Wednesday, April 08, 2009

WALKING THE CAMINO IN SPRING



Photos with permission - Juan Carlos http://www.galiciaenfotos.com/tag/nieve/

These photos are obviously NOT what you want to see in Spring on the Camino!! They were taken between February and April in Galicia.

2013 has had a very late spring with snows, sleet and hail, heavy rainfall and some flooding on the Camino Frances.  Pilgrims walking in May have experienced freezing temperatures, snow in the Pyrenees (making the Route Napoleon impassable) and snow on the Cebreiro range. 
Galicia had heavy rainfalls from November to June with flooding causing the closure of some paths and rivers bursting their banks. 

March 2013:  The body of a Brazilian pilgrim was found not far from the  Lepoeder summit.   Everything was covered in snow and it appears that he lost his way and fell.  His body wqas only found a few days later.

April 27:   http://walkingtheway2013.blogspot.com/2013/04/o.html

16 May:  "The snow is coming down heavily now and it is the middle of May. I wonder what tomorrow has in store for us. We awoke to a winter wonderland with several inches of snow on the ground. It was absolutely beautiful. They say this is the first time that O’Cebreiro has had snow in May in ten years."  http://www.renereid.com/blog/2013/05/17/journey-from-la-portela-de-valcarce-to-o%E2%80%99cebreiro/

23rd May:  "Yes, Roncesvalles had big snow last week,and when I slept over there on the 21st, there were still banks of snow about 18inches thick. So no surprise the temps are around 0 and 1 degree in the morn, maybe going up to 7 degrees during the day."

"I also walked on 23 May, but we could not take the Route Napoleon because of the weather. We were also told of 2 other deaths on the Pyrenees in May. There was a rumour going around that a woman had fallen and died and her body was attached by vultures but no one substantiated either deaths."

June:  http://thedancingpilgrim.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/o-cebreiro-rebirth/


THIS IS MORE LIKE IT!!

Free wall paper - Endless Poppies in Spain by: http://crazy-frankenstein.com/

A few months ago I wrote a post on "Walking in Winter" with lots of photos and links to blogs about walking in winter. It was very useful for people planning to walk between November and March. Here is some info on walking in Spring.

Many people ask the question - "What will the weather be like in ....... March, , June, September? There are websites with some general stats for daily temperatures, average rainfall and so on for most of Spain, but the weather has been so unpredicatble the last few years that it is really difficult to advise anybody about the weather.
The camino forum - www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/weather-in-spain/ has a discussion section on the weather and you can find daily and 7 day forecasts for most Spanish towns, even small ones here:

Weather:
Check the weather history here:
http://www.peterrobins.co.uk/camino/weather.html

http://www.gaisma.com/en/dir/es-country.html


What will it be like in spring?
Spring, late spring that is, can be a wonderful time to walk the camino. Everything is green and the wild flowers are spectacular.
Although the first of March is regarded as the start of spring on the coast and in the coastal mountain valleys, it comes a few weeks later on the colder central plain and in the high mountain areas – sometimes as late as May in the snowy villages of the Pyrenees.
By then the spring bulbs are flowering, fruit trees are blossoming, the early almonds are followed in succession by peach, plum, nectarine, quince, pears, avocado, mandarin, oranges, grapefruit and cherries etc..(http://gardeninginspain.com/)
Spain is the second largest producer of cherries in Europe and the seventh largest producer in the world.
Spring is the 'growing and flowering' season so fruit and some vegetables might be scarce until early summer. (September is the harvest festival season). The wheatfields of the meseta are like rolling, rippling seas of green and when you are in the 'Zen zone' you can hear the crickets and the wind in the wheat. In summer and autumn the wheat fields turn to ochre and gold and by October there are massive hay towers in the fields.

What else is special in Spring?

The large white and black European storks return to their gigantic nests atop church towers and structures in early spring. You will see them swooping down into the fields to find food for their young who sit upright in those gigantic nests, clapping their bills loudly, calling for food.
For anyone into birding, it is interesting to know that Spain is considered the ‘last bastion’ for Europe’s declining bird populations and according to Howard Youth, a Contributing Editor to ZooGoer who lives in Madrid, all told, about 70 percent of Europe's 495 bird species either visit or breed in Spain. However, Poland is the ‘kingdom’ of the stork and there is no other country with more stork residents per square kilometre. (Visit http://www.poland.pl/ for more info).

About 3000 pairs nest in Spain each spring. The storks - Ciconia - (cigüeña in Spanish) have been building their nests on man made structures since the middle ages when the great forests disappeared in favour of agriculture. According to an article in AMIGOS (June 2004) they form monogamous pairs for breeding but do not migrate together. They reappear at the same nest site in late winter and early spring.

The last stork nest in Great Britain was deserted in 1416. The Dutch name of the stork – ooievaar – comes from old German odobero – bringing luck (ode – luck, baren – bring).
In the Arab world the Muslims believe that storks incarnate the souls of those who did not manage to fulfill their duty of pilgrimage to Mecca. Thus they take this journey in the body of a bird. This is why Muslims feel great respect towards storks, and killing them is equal to killing a man.
From 1934 to 1941 a family of storks was observed 400 km east of Cape Town. At the end of the 1920s storks built a nest in Bredasdorp 200 km east from Cape Town and 25 km north from the Cape Agulhas (southernmost tip of Africa). Storks breed in Bredasdorp till this day. What is more, there were seasons when up to four nests were inhabited in Bredasdorp.
Decades ago, a few nestlings were taken out of Bredasdorp nests to be brought up in the Tygerberg ZOO near Cape Town. In 1975, encouraged by the presence of their kin, wild storks built a nest in the ZOO. Since then storks breed in Tygerberg ZOO every year. In 2000 there were five wild stork nests.

Most guidebooks
will tell you that the best time to walk a camino is in May and June or September and October.
Why not in springtime?

Because, walking earlier than May you could, and most probably will, experience snowstorms and blizzards. By November winter is setting in again.
July and August are very hot months and August, being the European holiday month when schools, colleges and factories close, is exceptionally busy on the camino.
The video DVD - "Within the way without", which inter-weaves the pilgrimage stories of a winter, spring and summer pilgrim, clearly shows the different landscapes through the seasons.


As the camino has become more and more popular, people are walking earlier in the year to escape the crowds.
In 2007 the pilgrims' office in St Jean recorded interesting stats on the numbers of pilgrims in the months of March, April and early May
that showed that the beginning of May was a peak time on the camino with an average of 238 pilgrims per day starting or passing through St Jean Pied de Port.
http://www.aucoeurduchemin.org/spip/IMG/PDF/stati.pdf

The graph on the website shows two high seasons. One from 23 April to late May with a very high peak from 7 to May 13. (1668 pilgrims in 7 days, an average 238 pilgrims per day).
The 2nd high season from August to mid-September is less clear, since there was a drop in numbers in the 2nd half of August.
As in previous years, in 2007 there was a pronounced decline in June-July with about 900 pilgrims per week.

The table highlights the popularity of May and August in 2007 as in 2006 with significant increases of 127% and 124%
2004 2005 2006 2007


March 453 443
April 2325 2007 2427 3324 134%

May 3946 4651 4749 6025 127%

June 2731 3382 3791 4342 115%

July 3288 3945 3850 4366 113%

Aug 4001 4240 4536 5605 124%

Sept 3241 3569 3991 4820 121%

Oct 1232 1183 1477 1570 106%

Nov 196 169

Walking in early spring has other problems besides snow storms and freezing temperatures. A pilgrim may have to contend with these situations too:

1) Many albergues are still closed.
  • In 2009, Esprit du Chemin in ST Jean Pied de Port opens on 4th April and closes 26th September.
  • The albergue Orisson (between St Jean and Roncesvalles) is only open between March and October.
  • The municipal albergue in Zubiri also opens from March to October.
  • In Pamplona, the German albergue - Casa Paderborn - is open from April to October and the new albergue of Jesus y Maria opens after Easter and closes in October.
2) Many small shops, restaurants, hotels and businesses are closed until the summer ‘season’ so you might have to walk longer distances before you find somewhere to have a cafe-con-leche or lunch.

3) It can snow right up to May in the high places and for the past 3 years March and April have had cold, snow and rain.

  • If it snows, many of the markers and yellow arrows will be covered.
  • You might have to walk on the roads which can be dangerous.
4) Sunrise is later and sunset earlier, so in February and early March you'll have shorter days.

Read this blog's entry for the 6th March 2008:
http://mscamino.blogspot.com/2009/03/new-pilgrims-arriving-at-foncebadon.html
"Our third day here has begun. The main room now resembles descriptions of Mt Everest base camp! Several new pilgrims who were stuck at Rabinal have made it here since the storm seems to have broken. Supposedly the road is being plowed so if no change for the worse occurs tomorrow I will try to continue. Outside there are at least 75 centimeters [snow] on the ground with much deeper drifts."

In 2005/2006/2007 and 2008 - March and April were unseasonally cold with late snows and heavy rain. Mud slides and floods closed some of the camino paths and pilgrims had to take transport or long detours on roads to get from one village to the next.

24th March 2008:
A pilgrim struggles up the snow laden path to the Alto del Perdon. The Collegiate of Roncesvalles was snowbound after heavy snowfall whichfell for two days on the area. One of the strongest storms in recent years resulted in snow levels of between 60cm and 1.2m deep

March – April 2008:
Truth is, anyone who takes the route from Roncesvalles before May is running the risk of slogging through puddles and mud, snow or rain. I did it in April, and had ankle-deep mud to contend with, as well as driving rain. It was misery, but thankfully we had stopped at Larrosoaña on the way up and reserved a room at the same house where the meals are served. (That was one of the finest hot baths ever taken!) Through the rest of my camino I felt miserable several times, but I could look back on that first day and tell myself, "Hey, at least its not THAT bad!" (Rebekah Scott)

In 2005 and 2007 pilgrims died crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean to Roncesvalles in March and April and in 2008 many snow bound pilgrims had to be rescued from various passes.

What about 2009?
Spring 2009
Early March started off with a cold snap and then the weather improved and according to this blog, they had 16 straight days of sunshine from the 11th to the end of March with cold weather in the high places (which is to be expected) but a few days of over 20oC.
http://artos-camino.blogspot.com/2009_03_01_archive.html
March 2009:
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_kBgjQo6Ymps/SdzKUI_QJLI/AAAAAAAABwA/1C7k-rbCpAo/s1600-h/60660709_21mai8MaeruVillamayordeMonjardinQuandlafamillenepeutnousbordercesontlescheminsquilefont.jpg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwIKOHe949o

But, by mid April, things changed....
This blog describes snow on the way from St Jean to Roncesvalles, freezing temperatures and rain. These Australian peregrinas ignored the advice of the locals in St Jean NOT to take the Route Napoleon and carried on regardless. They were fortunate - they survived to tell their happy tale but in the past 10 years, at least 10 pilgrims have not lived to tell theirs and their stories are written on their grave stones. PLEASE - listen to the locals if they warn you not to walk the cross country route from St Jean to Roncesvalles. Take the road route - it is the 'authentic' pilgrims' route and a much safer alternative.
http://micheleandchrisscamino.blogspot.com/

Easter 2009: Photos - Diaro Navarra
Intense snow has resulted in an Orange Alert on roads in Navarra.
The rain began to fall with intensity from 15:00 hours and the snow came down on the asphalt. A snowplough cleared the road to allow the movement of trucks.
Orange Alert was activated in Navarre forecasting snow this afternoon. According to the last message sent by the State Meteorological Agency (AEMET), the center of Navarre recorded snowfall of 8 inches in 24 hours.

Two hikers were rescued from Burgos on Saturday night on the peak San Lorenzo (La Rioja), at 2271 meters above sea level, after being crushed by a large amount of snow just before the adverse weather conditionsof up to 10 degrees below zero. Mountaineers themselves warned the emergency services of the emergency. After 30 hours the two hikers were located unharmed and led the team of rescue until the parking Valdezcaray, where they arrived around midnight

16th April
http://www.diariodenavarra.es/ reports:
Troops of the Fire Service of the Government of Navarre rescued eight Camino pilgrims this afternoon near Roncesvalles who were in difficulties because of intense storms occurring during the whole day in the Pyrenees of Navarre. The rescues were carried out in three different incidents.
When the first troops were rescuing a pilgrim of 45 years, they were asked by another pilgrim to help three other companions who were about 4 miles from Roncesvalles and showed signs of exhaustion and mild hypothermia. Then, at about 18.16 pm, the Fire Service was called out to help four French pilgrims who had lost their way on the same route. Finally, at 18.16 hours, four French camino pilgrims requested assistance of the SOS Navarre and Navarre Agency.

And on the Aragones route....
a pilgrim described how the Somport Pass was snowed in,
That night there was thunder, lightning and pouring rain. We met a Spaniard and a Frenchman who also wanted to go to Somport. When the bus came to take us up, the driver said that there was much snow but we decided to see for ourselves. Yes, the driver was correct...in fact a blizzard was still going on. We left and started walking but there were about 6-8 inches (16cm) of new wet snow. We could not even see the path, so walked the road down. I took a couple of Photos but not more because of the wind and snow. It was really beautiful when you could raise your head to look. It was a very steep decline so gravity helped us down. The snow became just cold rain. The path was a still very steep downhill trek made of rocks of various sizes from pebbles to small boulders. This made it very difficult to keep your balance, especially since the rain and runoff from the tops of the mountains turned some stretches into little streams of water. My ankles would be going one way, my knees another, and my hips still a different direction to keep balance. Along with this being my first day of walking, I was quickly becoming very tired and hurting a bit. I knew I would not be able to make it back to Jaca, and saw that there were accommodations in Villanúa. This meant only 16 km that day, but they were strenuous ones. Just as I got to the town, the temperature dropped, and a strong wind came up. Then it began to hail...pea sized hail. To my dismay, I found the first Refugio closed...and the second...and to my horror the only hostel in town was closed. I stopped in a bar and asked about a place to stay and they told me of some hotels on the main highway. By this time the hail was thickly frozen on my hat causing the brim to droop. I walked on to the highway. Then I saw a door open and a repairman was there talking to a lady (Isabel). I went up to them and told them of my situation. The lady invited me in, perhaps the frozen look of desparation spured her compassion. She and her husband (Felix)from Logroño were there on holiday. They made me hot tea and he phoned around to find that even the hotels on the highway were closed. He explained that the last day of ski season was Easter and that was probably the reason that everything was closed. It didn´t explain the refugios being closed...but then there were obviously not many "pilgrims" around. After sitting and warming up and getting refreshed.The weather had cleared up a bit, and Felix called the next village, Castillo de Jaca, and secured a room for me. Any room would have done, but this one had a tub...a rare and welcomed feature during my time in Spain. I soaked for a half hour. What a delight!!!!
All emotions that I experience here on the Camino, are more intense than normal. This is especially true when I experience these random acts of kindness like I did from Felix and Isabel. There seem to be a lot of mysteries on the Camino, and one is tuned to interpret them mystically. I chose to think that the hardships of that day set me up to have the peak experience of the kindness shown to me by these two EX-strangers. That is what I will take back with me from this difficult day. That is what will remain in my heart forever.

 

4 comments:

  1. Well, I am setting out in late April. It sounds as though I will face many character-building opportunities. Thanks for all the information. I may elect to just start in Pamplona rather than Roncevalles - if the weather is snowy. I am travelling alone and very light - factors in my risk assessment.

    Life is good...all that rain means lots of flowers later.

    "Ginn"
    In Blustery Santa Fe

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  2. Sil, You might already be following this blog, from two Australian women just starting out. They have some good quotes already about the cold and wet they have encountered!!! And their blog makes for lively reading:
    http://micheleandchrisscamino.blogspot.com/
    Ginn, from my experience, I would say don't travel too light- the north of Spain may well be a lot cooler than you are expecting in May. Even in June there were quite a few bitterly cold days last year!

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  3. Once again, a great post, Sil.
    I love the storks in Spain, the wheatfields, the poppies.
    Thank you.

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  4. Wow. That's a lot of discouraging info.

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