Day 1 St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles
Tuesday 26th March 2013
27 km - 7hrs 45 mins
We had been told categorically by the Confraternity office in St. Jean that the Napoleon route was closed due to a remaining 1 meter of snow, and that under no circumstances should we attempt it. They also put crosses on the map for the Valcarlos route where they said passage was difficult and we should go via the road. Whilst they may have been somewhat cautious on the lower parts of the Valcarlos route, there were correct towards the top and the Ibaneta pass where snow still remained making passage hard work, if not impossible.
The workload for the Valcarlos route is heavily stacked towards the end. I reached Valcarlos in two and a half hours and Gainekoleta in three and a half hours, the latter being well over three quarters of the way up in terms of distance. But the serious climbing starts after Gainekoleta, especially if you are walking up the road and have to navigate the hairpin bends and the long stretches of road between them. All in all I took seven and three quarter hours to reach Roncesvalles, which was quite a brutal introduction to the Camino on day 1....... and this was via the valley route not the high route!
My walking companion David Myers managed it in six hours, although the toll it took on his body to do it at that speed was to have effects in the coming days, particularly with blisters.
Mick and David ready to start from Hotel Itzalpea, 7-30 a.m.
St. Jean Pied de Port high street much quieter at 7-30 a.m.
The start is a continuation of the high street, but we followed Martin Sheen's footsteps
and went over the wooden bridge.
A last look up the high street
After passing out of the town gate and through houses, the path goes off to the right here
You soon enter open countryside
Gentle incline but with inspiring mountains in the distance
Lush green countryside
People may pooh-pooh the Valcarlos route in favour of the Napoleon route, but it is actually quite pretty.
Benta Xabi shopping complex at the border between France and Spain. 1.5 hr to this point.
2.5 hours to Valcarlos
The church of Santiago Apóstol, reconstructed in the 18th and 19th centuries after the old
church was destroyed in the war against the French Convention.
David, Marielle, Unknown, Unknown, Mick and Richard at Valcarlos
Leaving Valcarlos by the road - a hard climb
Wooded track through Gainekoleta
Looking back towards Gainekoleta
Wooded path alongside the stream
Back on the road for the hard climb around the hairpin bends up to Ibañeta
Quite a bit of snow left on the mountains
The track traversing towards Ibañeta looked clear at first....
But we were soon up against snow and had to revert to the road.
I met two Spanish walkers at this point, Adolphus and Rosa from Majorca; they had tried to descend from Ibañeta to Roncesvalles by the path but had had to return to Ibañeta due to the path being blocked by snow. I walked down the road to Roncesvalles with them and two others from Holland.
Roncesvalles Monastery still deep in snow
The bunk beds arranged in cubicles of 4... all clean and fresh. Nightly charge of 10 euro.
Nothing to prevent a fall from top bunk however!
The Santiago (St. James) Chapel
La Posada Restaurant
The bar in La Posada, where we had our set "Peregrinos Meal" for 9 euro
The peregrino meal at The Posada was really quite good. For starters you had a choice of soup or pasta (or both, as there was plenty), I had trout with french fries for the main and there was yoghurt for the dessert.... all with a half bottle of red wine per person. A group of Irish walkers was on our table, Victor, Geraldine, Bernie and Mary, whom I talked to and met several times en route. I draw attention to the lack of a restraining rail on top bunk above, as later in the week in a similar situation Geraldine had the misfortune of falling from top bunk whilst asleep! She hurt her back and ribs and did not continue after that, understandably.
La Posada House Red