Stage 36: From St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncevaux (winter road)

Departure for Roncesvalles by the winter road or rainy spring


This morning, the rain falls on St Jean-Pied-de-Port. We are at the beginning of spring, at the end of March. To change a little, we will describe the Camino francés in spring, when Spain is still green, alive. This will change the usual views of the path in season, when everything is burned, when the heat wave slows down the pace and severely affects the bodies of walkers under their hats, often derisory.

The weather forecast announces a difficult day with rain, snow and cold on the Pyrenees Moutains. The night before, discussions were quite busy in the restaurants of the village. Could we pass the Bentarte Pass and the Leopeder Pass all up there on the mountain? Because of course, for any good pilgrim, you have to go up there. The books they read, the old pilgrims they frequented, and of course the Internet have told so much about this stage, that many pilgrims imagine they have done it many times, at least in their minds. But, here, this morning is just cold shower. At the Tourist Office, it is announced that the path is closed from the hut of Orisson, towards the pass. There is abundant fog and 15 centimeters of snow at 1’500 meters altitude. Do you think this kind of announcement discourages pilgrims? The majority, yes. Because the discussions were also very busy among the pilgrims the day before about the risks. They have learned that the rescue now is paid off, especially with the use of the helicopter. They have also heard the many incidents that have enameled the course, with many injured, also deaths by hypothermia for some intrepid people lost in the cold, on the way. Some pilgrims will go anyway (the route is described in this guide, at the end of the stages of Via Podiensis). But, the others will take the winter track, which climbs up less, less prestigious. But, tonight, they will arrive anyway to Roncesvalles, too. Alas, this way is still long the road of the pass.

Here are two possible ways to reach Roncevaux (Roncesvalles, Orreaga, for other names).


Today we’ll follow the variant of Valcarlos.

Do not think that if the stage is softer, it is easy. Slope variations (+1147 meters /-387 meters) are important. The first part to Valcarlos is not too difficult, but the road runs up and down all the time, sometimes on fairly steep slopes. But from Valcarlos, the path is difficult, as difficult as if you had followed the summer track. There is still a pass to cross, even if the Ibañeta Pass is not Leopeder Pass. And if you go through here in a rainy spring, you will be refrigerated. Once at the pass, downhill to Roncesvalles is easy, which is not the case of the descent from the Leopeder Pass.

In this stage, you’ll walk mostly on the paved road:

Paved road: 16.1 km

Pathways: 6.9 km

We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads.

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use. GPS watches, whether measuring barometric pressure or altimetry, are hardly more convincing than estimates based on mapped profiles.

There are very few sites on the Internet that can be used to estimate slopes from maps (up to 3). Since these programs are based on an approximation and an average around the desired point, there can be large variations from one software to another, depending on the state of the art or the variation between two points (for example a hole followed by a bump very close). Do you want an example? On the GR36 along the coast of Brittany, the altitude is rarely more than 50 meters above the sea. But the path only goes up and down. For a course of about twenty kilometres, a software will give you 800 meters of elevation gain, another 300 meters. Who says true? For having made the course several times, the legs say that the difference in altitude is closer to 800 meters! So how to proceed? We can rely on software, but, we must be careful, ignore slopes given, but only use altitudes. From there, it is only elementary mathematics to deduce the incline, considering the altitude and the distance travelled between two points whose altitude is known. It is this way of doing things that has been used in this site. Moreover, in retrospect, when one makes “in real” the course estimated on cartography, one notes that this way of doing is quite close to the truth of the ground. When one walks often, one has quite quickly the degree of slope in the eye.

In the text, lodging on the course is mentioned, without great details. You’ll find details about housing at the end of the course. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live. For this stage, here is the link:

Click here to start the stage on the first section. Avant

If you are not interested in the course, and you only require details information about lodging, you get enter this item.

Click here for details of lodgings. Avant