My Pyrenees HRP Diary - Introduction

This year, 2015, I will walk along the Pyrenees HRP from Hendaye on the Atlantic coast to Banyuls, on the Mediterranean coast.

I will record preparations and progress here, hopefully something new each week until the job is done... I hope you will follow this diary and walk along with me. I look forward to comments on all that I write, it will make me feel I am not talking just to myself!

If you are new to this blog it may help if you start at the oldest post first, to get some background


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Equipment Reviews

 I promised reviews of the equipment I took on my Pyrenean adventure, and they will appear here. What I will do is a set of reviews under the headings listed below. As each one is published I will update the list to include a link to the review in question. The kit reviews are actually on a separate blog and if you are really keen you can subscribe to that and get email advices as they are published.

I think my 55 day walk was a severe test for most of the equipment I took, and I am pleased that mainly it passed with flying colours. I am particularly happy with the "big three," ie rucksack, tent and sleeping bag, all of which were sourced from Zpacks, and all of which performed brilliantly, above and beyond the call of duty. Here is the list, then there are a few more general comments below:

Phone, watch & digital
Maps & guides
Food & cooking

Remember that I am taller than average, 6ft 4 1/2" (1.94m) and that coloured some of my choices, eg I picked a 2 person tent and a longer, bespoke sleeping bag. 
I am also getting older, and for this trip, I decided I should do what I could to reduce my carry weight a little more. I replaced my faithful Terra Nova tent, Gossamer Gear rucksack and Marmot Helium sleeping bag with Zpacks products which saved me 2Kg right away. But would they cope with a rugged walk?
Otherwise the only major change from my previous visits to the Pyrenees was that I went 100% electronic: no paper maps, no books or guides, everything went onto the smartphone. This worked very well although in the end it didn't save a vast amount of weight.
Overall my rucksack weighed 12.2Kg when I set off, including food and 1.5l water. There is a full equipment list here. I was pleased with this, but I am pretty sure it weighed quite a bit more during some parts of the walk. Weight creeps on.. you take clothes off when it's warm, and stuff them into pockets; you go to a food shop and stock up.. you buy one or two other essentials you forgot.. it rains and the tent gets wet.. I reckon the total carry weight went up to about 15Kg at its maximum, but I cannot be certain as scales are rare in the mountains!

Friday, 4 September 2015

HRP Photo Slideshow

Below is an embedded slideshow of about 430 photos of my journey along the HRP from Hendaye to Banyuls. Just click on it. Whether the embedded link works in emails I don't know.. but you can also see the photos by clicking here Slideshow: This completes the blog posts for the HRP except for the Equipment Reviews, which will follow in a few days' time. Thank you, to all readers and commenters! I can be reached via email at: hrp at jerrywhitmarsh dot com (replace the "at" and the "dot"!) . Jerry

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Thoughts on completing the HRP

It's nice when you finish!
During the walk, I lost just over 11kg in weight (80.4kg now, against 92kg before), and walked 568.4 miles according to my pedometer. I'm told there is about 30 miles of vertical ascent and descent, but haven't checked. 
I am confirmed in my view that the HRP is the hardest, but also the best and most rewarding of the three trans-Pyrenees routes. I think doing the walk in one go is also more rewarding, if you have the opportunity. I have never been away from home for so long, and probably never will be again. I'm very grateful to Sue for holding the fort, and to Charlie & Co for being there much of the time too. Also those who looked after the walks and the village hall in my absence, notably Peter McGillivray.
Some aspects of the walk, I was very pleased with:
- not one single blister or foot problem throughout.
- nothing lost or forgotten en route, (except one small item), most unusual for me!
- most of my equipment lasted the course very well, especially the Zpacks kit - rucksack, tent and sleeping bag. I will do a separate post about equipment, in due course.
- most of the hotels and gites d'etape that I stayed in were excellent, as were some of the refuges.
- the phone plan provided by 3, which treats calls, texts and data made in France and Spain the same as in the UK, is the bees knees,  and saved me a great deal of money. Pity about Andorra though. 
- I met lots of really nice people on the way. I daren't try to name them all, but you know who you are! Thanks for everything. Walkers are great. 
Above all, I think I picked the right mountain range! The Pyrenees are stunning throughout.
Some aspects of the walk I was less happy with:
- the refuges I stayed in were a very mixed bunch. Some were excellent,  some pretty dire. Their fixation with pasta was a constant irritation. I will do a separate post about accommodation, in due course. Of course running a refuge situated above 2000m is not an easy job, and we need to remember that refuges are not hotels. But some were so much better than others.
- physically, I think I did this walk in the nick of time. My knees only just lasted the course, and my sense of balance (or lack of it) was an impediment too. In future I should perhaps stick to easier, shorter walks, like the Pennine Way.
I have over 1100 photos to wade through and prune. When I've done that, I will provide a link to a slide show. 
what happens when you lose your balance! 

Monday, 31 August 2015

HRP Day 55 Col de l'Ouillat - Banyuls sur Mer

Monday 31 August 2015

A long day today. The Col de l'Ouillat is at 936m, and the total ascent for today is 700m. It follows that to get to the beach at banyuls, a descent of 1636m is needed,  a real challenge for my knees. But with the great incentive of knowing that when it's done it's done, I plugged away.
The HRP had one last joke to play. For the entire morning, visibility was virtually nil. I was firmly in cloud, and damp cloud at that. So my first sight of the sea was not until about 1.30pm, with Banyuls itself in the distance.
I got to the beach about 5pm, I confess I did feel slightly out of place because I couldn't see anyone else there at all who had a large rucksack, walking poles and boots. Most had much less. Nothing daunted, I accosted a tanned adonis, who kindly agreed to take some photos, see below. He informed me he had been up Vignemale and Aneto, and seemed properly appreciative & friendly. We shook hands, then I  had a quick beer, and off to find my hotel.
Afterwards I had a very nice dinner with Florent and Reg, One of the features of walking in these mountains is the lovely people you meet.

Although this is the end of the line, walkwise, there will be a few more posts to this blog. Some reflections on the experience as a whole, and some reviews of the equipment I took, and how it performed. Most of it actually did very well, though don't talk to me about walking poles!

It will be nice to get back home to Linton

this is what it was like all morning. Even spotting the GR10 waymarks was hard

vision at last. . That is Argeles Plage and Port Argeles in the distance
and that is Banyuls. Still some walking to do! 
getting closer. .
closer still! 
A quick paddle 
this sign is on the wall of the Marie.  There isn't one for the HRP 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

HRP Day 54 Las Illas - Col de l'Ouillat

Sunday 30 August 2015

Set off, usual time and walked over dull dirt roads to the Col de Perthus, a border town with all of the tackiness such places manage to display. There was a supermarket but I honestly couldn't think of anything I wanted. I found my two friends, Reg & Florent, sat and had a beer, then set off for the Col de l'Ouillat. This is at 937m so clearly climbing is involved, Perthus being about 280m. It turned out to be a bit of a challenge, since the route of the GR10 has been changed several times in recent years in this area. I had assumed I could follow the instructions in my guidebook, even if the official GR route had changed, but this turned out not to be the case. Not only was it not the GR10 any more, it was not a footpath at all. After floundering about for a bit, I ended up walking up the zigzag road to the col. Feeling rather aggrieved, I stuck out a thumb now and then, but sadly few cars came past, and none of them stopped. Still, I got to the Chalet d' Albere by about 5pm. I thought of sleeping in my tent but it has turned very windy, so I decided against, and booked in for a room and dinner. Dinner was ok but it was pasta.

One more day!

I kept my eyes peeled, but failed to spot anything either gymnastique or naturiste. Either would have done. Ideally, both. 
these are cork oak trees, stripped of their bark as they are, every 8 or 10 years
and here's the crop. 
a Panissars' graveyard near Perthus, with a fort in the background
Le Perthus, with the A9 autoroute behind

HRP Day 53 Moulin de la Palette - Las Illas

Saturday 29 August 2015

Left at about the usual time. .. got to Las Illas about 5pm... I am finding it rather hard to say anything about the walk in between, now we are deep into the Languedoc. It still goes up and down - the high point was almost 1500m, comfortably higher than Ben Nevis -  and it was hot and humid again today, which makes climbs difficult, but it is still a far cry from the giddy heights of the central Pyrenees.
There were a couple of interesting things though. We are still near the border ridge here, and the HRP diverges from the GR10 during the day for a brief foray into Spain, though by the time we get to Las Illas we are back in France. The HRP path goes past a Spanish hermitage, the Ermita de la Salinas, which on investigation I found had a cantina, which was happy to sell me a beer for €1. I don't think it is still a working hermitage, as it were, the young couple in charge and their delightful daughter Giarmina didn't look terribly religious, but it was a really nice place, peacefully located deep in a beech forest. Opportunities for beer on the HRP are very limited, and should not be passed up.
Las Illas has no shops or other facilities. It has a small gite d'etape, just a dormitory and a small kitchen, and it has a delightfully old - fashioned hotel, the Hostal dels Trabucayres, which is where I am. The other two, Reg and our new French friend Florent, are in the gite d'etape, but are coming here for dinner

Two more days to go! 

Ermita de la Salinas 
the blue bit in the middle is the sea
dining room at the Hostal dels Trabucayres
now that is some table decoration. 
Or this one, perhaps? 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

HRP Day 52 Mines de Batere - Ecogite Moulin de la Palette

Friday 28 August 2015

I left about the usual time and set off. The refuge is at about 1500m, and Arles-sur-Tech is about 280m, so it was clear what was going to happen and so it proved: a long 1200m descent into Arles. I got there just before 12 and wandered around for a few minutes. It is a nice enough place, nothing remarkable. I had some moules frites and set off again after an hour or so. The next bit is a climb up to the col de Paracolle, overall about a 700m climb. By now it  was really hot, the hottest day so far, and this became a hard slog that took me almost three hours to complete. Then a steady walk through the woods, finishing about 6pm at the gite, where I found Reg had arrived a few minutes earlier.  
There was nobody else there, just the two of us and the gite owner, and it turned out that he was going to go out, would not be back til the morning, and would leave us to our own devices! He had prepared a meal, and stuff for breakfast, showed us where everything was, and off he went.
Reg was going to sleep in his tent, so I had the entire upstairs part of the house to myself. All very comfortable, though why it's called an eco-gite is unclear. .. There is a wood burning stove, perhaps that's it.

Three days left

view from the refuge in the morning
the river Tech, that Arles-sur-Tech is sur
the Ecogite. Reg is visible at the left