Refugio Respomuso in the beautiful Circo de Piedrafita

Hiking the GR11: A Practical Guide

2018 GR11 Snow conditions update (posted Jan 10th)

We get lots of questions about snow condition on the GR11 and we update this page during the spring and early summer with the snow conditions on the GR11 in our area of the Pyrenees to give hikers an idea of what to expect and what equipment to take with them.

In January, it’s far too early to know exactly what the snow levels will be like in June, but with the snowfalls we’ve already had over the Christmas and New Year period we can already say that the 2018 season will be very snowy in the early summer. We have had heavy snowfalls in the Pyrenees with plenty more snow forecasted. In lower areas (even in the ski resorts) some of the precipitation has fallen as rain however in the higher cols there is already a lot of snow and unless we have a very unseasonably warm spring I can’t see this disappearing before the first GR11 hikers of 2018 pass through.

Usually the GR11 still has snowy sections until at least the end of June and normal until the middle of July. We strongly recommend that you have crampons and a walking axe in your pack if you intend to hike over the highest sections of the GR11 during these times.

We’ll post more news on conditions later in May or June once it has become clearer what early season snow will be like on the GR11.

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The GR paths are a network of extensive paths that criss-cross Europe, mostly in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.  In Spain, GR stands for ‘Gran Recorrido‘ and here in the Spanish Pyrenees, we have a number of these GR paths linking key settlements, passes and valleys, but perhaps the most challenging and impressive of these GR routes and the one that many of our hikes are based around is the GR11.  The GR11 stretches the entire length of the Spanish Pyrenees, from Hondarribia, on the Atlantic coast to Cap de Creus, on the Mediterranean coast, and covers a total of 840km, which is divided into 46 day long sections, most of which start/finish where accommodation is available, either a campsite, town, refuge or hostel.

Circo Piedrafita

Circo Piedrafita, near Refugio Respomuso is one of the higher sections of the GR11


How long will take?

This does depend, to an extent, on your fitness, need for rest days and whether you wish to take some of the spectacular peaks along the way, but 45-60 days is the norm, however, it has been completed in a little as 24 days.

Ordesa Monte Perdido National Park

The GR11 runs through the magnificent Ordesa Valley


What to expect

The GR11 passes through the mountains of Navarra, Aragon and Catalonia, the latter two regions comprising of steeper and higher mountains, not to mention a hotter climate than Navarra.  There are a number of high passes, above 2500m, in the central section and as much as 1600m of ascent / descent in a single day. The GR 11,  is a much more recent path than the GR 10, which lies on the French side of the Pyrenees, and offers more wilderness, passes through less villages and probably has better weather!

Fuen Blanca Anisclo Canyon

Fuen Blanca is situted towards the head of the Anisclo Canyon and is one of the most remote spots along the GR11.

The GR11 is generally well marked throughout with red and white stripes, however, it would be foolish to head out without an understanding of mountain navigation, along with a map and compass.  The terrain underfoot varies hugely, from straight forward 4×4 tracks, through to exposed and narrow rocky paths in high mountainous terrain, where a slip would be very serious.

Red & White stripes mark the GR11

Red & White stripes mark the GR11


When to go

The main walking season in the Spanish Pyrenees is between late May and the beginning of October, however this is not a hard and fast rule, as there can be snowfall well into June, and again in late September, which can cover many of the red and white painted markers.  On the other hand, there may be some perfect windows of opportunity in the autumn, particularly as the temperatures will be cooler.

There will be unavoidable snow patches throughout June and probably well into July, and these should not be underestimated. Those looking to hike the higher sections of the GR11 during this period should carry both an ice axe and crampons, and have experience of using these. The presence of snow can turn a benign scree slope into a steep icy slope, which without the use of an ice axe and  crampons could be potentially very serious should a slip occur.  An example of is on the slopes leading up to the Cuello Tebarrai (2782m) from Refugio de Respomuso, which can hold snow until early August.   Following a winter and spring of heavy snowfall, avalanche hazards can exist into June, particularly on hot, sunny days. Hut guardians can often be a great source of information regarding the conditions of the GR11 in the vicinity of their hut.

The Hike Pyrenees blog often has up-to-date photos and information regarding conditions in the Aragonese Pyrenees.

GR11 Hike Pyrenees Ordesa Respomuso 041

Photo of the Circo de Piedrafita & Embalse de Respomuso taken in June 2013

 

GR11 Hike Pyrenees Ordesa Respomuso 039

Heading up to the Cuello Teberrai in July 2013


Wardened Huts or ‘Refugios’

The wardened ‘Refugios’ along the GR11 will play an integral part of the journey, and will no doubt be a welcome site after a long day of hiking.  These should be booked in advance, either on-line or by telephone, and notified as soon as possible if you plan to cancel your booking.  The facilities available do vary from hut to hut, but do remember that these are often located high in the mountains, where supplies are brought in either via helicopter or by mule.  Some have showers and all will have toilets.  They will all offer meals (including  packed lunches) and often run a restaurant/bar service during the day.  Prices are very similar from hut to hut and are as follows:

Overnight: 17 euros
Dinner: 17 euros
Breakfast: 6 euros

There is a certain etiquette for using mountain huts, and whilst they vary slightly from hut to hut, overall the following rules will help:

1) Check-in on arrival, where you will be allocated a bed within a specific dormitory.  Let the warden know what time you’ll be up in the morning.
2) Boots are not permitted inside the hut, instead change into hut slippers or your own sandals.
3) Rucksacks are often not permitted inside the dormitories.  Leave these in the designated areas (sometimes lockers) and only take what you need for the night to the dormitory.
4) Use a sleeping bag liner when sleeping, and ear plugs are a good idea!
5) Lights will all be turned off at about 10pm, make sure you have a head torch to hand.
6) In the morning, leave the dorm quietly, trying not to disturb others.
7) Take all your rubbish with you, otherwise someone else will have to.

It is worth noting that if you plan on spending many nights in mountain huts, to consider joining one of the large mountaineering organisations which provide reciprocal rights I.e. discounts of up to 50%.  The Austrian Alpine Club (UK) is one such organisation.

Variations and summits

There are an infinite number of variations possible, with all the official variations are listed here: http://www.euro-senders.com/web_eng/grspain/gr_011.htm and described in the guidebook The Gr11 Trail – La Senda: Through the Spanish Pyrenees (Cicerone Guides).   These variations will generally be for one of three reasons: 1) the variation will be a more enjoyable and scenic, 2) the variation will be more logical, e.g. not loose unnecessary height to then reascend soon after, 3) the variation will be more convenient for using wardened huts.

Hiking along the GR11.2 in the Posets Massif

Hiking along the GR11.2 in the Posets Massif

Along with these variations, there are plenty of opportunities to take in some of the great Pyrenean summits, including: Pico de L’Infierno, Monte Perdido, Pico Posets, Perdiguero & Pico Aneto.  Needless to say that extra time will need to be factored in, as most of these summits are side-trips (up and down the same route) from the GR11.

GR11 Pico De L'Infierno

The impressive Pico de L’Infierno.

Monte Perdido Ordesa National Park

On the summit of Monte Perdido, 3355m


Kit

As with any trip of this nature, what you take depends on how you choose to play it, but the bottom line is to keep things as light as possible. The entire trip, from coast to coast, can be done, with careful planning, without carrying a tent or sleeping bag, however, this could well involve some big days of 30km+.  There are plenty of resources in books and on-line that detail what you should take, but here are a few things to consider:

Rucksack: Needs to be big enough to fit all your gear in, but not so big that you end up filling it with unnecessary items. 55-65 litres should be ample.  Contents should be kept in waterproof dry bags or a liner.

Sleeping bag: Only required, along with a lightweight sleeping mat, if you plan on camping along the way.  A 3 season bag should suffice.

Sleeping bag liner: You must have a sleeping bag liner for the wardened huts (they provide blankets).  This should ideally be a silk one, as they are very light and dry very quickly.

Boots: Must have good ankle support and a sturdy sole, as some of the walking will be on very rough or loose terrain.  These will need to be stiff enough if you plan on using crampons.

Sun hat: Absolutely essential!  The sun during the summer, at midday can be blisteringly hot, and without adequate protection, dehydration, sun burn and heat exhaustion are all much more likely.

Waterproofs: Again, absolutely essential.  Don’t forget that just because you’re in Spain, during the summer, that you’re still in the mountains, where the weather can change very quickly, and whilst overall, it doesn’t rain much, when it does, it can be very heavy.  That said, heavyweight mountaineering waterproofs are a bit of an overkill, go for something lightweight and breathable.  This applies to waterproof trousers too.

Other essentials: map & compass, sunglasses, headtorch, at least 2 litres of water per day.

GR11 Ordesa Monte Perdido Pico Ansiclo

Hiking in the sun from Refugio Goriz


Books & Maps

Senda Pirenaica: GR11 Long Distance Path by JA Lopez Lafuente is one of the most comprehensive Spanish guidebooks to the GR11 and contains maps for each of the 47 stages.

Trekking in the Pyrenees (Trailblazer) by D Streatfeild-James covers both the GR10 and GR11 and includes all the practical information you need.

The Gr11 Trail – La Senda: Through the Spanish Pyrenees (Cicerone Guides) by B Johnson is another very comprehensive book that focuses solely on the GR11.

Useful websites

www.alberguesyrefugiosdearagon.com – for booking refugios in the Aragonese Pyrenees

www.lacentralderefugis.com – for booking refugios in Catalonia

www.yr.no – a very comprehensive weather website

www.mountain-forecast.com – another comprehensive weather website, locations are by mountain

 

 

213 thoughts on “Hiking the GR11: A Practical Guide”

  1. You’d be able to reach the Valle de Canfranc or Valle de Tena in Sallent by public transport and then head east reaching Benasque which is also accessible by public transport. As we’ve said many times in answers to questions it’s not that easy to find areas that are accessible by frequent public transport services.

  2. Hi Roger,
    I’ve walked the sections from Parzan through the Posets-Maladeta park and for these areas I would say it makes no difference wether you walk east/west or the other way round. The same for Aiguestortes. The area around Andorra I don’t know very well so I’m not certain if there are sections that would be better one way or the other. I suspect that if you haven’t booked huts yet your choice of route may well be decided by hut availability now.
    Phil

  3. Dear Phil,
    Many thanks for that information, and the warning about booking huts, I’ll do that asap. For that section Parzan – Arinsal , can I do that through one central booking or are they all individual bookings?
    Once again, thanks,
    Roger

  4. Hej Guys

    We are starting the GR11 mid July. Hoping to complete the walk or at least walking in that direction. Would you recommend carrying thermals, gloves etc for this period or is it overkill?

    Regards

    John

  5. Hello,
    I am planing to do some parts of the trail in August on my own. I wonder if it is totally mad to do it without someone else. Which sections are really dangerous (exposed steep slopes, snow)? Where is it demanding but okay? How is the Situation there, do people pester females hiking alone?

  6. I have attempted to heed your warning about booking refugios in advance, but am unable to do so from the US. Any suggestions? I will be walking from Zuriza to Torla beginning September 13th. Tom

  7. Hi Tom, Have you tried booking them at this site: http://www.alberguesyrefugiosdearagon.com/ ?
    You should have no problem although maybe the site has problem accepting payments from US cards. At that time of year I don’t think you’ll have any problem with huts being full. Goriz in Ordesa is the busiest hut in the area but if you are ending in Torla then that won’t be a problem and you won’t be staying there. btw if you end in Torla give yourself one day to do a circular hike in the Ordesa Valley which is spectacular – look at either the Faja de Pelay or if you’ve a good head for heights the Faja de las Flores – both spectacular.
    Have a great hike,
    Phil

  8. Any suggestions on lower elevation hikes? Well be in Catalonia in November without ski gear. We can do some snow hiking, but looking for ideas of where to go in the shoulder season. Thanks!

  9. Hi,
    I’am planning to do the first 10~14 days from the mediterranean side onwards to the Atlantic side ca. mid of March. I am quite experienced with hiking, alpine and long legs a day, but unsure up to with height might be safe at end of March when going alone and facing some snow, possibly ice. My assumption is that I might make it until Andorra, invite my family and then turn back to Barcelona after a wonderful weekend ,-) But I just started planning the day legs yet.
    Any hints about if and how this is a good idea at this time? I should add that I will have full biwak stuff in my backpack, so I don’t need to care if refugios are open or not.

    Thanks a lot,
    Soeren

  10. Hello, im trying to get as much informmation as I can about hiking the pyrenees in the winter. How is the snow, temperatures, storms, winds.. I have been doing some extreme adventures before, so I have some expirience. Can anyone share some informations? Thank you, Sandro

  11. Hello , My family and I are hoping to do two nights worth of the GR11 during the summer (end July) . Is there a section near Pantacosa that you would recommend for us (two adults and kids 17 and 14). We are fit and happy to hike a good distance, but we are not experienced with crampons and ice axes. thanks very much for your help
    Kim and Duncan

  12. Hello. Planning to solo hike the GR11 starting at Burguete (via Pamplona) mid August 2019 until the end of September. Hoping to reach Cap de Creus. Bringing a tent for flexibility but will utilize various accommodations as needed/desired. Flying in and out of Barcelona from Canada.
    Questions:
    Do the refugios on the trail have a reciprocity agreement with the Alpine Club of Canada or the Slovenian Alpine Club or should I join the FEDME (Spain’s club)?
    The location to purchase a screw on gas canister in Pamplona?
    Is a water purifier needed?
    Any info on transport to Burguete would be appreciated.
    Thank you in advance.

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