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Route from SJPdP mid April

Maria Jo

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
April (2019)
I didn’t want to hijack another recent thread so I decided to post a new one, I apologize if it’s a little redundant. I’m a first timer hoping to walk the Napoleon and make it to Roncesvalles the first night (April 18). For those familiar with the routes and the weather, is this too ambitious?? I’m by no means an experienced backpacker, this is literally my first ever walk. I’m 46 and in fairly good shape, I love to walk/hike locally (day trips) and I’d like the challenge. However, being from a very warm climate I’m definitely not used to the cold! Honestly I hate it. If the route is deemed “passable” what’s difficulty likely to be this time of year? Is Valcarlos more realistic?? I know there’s always the option of stopping in orrison (if there’s a bed!) but I’d prefer to press on.
 

davebugg

"When I Have Your Wounded" - Dustoff Motto
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances...
Sept. 2017: SJPdP to Burgos
Sept./Oct. 2018: SJPdP to Santiago de Compostela
Would you elaborate a bit on what you mean by 'difficult'? Are you meaning the road conditions and the short sections of paths? The physical effort? Or something else?
 

Maria Jo

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
April (2019)
Would you elaborate a bit on what you mean by 'difficult'? Are you meaning the road conditions and the short sections of paths? The physical effort? Or something else?
Good point! I’m referring to difficulty due to weather and path/road conditions. I’m not worried about the general terrain, ascent, etc. If it were summer, I wouldn’t be thinking twice about it!
 

scruffy1

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Holy Year from Pamplona 2010, SJPP 2011, Lisbon 2012, Le Puy 2013, Vezelay (partial watch this space!) 2014; 2015 Toulouse-Puenta la Reina (Arles)
The first day out is difficult for even experienced walkers, great excitement and wonderment both from the scenery and from your own daring, meeting many new people all with the same motivation - people you will meet again and again as you walk, new friendships, unimaginable camaraderie until you experience it, it will be hard to hit your usual pace - certainly if you slow to take photographs and talk. Sure you can walk to Roncesvalles the first night , yes it will be cold and maybe even snow on the ground, it is a strenuous first day both ascending and later when you are tired even more so on the descent. 25k and a bit first day out of the starting gate is doable - you should consider also that second day - another 27K and a bit on to Larrasoaña. Not impossible but if as you say you not an experienced walked fairly good shape I would recommend an easier less tiring itinerary for the first week or so. Do stop at Orisson, reserve a place from the internet http://refuge-orisson.com/, the phone number is on the site maybe even call Jean-Jacques for your own peace of mind, forget the recommended distances from the guide books until you yourself feel fit and comfortable - walking well. A bit of restraint is much better than exhaustion, blisters, or disappointment.
 

davebugg

"When I Have Your Wounded" - Dustoff Motto
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances...
Sept. 2017: SJPdP to Burgos
Sept./Oct. 2018: SJPdP to Santiago de Compostela
Good point! I’m referring to difficulty due to weather and path/road conditions. I’m not worried about the general terrain, ascent, etc. If it were summer, I wouldn’t be thinking twice about it!
The Pilgrim Office in St Jean Pied de Port will have the most up-to-date conditions of the Route Napoleon, so I consider it an essential to pop in, say hello to the volunteers, get your Credencial stamped, and get the latest information about conditions and expected weather.

Outside of a rather small subset of pilgrims who stop at Orisson for the night, the large majority will walk to Roncesvalles. For those like yourself who have some level of fitness and walking experience, it should not be aggressively difficult. Myself, I would be bored silly stopping at Orisson after such a short walk and the majority of the day ahead :). I do very much enjoy stopping at Orisson for a longer break, enjoy a fresh made bocadillo and other goodies, and to increase my fluid intake with an orange Fanta or Kas or Coke Zero.

On the walk up from SJPdP to the high point near the Col de Lepoeder, the majority of the walk is on hard-packed or paved surfaces, so they are less affected by wet ground conditions. There are some substantial sections which get soggy with deep mud if there has been a lot of rain a or still dealing with snow melt runoff.

On the descent to Roncesvalles, the less steep grade is on the narrow and paved lane. Not a whole lot of problems with wet unless one's shoes lack basic traction. The other choice down is the forest trail which is about a kilometer or two shorter, but more risky, especially for the inexperienced.

In bad weather, Valcarlos is likely to be the recommended route by the Pilgrim Office. As to energy expenditure and challenge to one's fitness, it is NOT going to be easier. Although the total elevation gain is about 300 meters less than on Napoleon, there is far more ups and downs as the route frequently gains and then looses elevation. The final stretch into Roncesvalles id done at a steeper gradient than that seen on Napoleon. It is shorter, though. :)
 
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twh

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances May/June, 2018
Porto-Muxia-Finisterre Oct (2019)
Hello Marie Jo, all of the advice above is rock solid. Here is another opinion.

4 things: weather and clothing, conditioning – flat land or hills, community/camaraderie, good start bad start.

Weather can change very quickly in the Mountains. Warm and sunny to a bitter cold blinding blizzard in minutes. Your travel dates increase the likely hood of experiencing weather extremes. You must be prepared with clothing for the blinding blizzard and a plan of action (turn around, keep going, call a taxi) if you find yourself in this situation. At a minimum you need to pack a warm hat, warm puffy down jacket, quality rain gear – Jacket with hood and pants (will double as wind breaker to keep you warm when cold but not raining) and warm water resistant/ water proof gloves/mittens. You will produce a fair amount of body heat due to the steep grade and constant movement of the strenuous walk. I crossed the Pyrenees a month later than you last May 2018. It was cold and wet. There was some snow on the ground. It mostly rained but snowed a little during the hike. Fortunately there was no wind. It was very foggy. The forest route down the hill to Roncevalles was closed due to a layer of ice covering the rocks. I had a head start due to staying overnight in Orisson. I had a supportive, fun Camino family to walk with due to staying overnight in Orisson

Did you train in Atlanta on flat ground or hills? The ability to walk 15 miles on flat ground does not translate well to 15 miles up a mountain with 3,600 feet of elevation gain and 1,300 feet of descent. With no training most fit 40 yr olds can complete the task but at what cost? If you are flying home the next day it doesn’t really matter. If you have another 480 miles in front of you, the “cost” does matter. I trained on flat land sidewalks in a park and never felt challenged…never felt like I was building muscle or endurance. A month before the Camino I made a new route along the streets of the hilly neighborhood I live in. With my pack fully loaded I could barely walk up the first hill. I trained hard that last month and at the end I could breeze up and down the 10 miles of hills and I breezed up and down the hills of the Camino. Without being conditioned by hill walking, those first days would have been much less fun.

Camaraderie and Community. If you are walking starting out solo, you may have a few acquaintances when you leave SJPdP for Roncevalles. If you stay overnight in Orrison, you leave the next morning with family and friendships due to the community dinner you will experience. This family will travel with you over the next 500 miles and many of those friends will be the best relationships you have on the Camino. There is something magical about the night in Orisson. Ultimately, the essence of the trip is about the people you meet on this journey. In retrospect I would have gladly paid $500 to spend the night in Orrison if I knew in advance the friendships I would be so honored to receive. My story about Orisson is not unique. Everyone I know who has stayed there felt the same.

Good Start / Bad Start to your Camino. The start can make a huge difference in how you feel about the Camino. It sets the stage regarding your attitude which determines if you are happy, excited and open to every experience each day or the opposite. Splitting SJPdP to Roncevalles into two days increases you chances of a good start. Get a reservation in Orrison for day 1 of your hike and a reservation for day 2 in Roncevalles. Do this NOW as Orisson fills up quickly months ahead of time and Roncevalles can be booked out also but it’s much less likely. Sleep in late at SJPdP, have a big breakfast and take a relaxing 8 km, 1,800 foot elevation hike to Orrison knowing you have a good bed for the night and a great dinner and some relaxation time for photography or journaling or meeting your fellow travelers over a café con leche or Estrella after arriving. Your legs and feet will get a good workout and then a long rest. The chance for blisters, ankle twists and muscle pulls is reduced and you have time to attend to any issues that may develop. You’ll get a chance to test your gear if there is inclement weather and have the luxury of exiting that bad weather in a short time for a hot shower and warm room. And you will meet some people, speak a little French a little Spanish and a lot of English to people from all over the world. It will be a really nice transition day. On day 2 to Roncevalles you can again sleep in late due to the shorter distance (by 8.5 km and 1,800 feet of climbing) that you did yesterday. You will leave with your new family around you, not clinging to you but accompanying you like guardian angles for the rest of the trip. The walk to Roncevalles will be a good physical challenge but easily doable. The weather, if nasty will be less consequential due to the shorter distance and all the good vibes around you. You may arrive with some hotspots and soreness that you will have time to attend to before dinner along with a hot shower. You won’t feel rushed. Your body will have the wear and tear of the Pyrenees crossing spilt over 48 hours or two shorter days instead of one VERY long day without extended stresses on all your weak or vulnerable points. You will be in good shape for the next day of hiking after leaving Roncevalles. This is a good start.

Arriving in Roncevalles with a bad attitude due to weather, conditioning, blisters, sore muscles and annoying happy people surrounding you who spent the previous night in Orisson is a bad start. It’s not uncommon for blisters & physical issues to snowball from here as you try to keep up each day with more injuries and then arrive in Pamplona and need some medical attention and several days rest off your feet all because of that first long day. Definitely a bad start so do what you can to have a good start. The best advice I got before my trip was to spend a night in Orisson. And remember it's not a race or something to get through quickly so you can get on to the next thing....this IS the THING. Try to live in the present and soak up every moment.

Edit on 3/3/2019:
Don’t despair if you can’t get the Orisson experience. You will have plenty of other opportunities for communal dinner experiences and you will have the opportunity to meet new wonderful people in every mile you walk, every break you take and meal you eat…if you want that. Each communal dinner opportunity has a different vibe to it. The dinner experience at Orisson is different in a couple of ways. The space is much more familiar looking than a “standard” albergue if you don’t have a lot of dormitory, hostel experience. Orrisson has an intimate mountain lodge atmosphere compared to every other albergue I experienced on the Camino…very warm and inviting with a big fireplace, lots of wooden beams spiced up with some modern artwork on the walls. The food was very good and seemed to be unlimited as well as the wine. They did not advertise unlimited food and drink but that was the experience I witnessed and partook in. Before your plate was empty they brought out another big bowl of potatoes or vegetables or meat to your table and kept on doing this until you could eat no more. The same thing with the wine and the service was excellent. I did not experience unlimited food or unlimited wine individually, much less together, anywhere else on the Camino. And the quality of the food and wine was better than any other Albergue I stayed at. It was more expensive by about 10 Euros. I think it was 35 Euro for the night that included dinner and breakfast and for another 5 Euro they made you a sandwich/bocadillo to take with you for lunch when you departed the next morning. The typical private albergue on the Camino was 13 Euro for the bed plus 10 Euro for the pilgrim dinner if they had a kitchen or restaurant attached. The good food and wine, warm attractive atmosphere, hungry and happy people after the first day of a beautiful and short hike all combine to make this a special experience. The communal dinners after this are different and different is a good thing when traveling. The next one may be special due to the religious experience or history of the building but you may finish dinner wishing you had been offered some more food and wine. Orisson is just a great transition stop especially if it’s your first Camino. But you can get as many communal dinner experiences as you want over the next 30 days.
 
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t2andreo

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
C/F: 2013, 2014
C/M: 2016
C/P: 2015, 2017
C/I: 2018
Voluntario: 2014 to 2018
ALL of the posts above are SPOT ON. If you follow them, you cannot go wrong.

In summary, I advise making a reservation at Refuge Orisson, as suggested above as well.
  • Check with the Pilgrim Office, #39 Rue de la Citadelle to ascertain if the Napoleon Pass is open. It is open for the season on 1 April, but local authorities reserve the right to close it on a daily basis should snow fall and make the passage more dangerous.
  • The first 8 Km out of SJPdP is challenging for the first day, to most any hiker. Refuge Orisson is around the bend at the 8.5 km mark. That is why so many people stay there the first night. Picking up a two-dozen strong Camino family at dinner that night is the bonus.
  • After Orisson, the remaining 18 or so km is relatively easy peasy. Each day, your strength and confidence will grow.
  • Yes, as others have said, you CAN make it to Roncesvalles the first day. But WHY?
Hope this helps.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Spring 2016: Camino Frances, Finisterre and Muxia
April 2019: Frances, Salvador, Primitivo
Another vote for making sure you check in at the Pilgrim office in SJPP -- for information about the routes and for the friendly people you will meet there.

In 2016 I began walking April 22. There was some snow (and fog) on the Napoleon, it was quite cold, but it was a beautiful walk (I did stay at Orisson). But: the Napoleon was closed a few days before me and it closed again for a few days after me.

This year I begin walking on April 11. I do have a reservation at Orisson again, but would not be surprised if I had to change my plans.

So do be cautious. Stay informed. And Buen Camino!
 

Terry Ruttger

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (2017); Finisterre (2018)
Remember jet lag and if you give yourself a rest day before you start. I did neither and thought I was going to die! I had been up 36 hours with a 9 hour time difference and little sleep in St Jean (lost my wax earplugs). Orisson was a godsend and I slept 5 hours before dinner. The next day (day 2) was a magical, enjoyable experience. Rest and sleep ——
 

tpmchugh

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2013)
Camino Frances (2015)
I didn’t want to hijack another recent thread so I decided to post a new one, I apologize if it’s a little redundant. I’m a first timer hoping to walk the Napoleon and make it to Roncesvalles the first night (April 18). For those familiar with the routes and the weather, is this too ambitious?? I’m by no means an experienced backpacker, this is literally my first ever walk. I’m 46 and in fairly good shape, I love to walk/hike locally (day trips) and I’d like the challenge. However, being from a very warm climate I’m definitely not used to the cold! Honestly I hate it. If the route is deemed “passable” what’s difficulty likely to be this time of year? Is Valcarlos more realistic?? I know there’s always the option of stopping in orrison (if there’s a bed!) but I’d prefer to press on.
I would stop in Orisson for the amazing experience. The weather can turn very nasty without warning at that time of year. Although a week earlier than that, I started up last April in glorious sunshine, stopped in Orisson just before the wind and rain hit. Next morning, I started up the road and before I came to the point where camino and road finally part, the wind and rain was a nightmare. By the time I crossed the border, it was hail rain and snow all the way to Roncesvalles. It was bad enough being caught in that weather early in the day but later on when I would have been really tired does not bear thinking about. It may sound like a challenge but push yourself too hard on the first couple of days just for a 'challenge' could result in your camino ending early. A young man once said to me that he had just done 40km as he wanted to test his body. I asked him what he would have done if his body had failed the test. I met him next day as he came crawling into the albergue I had stopped in two hours earlier. He reckoned he had just about passed the test the day before but had just had a really hard post graduate day. He was in no fit state to go for dinner. He was 25 and I was 67. Both got to the same place but I was a lot happier than he was. Take it easy for the first couple of days and get yourself into a routine slowly. Valcarlos route is fairly level for most of the day but then when you are tired, you have to climb the equivalent of the steep road to Orisson at the end of the day. Once again, I would suggest breaking it into two days and stopping in Valcarlos. Given what you say about your experience, two days seems to me to be the most sensible. Personally, I would not dream of doing it in one day but then, I am slow old 70 year old
 

NorthernLight

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
I've walked SJPDP to Roncesvalles three times, once via Valcarlos and twice via the Napoleon. All times were straight through in long days. I got no blisters - good, properly fitting footwear is key.

If I were to do Valcarlos again, I would spend a night there. The route after Valcarlos is the hard part, so why not be fresh. When I do Napoleon again, it'll be straight through. The only appeal Orisson has for me is the prospect of sunrise up there. The first time I did the high road, Orisson was closed. The second time, the coffee and snack were welcome.

The track - once off the tarmac - was dry for me, so I was lucky. I remember the stretch just after you leave the tarmac was a dirt path with rocks and ruts, so pay attention to where you put your feet. That doesn't last too long before you are back onto a groomed dirt road. I choose the road down the mountain instead of the forest path because it has lovely views, less risk to my body, and my previous info was that route is only 400 metres longer.

Stay or not at Orisson. There seems to be a marked bias from forum members to tell everyone to book and stay there. Only a tiny number of pilgrims stop there, the rest get to Roncesvalles and have a source of prideful conversation with everyone about the achievement.

You will meet as many lovely people in other places. You will find your own 'family' if you want one. You will meet many like-minded people at coffee stops, in the bunks around you, when you pause to put on a poncho and other pilgrims help adjust it over your pack. You'll start to see familiar faces as you settle into your speed. Some will become your family if you want.

No disrespect for those with positive experiences, but I've met some pretty dysfunctional camino families along the way, with people bowing to the group plan rather than listening to their body or their spirit, with people anxious about speeding up or slowing down to keep to the group's schedule.

It's your camino. Make your own -respectful, informed - decisions.
 

Maria Jo

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
April (2019)
I would like to thank everyone who provided such thoughtful responses! I really appreciate the time and insight you’ve given. For a newbie it’s such a tough call, given the fact that Orrison must be booked so far in advance. I’d love to just see how I feel when I reach Orrison, depending on my energy level, the weather, etc. but that doesn’t seem to be an option. Sounds like If I don’t prebook I’m out of luck.
I neglected to mention that I’ve only got about 12 days to walk before I must return home. Although I do not want to feel rushed and I do NOT plan on making it a race, I would like to get as much walking in as I can before I must cut my Camino short (hopefully to return again at a later date). This is probably the driving force behind my wanting to reach Roncesvalles on day 1.
 

Felipe

Veteran Member
SJPP to Roncesvalles in one stage is perfectly doable. Just consider the paved road option at Lepoeder pass, which is considerably easier. Actually, the map of the Pilgrim's bureau at SJPP does not recommend the forest option (which anyway, most pilgrims seems to prefer).
12 days will take you to Burgos (big city, and a transportation hub), or in a more leisurely walk, to Belorado or Agés. If it is these latter, Autobuses Jiménez will be your choice to Burgos. See the Burgos-Logroño-Zaragoza schedules.
Buen camino!
 

twh

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances May/June, 2018
Porto-Muxia-Finisterre Oct (2019)
Maria Jo - I think it was mentioned but in case you forgot or did not understand you can decide to stop when you reach Orisson or other points further up the road if you are not feeling up to the walk all the way to Roncevalles. Without a reservation it is unlikely Orisson will have an open bed but you can stop in and ask. If they are full, you can be 100% sure that you can call a taxi to pick you up, bring you back to SJPdP to spend the night, and then take another taxi the next morning to the point where you stopped the day before. It is a very short ride for a car traveling 8.5 km Please consider this option if you need it.

If possible, just walk a comfortable pace, stop and smell the poppys, pet the dogs, take pictures, try out the food and drink at each cafe, bar, road side stand that looks appealing, start up conversations with everyone you see and after day 11, figure out where you are and what transportation arrangements you need to make to get to your airport on day 12. Trying to reach a particular place by a particular date that requires rushing or constant vigilance and worry for ME would be a sad way to experience the Camino. I'm sure you will figure out what is right for you. Buen Camino
 

dgallen

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (5), Portuguese, Norte, Primitivo(2), Aragones, Finisterre/Muxia (3), Camino del Rey
Late to the party on this thread, but since I'll throw in my 2 cents since I'm doing yet another Camino this year and plan to stay in Orisson. I'll arrive on the train that arrives in SJPdP at around 1300h on April 1st, head directly to the Pilgrim Office to get a passport and find out the conditions on the mountain and immediately start walking. It typically takes me 3 hours to get to Orisson at a leisurely uphill pace. I've walked both the Napoleon and Valcarlos routes many times (and even the variant "original" St-Michel route), and probably prefer the Napoleon, which even though is higher, is more gradual climb than that last nasty steep uphill bit on the Valcarlos. Both routes are beautiful, maybe a little more "near" road walking on the Valarlos, and certainly better views on the Napoleon. And there is something special about walking across the cattle grate border crossing between France and Spain on the Napoleon.

I generally walk on through from SJPdP to Roncesvalles, but have stayed at the Valcarlos albergue and it is very good. The restaurant in Valcarlos serves a good pilgrim menu and there is a grocery store if you want to buy food to cook at the albergue. The door for the albergue is combination lock, so you may need to go to the bar around the corner to get the combination.

I've never stayed overnight at Orisson but had breakfast there many times and it is a beautiful spot. As others have said walking straight through is very doable, but it is a long first day, and I've seen even fit people walk the 25km the first day and wreck their feet, knees or exhaust themselves, making the next couple of days to Pamplona or beyond a little hellish. Weather can also put a damper (no pun intended) on things and although the trails have improved over the years by being paved or firmed up some of the muddier sections in rain/snow between SJPdP and Pamplona, it can slow you down a bit and tire you out. The steep downhill just before Zubiri can be a fun in the rain, and have a number of times had to crab walk down the slippery rocks. Luckily lots of places to stop for coffee and dry out along the way after Roncesvalles.

Zubiri has lots of albergue choices these days, and is the perfect stop to break up the walk and make the walk Pamplona the following day a breeze. By then your camino fitness and routine will start to kick in.

cheers.
 

wileybones

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, April/May 2019
I would like to thank everyone who provided such thoughtful responses! I really appreciate the time and insight you’ve given. For a newbie it’s such a tough call, given the fact that Orrison must be booked so far in advance. I’d love to just see how I feel when I reach Orrison, depending on my energy level, the weather, etc. but that doesn’t seem to be an option. Sounds like If I don’t prebook I’m out of luck.
I neglected to mention that I’ve only got about 12 days to walk before I must return home. Although I do not want to feel rushed and I do NOT plan on making it a race, I would like to get as much walking in as I can before I must cut my Camino short (hopefully to return again at a later date). This is probably the driving force behind my wanting to reach Roncesvalles on day 1.
Hi Maria Jo,
This is our first Camino as well, and we'll be setting out shortly before you. We decided to book into Orisson the first night (15th) and Roncesvalles the second (16th). But one of our concerns was what if the weather either prevented us from even reaching Orisson, or what if we reached Orisson, but couldn't continue on the Napoleon route to Roncesvalles. So I reached out to Jean-Jacques with my question, and he graciously replied that in the event we can't even reach Orisson, we will not be charged. And if we cannot continue from Orisson on the Napoleon route, we would be shuttled to Valcarlos after our stay. Only later did I see that Refuge Orisson does not take credit cards, so of course we aren't charged if we can't even get there.
 

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