Stage 37: From Roncevaux to Zubiri

In the beautiful beech and pine forests of Navarre

 

The Santiago Registry Office provides statistics on attendance and distribution of pilgrims on the way every year. Here are the 2018 data recorded according to the months of the year:

Month Number of pilgrims Month Number of pilgrims
January 1’628 July 50.668
February 2’181 August 60.415
March 11.056 September 47’006
April 22.068 October 35’602
May 40’665 November 7’651
June 45’665 December 2’553

Total number : 327.378

Obviously, these are statistics, based on questionnaires filled by pilgrims, to which they are asked for the track used, the place of departure, the nationality. These figures are those of pilgrims who come to the office, with their “credencial” to receive their diploma. The figures do not include pilgrims who do not go to the office. And there are many for example not to have “credencial”. But, most pilgrims who go to Spain, play the game, in principle. As these figures say, the peak of participation is in summer. Poor pilgrims who must undergo the heat of the Meseta! At the time we are describing the way, we are at the end of April-beginning of May, with a participation estimated at 35’000 pilgrims per month, so about 1’200 pilgrims a day arriving in Santiago. Now, of course, all the pilgrims do not start at St Jean Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles. But, we also know the starting statistics by locality. In 2018, 10.1% of pilgrims left St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and 1.69% of Roncesvalles. In total, you find 11.79% of pilgrims who could have left Roncesvalles, that is 1’200 x 11.8%, or 140 people per day. But, we can assure you that there are more than 140 people at Roncesvalles.

Now let’s play another game using nationalities, considering the Santiago register. In 2018, Americans accounted for 5.68% of pilgrims, Koreans 1.8%. Playing a bit with these numbers, and assuming that 2019 might look a bit like 2018, we should meet today with 11 Americans and 3 Koreans a day on the way. However, this is not the case, they are much more numerous, representing more than a quarter of the pilgrims on the stages of the first week. When we go to the lodgings and see the same heads every day, we have another idea of statistics. Because obviously the statistics give only the figures on arrival in Santiago, and not the departure by nationality at each entrance of the track.

So, here is another register, to complicate matters. This is the registration office of St Jean-Pied-de-Port.

Month Number of pilgrims Month Number of pilgrims
January 292 July 6.173
February 320 August 8.320
March 2.077 September 10.189
April 7.499 October 4.135
May 10.837 November 602
June 7.148 December 289

Total number : 58.884

And we understand right away how difficult it is to compare data from partial statistics. If 58’000 pilgrims (French statistics) leave St Jean-Pied-de-Port, and 327’378 arrive in Santiago (Spanish statistics), this would mean that 18% of pilgrims have left St Jean-Pied-de-Port.  However, the Spanish claim that only 10% of pilgrims left St Jan-Pied-de-Port, that is two times less. Who is right? The problem is in the analysis of the questionnaires, perhaps.

Now, let’s try to understand why in the first stages of the journey in Spain, there are so many Koreans and Americans, which the Spanish analysis does not show, which concludes that there are 3 Koreans and 10 Americans a day. So, as St Jean-Pied de-Port is still quite far from Santiago, it is better to rely on French data in this area, for the beginning of the road. According to their data, the peak is in May, with 10,837 pilgrims, so that 10’837/ 30, namely 360 pilgrims going daily to Roncesvalles. This also shows the difficulty of lodging in Roncesvalles, because the major lodging accepts only 189 people. But, there are other possibilities of housing here, or else you have to go further on the way. The French also give the origin of the pilgrims, with 10.8% of Americans and 7.5% of Koreans. We should then meet 40 Americans and 27 Koreans on the way, which fits pretty well with what we observe on the way.

But there is a way to reconcile the statistics of the two countries. Considering French data, out of the 58,884 departures from St Jean-Pied-de-Port, 6350 Americans and 4413 Koreans leave each year. According to  Spain, 18,850 Americans and 5,665 Koreans arrive in Santiago. This means that the majority of Koreans start the Camino at St Jean-Pied-de-Port, which is only true for a third of Americans.

We have to realize that for an American, an Australian or a Korean, coming here is just an expedition. These pilgrims do not come here just for a couple of days. They are here for the very long term. This is why we find many representatives of these countries at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and Roncevaux. In contrast, Spanish pilgrims, who represent the 50% of pilgrims on the way, can enjoy a holiday to walk a few steps, from one year to another. We know that today fewer European pilgrims leave their country to walk straight off to Santiago or Finisterra.

Anyway, the stage of the day is a beautiful walk in the forests of Navarre, in the middle of the beech trees first, then in the pines. The forests around Roncesvalles are known to be the largest beech forests in Europe. The villages are charming with stone houses, strongly decorated and emblazoned, made to withstand the harsh climate that characterizes these regions. This land was Hemingway’s favourite land.

 

 

Slope variations today are very reasonable (+322 m /-749 m). It’s downhill foremost. For uphill climbing conditions, there are only three real bumps, a short before Autrizberri, a longer after the same village, then a serious after Lintzioian. But it’s little more than 300 meters of positive sloping in all. The descents are often on slabs, or in the painful descent on Zubiri on brittle stones.

 

In this stage, the route is almost exclusively on the pathways. Some paths are paved. In Spain, apart from villages and towns, paved roads, for the most part, have grassy strips or dirt on the sides. Thus, the Camino francés is above all a true pathway, compared to other tracks of Compostela in Europe, where the courses are only halfway on dirt roads:

 

Paved road: 2.7 km

Pathways: 18.8 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:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-randonnee/de-ronceveaux-a-zubiri-par-le-camino-frances-37582828

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