2019 GR11 Snow conditions update (posted May 28th 2019)
We’re starting to get people asking about snow conditions on the GR11 route for the 2019 season so I thought I’d write a quick update.
The Pyrenees in general had less snow than normal this winter. However, temperatures in May have been fairly cool without that much rain. With the colder temperatures, the rain we have had in the villages has fallen as snow above around 2200 metres. Therefore we have a situation where below around 2200 metres there is much less snow than normal – espceially on south facing slopes – but above this there is still significant snow and I would say conditions are more or less normal this season higher up. North facing slopes in particularl still have plenty of snow and crampons and ice axe are definitely needed on the higher sections.
Below is the webcam (taken today 28th May) from Refugio Respomuso towards Collado de Tebbarai (at 2782m one of the higher passes on the route – this is the northern side). I’ve drawn on the approx. route of the GR11. As you can see there is still substantial snowfields and I personally wouldn’t be crossing this without crampons.
Everyone have a great time on the GR11 – stay safe and make sure you are properly equipped for conditions.
Enjoy your hiking and the Pyrenees and let us know how you get on!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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