The first days on the GR 11 – the start of the end?

This article originally appeared on The Trek, which you can read here.

The journey can begin.

I entered the train early in the morning in Zürich. After a short layover in Paris, the journey continued. In the evening I finally arrived in Hondarribia, the Basque Country (Spain). I enjoyed the train ride! To my surprise, it was pouring down when I left the train. Yep, I was in Spain and it was cold and rainy. Due to the weather, I booked a last-minute hotel room in the cute old town.

The next day was, fortunately, better weather, so I went to the beach and had a swim in the Atlantic. How nice it was and even warmer than I expected! I walked to the Campground and set up my tent. It was Siesta which is normally between 1.30 pm until 5 pm, therefore nobody was at the reception. Lucky for me, the bar next door was open and I had a beer and some olives. I just enjoyed sitting close to the ocean and relaxing. In the evening I had dinner at the campground and there was a band playing, how cool! They even taught other people some dance moves haha.

The adventure can begin.

During the night there was a big thunderstorm coming in from the Ocean. I didn’t sleep that well. Also, because people were chatting all night long. But the excitement was big, although I was also slightly nervous for the next morning. The morning I was starting my crossing of the Pyrenees! Before I left, I had some serious problems with my right knee which only added to my nervousness. The trail started close to the campground at the Cabo de Higuer out on the peninsula. For this trail I set myself a challenge: I wanted to film my journey and make videos. I’ll let you know when the videos are online! Stay tuned for that 😀

day one

The first kilometers the GR 11 goes through the town of Hondarribia and then Irun before you leave civilization behind. It took me quite some time to get thru, I stopped for second breakfast in a Cafè. After that, I got lost in the town of Irun. I noticed my heavy backpack when I climbed out of town on the first hill. The basque country is so green and just beautiful! After lunch at some picnic tables on a road, I met the first other thru-hikers. More specifically it was a German couple in their fifties, my guess. The trail was following mostly dirt roads the entire day which was quite nice to start with. It was surprisingly warm that day, it only rained in the morning a bit. Approximately after 20km I called it a day and camped with the German couple next to a little chapel on a reservoir. I was pretty tired coming to camp but mostly just happy from the bottom of my heart!

day two

The second day started with a climb, then it passed by some nice farmhouses. I must say the marking so far was great. You follow these red-white markers so easily. When you’re on the wrong way the markers form a cross to let you know you ventured off-trail. The trail followed along the rolling hills with amazing views back to the Ocean and to the first trail town Bera. Down to Bera was the first bigger descent and it didn’t go as well as I wanted. I started to notice my right knee. First I thought it’s gonna be fine. But later in the day it still wasn’t. In Bera, I took a break and tried not to worry too much about my knee. The climb out of Bera was steep, but the view on top of the hill made me forget all the sweating uphill. The trail went down and up more hills. Sadly, my knee pain got worse and worse. I was devastated, sad and angry at the same time.

Sidestory to my knee problems

It was my fault, that I had these knee problems now. I made the mistake of overwork my body on a trip in May and paid the price of dealing with pain for several weeks till it finally went away. But it went only away because luckily I found some exercises of Chase Mountains on Youtube that really helped me! Please check his channel out, he has some pretty awesome stuff uploaded.

As it went downhill I had to slow down more and more. However, the pain was still unbearable with every step I took. Luckily it didn’t go downhill all day so on the uphill, it was fine to walk and I made up the time I lost on the descent. It was a long day and I only met the Germans about halfway in the day and then just before camp. Otherwise, I didn’t see anyone on trail the entire day. I was kinda also happy not to see anyone because I was crying a lot on my descents… It was this day, that I realized that if my knee is not gonna improve I’m done with hiking for this summer and this broke my heart. I tried not to think about getting off-trail, but I couldn’t. Accordingly to the situation, I said to myself if my knee doesn’t improve till tomorrow I’m gonna quit there in Elizondo. There’s just no reason to continue hiking.

day three

The day of truth. Around midnight a thunderstorm came in and kept me awake, but I fell asleep eventually. I camped again with the Germans which was nice because they cheered me up! I hit the trail around 7.30 am and damn, it was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining and the views were incredible. It was like the trail showed me all the beauty it has that I will probably not see for long.

The GR 11 went up on ridge once more! Green hills as far as you could see, the beautiful Basque country. I still saw back to the Ocean and over to the French Mountains because the border is so close. Up there, there were a few old bunkers from the second world war that was still visible. The descent to Elizondo was long and mostly on dirt roads. At a road crossing, I stopped for lunch at a picnic area. An old man came by and asked me some questions. I didn’t quite understand everything that he said and I had to somehow explain that I sadly don’t speak any Spanish. I wished I did though!

As I got closer and closer to town I was sure that I would quit here. It was the smarter decision to stop now before injuring it even more. I knew I made the right decision, but it was at the same time also heartbreaking… The Germans and I had a beer before they set out on the trail again and I stayed. Devastated and lost I sat there. I called my parents to tell them what happened. Later on, I checked into a hotel room. One thing I was sure about, I was not going home! I had planned to be back in six weeks, so if it’s not a thru-hike I’m gonna figure out something else to do in Spain. After a really long shower, I went to bed for a short nap which accidentally ended up being way longer and I skipped dinner and went to sleep again.

The next morning

I met a girl on the Facebook group of the GR 11. She started a day after me and caught me here in Elizondo. Therefore, we decided to meet up in the morning 😀 I gotta say, it was even harder to see her hike out of town. Because we got along so well and it would have been just too cool to hike together! I decided to take the bus to San Sebastian to figure out what to do. As I walked to the bus station, I found out that I missed the direct bus to San Sebastian. So, I had to take a bus to Pamplona and then to San Sebastian. I stayed two nights in a hostel there.

Man, I was lost!

Wonder how the story goes on? Stay tuned for my next post!

Crossing the Pyrenees on the GR 11

This article originally appeared on The Trek, which you can read here.

Howdy, Y’all!

I am back from my thru-hike of crossing the Spanish Pyrenees along the GR 11. Let me tell you, this trail will not disappoint you in any way! But before diving into my experience, let’s start with some basic information about this trail.

The GR 11 is about 500 miles or 830km long. It starts at the Atlantic Ocean at Cabo de Higuer and follows the mountain range to Cap de Creus at the Mediterranean Sea. This trail has a lot to offer and I can highly recommend hiking it to everyone. That’s because is very diverse in its landscape and not so well known (I think).

map of the GR 11, picture from Cicerone Guidebook

You start at the Atlantic, where the climate is rainy and more humid. The Basque Country is hilly and so green, because of all the water. As you go on to Navarra the terrain is gonna change. It’s the transformation from the green hills of the Basque into the High Pyrenees of Aragon. When you arrived in Aragon, you are in the High Pyrenees and damn, they are stunning! You climb over mountain passes every day and soon enter Catalunya. The high mountains continue till you make a short stopover in Andorra, which is a very tiny country between Spain and France. After Andorra, you climb to the highest pass on the GR 11 and then descend into a hotter climate as you get closer to the Mediterranean Sea. The high mountains change into rolling hills, which become lower and lower in elevation. Then suddenly you are going over the last hill and there it is – the Mediterranean Sea! You made it 😀

But why the GR 11?

There are three different trails that cross the Pyrenees. One of them is the GR 10, which is mainly on the French side then there is the GR 11, which is mainly on the Spanish side and then there is the HRP (High Route Pyrenees), which goes through both France and Spain.

I chose the GR 11 for a few reasons: First of all, it had the perfect length for the time window I had available. Because the GR 10 is about 900km, so a bit too long, and the HRP I thought, was too difficult for me. Furthermore, the weather is supposed to be more stable on the Spanish side rather than on the French side. Another reason for the GR 11 was that there are fewer people hiking it than the GR 10. I didn’t want to hike the HRP because it’s mainly unmarked and stays mostly high where you’re very exposed to the elements. I wasn’t sure if I’m experienced enough. But let’s see, I would love to cross the Pyrenees another time and maybe then on the HRP. Who knows!

In the upcoming time, I will write about my experience on the GR 11!

Stay tuned and Happy Trails 🙂

p.s. my hike was like a rollercoaster for many reasons, find out why in the next post.