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SJPDP to Roncesvalles. Stop in Valcarlos? Or go the Napoleon Route?

2020 Camino Guides

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
Hey guys, I'll start on 5 May.
Now, I'm totally torn on a few things.
First off, I'm flying to San Sebastian, and I booked a night there, but now I'm having second thoughts. Like maybe I should spend two days in SJPDP, and relax and enjoy before starting on May 5th. Or, just spend one night in SJPDP between May 3 and 4 and start off directly on May 4th. (That will give me the chance to stop in between, before getting to Roncesvalles.)
However, I have gotten another doubt. The weather at the beginning of May is notorious in the mountains to be quite moody and it could quickly go from sunshine to torrential rain. (I'll cross other mountains in O'Cebreiro anyway, so.) Now, the pilgrim's office will tell me about it, but still, you never know. Aside from the fact that they could tell me the road is closed in the first place due to bad conditions. So, I was taking into consideration that I could simply decide to take the Valcarlos route to get to Roncesvalles, but I've seen on Google that it takes more than seven hours without breaks. So, should I split it into two parts and stop in Valcarlos? Or should I take the plunge and go directly to Roncesvalles, walking at least 7 hours and a half? (Maybe it'll take a couple of hours more considering a few stops.)
If I do it in one day though, I could spend two days in SJPDP. (Or one day in San Sebastian and one day in St. Jean.)
What would you guys do?
p.s. I know I could stop at Orrison, but there's only one refuge there, aside from what I previously pointed out.
EDIT: I forgot something. Is it true that the Napoleon Route takes less time to get you to Roncesvalles?
(Anyway, I have read beautiful things about the Valcarlos route in terms of views, landscapes, nature, and so on.)
Thanks!
 
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falcon269

no commercial interests
Camino(s) past & future
LePuy, Frances, Aragones, Ingles, Vezelay, Toulosana, Muxia, Fisterra, Portugues, Sanabres
Both take about the same amount of time. The stop is very nice at Valcarlos. If there is fog, you won't see anything on the Napolean route. On the Valcarlos route, you need to turn around and look back sometimes in order to see the view. Still, it has a lot of views from high places. In wet weather the Valcarlos route avoids some treacherous footing descending into Roncesvalles. Your choice!!:)
 

GaryAus

Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF December 2017
I went Valcarlos route because it was winter and Napoleon route was closed. SJPP to Valcarlos was a 4 hour or so walk and was very nice along country roads mostly. Bit hilly in places but not too bad. Great albergue in Valcarlos, down the stairs behind the square, and good bar / shop for food and drinks. Next day to Roncesvalles a lot harder. Only 14kms but hard work. Have not walked Napoleon so cant compare but Valcarlos route was very picturesque and it was good to break the SJPP to Roncesvalles section into 2.
 

Bradypus

Antediluvian
Staff member
Camino(s) past & future
Too many and too often!
I have walked both the Route Napoleon and the Valcarlos route. My personal preference is for the Route Napoleon. I do not think there is a huge difference in walking time and I find the scenery on the higher route more attractive. The great majority of people choose the Route Napoleon: the much larger crowd may be a plus or a minus for you depending on your preferences. Unless you have serious concerns about your fitness I would not be too anxious about breaking your journey with a stay in Valcarlos or Orisson. There seems to be an ever-growing fixation with the idea that the whole stage from SJPDP to Roncesvalles is too long and difficult for most people to tackle in one day. The reality is that the great majority of people make the crossing in a single day without any serious difficulty and by mid-afternoon most of them are already milling around the albergue at Roncesvalles in the hope of finding a bed!
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
I have walked both the Route Napoleon and the Valcarlos route. My personal preference is for the Route Napoleon. I do not think there is a huge difference in walking time and I find the scenery on the higher route more attractive. The great majority of people choose the Route Napoleon: the much larger crowd may be a plus or a minus for you depending on your preferences. Unless you have serious concerns about your fitness I would not be too anxious about breaking your journey with a stay in Valcarlos or Orisson. There seems to be an ever-growing fixation with the idea that the whole stage from SJPDP to Roncesvalles is too long and difficult for most people to tackle in one day. The reality is that the great majority of people make the crossing in a single day without any serious difficulty and by mid-afternoon most of them are already milling around the albergue at Roncesvalles in the hope of finding a bed!
Ok thanks!
I'm actually fascinated by both routes, so it's hard to decide. I'm overthinking it! :)
So, ok, if it's good weather I can safely say I shouldn't have problems walking it all in one day. That's not what concerns me. What I'm afraid of, it's actually being struck by a sudden thunderstorm without any chance of shelter. That's really my only fear. (That's why I was undecided whether to split it into two or take the shortest route.)
 

wanderfrau

Member
Camino(s) past & future
May 2018 Camino Frances
May 2019 Camino Portugués
I enjoyed walking the Napoleon route in the mist and fog. From Orisson onward it’s not much of a climb if I remember correctly. Roncesvalles was not my thing . If I would do it again I would push on to the next village.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, 2015
Here is a possibility. From Pamplona bus to Roncevalles. Stay there or in nearby Burgette.

In the morning get the weather report for two days. Decide what route to walk the camino in reverse (Roncevalles to SJPdP). Spend the night in SJ and walk back the other route and stay in the albergue you didn't the first night. This way you have an additional chance for a good day to walk the Napoleon. You have that extra day anyway.
 

RJM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
A few times
I would not give much thought to the weather right now because there is no way to know. Just wing it when you get there. If you are fit and rested the walk from Saint Jean to Roncesvalles by either route is not that difficult.
 

CWBuff

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
in Planning stage: Frances (SJPdP --> SdC) & Finisterre "2021"
What I'm afraid of, it's actually being struck by a sudden thunderstorm without any chance of shelter. That's really my only fear. (That's why I was undecided whether to split it into two or take the shortest route.)
First I completely agree with everyone who said you will have to make determination "on the spot" as nobody can predict the weather (esp. couple of months in advance)
That said - say the weather is nice and balmy...and then you get struck by that thunderstorm WAAAY-after you passed Orisson\Valcarlos (pending on the route you decide to take)? You are worried about the unpredictable and 'an unpredictable' can pop up at any moment anywhere.
So... IMHO - make the determination which route to take based on the "current conditions" of the moment, Say a Prayer (or two), "commit" and Buen Camino!!!! :)
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
First I completely agree with everyone who said you will have to make determination "on the spot" as nobody can predict the weather (esp. couple of months in advance)
That said - say the weather is nice and balmy...and then you get struck by that thunderstorm WAAAY-after you passed Orisson\Valcarlos (pending on the route you decide to take)? You are worried about the unpredictable and 'an unpredictable' can pop up at any moment anywhere.
So... IMHO - make the determination which route to take based on the "current conditions" of the moment, Say a Prayer (or two), "commit" and Buen Camino!!!! :)
Yeh I agreee :) It's completely unpredictable now. It can happen right after Orisson or Valcarlos like you rightly pointed out.
 
Camino(s) past & future
(2015) Frances
(2018) Portuguese
(2019) VdP Seville to Salamanca
(2020) VdP Salamanca to Santiago
I didn’t see a response to your query about staying an extra night in SJPD. I did and it was a good decision. Yes, it is a tourist town and you want to start walking. But giving it two days let’s you both wind down and wind up for the walk. There are quite a few good Basque restaurants in the town and it’s nice after the plane ride to just sit down, take a breath, recheck all that you need, purchase anything that you’ve forgotten, dump what you really don’t need, and do a final check on the weather. The end goal should be not to see how quickly you get something done.
 

biarritzdon

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF11, CF12, CP13, CF14, CA15, S.Anton15, CF&CI15
Ditch Pig16, CF&CP17, CdN18, CM18, CF18, LePuy19
If the weather is nice in San Sebastian I would stay there an extra cay. It is great beach resort with some of the finish tapas in all of Spain.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
Yes, there is only one refuge there and it really needs to be booked in advance if you want to stay there.
Right, and if I booked in advance and the weather sucked, the road would be closed and I'll lose the money.
Hmmm... I think I'll just figure it out in the morning and if the weather is completely clear I'll take the Napoleon, but I'll stop at Orrison just for lunch and a break, and then head directly to Roncesvalles. Else, I'll go the Valcarlos way. And if the weather is really, really bad, I'll spend one more night in SJPDP. That's what they do at the Everest's base camp. They get stuck for weeks sometimes before starting the climb. Not that I have done that, but I've seen it in the documentaries. :)
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
If the weather is nice in San Sebastian I would stay there an extra cay. It is great beach resort with some of the finish tapas in all of Spain.
Right, but I really want to get into the 'Camino mood' as soon as I can. So, I think I'd rather spend a couple of days in St. Jean. :) Plus, San Sebastian is way more expensive!
 
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Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
Another option is the Express Bourricot Mountain Shuttle

View attachment 53998
Oh, thanks for this, though we are here for walking. :) So, I'd rather spend more time in SJPDP until the weather clears. But good to know anyway; one never knows what happens and even if somebody might need it. Thanks!
 

domigee

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2020? Hopefully Via de Bayona/Burgos to Ponferrada/Camino de Invierno
Hmmm... I think I'll just figure it out in the morning and if the weather is completely clear I'll take the Napoleon, but I'll stop at Orrison just for lunch and a break, and then head directly to Roncesvalles.
Pay a visit to the Pilgrims’ office in St Jean, they are well informed on the weather. Same with Orisson, if in doubt, ask them.
Buen camino.
 

trecile

Camino Addict
Camino(s) past & future
Francés (2016 & 2017), Norte (2018), Francés-Salvador-Norte (2019), Portuguese (2019)
Oh, thanks for this, though we are here for walking. :) So, I'd rather spend more time in SJPDP until the weather clears. But good to know anyway; one never knows what happens and even if somebody might need it. Thanks!
The way that the Mountain Shuttle works you do walk the whole way, but over two days, returning to SJPdP overnight. Then the next morning they drive you to where you left off the previous day.
 

Macman

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy - Pamplona (2017)
Camino Portugues (2017)
Camino del Norte (2018)
Pamplona - Muxia (2019)
Hey guys, I'll start on 5 May.
Now, I'm totally torn on a few things.
First off, I'm flying to San Sebastian, and I booked a night there, but now I'm having second thoughts. Like maybe I should spend two days in SJPDP, and relax and enjoy before starting on May 5th. Or, just spend one night in SJPDP between May 3 and 4 and start off directly on May 4th. (That will give me the chance to stop in between, before getting to Roncesvalles.)
However, I have gotten another doubt. The weather at the beginning of May is notorious in the mountains to be quite moody and it could quickly go from sunshine to torrential rain. (I'll cross other mountains in O'Cebreiro anyway, so.) Now, the pilgrim's office will tell me about it, but still, you never know. Aside from the fact that they could tell me the road is closed in the first place due to bad conditions. So, I was taking into consideration that I could simply decide to take the Valcarlos route to get to Roncesvalles, but I've seen on Google that it takes more than seven hours without breaks. So, should I split it into two parts and stop in Valcarlos? Or should I take the plunge and go directly to Roncesvalles, walking at least 7 hours and a half? (Maybe it'll take a couple of hours more considering a few stops.)
If I do it in one day though, I could spend two days in SJPDP. (Or one day in San Sebastian and one day in St. Jean.)
What would you guys do?
p.s. I know I could stop at Orrison, but there's only one refuge there, aside from what I previously pointed out.
EDIT: I forgot something. Is it true that the Napoleon Route takes less time to get you to Roncesvalles?
(Anyway, I have read beautiful things about the Valcarlos route in terms of views, landscapes, nature, and so on.)
Thanks!
San Sebastián is worth a visit in itself...
Two years ago, I had a rest day in St Jean, after walking from Le Puy, and used it to do a day walk over the Napoleon Route, to wel past Orrison, but the mist and fog obscured all, on the plateau, until I was descending back to St Jean. I still enjoyed the walk, but had a much easier time of it with a very light pack, compared to those toiling up the hill with full packs.
The next day, I walked up to Valcarlos and stayed overnight. There was a bit of walking on the main road, but the walks on the side roads are worth it, especially down into the valley near the streams before Valcarlos.
Whatever you decide, enjoy!
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
San Sebastián is worth a visit in itself...
Two years ago, I had a rest day in St Jean, after walking from Le Puy, and used it to do a day walk over the Napoleon Route, to wel past Orrison, but the mist and fog obscured all, on the plateau, until I was descending back to St Jean. I still enjoyed the walk, but had a much easier time of it with a very light pack, compared to those toiling up the hill with full packs.
The next day, I walked up to Valcarlos and stayed overnight. There was a bit of walking on the main road, but the walks on the side roads are worth it, especially down into the valley near the streams before Valcarlos.
Whatever you decide, enjoy!
Thanks. This could be another way to approach it. So, I might take it into consideration because I'll stay in St. Jean for two days.
 
D

Deleted member 80312

Guest
Hey guys, I'll start on 5 May.
Now, I'm totally torn on a few things.
First off, I'm flying to San Sebastian, and I booked a night there, but now I'm having second thoughts. Like maybe I should spend two days in SJPDP, and relax and enjoy before starting on May 5th. Or, just spend one night in SJPDP between May 3 and 4 and start off directly on May 4th. (That will give me the chance to stop in between, before getting to Roncesvalles.)
However, I have gotten another doubt. The weather at the beginning of May is notorious in the mountains to be quite moody and it could quickly go from sunshine to torrential rain. (I'll cross other mountains in O'Cebreiro anyway, so.) Now, the pilgrim's office will tell me about it, but still, you never know. Aside from the fact that they could tell me the road is closed in the first place due to bad conditions. So, I was taking into consideration that I could simply decide to take the Valcarlos route to get to Roncesvalles, but I've seen on Google that it takes more than seven hours without breaks. So, should I split it into two parts and stop in Valcarlos? Or should I take the plunge and go directly to Roncesvalles, walking at least 7 hours and a half? (Maybe it'll take a couple of hours more considering a few stops.)
If I do it in one day though, I could spend two days in SJPDP. (Or one day in San Sebastian and one day in St. Jean.)
What would you guys do?
p.s. I know I could stop at Orrison, but there's only one refuge there, aside from what I previously pointed out.
EDIT: I forgot something. Is it true that the Napoleon Route takes less time to get you to Roncesvalles?
(Anyway, I have read beautiful things about the Valcarlos route in terms of views, landscapes, nature, and so on.)
Thanks!
For a first time definitely take the Valcarlos rute. I have done it twice, then once the Ruta Napoleon for the experience.
The Ruta Valcarlos is the authentic historical pilgrims' way and it is scenically more beautiful and historically more significant. It was along this valley that Charlemgne (Carl the Great) invaded Spain, and then retreated after heavy fighting against the Basques - hence the name Valcarlos (Carle's Valley), and the route was the main pilgrims' route until Briereley published his first edition in 2003, in which he started recommending the Ruta Napoleon for its supposed scenic values. On my first stopover at Valcarlos in 2010, the landlady at whose private pension I stayed, bitterly complained that "she could not understand why pligrims used to always stop over at their village, and then they stopped all of a sudden a few years ago, and they started taking the Ruta Napoleon. This stoppage had deprived many residents of Valcarlos of their livelihood, since it had been based on serving the flow of pilgrims." It did not take more than looking at the first page of Brierley's guide to understand the reason for the change of route preference ever since 2003.
Also, pilgrims tend to ignore Brierley's warning, that the Napoleon route should not be attempted in bad weather, when it becomes quite deadly. On the night I stayed at Valcarlos, the local radio announced the death of a young pilgrim woman, by a fall into an abyss on the Ruta Napoleon (just like the "son" in the American movie The Way did). And the next evening at Roncesvalles Posada, two completely drenched elderly Australian women had barely managed to come down from the Napoleon height, horrified by the almost fatal sliding down the steep hillside in the middle of a violent rainstorm.
In 2017 I decided to check for myself the Ruta Napoleon. This route's only claim to fame, as I had learned from many sources, was that Napoleon's army (without Napoleon himself!) used it to invade Spain in 1808, nothing more. Well, in 2017 I found the climb up until the Horisson albergue very difficult, without the compensation of spectacular views promised by Brierley, despite the fine weather. The next day was foggy all day long, so there was no view to be seen all around. Furthermore, I felt cheated even on the choice of path I was made to take, because, in order to eliminate the frequent falls into the abyss and deaths that used to take place along the old path, a new, safer, treck was devised, which had nothing to recommend itself, not even the few landmarks that appeared in previous guidebooks.
So, to sum it all: Stick to the true historical pilgrims route of Valcarlos and don't be tempted by the false popularity of Napoleon Route.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Robert Nystrom

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (2016, SJPP-Santiago),Portuguese Central (2017, Lisboa-Santiago),Camino Primitivo (2018)
Hey guys, I'll start on 5 May.
Now, I'm totally torn on a few things.
First off, I'm flying to San Sebastian, and I booked a night there, but now I'm having second thoughts. Like maybe I should spend two days in SJPDP, and relax and enjoy before starting on May 5th. Or, just spend one night in SJPDP between May 3 and 4 and start off directly on May 4th. (That will give me the chance to stop in between, before getting to Roncesvalles.)
However, I have gotten another doubt. The weather at the beginning of May is notorious in the mountains to be quite moody and it could quickly go from sunshine to torrential rain. (I'll cross other mountains in O'Cebreiro anyway, so.) Now, the pilgrim's office will tell me about it, but still, you never know. Aside from the fact that they could tell me the road is closed in the first place due to bad conditions. So, I was taking into consideration that I could simply decide to take the Valcarlos route to get to Roncesvalles, but I've seen on Google that it takes more than seven hours without breaks. So, should I split it into two parts and stop in Valcarlos? Or should I take the plunge and go directly to Roncesvalles, walking at least 7 hours and a half? (Maybe it'll take a couple of hours more considering a few stops.)
If I do it in one day though, I could spend two days in SJPDP. (Or one day in San Sebastian and one day in St. Jean.)
What would you guys do?
p.s. I know I could stop at Orrison, but there's only one refuge there, aside from what I previously pointed out.
EDIT: I forgot something. Is it true that the Napoleon Route takes less time to get you to Roncesvalles?
(Anyway, I have read beautiful things about the Valcarlos route in terms of views, landscapes, nature, and so on.)
Thanks!
I was going to suggest you might be over thinking it. Part of a Camino is going with the flow, what feels good/right in the moment. I actually left SJPP 5 May (2016). Had beautiful mild sunny weather - a few days later I heard it was sleeting sideways! Spring in the Pyrenees! Before SJJP I was in Barcelona and San Sebastián - San Sebastián is GORGEOUS... and bonus, the ‘foodie’ capital of Spain. You might think about 2 nights there to adjust if you’ve had long flights - easy bus through Pamplona to SJPP (only to walk back!). My suggestion? Don’t over plan, but yes, think through all the options and then choose YOUR ‘Way’ once you’re present and on the ground. Buen Camino!!!
 

Bradypus

Antediluvian
Staff member
Camino(s) past & future
Too many and too often!
and the route was the main pilgrims' route until Briereley published his first edition in 2003, in which he started recommending the Ruta Napoleon for its supposed scenic values
Not so. I walked the Camino Frances twice before Brierley's guide was published - in 1990 and 2002. On both those times the higher route was by far the most popular. Very few people chose the Valcarlos route. In the first comprehensive guide to the Camino Frances published in 1984 Don Elias Valiña gives the Route Napoleon as his first option, with the Valcarlos route as an alternative. The majority preference for the Route Napoleon long predates Brierley's guide.
 

Kathar1na

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Santiago and beyond (own way - voie de Tours - camino francés - Biskaya - Manche)
What would you guys do?
@Gabe_Way, if I were you and if that's you in your avatar ... one night in San Sebastian, one night in SJPP, check the condition of the trail with the pilgrim's office, get their up-to-date trail map, check weather forecast for the last time in the morning of departure, if green light and not constantly raining or very stormy weather all morning and afternoon: higher road. Start early but no need to start before daylight.

I see that you are from Rome, Italy. Have you hiked in the Alps? SJPP-Roncesvalles is not alpine.

PS: I share your fear of thunderstorms on a mountain. The trail map from the pilgrim's office will show you the location of two potential emergency shelters on the part of the trail between the two passes. One is an old stone hut (if it's still there), the other one is a modern purpose built hut with emergency telephone.
 
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Thornley

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances x 2 , Norte x 2 , Le Puy x 3 , Portuguese x 2,
Mont St Michel , Primitivo .
I have walked both the Route Napoleon and the Valcarlos route. My personal preference is for the Route Napoleon. I do not think there is a huge difference in walking time and I find the scenery on the higher route more attractive.
There might be no scenery at that time of the year and i get the impression he wants to stop before Ronsc.
Stop in San Sebastian , its great , stop for a day or two in SJPP its great .
I think we enjoyed Valcarlos more because you are in a little Basques village and relaxed.
You will get to Burguette easily the next day which has plenty of accommodation and bars..
Be careful the next 2 days before Pamplona , many have come to grief on the rocky water paths.
Play it by ear and enjoy.
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
I have taken the Valcarlos route twice and really enjoyed it. I like the municipal albergue in town, breaking the first two days into shorter segments, less wind and usually better weather. My mother always said "You don't miss what you don't know." I have no regrets.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
For a first time definitely take the Valcarlos rute. I have done it twice, then once the Ruta Napoleon for the experience.
The Ruta Valcarlos is the authentic historical pilgrims' way and it is scenically more beautiful and historically more significant. It was along this valley that Charlemgne (Carl the Great) invaded Spain, and then retreated after heavy fighting against the Basques - hence the name Valcarlos (Carle's Valley), and the route was the main pilgrims' route until Briereley published his first edition in 2003, in which he started recommending the Ruta Napoleon for its supposed scenic values. On my first stopover at Valcarlos in 2010, the landlady at whose private pension I stayed, bitterly complained that "she could not understand why pligrims used to always stop over at their village, and then they stopped all of a sudden a few years ago, and they started taking the Ruta Napoleon. This stoppage had deprived many residents of Valcarlos of their livelihood, since it had been based on serving the flow of pilgrims." It did not take more than looking at the first page of Brierley's guide to understand the reason for the change of route preference ever since 2003.
Also, pilgrims tend to ignore Brierley's warning, that the Napoleon route should not be attempted in bad weather, when it becomes quite deadly. On the night I stayed at Valcarlos, the local radio announced the death of a young pilgrim woman, by a fall into an abyss on the Ruta Napoleon (just like the "son" in the American movie The Way did). And the next evening at Roncesvalles Posada, two completely drenched elderly Australian women had barely managed to come down from the Napoleon height, horrified by the almost fatal sliding down the steep hillside in the middle of a violent rainstorm.
In 2017 I decided to check for myself the Ruta Napoleon. This route's only claim to fame, as I had learned from many sources, was that Napoleon's army (without Napoleon himself!) used it to invade Spain in 1808, nothing more. Well, in 2017 I found the climb up until the Horisson albergue very difficult, without the compensation of spectacular views promised by Brierley, despite the fine weather. The next day was foggy all day long, so there was no view to be seen all around. Furthermore, I felt cheated even on the choice of path I was made to take, because, in order to eliminate the frequent falls into the abyss and deaths that used to take place along the old path, a new, safer, treck was devised, which had nothing to recommend itself, not even the few landmarks that appeared in previous guidebooks.
So, to sum it all: Stick to the true historical pilgrims route of Valcarlos and don't be tempted by the false popularity of Napoleon Route.
Thanks for the info. So, the only thing is they say the Valcarlos route has a lot of walking with cars on your side. But yeah, I agree with that. Plus, the real 'Battle of Roncesvalles' was in Valcarlos. And I have heard that it's beautiful. So, it's Brierley's fault basically. The real one is Valcarlos like you rightly pointed out. However, if it's really bad weather and thunderstorms, I think that also the Valcarlos would be quite challenging.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
@Gabe_Way, if I were you and if that's you in your avatar ... one night in San Sebastian, one night in SJPP, check the condition of the trail with the pilgrim's office, get their up-to-date trail map, check weather forecast for the last time in the morning of departure, if green light and not constantly raining or very stormy weather all morning and afternoon: higher road. Start early but no need to start before daylight.

I see that you are from Rome, Italy. Have you hiked in the Alps? SJPP-Roncesvalles is not alpine.

PS: I share your fear of thunderstorms on a mountain. The trail map from the pilgrim's office will show you the location of two potential emergency shelters on the part of the trail between the two passes. One is an old stone hut (if it's still there), the other one is a modern purpose built hut with emergency telephone.
Yeah, it's me in the avatar :) So, yeah, that's what I'd like to do. But in order to take Napoleon, I have to be sure that the weather is perfectly clear. Otherwise, it would make no sense. Even with fog or just overcast. Maybe we all overthink these this too much. I mean, it's just the first stage, and the beauty of the Camino starts after Roncesvalles. So, it probably doesn't really matter which route we take to cross the Pyrenees. :) But yeah, I'm not a fearful person usually. However, I'm conscious, that mountains are not to be underestimated. Bad weather up there can be really dangerous, so... Better safe than sorry.
Thanks!!
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
I was going to suggest you might be over thinking it. Part of a Camino is going with the flow, what feels good/right in the moment. I actually left SJPP 5 May (2016). Had beautiful mild sunny weather - a few days later I heard it was sleeting sideways! Spring in the Pyrenees! Before SJJP I was in Barcelona and San Sebastián - San Sebastián is GORGEOUS... and bonus, the ‘foodie’ capital of Spain. You might think about 2 nights there to adjust if you’ve had long flights - easy bus through Pamplona to SJPP (only to walk back!). My suggestion? Don’t over plan, but yes, think through all the options and then choose YOUR ‘Way’ once you’re present and on the ground. Buen Camino!!!
Thanks, Robert! I have finally opted to stay two nights in SJPD. I'll go back to San Sebastian sometime, but at this point, I'm really excited and focused on the Camino. I'll start from there, and hopefully, I'll be able to complete all the stages, until Muxia and Finisterre. Fingers crossed.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
There might be no scenery at that time of the year and i get the impression he wants to stop before Ronsc.
Stop in San Sebastian , its great , stop for a day or two in SJPP its great .
I think we enjoyed Valcarlos more because you are in a little Basques village and relaxed.
You will get to Burguette easily the next day which has plenty of accommodation and bars..
Be careful the next 2 days before Pamplona , many have come to grief on the rocky water paths.
Play it by ear and enjoy.
Thanks for replying :) Can you please elaborate more on the 'Many have come to grief on the rocky water paths?' 😲
 

C clearly

Veteran Member
Staff member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016), VDLP (2017), Mozarabe (2018), Vasco/Bayona (2019)
I'm overthinking it!
What I'm afraid of, it's actually being struck by a sudden thunderstorm without any chance of shelter.
say the weather is nice and balmy...and then you get struck by that thunderstorm WAAAY-after you passed Orisson\Valcarlos (pending on the route you decide to take)? You are worried about the unpredictable and 'an unpredictable' can pop up at any moment anywhere.
I seriously think you are overthinking this and are unnecessarily worried. I could be your grandmother, and I'm not worried. In May there will be hundreds of people starting from SJPP. Take the advice from the Pilgrim Office, if they have any, and decide that day. It will probably depend on the people you meet the night before.
 

Kathar1na

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Santiago and beyond (own way - voie de Tours - camino francés - Biskaya - Manche)
Thanks for replying :) Can you please elaborate more on the 'Many have come to grief on the rocky water paths?' 😲
My advice: stop reading this thread 😉. If I wouldn't follow this forum, I wouldn't know that there are "abysses left and right on the Route Napoleon", "rocky water paths where many come to grief", and I wouldn't even know that the Route Napoleon is "extremely difficult with extremely steep ascents and descents". And I have walked twice and could also be your grandmother! It's a comfortable wide path, it can get slippery in a few places when rainy due to wet stones, mud, leaves, like everywhere else on this earth in a hilly environment, and the first year I did get into a small thunderstorm with hailstones near the pass during a day of mixed rain and sunshine, and I met a woman from Canada who had been lifted up by a storm gust the day before and broken her collarbone. I walked again the following year without fear and without coming to any harm. Just like several hundreds of people will do every day this coming May when you set out.

There have been fatal accidents over the last few decades. No fatalities, other than due to natural causes, have been recorded during the last few years on the Route Napoleon, no doubt thanks to the investment in improving the infrastructure along the pass and the prohibition to walk the Route Napoleon in the winter months. The last fatal accident that I recall having read about was in early November 2016. A Spanish pilgrim on his third camino got lost on the Valcarlos route and fell into a ravine.
 
Last edited:

Bradypus

Antediluvian
Staff member
Camino(s) past & future
Too many and too often!
My advice: stop reading this thread 😉. If I wouldn't follow this forum, I wouldn't know that there are "abysses left and right on the Route Napoleon", "rocky water paths where many come to grief", and I wouldn't even know that the Route Napoleon is "extremely difficult with extremely steep ascents and descents".
Sound advice! And stop watching Hollywood movies too. Worth remembering that "The Way" is a work of fiction and in reality sometimes as much as a whole week can go by on the Route Napoleon without someone falling over a cliff, being drowned in flash floods, buried by avalanche, struck by lightning or carried off by vultures.....:rolleyes:;)
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
My advice: stop reading this thread 😉. If I wouldn't follow this forum, I wouldn't know that there are "abysses left and right on the Route Napoleon", "rocky water paths where many come to grief", and I wouldn't even know that the Route Napoleon is "extremely difficult with extremely steep ascents and descents". And I have walked twice and could also be your grandmother! It's a comfortable wide path, it can get slippery in a few places when rainy due to wet stones, mud, leaves, like everywhere else on this earth in a hilly environment, and the first year I did get into a small thunderstorm with hailstones near the pass during a day of mixed rain and sunshine, and I met a woman from Canada who had been lifted up by a storm gust the day before and broken her collarbone. I walked again the following year without fear and without coming to any harm. Just like several hundreds of people will do every day this coming May when you set out.

There have been fatal accidents over the last few decades. No fatalities, other than due to natural causes, have been recorded during the last few years on the Route Napoleon, no doubt thanks to the investment in improving the infrastructure along the pass and the prohibition to walk the Route Napoleon in the winter months. The last fatal accident that I recall having read about was in early November 2016. A Spanish pilgrim on his third camino got lost on the Valcarlos route and fell into a ravine.
Ok, well... In my life a did quite a few 'dangerous' things. I have done skydiving, canopies above the tropical dry forest in Costa Rica, I have climbed the Chichen Itza Pyramid all the way up and rapidly descended it as if they were regular steps, I have done surfing for the first time with 6/8 feet waves (and that day I was close!), I have skied in the Alps, and so on... So, I would like the Napoleon very much, but one of my pet peeves is thunderstorms. I hate them! And in that particular environment, high in the mountains, can be pretty scary. We are humans and don't have superpowers. If a thunderstorm hits while you are there, there's not much one can do. So, I might pick the Napoleon only if I'm 100% positive that the weather is perfectly clear. But then again, it changes so quickly in the mountains and in that season, that there's no such a thing as being 100% sure. :)
 

Thornley

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances x 2 , Norte x 2 , Le Puy x 3 , Portuguese x 2,
Mont St Michel , Primitivo .
Thanks for replying :) Can you please elaborate more on the 'Many have come to grief on the rocky water paths?' 😲
The section Gabe i'm talking about is after you leave Burguete before reaching Pamplona.
Earlier i said you will reach Burguete from Valcarlos . This is the first breakfast/ coffee stop for 90% of the Roncesvalles sleep overs.
There are rocky paths that can become muddy and very slippery. They don't have to be like this , they are a natural water way and under all water ways are rocks.
After crossing the mountain many relax thinking all is sweet but the steep decline after * Zubaldica has caused many pilgrims to rest [ injuries] or even finish at Pamplona because they hurried in this section.
The same applies the day you leave Pamplona .
The secret is take it easy the first 3-4 days.
The 25-30km days will come soon enough.
As Lady K said , don't stress to early , this exam can't be studied in the library.
Buen Camino young man ............just start like an old one ..........slowly.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
The section Gabe i'm talking about is after you leave Burguete before reaching Pamplona.
Earlier i said you will reach Burguete from Valcarlos . This is the first breakfast/ coffee stop for 90% of the Roncesvalles sleep overs.
There are rocky paths that can become muddy and very slippery. They don't have to be like this , they are a natural water way and under all water ways are rocks.
After crossing the mountain many relax thinking all is sweet but the steep decline after * Zubaldica has caused many pilgrims to rest [ injuries] or even finish at Pamplona because they hurried in this section.
The same applies the day you leave Pamplona .
The secret is take it easy the first 3-4 days.
The 25-30km days will come soon enough.
As Lady K said , don't stress to early , this exam can't be studied in the library.
Buen Camino young man ............just start like an old one ..........slowly.
Thank you for the tip :) I'll keep that in mind!
 

RJM

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
A few times
Thanks for replying :) Can you please elaborate more on the 'Many have come to grief on the rocky water paths?' 😲
I am not sure what is meant by those paths, unless they mean a couple of points on the Camino before Pamplona I believe, where a creek crosses the path during high water. They have an elevated stone step thing that allows you to cross them, but I think sometimes it gets too high even for that and pilgrims try and ford the creek and sometimes take a spill in the fast moving water. The odd thing is that both crossings can be bypassed entirely simply by walking on the roadway, but pilgrims still try and ford across. Odd....
 

OldCuban

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(2017) I walked the full French way from St Jean Pied
(2019) will walk Portuguese Way from Lisbon
Hey guys, I'll start on 5 May.
Now, I'm totally torn on a few things.
First off, I'm flying to San Sebastian, and I booked a night there, but now I'm having second thoughts. Like maybe I should spend two days in SJPDP, and relax and enjoy before starting on May 5th. Or, just spend one night in SJPDP between May 3 and 4 and start off directly on May 4th. (That will give me the chance to stop in between, before getting to Roncesvalles.)
However, I have gotten another doubt. The weather at the beginning of May is notorious in the mountains to be quite moody and it could quickly go from sunshine to torrential rain. (I'll cross other mountains in O'Cebreiro anyway, so.) Now, the pilgrim's office will tell me about it, but still, you never know. Aside from the fact that they could tell me the road is closed in the first place due to bad conditions. So, I was taking into consideration that I could simply decide to take the Valcarlos route to get to Roncesvalles, but I've seen on Google that it takes more than seven hours without breaks. So, should I split it into two parts and stop in Valcarlos? Or should I take the plunge and go directly to Roncesvalles, walking at least 7 hours and a half? (Maybe it'll take a couple of hours more considering a few stops.)
If I do it in one day though, I could spend two days in SJPDP. (Or one day in San Sebastian and one day in St. Jean.)
What would you guys do?
p.s. I know I could stop at Orrison, but there's only one refuge there, aside from what I previously pointed out.
EDIT: I forgot something. Is it true that the Napoleon Route takes less time to get you to Roncesvalles?
(Anyway, I have read beautiful things about the Valcarlos route in terms of views, landscapes, nature, and so on.)
Thanks!
Spend the night or several nights in San Sebastián it is my favorite place in Spain. SJPDP is a small village and you can see it all in an afternoon. Take the Napoleon route
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
Spend the night or several nights in San Sebastián it is my favorite place in Spain. SJPDP is a small village and you can see it all in an afternoon. Take the Napoleon route
Thanks. I'll stay a couple of nights in San Sebastian when I'll do the Camino del Norte. :) Napoleon wil depend on the weather.
 

wileybones

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, April/May 2019
Right, and if I booked in advance and the weather sucked, the road would be closed and I'll lose the money.
Hmmm... I think I'll just figure it out in the morning and if the weather is completely clear I'll take the Napoleon, but I'll stop at Orrison just for lunch and a break, and then head directly to Roncesvalles. Else, I'll go the Valcarlos way. And if the weather is really, really bad, I'll spend one more night in SJPDP. That's what they do at the Everest's base camp. They get stuck for weeks sometimes before starting the climb. Not that I have done that, but I've seen it in the documentaries. :)
Gabe_Way,
I've shared this elsewhere, but in direct response to your concern expressed here: I wrote to Refuge Orisson about cancellations in the event weather either prevented us reaching Orisson at all, or if we could not continue over the Napoleon route from Orisson. Jean-Jacques graciously replied that if we cannot proceed from Orisson due to weather, they can shuttle us to Valcarlos to proceed from there. And if we are unable to even reach Orisson, there is no penalty for cancelling the reservation. So there is no risk to you of losing your money for a Refuge Orisson reservation if the road is closed to the Napoleon route.
 

trecile

Camino Addict
Camino(s) past & future
Francés (2016 & 2017), Norte (2018), Francés-Salvador-Norte (2019), Portuguese (2019)
Gabe_Way,
I've shared this elsewhere, but in direct response to your concern expressed here: I wrote to Refuge Orisson about cancellations in the event weather either prevented us reaching Orisson at all, or if we could not continue over the Napoleon route from Orisson. Jean-Jacques graciously replied that if we cannot proceed from Orisson due to weather, they can shuttle us to Valcarlos to proceed from there. And if we are unable to even reach Orisson, there is no penalty for cancelling the reservation. So there is no risk to you of losing your money for a Refuge Orisson reservation if the road is closed to the Napoleon route.
Mind if I quote you on one of the many threads on Camino Facebook groups asking this question?
 

C clearly

Veteran Member
Staff member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016), VDLP (2017), Mozarabe (2018), Vasco/Bayona (2019)
Mind if I quote you on one of the many threads on Camino Facebook groups asking this question?
But maybe the quotation should be carefully qualified - this may or may not be a general policy of Orrisson. It might depend on circumstances, and you know how people can misinterpret and feel very entitled! :mad:🤨
 

trecile

Camino Addict
Camino(s) past & future
Francés (2016 & 2017), Norte (2018), Francés-Salvador-Norte (2019), Portuguese (2019)
But maybe the quotation should be carefully qualified - this may or may not be a general policy of Orrisson. It might depend on circumstances, and you know how people can misinterpret and feel very entitled! :mad:🤨
Your're right.
I think that "And if we are unable to even reach Orisson" should read " And if we are unable to even reach Orisson because the route is closed due to weather"
 

wileybones

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, April/May 2019
Your're right.
I think that "And if we are unable to even reach Orisson" should read " And if we are unable to even reach Orisson because the route is closed due to weather"
Yes, that was the clear qualification that I received, and that was in the full text of what I wrote. It could be misinterpreted in only the phrase quoted above is taken out of context.
 

trecile

Camino Addict
Camino(s) past & future
Francés (2016 & 2017), Norte (2018), Francés-Salvador-Norte (2019), Portuguese (2019)
It could be misinterpreted in only the phrase quoted above is taken out of context.
You know how people hear (or read) what they want to hear! I did post it on a couple of Camino FB groups and I added in the extra verbiage, in case anyone missed it the first time. Lots of people have been confused about Orisson, especially at this time of year, when the weather is so changeable.
 

Anamiri

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances
Ok, well... In my life a did quite a few 'dangerous' things. I have done skydiving, canopies above the tropical dry forest in Costa Rica, I have climbed the Chichen Itza Pyramid all the way up and rapidly descended it as if they were regular steps, I have done surfing for the first time with 6/8 feet waves (and that day I was close!), I have skied in the Alps, and so on... So, I would like the Napoleon very much, but one of my pet peeves is thunderstorms. I hate them! And in that particular environment, high in the mountains, can be pretty scary. We are humans and don't have superpowers. If a thunderstorm hits while you are there, there's not much one can do. So, I might pick the Napoleon only if I'm 100% positive that the weather is perfectly clear. But then again, it changes so quickly in the mountains and in that season, that there's no such a thing as being 100% sure. :)
Im also old enough to be your grandmother, the thunderstorms I encountered were in Galicia , and thye were impressive - I was seriously questioning the wisdom of holding metal poles.
I love the Napolean, there's something dramatic about into Spain via the mountain.
Just take it as it comes at the time, if its great - walk over, if not- take the Valcarlos, you' wont be disappointed either way.
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
I'm actually fascinated by both routes, so it's hard to decide. I'm overthinking it! :)
Yup. And we're all enabling you. ;)
Just get up on the morning you start, put your pack on and head out the door and across the bridge. When you get to the fork in the road, take it. (Thank you, Yogi Berra...)
But really. If the weather does not make the decision for you, just let your feet make the decision rather than your head. If they turn right for Valcarlos or left to go up the hill, both routes will get you to Roncesvalles.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
Im also old enough to be your grandmother, the thunderstorms I encountered were in Galicia , and thye were impressive - I was seriously questioning the wisdom of holding metal poles.
I love the Napolean, there's something dramatic about into Spain via the mountain.
Just take it as it comes at the time, if its great - walk over, if not- take the Valcarlos, you' wont be disappointed either way.
Yeah, I'll do that. Thanks.
Speaking of Galcia's thunderstorms, what month was it?
 

Anamiri

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances
It was the end of June, I walked all day in rain thunder and lightning on the way to Samos - which was one of the prettiest walks on the Camino, despite the weather..
But earlier in Burgos, twice and in Leon there were amazing storms in the night which cleared by morning.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
It was the end of June, I walked all day in rain thunder and lightning on the way to Samos - which was one of the prettiest walks on the Camino, despite the weather..
But earlier in Burgos, twice and in Leon there were amazing storms in the night which cleared by morning.
Ok so, the lightning kinda freaks me out :) I guess I'll just look at the forecast a few hours earlier, and at worst I'll stay in town till it clears.
Thanks for your reply!
 

Mckarash

A Coddiwomple expert
Camino(s) past & future
St Jean - Belorado July 2016
St Jean - Sahagun April 14th- 29th 2017
St Jean - Lagrono July 2017
I enjoyed walking the Napoleon route in the mist and fog. From Orisson onward it’s not much of a climb if I remember correctly. Roncesvalles was not my thing . If I would do it again I would push on to the next village.
I wouldn't stay at Roncesvalle again either. Burguete was far nicer and only a few more kms to wander.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
Thanks for the info. So, the only thing is they say the Valcarlos route has a lot of walking with cars on your side. But yeah, I agree with that. Plus, the real 'Battle of Roncesvalles' was in Valcarlos. And I have heard that it's beautiful. So, it's Brierley's fault basically. The real one is Valcarlos like you rightly pointed out. However, if it's really bad weather and thunderstorms, I think that also the Valcarlos would be quite challenging.
Real? What are you hoping for? Sort that out. Then, have a wonderful camino. Let it talk to you, sing to you, draw you into the meaning of your life.
 

Gabe_Way

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances from SJPDP to Santiago - May-June 2019
(Walking)
Real? What are you hoping for? Sort that out. Then, have a wonderful camino. Let it talk to you, sing to you, draw you into the meaning of your life.
Thank you. That would be a wonderful achievement.
 

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