Day 1 – St. Jean to Roncesvalles

Roncesvalles means “Valley of Thorns” which seems very appropriate for this day’s walk. The trail today was every bit as challenging as the guide book suggested with a very steep ascent through the first 12 miles and an even steeper descent during the final 3 miles. Weather added an interesting element along the way.

I began the trek from St. Jean under overcast skies and cool temps…even so I still had to remove some layers at the ~5 mile mark in a little way stop called Orisson. Beyond that point, it got progressively more foggy and eventually became windy, cool, and rainy as I reached the top point of ~1400 meters. Had to get the gloves out for the very steep hike down to Roncevalles which I did at a snail`s pace since the trail was wet, muddy and rocky. I admit that is not my favorite kind of walking…in fact was passed many times by pilgrims older than me.

For the last 10 miles I was struck by the absence of civilization. Of course there was the occasional farm with sheep, goats, cows, or horses…no crop farming in this rocky steep terrain…but little else. During long stretches, I could see only 50 yards in front of me as the fog and blowing drizzle closed in.

There were many pilgrims on the trail today, but not a lot of camaraderie as most seemed focused on getting to Roncevalles. I felt grateful to make it by around 2PM so I could get settled. Ran into a woman at the end of the trail that must of had a rough go of it…she was covered in mud possibly a result of sliding down part of the last stretch.

Roncevalles is smaller than I expected. There is a large and well run hostel, but few restaurants. The town has thoroughly embraced its history as the spot where Charlemagne`s rear-guard was attacked and wiped out in 778 AD. Some of us may remember studying the “Song of Roland” in high school literature class, a medieval work that immortalized that event.

Planning to attend a pilgrim mass at a beautiful old chapel tonight and then have a late dinner…typical for Spain.

The trail tomorrow looks like a somewhat easier trek!

8 thoughts on “Day 1 – St. Jean to Roncesvalles

  1. Chris it sounds like what we hope wouldn’t happen did… with the rain and slippery slopes!!!
    Happy you finished though. Enjoy the mass at the chapel and eat a big meal! XOXO


    1. Thx Beth! Weather is changeable here and my gear is up to it so I don’t think much about it. Great meal last night…had to persist and wait until 9PM but worth it. Roncesvalles is a bit of a food desert!


  2. Hola, Welcome to Spain! Sorry you didn’t get above the fog to see the mountain peaks, but there will be more opportunities. Thanks for the update Chris. I was anxiously waiting for your post today to see how you fared on probably the most difficult day. Aren’t you glad you conditioned? Way to go Pilgrim!


  3. Schweiks- congrats on day 1. I am with you all the way! Great recount of your first steps. Can’t wait till you reach our cycling section. Press on my friend. Peter


  4. How are the locals? Are they friendly or do they know you are going through this journey and keeping to themselves?


    1. Thx for following my blog Tom! Fellow pilgrims are friendly…there is a “we are in this together” element to the experience. Innkeepers, bar and restaurant folks seem over whelmed by the crush of pilgrims but are generally helpful.


  5. I’m a few days behind but thought of your trip when I was working in the yard yesterday. Enjoy. Pretty area.


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