The Pyrenean Haute Route
The HRP high-level trail
By Tom Martens
Guidebook to trekking the Pyrenean Haute Route, which zigzags across the Franco-Spanish border, staying close to the main ridge in the highest and most spectacular Central Pyrenees. It covers 750km with over 40km of ascent, so is suitable for experienced mountain walkers only. The largely unwaymarked route is presented in 44 stages.
SeasonsThe Pyrenean Haute Route is a summer route that is best hiked between late June and early October, when the days are long, the weather more settled and most of the snow has melted.
CentresHendaye, Lescun, Gavarnie, Benasque, Vielha e Mijaran, Tavascan, l'Hospitalet-près-l'Andorre, Banyuls-sur-Mer
DifficultyGrades are used to give an indication of difficulty. Most of the 44 stages fall into Grade 2 (5-7 hour stages with a reasonable amount of ascent and descent) and should be within the capabilities of an experienced hiker. A small number are longer, more demanding routes (Grade 3) and a few are short, easy hikes (Grade 1). Three stages are graded E for 'exceptional': these routes contain steep and exposed sections requiring great care. Crampons and ice axe may be needed on some stages in early summer, but for each of these stages, an easier alternative is described.
Must SeeThe karst landscapes surrounding Pic d'Anie, the Ossoue glacier on the famous Vignemale, the impressive Cirque de Gavarnie with one of Europe's highest waterfalls, the alpine landscapes in the Portillon region, Pico de Aneto (3404m - the highest peak in the Pyrenees), views of the Mediterranean from Pic du Canigou
This guide presents the Pyrenean Haute Route in 44 day stages, which are divided between five sections: since each section starts and finishes at a location accessible by public transport, they can be walked individually if you don't have a spare month-and-a-half for a complete thru-hike. Although the route offers excellent opportunities for wild camping, each stage finishes at a mountain hut or village, meaning that you can sleep under a roof every night if you prefer. Clear route description is accompanied by 1:100,000 mapping. There are bad weather variants and alternatives to avoid the most technical sections, and the guide also includes optional ascents of 10 classic summits, including Vignemale, Pic du Taillon and the highest peak in the Pyrenees, Pico de Aneto. You'll also find helpful advice on travel to and from the route, equipment and safety.
There are three main trekking routes across the Pyrenees from coast to coast: of these, the Pyrenean Haute Route (or HRP for Haute Route Pyrénéenne) is the most challenging - and arguably, the most spectacular. Unlike the GR10 and GR11, it is not waymarked and borders on mountaineering at times, sticking as closely as possible to the main ridge. It stretches 750km from the Atlantic resort of Hendaye to Banyuls-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean, crossing the French-Spanish border many times on its traverse. The hike calls for experience, navigational competence and self-reliance, but offers rich rewards as you pass through some of the most stunning landscapes the region has to offer.
From the rolling green foothills of the Basque Country to High Pyrenean landscapes of aquamarine lakes nestled among 3000m peaks, the scenery is as varied as it is beautiful. Highlights include the karst terrain of Pic d'Anie, the Ossoue glacier, Lac de Mar in the picturesque Val d'Aran and the dramatic Cirque de Gavarnie with its towering cascade.
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Tom Martens grew up in Belgium and first visited the Pyrenees in 2008 with a friend who had made him enthusiastic about the mountain chain. This first exploration was so enchanting that he has been back every year since. He has hiked extensively in the national parks and traversed the whole length of the Pyrenees several times. He has guided groups of youngsters on long, intensive hikes and climbed many of the high peaks. So far, he has spent 500 nights in the Pyrenees, mostly bivouacking. He has a special interest in mountain wildlife. Other regions where you can often find him hiking include Scotland and Estonia, where he currently lives.View author profile