Posted by: knitknigel | May 7, 2009

Climbing to the Sky

Two days, one mountain! Getting to St. Jean Pied de Port was easy, getting to Roncesvalles was an experience. After rather a late breakfast for a pilgrim, at 9:00 am, I got on the road. And walked up hill – way up hill, way, way up hill. There were no flat parts, not one, honest. Eight kilometers of hill. I found that at some places I could walk maybe 100 steps and then I paused to catch my breath, bent over and gasping, heart pounding. But up I went.

And the climb to the Refuge d’Orisson was worth every step. It seemed to be at the top of the world with a view out over the Pyrenées that was indescribable. Gyreing above us were the golden vultures and far below were the miniature cows and sheep.

My watch told me I had walked over 4 hours which was easy to believe. It was tough. There had been a lot of walkers on the Camino, and I felt I had been passed by everyone of them. (But there were lots that followed me so I felt better. I let the owners know I was here with my reservation and after a little worrisome wait was led to my bed – a lower bunk! Yay! Made two faux pas immediately – put my pack on the bed, and wore my shoes inside. Whoops. I got told. And I was also told that breakfast was at 7, not 7:30, 7.

When I went outside the first people I met I knew were Canadians so I said hello. Ok, folks, this is not supposed to happen. They were from Newfoundland, and they informed me, there were 10 more behind them that I would get to meet today. It’s a family reunion. I had a great evening with them and with all the others at the Refugio – people from Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Korea, Canada (at least 12, mostly from Quebec, but not all from one family), Holland, Switzerland and New Zealand and I´m sure I´ve missed some.

We had a great afternoon out on the large patio over the sweeping view, and I did a little knitting and even showed Barb from Gander, how I was going to turn the heel of my sock. I was of great interest and became someone to photograph – that´s exactly what I was hoping. I also discovered that my watch was an hour off, and I had really arrived at the Refuge at 1:00 pm, not two and my walk was only three hours. Yay for me again.

Dinner was communal, vegetable soup, roast lamb, beans in tomato sauce (white beans not green), red wine for all, and dessert of Gateaux Basques. Wonderful. We went to bed at 10:00 and slept well, although I had to go to the bathroom at least twice – too much wine water and maybe the beer and coffee in the afternoon.

On to Roncesvalles:

This morning we were all up early – early enough to be waiting for the door to open at 7 am for the breakfast of bread, jam, coffee in huge bowls, and orange juice. I would have liked a slice of jambon (ham) or a piece of cheese, but that´s the way it is on the Camino.

Out we went, on the road at 7:30 am with my pack, my two bottles of water and the road up. Today was to be 21 km, so I needed lots to drink. It began as a beautiful day, with the same brilliant sun we had enjoyed all yesterday (I´m feeling sunburned right now). And yes, it was up and up and up again. For about four hours all we did was climb. It was mostly on the road, but wild high and lonely. There were many of us walking but I found that I was often walking alone, with no one in sight, or just one or two ahead that I could see.

The good news is that it wasn´t quite as steep so that I could go much further before needing to catch my breath. It was great too to finally get off the road and onto a real trail – which unfortunately was also climbing and now with a little mud to navigate. Way at the top, we finally reached and passed the snow line and there were snow banks still melting on the side of the hill, which made the trail even muddier.

You’ll laugh at my next encounter. I was all by myself, and got to a particularly muddy spot. I was attempting to get over a space where I wouldn´t step in the mud, but didn´t quite make it. My right foot landed in the mud and off came my shoe! I laughed! Then I turned around, holding on to the barbed wire fence support to hold myself while I reached down to pull it out of the mud – and if didn´t move. Another tug, it didn´t move. The third time I made a mighty heave and the shoe hauled itself out of the mud with a lovely slurping sound. I just kept thinking what might have happened if I had landed harder – would I be barefoot now?

Then I got to the way down – the Pilgrim Office in St. Jean advises that one should go down the road, not down the steep hill, but when several of us arrived at the probable point there was only a huge yellow arrow pointing downhill – not a word about the other route – well, I lie. The name of the other route was scrawled on the giant yellow arrow. Of course we were up to the challenge so down several of us went. Down, down, down. The way was on narrow paths through beech forest, and sometimes was a little less than distinct. It was then that I had to look for the yellow arrows, and hoped that I wasn´t confusing them with some lichen on the side of the tree. It was so lovely coming down, although again, the mud made me be very careful going down. And those beech leaves are slippery too.

I walked most of that last steep downhill with a woman from Holland who had left her home at the beginning of April and walked as far as here. She told me her story this afternoon after we arrived. It was quite poignant. Her husband had died two years earlier, as they slept together, and after trying to cope, she finally sold up her business, sold her house and went for a walk. When she gets to Santiago she will decide the next step of her life.

It was such a pleasure to see the roof of the Abbey at Roncesvalles. We got to the Pilgrim Office, checked in and got a bed number – I was number 8! That´s good, because it meant that I got to get in early. The refugio didn´t open until 4:00 pm so we got to sit around visiting, drinking a beer, enjoying the sun. (Oh, did I mention that it rained on us way up on the top of the mountain. Enough that I had to get out my poncho and my rain cover for my pack. It may have lasted about 45 minutes but it came with a good strong wind, so it was a challenge. I enjoyed it, belive it or not.)

Now I have my lower bunk, a reservation for dinner at the hostal, and plans for the mass at 8:00 pm. Lights out is at 10:00 and we´ll be awakened by 6:00 am. And I´ll be ready for a nice long walk tomorrow.



  1. Such a time you are having, Nigel!
    I wanted to be there for the lamb dinner part 😉

  2. And to think I griped to myself about climbing the stairs to the studio this morning….

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