Picos de Europa October 2008

Helen Rose Hill Diary

Working my way through mountains I want to visit post completion of the Munros, I recently spent a week in the Picos De Europa in Spain. These are spectacular mountains in northwest Spain in Cantabria and known to climbers for their difficult routes with one climb similar to El Capitan in Yosemite. I was only walking and not climbing. The mountains are reached from Bilbao but also from Asturias by public bus. The drive from Bilbao is south along the coast and then turning inland reaching the Picos de Europa National Park after about two and a half hours. The mountains can also be walked in a hut to hut tour but my trip was more of a hotel to hotel tour! In the six days walking I walked to two mountain tops, did some gorge walks and walked up to viewpoints. I will describe briefly some of the walks to give a flavour of the Picos de Europa.

The first few days were based at a small mountain village of Espinama and within easy reach of the cable car from Fuente De to El Cable. From there we followed an excellent path under the limestone peaks to the col and then on a steep scree path to Los Hdos Rojos at 2,506 metres. This gave us extensive views over the central range of the Picos de Europa. These peaks are similar to a smaller version of the Dolomites but there is no Via Ferratta to use in scrambling and the area is not so much scrambling as hard climbing. The walking paths were all good and although there were no exciting scrambles, there was wonderful scenery all around. The following day we walked to the village of Sotres, the next base and lying at 1045 metres, the highest village in Picos.

Based in Sotres there were many walks available from the village. The village has a feel of time standing still especially in one of the little old fashioned shops which was also a restaurant and a bar at the shop counter. We had dinner there with a table placed on the customer shop area. The stock in the shop counters was an interesting mixture with soap etc alongside rat poison! It was an experience eating in a shop with goods for sale hanging above our heads. The food was magnificent, plentiful and tasty with the Tortilla the best I have ever tasted in Spain

In the area, there is a choice of Gorge walks and the outstanding one at Balcon De Pilatos. We walked from Sotros to Tresviso in very wet weather, seeing a lone Chamois very close on the way and arrived at the hotel for lunch in Tresviso very wet and miserable. However, after some hot food we all felt better and ready for the long descent of 1,700 metres to the road at the waterworks. The afternoon became hot and sunny and we soon dried out. The path was good with small rocks and wound down through the gorge to a low level. When looking over, we could not see the lower path and it looked like sheer drops down to the river. However the path led safely down with spectacular views to the towering cliffs above. The path was used at one time to transport cheese by donkey.  On the way down we stopped on the natural balconies to watch the vultures circling over head . The Garganta del Urdon is one of the most spectacular gorges in the area.

Another outstanding walk from near Sotres is to the famed climbing area at Picu Urriellu, (Narnjo de Bulnes), a huge monolith rock,  2,519 metres high. The walk started on farmland at Pandebano and followed a path into a a rocky valley at Las Traviesas. Again, the path was good as it climbed up towards Picu Urriellu.  The climb takes two days with the climbers sleeping overnight in a sling attached to the rock. Using binoculars, we spotted climbers on the rock with one falling off and dangling from the rock on a rope. He did attach himself again to the climb. We had lunch at the mountain refuge here, no doubt, a warm and welcoming place for those on hut to hut trips.  We walked on to a viewpoint to look over the central massif to Los Hdos Rojos we had walked to on the first day. There were people backpacking descending the scree slopes toward the refuge.

Despite the mixed weather and it is always expected in mountain areas, it was a thoroughly enjoyable week and great to be able to walk into the central and rugged massif without having to climb. The walks other than those described were no less spectacular but this gives a flavour of Picos De Europa.  Incidentally,  named by early sailors as they were the first sight of majestic peaks on their return.  Although I was on an organised trip, it is possible with careful planning to arrange a hut to hut trip from Asturias.

Coming attractions; Old Firm Football match, Arran and Glen Nevis.

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 Thanks to Camilo Xabel Sousa Gonzales and Jane Hand for the photos