UP… UP … UP… AND FINALLY – OVER! Day 1 Camino de Santiago

05:45 the alarm chirps … SERIOUSLY?  I chose a bloody cricket sound for the alarm?… no matter… This is THE DAY …. the first day of our “camino” experience. THE DAY we have spent so much time preparing for. We know from reading and discussions with camino veterans that THIS – the SJPP (Saint Jean Pied de Port), France to Roncevalles, Spain – segment will be the hardest.

Yesterday we organized out packs, went shopping for b-fast (bananas & yogurt) and lunch (ham sandwiches, apples and mandarin oranges). All is ready … First light is an hour away and sunrise is at 07:50. We want to get an early start since on the route de Napoleon, we have 15 miles to walk with a vertical change of more than a mile (5742’)…. most is UP (4200’) and at the end 1542’ down. 

The vertical profile…


Our research reading and discussion with a Camino ‘veteran’ informed us that it would not be “EASY- 6 – 7 hours’’ as one local told us. Still we were confident in our preparations even tho’ the last ‘veteran’ we spoke with said, “IT is the HARDEST THING I/WE’VE ever done… you should hire a luggage transport to haul your packs…”. 
Truth is I expected something in between… I was right… Thankfully, our experiences in Switzerland on the Jacobsweg (the Swiss Camino) and two months ‘conditioning’ in Wyoming mountains would serve us quite well.
It is 06:30 and we are out the door & wandering our way along the Rue de Citadelle to the Porte D’Espagne… 


…we see someone ahead of us (a young Japanese girl who periodically stops – waits and then confirms the direction markers with us and rushes ahead again… UNTIL it is light… she no longer needs us and off she goes. Behind we see a ghostly figure following …

Immediately out of SJPP we start to climb from 557’ heading up to 4757’ before we descend. In the first 8km (5 miles) we climb 930m (3051’). It is UP & UP & UP … BUT we manage to crank it out by 9:30 … 3 hours! Not bad… 


NOW we have only 10 miles… and 1100’ to climb… We stop for a coffee at Orisson, visit with a couple from Winnipeg and had a great chat. We leave before them but later they overtake us and don’t see them again. From Orisson, the road continues constantly up and up providing unbelievable vistas and phenomenal views of the Pyrenees. The leaves are starting change and the colors are much richer than we are used to in BC and WY….a lot of vibrant rusty reds and burnt oranges. 


We didn’t expect so many pilgrims. We are never without their company, some friendly and wanting to connect, others loud and obnoxious and others wanting quiet and contemplation. We pass 2 fountains along the way and discover that’s where people congregate. It is hard hard work today but we both are feeling so very proud of ourselves. Along the way I (Mikal) turn and thank Tilly for insisting that we “TRAIN” … carry our packs, fully loaded up and down the hills and mountains of Wyoming… 
All the hard work/conditioning over the past 2 months is paying dividends. Over and over again we say to each other, “I’m so glad we worked so hard this summer and did all the hiking we did.” 


We are not among the fastest but , not all of those folks were carrying their full packs. Many had opted for the “send your pack over to the other side of the mountains” option. Those who were carrying full loads were of the younger crowd and they were moving much quicker. We met a young woman at one of our stops, from Norway who had just completed her PhD in veterinary medicine and had gotten a job as a scientist researching the brains of humans and animals. What a great young woman… then she left us in the dust…
It takes us another 5 hours to reach the high point, the Col Lepoeder. We take off our shoes to air out and relax our feet after all the exertion. We witness a couple in the midst of an argument – she is very tired and angry with her partner…. the very same couple will share the 4 bed cubicle with us at the monastery. They are from Oregon and turn out to be very likable… but at the moment she is not liking much. 
We rest for 15-20 minutes and head down the hill. We choose the most direct route which is straight downhill (the other route is ‘longer’… by about 1.5 km… we are not interested). The first kilometer is very steep with lots of loose rocks but, then levels out. We walk through beautiful beech forests … the path covered with the fallen leaves of autumn. It is a quiet walk as most of the others chose the easier, much longer path. 


We suddenly break out of the woods and finally arrive at the monastery of Roncesvalles. It is now 10 hours since we left SJPP. What an experience! We are weary… have sore muscles – calves and quads mostly but, NO blisters. We check in… 8 Euros each for a bed… Yes we want dinner (10 Euros each) … YES and breakfast too (5 Euros each). 36 Euros for the two of us well under our $95/ day budget. Our ‘credencials’ are stamped (proof that we actually walked over the Pyrenees as though our pictures and descriptions and weary demeanors aren’t proof enough). Once paid we are told to take our shoes off (thankfully we have our crocs to change into) before heading upstairs to find our beds. We shower and then decide to wash dirty clothes in the laundry room. We are pleased to find the monastery crew will wash, dry and fold our laundry for 3.50 Euro ( about $5). The siren call of a beer and wine makes the choice to have them do our laundry easy…. Besides which we are well under budget for the day.
Our dinner (replete with wine) relaxes us… which means we are ready to crash, literally. Once we make it to the bunks I am out within 2 minutes; Tilly about 10, even though a group of obnoxiously loud Italians are arguing (or maybe they just talk load all the time). 
This has been a day I will remember… and don’t think I will ever want to repeat. 

One response to “UP… UP … UP… AND FINALLY – OVER! Day 1 Camino de Santiago

  1. Wow, this first stage you’re talking about is really hard. It’s like if the Way was saying: “hey, this is what you sign up for!” Hahaha. But you did it!! So, congratulations (:
    I love your blog, it’s full of joy and adventure (: Buen Camino!