Three Experiences on the Hill of Forgiveness

A stunning photo taken looking back toward Pamplona during the ascent of the  Alto de Perdón.  Mid-May 2015

A stunning photo taken looking back toward Pamplona during the ascent of the Alto de Perdón. Mid-May 2015

In a previous post I described the beauty of the Alto de Perdón, or Hill of Forgiveness, but I did not have space to share my own experiences on it. I have crossed over it on all three of my times walking the Camino, and as I reflected on each crossing I was surprised at the stark contrast and varying beauty of the three days.

It was 2007 when I first walked the Camino, and the Alto de Perdón remains one of the most striking visual memories of any of my times as a pilgrim. The day was clear and a fine autumn breeze was blowing. The wheat had been harvested, so the soil was bare and upturned. The sky was so blue, and the Pyrenees to the north so distant yet defined in the sunlight. As I made my ascent, a glance back took my breath away and brought a tear to my eye, it was so beautiful. I met no one else that whole day, but took everything, from the beauty of the landscape to the individual sunflowers I passed, as a gift.

The second time, in 2011, I started my journey in Pamplona via Barcelona. I flew into Barcelona and took an overnight bus (which seemed more economical than a bed at a hostel in the city) so I could get to Pamplona first thing in the morning and get my pilgrim credenciál. The only problem with that plan was that the bus arrived at 4:30 in the morning, before anything – even a café – was open. Instead of waiting around out in the cold, I set out for the next town. Due to the fact that I was running on what few hours of light sleep I’d gotten over the previous 24 hours on the plane and on the bus, I don’t remember much of the ascent. On the descent, however, it was incredible to watch the way the dawn began to light up the distant landscape once it passed the top of the hill.

The third time, in 2013, I was with friends and was more than a little frustrated with some of them for viewing the Camino as a chance to do some food and drink tourism more than I thought was appropriate. It was also my first (and maybe last) time wearing sandals. Unlike the previous two times, the weather was very wet; in fact, the path leading up the Hill had turned into a dangerous stretch of slippery mud. Those of us with hiking poles and more strength were able to make it up, but many of the older pilgrims struggled. As miserable as that day was physically – not to mention the misery it led to since it was the first day I began to develop blisters from the mud in my sandals – I remember it for the amazing show of camaraderie. Several of us younger, stronger pilgrims laid our packs at the top of the Hill and went back down to help those who were struggling by holding their hands, carrying their packs, and guiding them through the less slippery parts. It was a beautiful moment of community and fellowship.

What might you experience on the Alto de Perdón?  Or, what did you experience? Send me your stories.


Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who will walk her first Camino this summer with Hunter.