To cross the Pyrenees or not?


The question was:

I will be undertaking my first camino and begin from St Jean on the 21st April..I have just read somewhere you should be a experienced hill walker to cross the first stage of the camino…which i am not and have not had much time to train etc. Im 29 and reasonably fit. Im seriously considering taking a bus to Roncesvalles as I am now seriously freaking out a bit!..even re-considering the entire trip and any motives i did have about the camino…

How do you know if its the right time or not..

Is it normal to be anxious/stressed etc about doing this section or not..I am going alone so not sure if that is why Im more nervous about it…

Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

Read the good advice on crossing the Pyrenees or not in our Camino forum.

40 Replies to “To cross the Pyrenees or not?”

  1. If you want to try, ask the locals the night before if you should, if conditions are good enough.  If you are advised against it, you have to choices:  one is walking along the asphalt road to Roncesvalles (ask, if that is o.k.), or take a bus/taxi to Spain.
    April is still a very tricky month for crossing the mountains.  

  2. I think it was hard to pass the pyrenees. But not too hard. I met all kind of people, and everyone made it. Just make sure you have time and walk in your own speed. Iwas very stressed about the whole camino before I started, but it went just fine. The first day was so beautiful, so I would walk it if I were you. But you decide 🙂

  3. The utter beauty of crossing the Pyrenees on foot is that you absolutely KNOW on the other side that you can now do anything, anything, anywhere, any time — not only on the Camino, but for the rest of your beautiful life! Take a bus or skip it and I think you are likely to continue as you start — to always choose the easier option. The Pyrenees crossing also demonstrates how the Camino is a mental challenge much more than a physical one — if you think you can do it, your body will follow suit and do it. But let your mind believe now, at the foot of the mountains, that it is OK to follow the easier options, it will wait for you to do that every time you face a bit of a challenge on the way. (I use daily — really every day of my life –= the strength and self confidence that I gained from crossing those Pyrenees – and I did it in midwinter, in sleet –  in a gale force wind storm — to me it was my fire-walk. It showed me for the first time in my life what I am capable of doing)
    Trust me — you will write when you come back and thank me for this little bit of advice!

    1. Your words are an inspiration. My husband and I will be starting from SJPDP on 27 April and we have been rather anxious about the Pyrenees and the whole Camino. We are in our 50’s, both fit and have been in training. Thanks for your inspiring words and changing our negative thoughts to positive. Gracias! Stewart and Wendy Hall S. Africa.

      1. Hi Stewart, I am also from South Africa and will be starting close to your date – I am walking solo and will also cross the Pyrennes – hope to see you guys on the way!!

    2. Do not be afraid. Remember you are doing this for a reason. I do not know your reason for walking the Camino. What I do know is that God wants you to do this and the devil does not. Make the right choice.  

      I know next year when I make my first pilgrimage it will be difficult to start. I am planning to start from the same place you are. I chose to start ther I never heard of thos pilgrimage but I am walking it becasue I woke up one moring knowing i had to do this. I had to look up what the “Camino” was.god is calling me to do this.  I know it will be difficult and challenging. But it is what God wants. And………..I will be 58 years old by the time I start.

      1. Me to! How exciting my experience in being lead to walk the The Way is the same as you also my age .. I will be going this alone as well and am apprehensive about the whole thing but when God speaks to my heart in such a way I have to believe he wants me to go for a reason .It’s exciting and I feel blessed he has made a way for me to go .I will be traveling the Way in June,is this a good time to go? I to will start in St Jean ,perhaps we will meet on the path ..

  4. I walked 7 days through the Himalaya without any prior training or mountaineering experience, and without even proper gear. It was very very hard, and maybe foolish, but if I didn’t try it, I would have missed out the greatest thing in my life.

    So don’t be afraid to take take the hard way.

  5. We crossed from St Jean Pied de Port on March 29th. The weather was georgeous and we saw a lot. You don´t have to climb the steep trails the young Pilgrims take for about an extra km you just stay on the blacktop. Please try to get over your jetlag before going up and if you have the time split it up by an overnighter at the Albergue in Orrison. Everyone can do it except there is a lot of anxiety because everyone does not know that it is doable. I´m 64 and have 1/2 a lung (One) and I did. Also you are never alone because that time you chose is quite busy. Take a real ponch which covers you back pack in case it rains Ed

  6. I am 58, not at all athletic and didn’t train for long before I crossed the Pyrenees last June. Take your time, stop alot, drink alot of water, good hiking boots are a must, and I broke it up by staying in Orrison overnight which was just beautiful. I took small steps too, especially when descending into Roncesvalles. You will regret it if you don’t do it. It is the best part of the Camino as far as I am concerned and afterwards you will feel exhilerated. I felt like I can do anything after accomplishing that. Buen Camino!

  7. I walked the Camino 5 years ago at the age of 58.  I did not have time to get in shape before the trip for various reasons. It wasn’t easy but I made it through the Pyrenees.  Don’t skip this part!  It is beautiful and doable.  Just take it slow, have plenty of water and stop in Orisson for the night.  I’m planning my next trip and will be 64 or 65 depending on when I can leave and will cross the Pyrenees again.  It is just too beautiful to miss.

  8. Just like you, I´m doing my first Camino, and I feel exactly the same as you do! I have also heard, that you can´t decide which way to choose, until you know the weather conditions, and that make ME nervous. I don´t arrive in SJP until 10 in the morning, so I know I can´t do the whole part to Roncevalles. I start on april 29.

  9. well, it is normal to be nervous of the unknown… I am a 30 years old female and I did the camino last October… Before I went to the camino I was not sure if it was the right thing for me. 3 days before I went to France, I started questioning my real reasons to go to the camino and I found not real reasons besides curiosity and to have a new experience in life… when I got to St. jean I said to myself ohhhh no this is not for me, what am I doing??? I had not answers at all. then I started meeting people in the albergue, and I realize that they have the same feelings as me, we wanted to do the camino but we were not sure of what to expect! I was afraid to walk by myself so I always walk around people that I have met the day before. I felt more confortable and more secure. some days I walked by myself but  would suggest to walk close to the people who you have seen before. I preffer to be save than sorry 😉 !!!

    About starting in St. Jean, I highly suggest to do it. Based on my experience, it was one of the hardest days but I wouldn’t change it for anything! My mistake was that  my backpack was overweight so I had to carry it all the way to Roncesvalles.  I wish someone would have told me that I was able to send it to next albergue in Roncesvalles so I wouldn’t have to carry it with me. however, if you know that your backpack is not too heavy then take your backpack with you! I didn’t train before the camino, and I did all the way with minor disconforts, make sure to strech yourself everyday and drink a lotttt of water!   Buen Camino 😉

  10. I have done two Caminos, the last in 2011 when at the age of 70 I walked the 900+ miles from
    Le Puy. On both walks I have spent the night out of SJPP at the auberge at Orisson and recommend it highly. It breaks up the long and challenging trek to Roncesvalles and allows you to relax in a beautiful spot with great hospitality. But it is essential to make a reservation several days in advance.

    1. Bill

      thank you for your supportive comments. I will be 70 this year and this will be my first long walk. How can I book the auberge at Orisson? Iive in Australia and there do not seem to be email addresse

      1. follow this link. It will take you to the Orisson contact page. I begin my Camino on April 2nd and will be staying there. If you send them a message with your date they will respond. You will then need to pay them on paypal to confirm your stay.

    2. Hi Bill ~ I also stayed my first night in Orisson in 2011 and so glad that I did. The rooms are nice, the food great and it’s a lovely setting. I plan to walk again in 2014 (I’ll be 63 then). Love reading of your experience. I so miss the Camino and think of it almost every day!

  11. I was 66 years old and fairly unfit when I walked The Camino and was so worried about the Pyrenees that I booked into Orrison, but when I arrived I couldn’t stop and just kept walking. It was hard but a wonderful experience as Roncesvalles came into view. Go for it and enjoy it will enhance the whole experience.

  12. My friend, Dennis Gatto, who is in his 60s, just did the Camino and he had no plan and did some physical prep. I think you need to just go and take care. You will find your own rhythm so allow yourself to look forward and don’t be pessimistic. It is a personal adventure!

  13. Just do it! Was one of the highlights. If you aren’t ready for the whole thing in one go, then stop in Orrisson. Beautiful!

  14. I am going to walk the camino next year in june, it will be my third time, my previous starts have been from logrono. I am starting this time from St Jean, am 56 yrs old and absolutely love everything about the camino. I did last one alone, but on the camino you are never alone. Everyone gets nervous, but you won’t regret anything about it once you start. The saying goes::” A Journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step”. Get out there and enjoy yourself, you will have fun and meet some amazing people. my motto is, Live your Dreams. Buen Camino. Kerry

  15. Take it easy. exit from St Jean is hard (especially the first mile). The landscapes are wonderful. Do it! (unhurried)

  16. I started at St. Jean and as someone with very little hiking experience, it *was* difficult, and the longest day of the whole Camino! However, it was also the most beautiful, and although you will be tired at the end, you will be able to do it. It’s not as bad as you might think. If you are even reasonably fit, you can do it. Pack light, bring snacks and water, and you will be fine. (There were so many things left at the albergue in Roncesvalles, and I imagine that first difficult day was made more difficult by the miscellaneous unnecessary crap that people brought!) In short… it is completely worth it!

  17. You can walk the Pyrenees, i’m not experienced but i did it and was great. For me it was the most beautifull day of the camino. It was last July!

  18. Like Roy I booked into Orrison, but didn’t find I needed to stay there. I set off quite late from SJPP, about 10.30 or so, but I fell in with some great people and ended up walking on past Orrison and on to Roncesvalles and it’s really not as bad as I’d anticipated. Just make sure your boots are roomy enough for the descent. I was walking with people with no previous walking experience and carrying far too much stuff but who made it fine nevertheless.

  19. I’m 76 and walked in 2012 from Burgos to Santiago and plan to go back next year to do the rest from St. Jean to Burgos and from Santiago to Finisterre. It took 4 weeks and was very hard at times because I had problem with my right leg (pinched nerve), but it was the greatest personal experience I have ever had. Knowing that one has the inner strenghts and endurance to overcome any doubt, pain and selfpity made me a stronger person…and I thank God for it!

  20. The first stage of camono was the hardest and also one of the most beautiful stage. And after crossing it I had stronge belive, that I can do evry stage of camino it halps me not to give up, then i feel tired and want to stop earlier, just move on.

  21. Remember, it’s one foot in front of the other… regardless of how long it may take you. One foot in front of the other while looking at the fabulous surroundings, while breathing in the fresh air, while smelling the beautiful earth under your feet, while feeling every sensation exponentially – – one foot in front of the other…
    Buen Camino!

  22. Hello Everyone Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. This is my first Camino. (53 years old) I will be leaving St Jean at the end of April 2013! Until I read your words I almost convinced myself to start from Pamplona and skip the mountain pass, but now my mind is set. I will start at the beginning…St Jean Pied de Port. One step at a time.

  23. It is not that bad. I am an “old” lady,And we crossed the Pyrenees in a hurricane some years ago.You just take an overnight at the last place it is possible.(that hostal did not exist when we were there).If it is bad weather,you may take the low route.I did it once,but we regretted the choice.It is no great experience.The high route IS a great experience.I want to do it again,but in fine weather this time.

  24. A bus journey across the Pyrenees would be nice ! …….but would not be a substitute for the experience of entering the pilgrim world of hundreds of thousands before us. If you are concerned about it (and it is a tough stage) stop in Orrison and that would lessen the endurance required.
    Iam 58 and did StJean to Roncesvalles in August.. 33c… not recommended, but never to be forgotten. The views are amazing, the flora and fauna could not be witnessed from a bus. Griffon vultures hovering overhead watching their prey… I survived.
    A walking pole is ESSENTIAL especially for the downhill last kms.
    Bon Camino

  25. I will crossing the Pyrenees on April 8. How is the weather there in
    early April? I am 62 and this is my first Camino. Only have two weeks
    so I want to do the start and the end and if time some sections in the

  26. I suggest be careful. I shared a taxi to get up 3/4 of the pass and it was still a brutal day. I think a better place to start is Roncesvalles. They have a beautiful evening service for the pilgrims to send them on their way,for me it seemed just rignt. Also, I have noticed that many pilgrims are not physically prepared for the ardious trek and many are over fifty, more good reasons to rethink where you begin.

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