If you don’t know about the Pyrenees but you do about the Alps, I can use that for an intro into the former. Compared to the Alps, the Pyrenees are not as high, not as wide, not that much in the middle of urban Europe but still high, rugged and, in a way, still wild. The Pyrenees are usually the destination of choice for those visitors who want to try something different from the Alps, who are tired of the overcrowded, overurbanised world of the Alps or who simply want to backpack without having to worry about crossing glaciers.
Location: east to west along the isthmus between the Iberian peninsula and the rest of the continent, sprawling from Atlantic to Mediterranean along around 300 km as the crow flies.
There’s no real wilderness in the Pyrenees (actually, there’s probably no real wilderness anywhere in western Europe safe for the arctic regions). No matter how wild and rugged it looks, civilization is never too far. There’s bound to be a village down on the valley below and stuffed huts dot the landscape. There are trails everywhere so bushwalking is usually not needed and during a lengthwise traverse such as the HRP, you’re bound to cross a road every single day and you’re hardly ever more than a few hours walk far from one.
You can find solitude but not on the popular trails or routes (which the HRP mostly follows) not at least during the high season. Most of the hikers you’ll meet on the trail will be out there for the day, even in the most remote areas. This is definitely not the place for the ultimate wilderness experience and anyone who looks for that will probably be deceived.
All that said, this mountains are a terrific place for backpacking. The scenery is fantastic and there’s the added value of the cultural experience in the rural areas where life still resembles that of centuries ago. Not in the touristy spots, of course. I’d sat avoid those.
The HRP is The Pyrenean High Route. HRP stands for Haute Randonnée Pyrenéenne and the name is clear evidence of its french origin. It was Georges Veron, a french guy I don’t know much about but obviously a lover of the Pyrenees who knows them well, who had this idea of an alternative way of traversing the range along its length.
So “alternative” to what? There are two established routes for travelling along the Pyerenees: the GR10 on the french (northern) side and the GR11 on the spanish (southern) side. These are over well worn paths and are consistently waymarked. They visit the valleys (and the villages in the valleys) on a regular basis and are easily trekked village to village. The wildest place you had to spend the night in (unless you choose otherwise) would be a stuffed mountain hut. They’re both beautiful routes where you can have a taste of the local culture (which includes gastronomy) together with your mountain backpacking experience but they probably lack that wilderness feeling you can only get when you’re on your own (and you have no option but being on your own) for a more or less extended period in the mountains. So came the idea of a route along the deepest of the range.
The idea itself was probably nothing new but it needed a deep knowledge of the massive to become a reality and it was this Georges Veron who put it in a guide book that became the HRP itself. That is, the HRP has basically no existance in the ground or anywhere but in the guide books that describe it. There’s at the moment another author’s effort in the bookstores, that of dutchman Ton Joosten, originally published in dutch and later translated into english. As far as I know and at the time of writing (2005), Veron’s book can only be found in its original french version.
The HRP is not an off-trail route though. It goes mainly over existing trails (and quite often over the waymarked GRs 10 and 11) or mountaneering routes when in the highest reaches, where there’s nothing we could call a trail.