Monday, January 09, 2012

Walking in Winter

2011/2012:  December and January
2011: Walking in December and January
2011:  Walking the Camino in reverse, from Samtiago, in February .. brrrrrrrrr......
2011:  Startin in St Jean on 11 March. 
Follow a blog of a 70 year old woman living in France who has walked the camino 5 times in winter and is planning to walk again in 2010.
And this up-to-date photo journal of walking in January
You can see videos of old weather forecasts for each month of the year here:

(His and hers winter packing list at the end of the post)

April 2009:  We walked in the Route Napoleon in early April this year.  We got up to the Cruceiro turn off but the snow was too heavy.  We turned around on the advice of a shepherd bringing two 2 American pilgrims safely off the mountain as well as his sheep. The American's had started out too late the previous day and were caught out in the storm. Thankfully they had the gear to cope with an overnight on the mountain but were still pretty shaken.
We turned and descended back down to the valley on the Arneguy rd. So we ended up trudging up the valley route in rain/sleet/snow after all which was..... 'character building'!
I must say I have nothing but the fondest memories of Roncevalles and arriving there safe and sound felt like paradise.
Give it a bash but take on board any local advice. If the weather is tricky try to pair up with another pilgrim in SJPP so you can make sure that you have both 'checked in' on the other side.
So you want to walk a camino in Spain during the winter months.  There is frost and snow as early as October in some places.  Spring doesn't really start in the high places until around April/May so I have included October to April in this post.

It can be cold from late October with snow in the mountains. But it can also be wintery in April and early May. 

December and January are the real bottom-out months on ALL the Caminos. Nothing is open, and there are NO fellow pilgrims to be seen some days... the Via de la Plata even more so. I´m sure you´d be safe enough, but you´d be quite lonesome! And wet. It RAINS down in Caceres all through winter. Reb (Moratinos)

Is it always like that in winter?

Will there be snow and blizzards?
Will the pilgrim refuges be open?
Will I be able to follow the paths?
Is it safe?

The answers depends on which camino route you choose to walk, which month you choose to walk, and whether you will be walking alone.
Some pilgrims report bracing, clear skies in December but freezing, snow storms in April.  If you are from a cold climate and are used to cold winters you probably will cope with walking in winter. People from tropical or sub-tropical climates who never see snow might have a miserable time walking in the cold.

Other conditions you might have to contend with:
  • Shorter walking days as sunrise will be at about 8am and sunset at 18h00.
  • 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.
  • Some of the albergues will be closed and many that remain open do not have heating.
  • You will need warmer clothing (heavier) and more clothing to keep warm - larger backpack.
  • You will need a winter sleeping bag and thermal underwear.
  • There will be fewer pilgrims on the trails which could be a good thing on some routes, but risky on others. 
  • Many little cafes, bars and shops will be closed so you will need to carry more food than one does in summer.
  • Many of the usual mountain scenes can be clouded in fogs and mist.
So - Which Camino Route?
There are at least 15 official camino routes and variants in Spain. Some in the north will experience more severe winter conditions than those in the south.  Some are quiet routes even in summer.


October 2008:
This link is to a blog on the Via De La Plata at the end of October 2008 where the pilgrim was considering giving up due to the cold, wind, rain, hail and snow.

30th October 2008 - news video of wintery weather across Spain:

November 2008 - O Cebreiro: : 10mins

November/December 2008
Follow a couple of peregrinos as they walk their camino in November/December, wading through snow and blizzards.

December 2008:
The State Agency for Meteorology in Spain has reported that so far, this has been the coldest winter of the twenty-first century in Spain and the worst in 15 years. Blizzards, electricty failures, road closures and heavy snows have cut off and isolated many towns and villages. Many albergues, cafes, shops and restaurants have closed.

November/December 2008
One of my most enjoyable experiences of walking the Way - out of season, was to see snow. While snow is not as uncommon in my home of Australia as one would expect, to walk in the snow anywhere is an experience to remember. I had about 4 days of snow during my 5 weeks walking the camino. One day I walked 35Km and 20KM of it was through snow! I was fortunate to have a white Christmas while walking the Way.

January 2009:  Via de la Plata
I walked from Seville in January and although I had some mornings of freezing fog, which was burned away by the sun mid morning, generally the weather was very good indeed. I never used my rain gear once. You have a number of options from the South - leaving from Granada, or Seville or from Valencia. You will certainly encounter cold conditions on the Via de la Plata in Extremadura but I suspect no major weather until Galicia.

January 2009 - winter photos:

January 24th - weather alerts:
Depths of over 20 centimetres of snow have been seen in the north of the country. Continuing cold across the country, but no noticeable rainfall and remaining sunny along the Mediterranean coast today. Nine regions of the country remain on alert this morning, and a further fall in temperatures is forecast for today. Depths of 20 centimetres of snow have fallen above 200m in the regions of Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country.  22 mountain passes remain closed to traffic this morning. Those who are happy about the snow are the skiers with all the ski stations in the north now open for business.

February: Portugues route
Just completed my trip from Porto to Santiago. A wonderful journey. If you travel the route in winter - be prepared for rain, washed out tracks/paths, and solitude. Also be aware of TRAFFIC - from hair-raising to down right life threatening!

Late February: Via de la Plata
I walked during the winter of 2006 (late February) from Zamora. A lot of snow, even in Zamora city and of course in Padornelo and the A Canda mountains. Absolutely no pilgrims so empty albergues. Different from the albergues on the Camino Frances - all you need is to know where to collect the keys (see a notice on the albergue's door or ask to anyone). My camino was unusual - I had much more snow, rain and cold than normal.

February 2008 - posts on the Forum:
Many villages in Lugo province are cut off, and children unable to get to school.

5th March 2008.
A friend has sent me photos of Roncesvalles, and parts of the landscape outside Pamplona - thick snow, mist and wet roads with them in padded jackets, woollen hats, scarves and gloves. Brrrrrrrr

24th March 2008:   An Italian attempts to dig out his vehicle with a shovel after it was practically buried in the snow outside the Collegiate of Roncesvalles after heavy snowfall which has fallen for two days on the area. One of the strongest storms of recent years has resulted in snow levels of between 60cm and 1.2m deep
(photos: Javier - pilgrimage-to-santiagio forum)

24 March 2008: 3.22mins video

I finally reached Galicia the day before yesterday and believe you me I had a tough time getting up to O Cebreiro. It´s been the first time in my life that I´ve had to walk in a snow blizzard and I was truly scared. When I got to the albergue there was two feet of snow, it was absolutely beautiful! The weather now is less cold but quite wet, well we´re in Galicia, what can we expect?

Here are a couple of links to reports of snow at the end of March and April last year:

In 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2009 pilgrims died crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean to Roncesvalles in March and April.

From mid-April 2008 until early July 2008, I walked the way of St James. I began in Le-Puy-en-Velay in France, and finished in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, nearly three months later. When I began, there were days when it snowed, and the trees still wore either their winter or spring look, depending on altitude.  When I crossed Cebreiro it was sunny and warm, though 3 days later I saw on the Spanish TV that it was snowing again and Pilgrims walking through the snow, so you never really know and you will need to be prepared.
(Photo by Kiwi-Nomad: )

April 2008:
I wanted to set off from Pamplona on Monday and could not due to endless heavy rain. I ended up staying another night at my friends. I even got soaked just walking around Pamplona. Left yesterday and got to Puente la Reina, and it seems much of the Camino had been closed by the police with alternative diversions. The mud and slurry is just horrendous. Just when it seems it can not get worse it does! Never mind, it is part of the fun, I guess? Leaving Puente today was the worst, just unbelievable. Holding onto fences, having a stick helps. It took me over an hour and a half to get to Maneru which is only 5km.
Very tired but got here from Villamayor, around 30km. Weather better but it was snowing last night. When I got to Los Arcos I read with sadness in a newspaper in a bar about the British Pilgrim. I just about worked out the gist of it. It brought home to me how it is a serious walk in that area especially in poor weather conditions. Please take good wet weather gear and use two walking poles in the mud!

April: : Forced to my knees on the Camino
After all my reading and research nothing could have prepared me for the realities of a bitterly cold start to my Camino. I was so determined to avoid the summer heat that I ended up walking in a snow blizzard. I started from Pamplona in the early hours of April 8th 2005. Snow was already beginning to fall as I left town and in my ignorance of what lay ahead I thought ‘This is great, I have never walked in the snow’. It snowed all day and by the time I reached the foothills of Sierra del Perdón I was trudging knee deep in snow. Prepared for much warmer weather I wore a T-shirt, long sleeved and short sleeved fleece and a short raincoat and running shoes – nothing else except a plastic poncho covering my backpack and myself! There were few walkers on the road that day and being on my own I tried to stay in the middle of a group, two ahead of me and four Italians behind me. At times I was terrified of getting lost – with snow falling fast, the path repeatedly disappeared and all the yellow signs were covered. At the top the wind was blowing so hard that the wind turbines were spinning like the propellers of a Harvard aeroplane. This is when my first disaster struck! With the force of the wind my rain poncho split clean down the middle so I had to struggle to keep myself and my backpack dry. Utterly miserable I trudged on to the Uterga where I immediately booked into a Refugio. Fortunately it was not full, just an elderly couple who had stayed over from the previous night. They had pushed through over the same mountain in pouring rain and were too exhausted to continue. Little did they know what lay ahead!

Comments from pilgrims:

“ I noticed last year, the biggest problem is the short daylight time combined with the often bad weather conditions. It gives a high risk of falling. Apart from that there are few pilgrims…so if you seek solitude! On account of there being only a short period of time to walk by daylight you cannot always reach the Refugio you like to go to. Not all are open in this time of year.  Galicia is a positive example here. One way or the other you can get a key to your roof over your head. In fact you will be sleeping mostly in Fonda’s (which is more comfortable and warm and you can get decent food etc.). However the costs doing it this way are higher of course."

"When stuff gets wet it is difficult to get it dry in winter and the albergues are often unheated. For example, a few of us stopped to try out the albergue at Hospital - just after the San Roque statue at Alto do Poio - and although it had been left open for pilgrims to use, we decided after twenty minutes that it was too cold to stay in and we ended up in a small B&B in a hamlet a few kilometres further on. The albergue municipal in Sarria was gloriously warm and cheerful, so was the one in Portomarin on Christmas Eve."

I've walked two different Caminos in winter.  The Camino Sanabres was very, very cold, with a lot of snow.
The Camino Portuguese had nice weather. I imagine the Camino ingles would be very wet, the same on the Camino del Norte. If I was you, I would try the Portuguese, or the Camino Frances, but absolutely NOT the Camino Primitivo in winter. The Camino Primitivo (from Oviedo to Lugo) is wonderful. But, do not walk alone in Winter because you will be on your own. Often the path is very far from housing so if you stumble ... No antennas so the phone does not work. (Javier - Madrid, Spain)

"The last time I walked the Camino Frances, I split it into 4 sections. The 3rd section, Fromista-Astorga I walked in November. It was cold - woolly-hat and mittens weather throughout - but exceptionally clear. I was originally thinking of walking further in that week, but gave up as the snow in the mountains was knee-deep. This was unusual so early, but by no means unknown. If the weather is bad, you can use the road rather than the track over the Cruz de Ferro, and from Ponferrada, you could detour on to the Camino de Invierno, a low-level alternative route via Lemos, which should be ready by then."  Peter Robins:

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 - Moratinos, Spain)

"I recently returned from my "winter" camino. I walked from Pamplona to Sagahun in 12 days. It was an incredible trip - I previously walked from Leon to Santiago in September 2003. Walking in the winter was exactly what I was looking for - the solitude, the people, the weather and other pilgrims I met along the way made it a very memorable trip. I experienced every type of weather imaginable: thick fog in the Alto de Perdon (got a bit lost because I couldn't see a trail maker 5 feet in front of me); a half day of rain leaving Burgos, sun on the meseta, clouds for a few days outside Pamplona, very strong wind after Santo Domingo. I was never really cold - walked with five layers and took them off and put them on as appropriate. I carried a 20 degree sleeping bag so even if there was no heat in the albergue, I stayed fairly toasty. Albergues were for the most part open. I always asked along the way and got pretty good information. I only stayed in hotels two nights. I made sure that I ended up in decent sized towns so I could be sure to get a room for the night.
I really got to experience the warmth of the hospitaleros. I shared a long lunch of lentils and chorizo with the hospitalero in Burgos and experienced the warmth of couples' private hostel in Belorado. Not much of a town but their kindness made up for any lack of atmosphere. The senoras of the tiny town of Hontanas made me an incredible dinner of sopa Castellano, pork loin and fried eggs. In general, there were about 3 to 4 pilgrims per night. I stopped walking on Christmas day. I woke up to about 2 feet of snow on the 26th. I took a train to Leon and it was a white-out all the way. It continued snowing all day and the cathedral covered in snow was amazing. It had not snowed that much in years in Leon, and the Spaniards were enjoying the snow - lots of snowballs, snowmen and cheering when someone's car was pushed out of a snow bank. I walked with the corresponding pages of Linda D's and David G's book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the history and art of the camino. I had some amazing luck visiting some churches - heating oil was being delivered in Vianna, I (unfortunately) walked into a funeral in Estrella, got to see the tiny Romanesque octagon church in Torres del Rio (it was being cleaned), and several small churches were open because local folks were preparing the Christmas crèche. I also got to see the cloister of the Romanesque church in Estella - which was pretty amazing. If you ever have considered walking in the "off" season, you'd get an enthusiastic endorsement from me."

NB: Whichever month or route you choose to walk, listen to the locals and take their advice on whether to attempt a particular crossing or route. Take a mobile/cell phone with you - it could save your life.

Article on Winter Walking on the website of the CSJ UK.

Weather: Check the weather here:
The spanish weather webpage, even for little towns, is

Links to Diaries and Blogs:


"Within the Way Without", features Rob Jorritsma as a Winter pilgrim,

Winter can bring harsh weather, particularly in the mountainous areas, and passes are often closed due to snowfall. The shoulder months either side of July and August are good compromises for a fairly quiet trail and generally pleasant weather.

Go Exploring:
In the winter, travel should be undertaken only by those who wish to experience the hardships faced by the early pilgrims during the middle ages. (

Only the insane will set out on the Camino in winter.

The Meseta: There is an old Castilian saying: "nueve meses de invierno y tres meses de infierno" - "nine months of winter and three months of hell."
A short video on a winter camino 2007/2008:

Clothing:  (See backpack list for male and female at the end of this post)

Dress in layers
Wear boots instead of walking shoes or trainers.
Clothing designed for directional layering from companies like Buffalo, Paramo or Marmot.
Fleece, silk balaclava, warm hat, thermal underwear - all very light and warm.
Good waterproof gear including gaiters for mud and snow.
Carry an emergency blanket with you. These are lightweight, foil blankets which you can discard once you out of the mountains.
Take a cell phone. If you don't have one, try to walk with people who do.
If you do become lost or snowed in - stay where you are and keep warm. Get into your sleeping bag, wrap yourself in your poncho.

The CSJ recommends that you avoid going alone if you possibly can. Tell people in St Jean what your plans are, arranging for them to call the emergency services if you haven't phoned back from Roncesvalles by an agreed time to report your safe arrival.Sil


112 is the Europe-wide emergency number. It works even if you have no money in a pre-paid mobile phone or even if your supplier has no network. It works 24/7 365 days - and the operators speak many languages. The number for the Guardia Civil in Spain is 062.

Winter Camino: 20 tips

  1. You don’t need a lot of clothes, but the ones you have need to be very functional. (I like ultra fine merino wool, my husband likes hi tech synthetics)
  2. Two full outfits plus jacket, gloves and headband is enough. Use one for day (if you get sweaty there aren’t many people around to be bothered by it) and one for evening after your shower. This minimizes washing – you can wear them for days.
  3. Walking makes you warm, even in the winter.
  4. A travel washing line is invaluable.
  5. After you wring out your washing roll it in a towel to get more moisture out.
  6. Heaters are mostly turned off during the night – get your socks on it as early as possible, and hang your line close to it.
  7. Between Christmas and 6 January lots of places are closed. Don’t count on finding bars open in villages to have a coffee or buy food during the day. More things open up after 7 January.
  8. If you are on a tight budget, plan to arrive in time to hunt for open albergues. There are usually hostals or rooms for rent but they will sharply escalate your expenditure. You may need to walk on to the next town.
  9. However if there is accommodation, there are always plenty of vacancies! We always found a bed.
  10. Newspaper stuffed in your boots will dry them out.
  11. No need for sunglasses.
  12. Learn some basic Spanish. You can go days without finding anyone to speak any English, and there are no other pilgrims to help you out.
  13. The solitude is wonderful, you have it all to yourself.
  14. Chocolate is great.
  15. The hours of darkness are very long, and the evenings are too cold and dark for sightseeing. Take something light to amuse yourself, such as a pack of cards, crossword book, sudoku etc.
  16. The bleak winter landscape is very beautiful.
  17. Change your socks in the middle of the day. Soft, warm, no blisters…lovely!
  18. A good attitude makes it a fantastic adventure.
  19. Walking in snow makes you feel so tough.
  20. A glass of wine never tasted so good.
A winter pilgrim's book:

Winter Pack lists (Thanks to Maggie and her husband.  If you are walking alone you might have to carry the extra items that they shared).

Aarn Featherlite 35 litre Freedom backpack
Sleeping bag
Silk long johns and top (for pyjamas and occasional extra warmth), 1 set (NZNature Co brand, bought mail order)
Ultra fine merino wool (Hedrena brand):
- single weight slacks, 2 pairs
- undies, 2 pairs
Ultra fine merino wool (Kathmandu brand):
Long sleeved t-shirts, 2
Bridgedale wool hiking socks, 4 pairs
Anklet stocking sox, 2 pairs
Elastic knee support, 1 (two would have been good)
1 bra
1 small polyester pretty scarf, when I wanted to look nicer some evenings
1 pair earrings, worn all the time
Reading glasses and lightweight case
Sunglasses (not used)
Polar Fleece headband
Sleeveless Polar Fleece shell
Goretex 2 layer jacket
Goretex waterproof caving gloves
Akubra hat
Waterproof breathable overpants
Short gaiters
2 Trekking poles
Shoe horn
Randonnee Proof leather hiking boots
Running shoes (only used in the evening, to give my feet a rest)
In small containers:
- Moisturiser
- Face cleanser
- All purpose detergent
Small toothbrush
Small microfibre towel
Cotton buds
1 tiny, thin washcloth
2 nappy (diaper) pins
Sponge bag (drawstring plastic bag to hold bathroom items)
Saline nose spray
lip salve
emery board
notebook and ballpoint pen
Small digital camera

In an inside pocket of my jacket
- emergency money
- one credit card
- info on bank accounts
- credit card cancellation info
- list of credit cards carried
- travel insurance info
- flight info


Aarn 35 litre Featherlite Freedom backpack and 2 balance packs
Sleeping bag
Travel pillow
Chargers for Ipod, MP3 player, camera, 3G phone
Device to download photos from camera to Ipod
Adaptor plug
Swiss army knife
Sports watch with alarm, stopwatch, compass
Randonee Proof Leather hiking boots
Running shoes and bag
Running socks
Goretex 2 layer jacket
Specific post-operative pain control and doctor’s explanatory letter
Sleeping pills
Acid stomach medicine
Eye drops
Polar Fleece headband
Goretex waterproof caving gloves
Document carrier with:
- passports
- credencials
- credit cards
- money
- list of flights and accommodation
- pen
Glasses and lens cloth
Sunglasses and case
Medium size microfibre towel
Silk handkerchief
Small toothbrush
Razor and replaceable blades
Hi tech clothes:
- 2 pr undies
- 4 pr Coolmax socks
- 2 pr Coolmax sock liners
- 1 pr trousers
- 1 pr shorts
- 2 shirts
Polypropylene undershirt and long johns
Polar fleece sleeveless shell
Waterproof breathable overpants
Short gaiters
Akubra hat
1 Trekking pole

Shared  (he carried 3kg more weight, mostly water, so used balance packs in front)

Collapsible 2.5 litre water bottle
Hotel sewing kit
Twisted elastic travel clothesline
Half a tube of child size toothpaste
Bandaids and Compeeds
Antibiotic cream
Anti-diarrhoea medicine
Anti-cramping medicine
Foam mat
Gel heel inserts in case of heel spurs
Food for the day , usually including chocolate, bread, cheese, wine
2 forks, knives, spoons
John Brierley guide book