

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
CdS from Leon to Santiago, June 16, 2016 to June 30, 2016.
#33
I feel your pain, literally. The decent into Roncesvalles, in the forest, lasts about 1.5-2 hours and can be quite steep, I believe that there’s a road route that you can take about half way down. There are decents all the way across Spain, coming down from the Alto de Perdon is steep too. For me, trekking poles are a must. Good luck, Buen Camino.
Be sure to use your poles to brace your footing instead of your knees and take it very slowly.
 

CaminoJN

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
May 2018
#34
"Ifyou already have knee trouble consider having your pack sent ahead for just the Pyrenees. It was very important to me to carry my own pack but I would have had a better Camino if I had sent it ahead for just this one spot

4) buy the 600mg ibruprofen at SJPDP and take it in the morning and at lunch for the first few days and also to sleep (and in Spain you can buy otc sleeping pills that work well and don’t leave you groggy) "

Great advice. I might be enjoying it more if I had done these.
 
Camino(s) past & future
2017 CF
#35
I thank you all kindly for your advices. Really I can't thank you enough. I will do my best to think harder what I shall do:
-learn walking poles
-check knees
-note down all the routes contributed by folks here
-***GET GOOD KNEE BRACES

Very grateful.

You've gotten great advice here. (I remember that drop into Zubiri was a bear!) While you focused on the front end of the trip, there are descents later that will make you very glad you brought poles.

The climbs will become easier-- you will get more fit as you walk. But descents like the one off the Alta de Perdon-- and further on, the Cruz de Hierro-- remain hard on the body.

Have a great Camino!
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances...
Sept. 2017: SJPdP to Burgos
Sept./Oct. 2018: SJPdP to Santiago de Compostela
#36
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
The good advice that you have received is great. Another thing that a lot of folks don't realize is that, given knees that have no other medical issues, it is normal for knees and ligaments to get sore and even hurt when just starting using them for downhill walking. It takes a bit of time with regular downhill workouts to strengthen the knees and its structures. It is like any other part of your body getting used to new workloads.... there will be a certain level of aches and pains which are temporary in nature. The key is to not over do the downhill walking, but build up to it a bit at a time.

Part of the reason so many folks have knee issues, who did not have any medical pre-conditions prior to Camino, is that they didn't properly include weight bearing and loading for the knees before hand. Cardiovascular exercise, muscle strengthening, foot exercises, core conditioning, etc, are all things folks think about when deciding to 'get in shape' for Camino, but targeting the knees is also a good idea.
 

lissie45

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Planning to walk Frances 2019
#37
4) buy the 600mg ibruprofen at SJPDP and take it in the morning and at lunch for the first few days and also to sleep (and in Spain you can buy otc sleeping pills that work well and don’t leave you groggy)
All of your advice made a lot of sense except this one. That dose is well-over the daily recommended amount in my country. My partner has Cardiac issues as have many others - he can't take Ibrupofen at all. My brother works in the company that makes Ibuprofin - he takes them very cautiously and as a last resort. There are worse things than sore knees https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/medicines/i/ibuprofen/ (and I have osteoarthritis of the knees)
 

alafter

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
June 2018
#38
Thank you. Can somebody please explain to me which part (like from what town to what town) would the "pyrenees" be?
 
Camino(s) past & future
2013 Camino Frances
2014 Camino Frances again
2015 The Rheinsteig
#40
I haven't read all this thread but I noticed some people walk down steep paths in a zig-zag pattern. So in effect reducing the slope. I tried it myself for a while but it didn't suit me. You do of course end up walking further....
 
Camino(s) past & future
2005 2007 Frances
2016 Leon to Santiago
#41
Follow lulumom advice plus maybe pack transport or overnight at Honto or Orisson.
Walking was ruined for my compatriot on first camino (2005) from the downhill after Leopoeder. He was a reasonably fit 60 year-old who played competitive senior tennis--but apparently had a kneecap injury 10 years earlier from a bicycle crash. After Zubiri it was a taxi to Pamplona hospital to have maybe 100 cc drained from meniscus.. No poles back then. I continued to walk and he would hitchhike, bus, taxi and we would pre-arrange an albergue/dinner meet (no cell phones then so always met at 6pm in town squares if we hadn't connected yet). He bought poles in Leon for shorter conditioning days and able to truly walk from Triacastela onward but needed another hospital visit in SdC to drain fluids again. It was still a great experience for him-- and he met a German lady in Villafranca del Bierzo cafe who he married in 2008.
 

Bogong

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
First, March 2014
#42
The drop down into Zubiri was very wet and slippery when I did it. The drop down from Alto de Perdon is bad because of loose stones some of which seem to be almost round and it’s very easy to lose your balance. The path down from Cruz de Ferro was very bad for me because of uneven rocks, snow drifts, some mud and running water. I fell over countless times, and it was unnerving in the circumstances to see small wooden crosses on the fences along the way.

If you head for the coast, the drop off into Cee is steep and rocky. Very wet when I did it, too.

In retrospect I would have loved to have had trekking poles, even if just for those few bits.

De Colores

Bogong
 

domigee

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF(x4), Fisterra/Muxía(x2), VdlP, Jerusalem, VF, Walsingham,
C inglés. 2019? Who knows! ;-)
#43
If you head for the coast, the drop off into Cee is steep and rocky. Very wet when I did it, too.

De Colores

Bogong
It isn’t rocky any more now :(
 

hotelmedicis

Commercial Interests
Camino(s) past & future
CF 2001 (+more)
VDLP 2013, 2018
#45
Wow, so many wonderful replies. I learned a lot reading through these responses. (Now I have to look up concentric vs. eccentric loads on the muscles!)
Personally I do remember how my legs burned going downhill to Roncevaux. I was with a man who actually did the entire downhill backwards so as to avoid hurting his legs. It looked dangerous to me and I wouldn't recommend it.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Plan to walk with my husband June 2018
#46
Sorry to bother everyone, but thanks for reading.

Last year I went to US with family and as I was walking downhill on a hike in the national park, i felt pains in my knees that I never felt before. It was super painful to get to the bottom. I didnt use walking sticks or any support because I have never had these problems in my life.

So now I am reading about uphill and downhill on the way to roncesvalles.

I am wondering: will walking stick help me survive this? Are the downhills as steep as the ones you do when hiking down a mountain?

PLease help, I will provide any info you want to help me assess this.

If I must save my knees for the trip I was considering riding a bus over to start in Roncesvalles

Thanks guys
Walking sticks have helped me so very much. The downhill into Roncesvalles especially if you take the more gradual route is long, steep and hard and there are several other sections along the Camino Frances which are similar.
 

paul.ferris

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2011 Camino Frances
2013 Camino Frances
2015 To be decided
#47
Another strategy is to walk the beautiful Valcarlos route from SJPdP to Roncesvalles. Steep uphill at the end, but no steep downhills. Gorgeous scenery.
 

oldrag71

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
06/11/2017
#48
Alafter....no matter what anyone else says or tells you....TAKE THE ROAD, NOT THE WOODS TRAIL DOWN THE HILL. If you take the road you will probably enjoy the rest of your trip. If you take the woods trail you probably won't. The knees, the toe nails, leg and back muscles...EVERYTHING! Take the road! If you start down the trail by accident (which we did), you have one chance a short distance down to get off of the woods trail and take the road (its like a dollar sign; the road is the "S" and the trail is the "line"), the trail will cross the road only one time a short distance after you start down it. Taking the woods doesn't make it a better or truer Camino. You can't look at the scenery because you have to watch every step for 8 mile-ish.

As for Saint Jean to Orisson and spending the night to "save your legs"; don't bother. It's too short a distance from Saint Jean to Orisson and it really won't save you legs for anything because the worst is ahead of you (from Orisson you are still going up hill and you still have to do the down hill into Roncesvalles), if I could make the walk from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles, anyone can.

Take this advise from me. I did my Camino last summer and bailed in Burgos because of what the downhill did to me. You look pretty young and should have no problem making it from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles. I was 54 years old, 300+ pounds and had 14 (yes-14!) left knee surgeries and two back surgeries. If I can make it to Burgos, you'll make it the whole way. Just do not do the down hill.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances Spring (2016)
Camino Frances Spring (2017)
Camino Frances Autumn (2018)
#49
Ask at the Pilgrim's Office in St Jean about the easier route to the right.
I have twice now walked the Valcarlos route from St Jean Pied du Port, we stayed in the Albergue in Valcarlos and had a very enjoyable time. We arrived in good shape at Roncesvalles. If you have knee issues you can send your pack ahead to Roncesvalles too.
 

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