The distance between here and Roncesvalles is the most physically difficult stretch of road you are likely to encounter on the whole of your camino. From the “Foot of the Pass,” it is a steep climb for the first 8km to Orisson, then it is mostly uphill (but not very steep) for most of the French part. It becomes flat before Roland's fountain and the Spanish border.
A beautiful path - which is steep only at the beginning - leads directly though the forest down to Roncesvalles, while the longer option via Ibañeta (turning right from Lepoeder), isn’t a path, but a narrow asphalt road, which can be quite unpleasant.
The Valcarlos Route - 23.5 - 27 km
The length of this route varies based on how much of it is walked strictly on the camino; 23.5 if you walk entirely on the camino and 27km if you follow the camino to Valcarlos but continue on the road thereafter... which will be necessary during times of heavy snowfall or ice. This route has an undeserved reputation as being the backup to the Napoleon Route, it is anything but. Crossing the Pyrenees is both beautiful and challenging regardless of the route taken. This route takes you though the welcoming village of Valcarlos, where the albergue has functioning heating and where the views are superb.
The Napoleon Route - 24.3 km
The Napoleon Route is the longer of the two and covers small mountain roads and trails. It was popularized as a way to bypass the banditry that was all too common in the valley below. You will soon see that up in the mountains, there are few places to hide.
WARNING: THIS ROUTE IS CLOSED FROM NOVEMBER 1st to MARCH 31st ALWAYS. During years of heavy Spring snowfall, this closure will be extended further.
NOTICE: Both routes will be closed during thunderstorms, at which point pilgrims are obliged to wait for the storm to pass.
UPDATES: The pilgrim office in are able to provide up-to-the-minute information on both routes.