Alex Roddie reviews the revised 2019 edition of the classic HRP guidebook from Cicerone Press.
First published in 2004, the Cicerone guide to hiking the Pyrenean Haute Route has been extensively revised and updated this year by Tom Martens. The new guide is a significant improvement over the previous edition.
Also known as the Haute Route Pyrenees (or HRP), this trail is a crossing of the Pyrenees from Atlantic to Mediterranean, sticking largely to the high ground in between the GR10 and GR11, two established long-distance trails on the French and Spanish sides of the range respectively. Terrain varies from good waymarked paths to trackless ridges, high cols, and a bit of everything else you can imagine. Just to complicate things further there is not even a single universally agreed route.
Tom Martens’ guide helps to cut through the uncertainty. The route is divided into 44 daily stages, plus 10 optional classic summits. Each chapter includes all the information you need: essential stats, elevation chart, clear topo overview maps, and detailed directions. The intro to each of the five sections provides essential details on terrain, resupply options, transport (useful for section hikers), accommodation, and more. You even get downloadable GPX files for your GPS or smartphone.
I hiked the HRP in summer 2019 using the new edition of the guide. The old Ton Joosten version had a reputation for confusing wording, ambitious timings, and other flaws, but Tom Martens has considerably improved the guide. Wording is clearer, directions (mostly) unambiguous, and I found the timings more sensible. The mapping has been improved too, the route itself tweaked.
But it still isn’t perfect. In a few cases, confusing wording has been carried over from the previous edition, which led to some head-scratchers on the trail. There are a few errors, such as incorrect ascent or distance given for a stage. Some sections described as easy were hard, and vice versa. The itinerary is also very conservative – I met nobody on the trail who was sticking to Cicerone timings (one German guy actually doubled up on every single stage). Playing it safe is better than setting a punishing schedule, but I think a programme of 36–40 days would be more suitable for most hikers.
This is a worthy update to a classic guidebook, and it made my life considerably easier on the trail – as well as helping my wife to keep track of me from home base. Essential reference material for anyone looking to take on one of Europe’s finest long-distance trails.
The Pyrenean Haute Route is published by Cicerone Press (£17.95)