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Valcarlos to Roncesvalles in snow!

m2m4christ

New Member
Time of past OR future Camino
Spring 2023
Anyone with experience road walking Valcarlos to Roncesvalles in snow. The main road is very busy. It was rainy today on our way to Valcarlos but tomorrow there is supposed to be 4 inches of snow. Considering skipping it and starting from Roncesvalles. Thoughts. By the way we don’t take this decision lightly but Brierley guide specifically warns about the danger of this road walk even more so in wet conditions Thanks for your thoughts. Just not sure which way to go.
 
The one from Galicia (the round) and the one from Castilla & Leon. Individually numbered and made by the same people that make the ones you see on your walk.
m2m4christ,
Valcarlos alternate
Ibaneta pass

January 18, 2008

Ibaneta pass.jpg

I have walked the Valcarlos alternate 10 times from 2004 through 2015 often in late autumn/winter.

In sleet/snow I always walked route N135 verges facing traffic since the camino path through the wood became too slick to follow.

Please also read all the posts in this recent thread re the 'Valcarlos route'.
 
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Thank you for your reply. Yes we’ve been warned to only walk on the road. We are not allowed to do any trail walking at all. They were very strict with these instructions to us at the pilgrims office.
 
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If you have doubts and concerns about it, I recommend not walking it. It's not worth it and not that big of a deal to bypass and catch a ride to Roncesvalles. I would recommend that for any section of the Camino. I'm sure even a medieval pilgrim would have hitched a ride on a cart if offered. 😄
 
Things must have changed since we walked in March 2014. Back then it was "stay off the Napoleon route and off you go!" One of my favorite Camino memories of all time was hiking in pouring snow from St. Jean to Valcarlos to Roncevalles on the first day of our first Camino. We had some occasional company. The tree branches heavy with snow kept dumping on us, and a few times I got a pile down my neck if I didn't keep my head up.

My wife and I are from Colorado, though, and love hiking in the snow, and we didn't feel intimidated or in danger. We came down into Roncevalles and the buildings covered in snow were beautiful and there was magic in the air. I think the stinging "needle ice" on the Meseta was much worse, though it was fun in it's own way too.

You will have to figure out your own adventure vs danger tolerance, I expect, but you might want to give it a look first and maybe walk a few hundred meters before you bail for the road and miss some potential magic.
 
A selection of Camino Jewellery
I know this thread is about walking via Valcarlos, but in case someone stumbles upon it, just a reminder that the Route Napoleon is not open until 31 March.

Hence the discussion about walking the road via Valcarlos.

The decision to close the Route Napoleon during winter was made by the police in France and Spain several years ago following numerous rescues and a few deaths.
 
The decision to close the Route Napoleon during winter was made by the police in France and Spain several years ago following numerous rescues and a few deaths.
The closure is legally binding on the Spanish side of the border and walking the route in the closed period can be punished by severe fines - a law passed by the Navarra provincial government. Not just a decision by local police forces.
 
Things must have changed since we walked in March 2014. Back then it was "stay off the Napoleon route and off you go!" One of my favorite Camino memories of all time was hiking in pouring snow from St. Jean to Valcarlos to Roncevalles on the first day of our first Camino. We had some occasional company. The tree branches heavy with snow kept dumping on us, and a few times I got a pile down my neck if I didn't keep my head up.

My wife and I are from Colorado, though, and love hiking in the snow, and we didn't feel intimidated or in danger. We came down into Roncevalles and the buildings covered in snow were beautiful and there was magic in the air. I think the stinging "needle ice" on the Meseta was much worse, though it was fun in it's own way too.

You will have to figure out your own adventure vs danger tolerance, I expect, but you might want to give it a look first and maybe walk a few hundred meters before you bail for the road and miss some potential magic.
Unless of course they get injured and require first responders, right? 🙄
 
The focus is on reducing the risk of failure through being well prepared. 2nd ed.
We walked via Valcarlos a few years ago, in April. We walked the path for the first 2 sections when it started snowing. We walked the road the rest of the way. If my memory serves my correctly, the narrow verges were covered in snow so you will be walking on the road. There was not a lot of traffic but when there was, we stood as close the edge as possible and held my walking poles in front of me - we had plastered our poles with reflective tape. We felt safe enough. Good luck with your decision. We had snow all the way to Pamplona, it was magical!
 
m2m4christ,
Valcarlos alternate
Ibaneta pass

January 18, 2008

Ibaneta pass.jpg

I have walked the Valcarlos alternate 10 times from 2004 through 2015 often in late autumn/winter.

In sleet/snow I always walked route N135 verges facing traffic since the camino path through the wood became too slick to follow.

Please also read all the posts in this recent thread re the 'Valcarlos route'.
Is the N135 that switch back road that leads down quite steeply to Roncesvalles? I took it instead of the path through the woods and thought that it was never going to end.
 
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Is the N135 that switch back road that leads down quite steeply to Roncesvalles? I took it instead of the path through the woods and thought that it was never going to end.
The N135 is the paved route which has many switchbacks and leads to Roncesvalles monastery, Burguete and eventually ends at PA-20 near the village of Arleta.
 
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We walked via Valcarlos a few years ago, in April. We walked the path for the first 2 sections when it started snowing. We walked the road the rest of the way. If my memory serves my correctly, the narrow verges were covered in snow so you will be walking on the road. There was not a lot of traffic but when there was, we stood as close the edge as possible and held my walking poles in front of me - we had plastered our poles with reflective tape. We felt safe enough. Good luck with your decision. We had snow all the way to Pamplona, it was magical!
Can you let me know when in April you crossed this area? I’m planning to be in the area on April 20 this year and was not expecting snow. Thanks.
 
Can you let me know when in April you crossed this area? I’m planning to be in the area on April 20 this year and was not expecting snow.
There can be snow or no snow on a 20th of April. There can be snow or no snow on a 23rd of February. Just compare these photos from a webcam at the same altitude as the Camino from SJPP and only a few kilometres to the east. Pilgrims must inform themselves about the weather for the day that they themselves walk to Roncesvalles and come prepared for it.

(Click to enlarge or turn your iPhone screen sideways ☺️)
20 Apr.jpg

23 Feb.jpg

Source: Webcam with link on Meteoblue.com
 
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A selection of Camino Jewellery
I remember that at a time this winter, there was reported rather a lot of snow on the wood tracks and it was then warned not to go, and as the snow was fallen some couples had to be evacuated....
If snow levels are still to much and the wood tracks boggy, this could be the reason for the strict warnings not to go to the wood but to take the tarmac to the Ibañata Chapel.
The local advice tends to ring true, I am afraid...
 
Anyone with experience road walking Valcarlos to Roncesvalles in snow. The main road is very busy. It was rainy today on our way to Valcarlos but tomorrow there is supposed to be 4 inches of snow. Considering skipping it and starting from Roncesvalles. Thoughts. By the way we don’t take this decision lightly but Brierley guide specifically warns about the danger of this road walk even more so in wet conditions Thanks for your thoughts. Just not sure which way to go.
My son walked the road March 2012. It was enough to make him consider going home after just one day. (he didnt, walked all the way in just 30 days). He said it was terrifying. I got a friend to ring the monastery in Roncesvalles and a hospitalera drove down and picked him up. He was on the point of collapse from exhaustion. There was still snow on the edge of the road but it was not snowing at the time. A few years later, a friend from Florida did the same walk in March, he ended up in hospital. So, be careful peregrino. At least you will have rested over in Valcarlos. My son and my friend were trying to do it all in one day. Buen Camino and may God be with you
 
The focus is on reducing the risk of failure through being well prepared. 2nd ed.
Anyone with experience road walking Valcarlos to Roncesvalles in snow. The main road is very busy. It was rainy today on our way to Valcarlos but tomorrow there is supposed to be 4 inches of snow. Considering skipping it and starting from Roncesvalles. Thoughts. By the way we don’t take this decision lightly but Brierley guide specifically warns about the danger of this road walk even more so in wet conditions Thanks for your thoughts. Just not sure which way to go.

Nine years ago starting 28 February I walked this way. The Route Napoleon was closed off. Rain turned to heavy snow just up the hill s bit from Valcarlos. Traffic wss very light and I hugged the verge very closely. The mistake I made then was turning onto the track a few k’s up. Was told it cuts off a k or two compared to the road. However it drops off quite a bit of height and there’s then an uphill slog ( and it was muddy) so I should have kept to the road. There was quite a large group of Guardia civil frolicking in the snow at the Ibaneta Pass, including some ladies. The first time I had actually seen Spanish ladies and they were lovely. Perhaps my befuddled and exhausted state but it was a good introduction to the Camino.

De colores. Bogong
 
I walked the VC one May years ago when the Napoleon was closed due to snow.
Yes, May, yes, snow.
It was my first Camino and I guess ignorance is bliss. Although touted as a poor substitute for the Nap, I found it beautiful and relatively easy even in the poor weather.
I guess I’m a city girl because I was not put off by the traffic, which I found quite easy to walk with. The warm coffee and croissant at a rest stop, my first ever on the CF, was wonderful.
Was the route tough? Yes.
Tougher than the Nap? No.
Can it be done in a day even by an out of shape old lady? Clearly, yes.
 
Can you let me know when in April you crossed this area? I’m planning to be in the area on April 20 this year and was not expecting snow. Thanks.
Sorry, My bad - we started of mid March. Started out a beautiful sunny day. Snow just started falling towards the end of the second stage. You have some excellent advice above - you just cant predict the weather or snow. We had a lot of rain and mud that Camino and the river between Zubiri-Pamplona broke its banks with a lot of flooding about a week after we went through. Then our second Camino Dec19/Jan20 was sunshine the entire way except 1 day of light rain (-4c to 10c each day though!!). Make sure you have layers and listen to the locals. Buen Camino.
 
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Anyone with experience road walking Valcarlos to Roncesvalles in snow. The main road is very busy. It was rainy today on our way to Valcarlos but tomorrow there is supposed to be 4 inches of snow. Considering skipping it and starting from Roncesvalles. Thoughts. By the way we don’t take this decision lightly but Brierley guide specifically warns about the danger of this road walk even more so in wet conditions Thanks for your thoughts. Just not sure which way to go.
My wife and I had no choice in 2016 (March) but to turn off the Valcarlos and cross-grain until we came upon the Napoleon (which we knew to be closed). I say "no choice" because of the amount of snow clearing equipment that was working on the Valcarlos and because the operators were making no allowances for the few pilgrims that on the path beside the road (or couldn't see us). Our trek towards the Napoleon was hard - at times, we were having to forge our own trail in snow that was above knee height and at one stage became hip height. In sum, if we had our time again we would have caught a bus/taxi to Roncesvalles and starting our walk from there.
 
Please take care !!

332816803_1590958888085436_6057766328429941451_n.jpg



FIRST PILGRIM RESCUE OF THE SEASON in the Pyrenees.
The mountain route is closed... and yet:
"We intervened this afternoon to rescue a [female] pilgrim who was surprised by the change in weather in the Izandorre refuge area" - Burguete Fire and Rescue.
Video footage here:
https://twitter.com/bombero.../status/1628831944539529219...
Posted by Monique Aspirot, the volunteer co-ordinator at the Bureau d'Acceuil / Pilgrim Welcome Office in Saint Jean Pied de Port.

post scriptum: shortly before this point ( before the Crucerio) there is the D-128 leading down to Valcarlos and which can be used in bad weather as an escape route down to a warm Albergue, but this would have been covered in deep snow as well, so if you are compromised....!
 
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Can you let me know when in April you crossed this area? I’m planning to be in the area on April 20 this year and was not expecting snow. Thanks.
I was crossing on a Thursday 27th in ´17 via Valcarlos as it had been snowing the day before and they closed the top route. Not risking this, I had a leisurely day though a lush valley, got hammered on the last ascend which took my breath away, reached the Ibañeta and it started to snow again on my way down to Roncesvalles. Those after me got all wet but had an otherwise good crossover...
Valcarlos route is highly recommendable, planned or as a last resort...

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shortly before this point ( before the Crucerio) there is the D-128 leading down to Valcarlos and which can be used in bad weather as an escape route down to a warm Albergue
I know what you are referring: a road that branches off to the right when you walk on the road from SJPP to Orisson and on to Roncesvalles. This is not an escape route.

We discussed this numerous times, for example here. It looks like a shortcut on the Brierley maps but it is in reality a very long and winding road down to Valcarlos. When the route Napoleon is legally open and walkable - it currently is neither - and you get caught out by the weather, there is only one good advice: Turn back on the way you came!
 
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I have walked the Valcarlos route twice; both times on nearly the exact date as the OP plans to walk it. There are no guarantees, but I had very good weather and never even thought that snow could be a possibility.
 
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Some snow is predicted during some of the coming days but nothing like yesterday and not with the same frequency and quantities; predictability is still low. It must be a fantastic day to walk the Valcarlos route over the Ibañeta pass today. Anyone walking today? Here's what it currently looks like on the webcam some 25 km from the Ibañeta pass and chapel:

24 Feb.jpg
Source: see Meteoblue.com
 
I know what you are referring: a road that branches off to the right when you walk on the road from SJPP to Orisson and on to Roncesvalles. This is not an escape route.

We discussed this numerous times, for example here. It looks like a shortcut on the Brierley maps but it is in reality a very long and winding road down to Valcarlos. When the route Napoleon is legally open and walkable - it currently is neither - and you get caught out by the weather, there is only one good advice: Turn back on the way you came!
and right you are: I was just thinking aloud that if one was tro abort the trail due to mishab, there is normally this one possibility and that is not a good one just now, as tracks are filled with hard snow, as I am pointing out and in this instance, you are truely b*****ed....
 
Anyone with experience road walking Valcarlos to Roncesvalles in snow. The main road is very busy. It was rainy today on our way to Valcarlos but tomorrow there is supposed to be 4 inches of snow. Considering skipping it and starting from Roncesvalles. Thoughts. By the way we don’t take this decision lightly but Brierley guide specifically warns about the danger of this road walk even more so in wet conditions Thanks for your thoughts. Just not sure which way to go.
I opted to skip the snow and traffic from SJPP to Valcarlos and started from Roncesvalles, and never regretted it in 2020.
 
The one from Galicia (the round) and the one from Castilla & Leon. Individually numbered and made by the same people that make the ones you see on your walk.
Anyone with experience road walking Valcarlos to Roncesvalles in snow. The main road is very busy. It was rainy today on our way to Valcarlos but tomorrow there is supposed to be 4 inches of snow. Considering skipping it and starting from Roncesvalles. Thoughts. By the way we don’t take this decision lightly but Brierley guide specifically warns about the danger of this road walk even more so in wet conditions Thanks for your thoughts. Just not sure which way to go.
We decided to skip it. I’ll post some photos of that day. Of course everyone has to walk your own Camino but it was the right decision for us. Snow was really deep at 8 AM and our Taxi almost got stuck. If you are in Valcarlos watch the weather and be careful. The pilgrims office is advising people to only road walk from Valcarlos and not take any other alt routes. We had a scary day from Roncesvalles to Zubiri in the snow. Be sure you bring rain coat and pants and wool socks and clothes if hiking in the winter. We were hiking 14 miles through a lot of snow. It was a tough day.
 

That looks so beautiful. But I understand anyone who decides to skip walking this section in that kind of weather.

Personally, I'd probably have preferred to walk (with my trusted hiking crampons!) instead of sitting in a car up that steep snowy road, though 😱.

Buen Camino, and take care!
 
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m2m4christ,

Thanks for your update and splendid snowy photo. All your forum followers will be relieved to read that you have made it safely through your unforgetable day.
 

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