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St Jean to Roncesvalles in winter


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2002 CF: 2004 from Paris: 2006 VF: 2007 CF: 2009 Aragones, Ingles, Finisterre: 2011 X 2 on CF: 2013 'Caracoles': 2014 CF and Ingles 'Caracoles":2015 Logrono-Burgos (Hospitalero San Anton): 2016 La Douay to Aosta/San Gimignano to Rome:
Thousands of pilgrims walk safely from St Jean to Roncesvalles every spring but sometimes unpredicated blizzards or snow storms make the crossing dangerous.
Over the past few years there have been a number of deaths - and near death experiences - crossing from St Jean to Roncesvalles in winter to early spring.
The most important thing is to listen to the locals and if they tell you not to walk the GR route (route Napoleon) then don't walk it.
Even walking the road route (the authentic camino route) through the valley of Charlemagne (Val Carlos) can be dangerous in bad weather.

In 2002 two pilgrims (a 48 year-old Brazilian and a 78 year-old Japanese) died when they were caught in blizzards crossing to Roncesvalles in January and April.

In March 2005 an English pilgrim decided to risk walking the route Napoleon - against the advice of the locals - with an experienced Spanish pilgrim. They were caught in a snow storm for 2 days, both suffered from hypothermia and frostbite. When they were finally able to walk to Roncesvalles Roger was rushed to Pamplona general hospital. Once there he was told that the frostbite on his left foot was so severe that he would have to have all the toes on his foot amputated. (This decision was later reversed).

In 2007 Chris Philips, an experienced fell walker, died from exposure after getting caught in a freak blizzard. He became separated from 3 Italian pilgrims who were able to call Emergency services. They spent the night on the mountain but were later rescued. They told the paramedics about the Englishman who had been with them. Rescuers found him near the path, about 50m from a road, lying in deep snow and suffering from severe hypothermia. He died shortly after arriving at hospital in Pamplona.

2008: Remember this article "Firemen recue teenage cyclists"? The pair, both 19, came close to succumbing to hypothermia during a snowstorm on the French-Spanish border, close to a spot where another Englishman died. Edward Broad and a friend were forced to huddle shivering in sleeping bags after being caught out by the suddenness of the storm. But they raised the alarm by phoning their parents in Wimbledon, South-West London, from the isolated area on the French-Spanish border. Emergency services from France and Spain fought through the treacherous conditions to find them on Tuesday.

The CSJ of UK reported that a French woman died of exposure at the Col de Lepoeder in March 2009.

Carry an emergency blanket with you. These are lightweight, foil blankets which you can discard once you out of the mountains.
Take a cell phone. If you don't have one, try to walk with people who do.
112 is the Europe-wide emergency number. It works even if you have no money in a pre-paid mobile phone or even if your supplier has no network. It works 24/7 365 days - and the operators speak many languages. The number for the Guardia Civil in Spain is 062.
If you do become lost or snowed in - stay where you are and keep warm. Get into your sleeping bag, wrap yourself in your poncho.

The CSJ recommends that you avoid going alone if you possibly can. Tell people in St Jean what your plans are, arranging for them to call the emergency services if you haven't phoned back from Roncesvalles by an agreed time to report your safe arrival.
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I'm walking this November (only a month until I leave - and I've been planning this trip for two and a half years!) and will be starting on about the 20th. Both me and my friend who is walking with me decided to start from Roncesvalles instead of St Jean because we don't know what the weather will be like, but also because of this, and I'm surprised no-one has mentioned it before: (I think!)

If people are always saying to take it easy in the first few days, why do they start in St Jean, where the first day is 26km and all UPHILL with no albergues in between? :lol:
Orisson closes for the year though in October Johnnie, so you can't break the journey there on a winter Camino. Not sure about Hounto, not so far up the mountain: my Miam Miam Dodo says it is open all year.
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You could start in St Jean and walk the road route staying over in a couple of places. Val Carlos (Luzaide in Basque) has a refuge and a number of casa rurals. The locals are adamant that Luzaide /Valcarlos is the authentic starting point for el camino to Santiago. See photos of the albergue here: ... spx?o=4465
The view is also quite stunning on this route and although the start of the walk is fairly gradual from St Jean the end is steeper even than the GR route.
The snow could be on either side of the mountain. It might be clear in France but snowing a blizzard in Spain - you can never tell!


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Thanks for looking up all those tragedies for us.
It certainly causes one to stop and think.

The common denominator is fresh snow and winter season but wet snow that only lasts for a day may fall in October or April.

In April 2006 I walked the Valcarlos route on Good Friday with 3 ladies and a 65 year old man who was in their group. It started to rain about noon, and by 3:00 pm, it had changed to wet snow. The man slowed down considerably in the last 5 or 6 kms and the ladies, who were more fit, were getting cold and wet. We decided that the ladies should go ahead and I stayed with the man. It took us about two hours to reach Roncesvalles because he would take 20 steps then lean on his poles and rest for about 30 seconds. I was afraid he would have a heart attack. If he just collapsed, the conditions were right to develop hypothermia very quickly. Much to my relief we made it to Roncesvalles in a total elapsed time of 10 1/2 hours.

By God's grace, we averted tragedy that day.
I was very thankful.

David, Victoria, Canada.
There have been many deaths on the camino - a few weather related, a few accidents, and many 'natural' causes like heart attacks etc.
There are dozens of memorials to pilgrims who have died on the camino. (It is thought that the church of Eunate Santa Maria) could have been a funery church.)
In medieval times, the pilgrim who died whilst on pilgrimage would have a safe passage to heaven, bypassing purgatory altogether.
I added a Pilgrims Memorial post on my blog a couple of years ago - you can see some of the memorials here: ... orials.php
The weather can really be unpredictable in the mountains. In mid- May this year the weather was clear and sunny all the way up to Col de Bentardea and when heading up towards Col de Leopoder the clouds and cold air came from nowhere. We had to postpone the planned `coffee´ break highest up on the mountains because the weather had changed so dramatically only in a few minutes. The mountain fog invaded the mountains in A very short moment, the sight was only 3- 4 meters. We had planned to take the shorter but steeper way down the mountain but didn´t dare to, we took the longer and safer walk on the road down from Col de Leopoder to Roncesvalles. It was a little bit scary and this was in May (and it was getting late) not in the wintertime!
Listen to the locals and follow their advice!
Carry an emergency blanket whenever on the mountains!

I was there the 17th of May 2009.
Other ideas for walking in winter

Carry a BRIGHT ORANGE backpack cover or hankerchief and tie it to a branch where you are hunkered so rescuers can find it-you.

Always carry a couple of heavy duty black plastic garbage bags... they can be used as a backpack cover, a poncho, or an emergency shelter (cut a SMALL fist-sized hole in top) in icy wind, rain, or snow. Get as much out of the wind as possible, even digging a snowcave or a hole in the snow to block the wind, if you can. Put on every stitch of clothing that you have. Put on all your socks and your hat and gloves. Get inside your sleeping bag. Put your now empty backpack over your feet and sleeping bag. Pull one garbage bag up around the BOTTOM of your sleeping bag and the other over the TOP. Make SURE you have that little airhole open. Hunker down and wait for help.

Do not travel without a telephone in winter. WRITE DOWN the emergency number or put it on speed dial. When you are in a panic or freezing, your brain may not remember simple things.

DO NOT EAT SNOW. In wet, cold conditions, you can go longer without water, and snow will lower your body temperature, which you want to keep UP.

As you walk, be aware of little places you might use for shelter, such as shepherd´s huts or bodegas.

Carry matches, a lighter, and a fire-making kit. Learn to use it BEFORE you leave.

If you end up needing to build a fire, try to find a rockface and sit between it and the fire.

Read about and learn to make a coalbed. Practice BEFORE you go walking.

Check local weather frequently and do not be stupid.
Don´t tempt fate by walking in snowstorms...

On the other hand, that IS called Natural Selection... :roll:
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I want to walk from SJPP to Santiago in december..... I have some questions :
* Must I use the route by Valcarlos or can I walk the napoleon route over the mountains ?
* Will here other pelgrims on the camino ?
* Which albergues are closed ?
* What is the temperature ?

I want to walk from SJPP to Santiago in december..... I have some questions :

* Must I use the route by Valcarlos or can I walk the napoleon route over the mountains ?

Frank, that will depend on what the locals advise you to do on the day. It might be a beautiful, sunshiny day or there could be a blizzard and white out. If there is a blizzard you might not be able to walk on the road either. It all depends on the weather on the day.

* Will here other pelgrims on the camino ?

There might be - or there might not be. You won't know until the day you start.

* Which albergues are closed ?

Esprit du Chemin in St Jean will be closed. Orisson will be closed. Roncesvalles will be open.

* What is the temperature ?

It could be 10oC or it could be -10oC. You'll only know on the day you start walking.
great answers, sil !!!
(and so right)

About Roncesvalles : must be super cold in winter.....
(already on a foggy, rainy, windy 1st of May, it was really cold inside)
I found this wonderful blog posting by someone who started his Camino in March. He arrived in Pamplona and had intended to begin from SJPP, but an exploratory foray by car made him realise it wasn't possible. Roncesvalles itself was also snowed in, and he returned to Pamplona and started from there. The photos on this blog give one of the best insights I have seen into how snow and mud might make the going hard!!!
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Artemisofephesus said:
Wow, that one photo sure had a lot of mud... I imagine it would have been so much fun to walk through. :lol:
Yes, I think that is the most evocative photo of Mud on the Camino I have ever seen ;-)

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