Picos de Europa: Counting Down

It’s less than a month now until Steffi, Hazel and I head off to Northern Spain for Exodus’ Picos de Europa walking holiday, challenging version.

The final departure info arrived over the weekend, and I’ve done EasyJet online check-in for both flights (there and back) this morning. We’ve got adjacent seats, which is nice. I’ve also worked out what time we’ll need to get the Stansted Express (09.10) to allow plenty of time for some delay and airport queues.

On the money side I’m allowing EUR 300 to cover tips, a spare day in Bilbao, spends (I want to buy the Adrados Ediciones – Picos de Europa Central and East: Massifs Los Urrieles and Andara Adrados (1:25,000) map in Arenas de Cabrales) and “treats” (you can buy wine and beer at the hotel…). There’s an ATM in Arenas de Cabrales if I do find I need any more.

I’ve checked the personal BUPA travel insurance I’ve bought through work will cover this type of trip (tick), so all I need to do is to get my euros from Thomas Exchange Global, print everything off and pack!

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse: Gear Update

The LED fundraising weekend in the North Lakes last month was a prompt to sort out a few more pieces of November’s Nepal Plan, principally BOOTS!

We did have a chance to go through Val’s “6000m Gear List” with her, the main outcome of which is that I’m borrowing her down jacket from last year, and a sleeping bag (but not the one from last year). She also recommended taking some of the disposable self-heating hand and foot warmers for the summit days (pre-dawn starts). Bim in KTM can provide most of the technical gear, and we arranged another trip to the North Lakes for some training with ropes etc in September.

Boots surfaced as Nicola was heading to Adventure Peaks to try on the boots she’s hiring from them, and Steffi decided to go with her to get a boot fitting, and as it transpired, to hire a pair of Boreal G1s…. in a size 44, as advised by the thorough chap in Snow & Rock when we made an initial fact finding foray into Covent Garden a few months back.

After an abortive attempt to hire from Adventure Peaks (very, very busy), I focused on the La Sportiva G2 and the Scarpa Phantom 6000 and learned the following:

  • Boreal boots are a wide fit, so not a good option for me
  • La Sportiva are warmer and a narrower boot, Scarpa have a more durable sole
  • with a long, slim foot and a long big toe, I can wear shoes / boots “shorter”
  • trying out boots, especially with narrow feet, there will be some “slip” but provided this is the inner boot slipping against the outer you’re OK
  • it can be impossible to find boots that are a good fit according to all the rules, and padding / heel lifts  insoles can help.

Having decided that I needed La Sportiva G2 in a size 42, I emailed Expedition Kit Hire who I’d earmarked earlier on. Same day reply from Stuart, confirming they had a pair available for my dates and attaching the hire form. A couple of exchanges and less than 24 hours later, I’d hired the boots plus goggles and balaclava and bought 5 pairs each of hand and foot warmers. All paid up, delivery due the week before we go, and the hire includes prepaid return. Very efficient, very friendly. I can see why The Mountain Company recommend them.

(As an aside, what was interesting about doing the foot outlines was realising that my feet are pretty much the same length, but my left foot is slightly wider at the ball. And shoes / boots are always tighter on that foot. I’d always thought it was because it was longer, but no – wider!)

So that just leaves travel insurance that will cover me to 6,500m and using ropes, crampons and ice axes, which I think means it will be the BMC. The Austrian Alpine Club (UK) standard AWS policy doesn’t cover you above 6,000m and the Alpenverein Premium Single Trip Cover you have to get then is a lot more expensive. I’ve yet to find a ‘normal’ policy that covers you above 6,000m, (although Nicola’s just flagged that Trailfinders’ goes up to 7,000m).

And last, but not least, Nicola has managed to wangle 4 weeks off work, so she’s coming for the whole thing.

But for now M-ALP-I is on the back burner – our week in Picos de Europa is only a month away!

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta – Imja Tse: Update

Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry….

Being my usual super organised self, I sorted out flights for November’s four week extravaganza way back in January. We got a fantastic price with Jet Airways (£430), flying out via Mumbai and back via Delhi.

In early April, a chance chat at work flagged up that Jet were experiencing financial problems…. and I’d booked direct, and on my debit card. Uh-oh.

Then, on my birthday I got a cryptic email from Steffi: Flight cancellation?

A quick Google and email check revealed all – Jet Airways had suspended operations, “temporarily”, as of 17 April. Here’s the first couple of paras of the BBC’s article:

Troubled Indian airline Jet Airways has temporarily suspended all its domestic and international flights after failing to find fresh funding.

The airline said its last flight would operate on Wednesday as it was not able to pay for fuel and other critical services.

So I spent a good hour or so working through the Jet Airways Flight Cancellation emails and refund claim process – a separate claim per flight, per person. That made 8 in total.

Since then, I’ve had various confirmation emails, all automated, but as yet no refund.  I’ve got the CAA’s Advice to UK consumers impacted by Jet Airways suspending operations tucked away, just in case.

Once I’d recovered from that little “Birthday treat”, I dug out my dusty credit card and scoured Kayak for replacement flights. The algorithms must have been in overdrive, factoring in all the Jet passengers suddenly swamping the flight search. Hey ho.

We’ve ended up with a not-too-bad option flying out with Emirates / FlyDubai and back with Qatar. Handily, given that we’re flying out at the end of a work day for me, our outbound flight leaves from Stansted so we’ll be getting the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street, which is (a) 5 mins walk from work, (b) a more reliable journey than the Piccadilly line out to LHR, and (c) much, much easier for those wielding heavy luggage. VIP that last point as we have 30kg baggage allowance both ways.

I’ve been in to “manage my booking” for the new flights today, primarily to check that we do actually have tickets (paranoia!), and was able to book seats, set meal preferences, provide emergency contacts and print e-tickets. So that’s a good job done.

Let’s just hope that Jet Airways refund does eventually materialise….

In other news, it’s the LED Fundraising Challenge up in the Lake District next weekend, which will provide an opportunity for Steffi and I to meet Nicola, who’s doing the Mera Peak section. We’ve already emailed a bit, mainly about boot hire and training. Now I’m worried I’m not doing as much as Val seems to think I am!  We’ll also be able to talk through the 6000m gear list Val sent through, working out what we might be able to borrow or hire either from Bim’s in KTM or the UK in the case of insulated boots.

Five months to go. Better get working on those weedy arms…..


13 May 2019 – Update

Jet Airways refund came through today.

Phew.

Everest Trek Get Together No 14

On a sedate train service heading towards Cardiff, after another lovely weekend in Pembs, this time combining the 14th Everest Trek Get Together with the start of Steffi’s birthday celebrations.

Friday featured generous G&Ts followed by curry and then the onward drive Newgale and the Van. Dave and Gwyneth had met us in Newport with the usual smooth station rendezvous and a drive West that was somewhat wetter than desired.

The damp theme resurfaced on Saturday this time accompanied by strong winds – the forecast had promised heavy rain and winds over the 50mph mark, and proved accurate. The morning was slightly less bad, and we ventured out along the road to the cafe/paper shop. Huge waves and steady rain kept almost everyone else inside. The return walk, into the wind, took 6 mins longer than the outbound leg. A day in the caravan seemed the sensible option, with D&G driving back to the Duke of Cambridge to watch Wales romp to victory in the Six Nation final. We celebrated that and Steffi’s birthday minus 3 days with ginger tiffin, tea and sparklers.

Steffi and I ventured out to watch sunset from the beach, catching a final shower en route but one that delivered a wonderful full rainbow over the caravan park. Beautiful sunset, the sea still strong.

Sunset after the storm, Newgale Beach
Sunset after the storm, Newgale Beach

Back in the van, present opening followed together with further toasts, of champagne this time, accompanied by crisps from the pub. We dined on Steffi’s special soup, Cardigan bread, hummus and carrot sticks, cheese and biscuits.

Then bed.

Leisured breakfast on Sunday. No rain and crystal clear skies out over St Brides Bay. A beautiful walk along the beach, busy with walkers and dogs. Lovely.

Sunday stroll on Newgale Beach
Sunday stroll on Newgale Beach

Back to Mayhem for continued celebrations with more champagne and a slap up Sunday lunch cooked by Maurice and Maria. Yes, we did visit the Aisles of Aldi en route. It’s tradition.

Sunday lunch bonanza!
Sunday lunch bonanza!

Hazel and I caught the 15.54 from Whitland, changed onto the GWR service at Swansea and are whiling away the journey back to London listening to podcasts / watching downloads. Currently at Cardiff where our naturally quiet carriage now has a lady putting the world to rights on a phone call…

Where next: Picos de Europa

All of a sudden our tentative Picos de Europa plan has firmed up!

Steffi, Hazel and I had talked about doing Exodus’ “challenging” version in July *, and so – pending Brexit – I’d been keeping an eye out for offers and availability. And today I spotted they were down to three places!

Wah!

Crazy busy week at work. Hazel is on hols. So Steffi did the honours and we are booked. 

So we’re off to sunny Spain for a week’s walking in the mountains.

Just like that, as Tommy Cooper used to say.

Now all we have to hope for is that Brexit doesn’t bollix everything up … Will our airline flights fly? Will we be able to get entry visas into Spain? Will our travel insurance still be valid?


Why this trip?

One of the ladies on last year’s Walking in Northern Albania trip had been on a walking holiday in the Picos the previous year and loved it. She had some super photos on her phone.

Susa raved about the region too – you really can go from peaks to playa in a matter of hours. So perhaps we’ll manage a bit of beach and seaside on our free day.

Here’s the itinerary (‘Challenging’ version):

  • Day 1: Travel to Arenas de Cabrales: London Stansted – Bilbao (EasyJet). Transfer to Arenas de Cabrales. Settle into our base in the Picos, Hotel Torrecerredo.
  • Day 2: Classic Cares Gorge Walk.
  • Day 3: Up to the high pastures of Nava; on to the summit of Juan Robre; descend back to Arenas de Cabrales.
  • Day 4: Summit Main range; descend to the area of the Pandebano Col then to Bulnes.
  • Day 5: Free day. Optional activities include caving, self-guided canoeing, canyoning or a trip to the coast.
  • Day 6: Lakes of Covadonga; Majada de Belbin & Peak Pandescura.
  • Day 7: Twin summits of Mancondiu; on to San Carlos Peak.
  • Day 8: Arenas de Cabrales. Transfer to Bilbao. Fly to London Stansted.

We wondered if July might be too hot. But Exodus’ temperature graph suggests it won’t be too bad because we’re at altitude – relatively – and it should be dry.

We’ve gone flight inclusive – mainly for the transfers again, but even without that as a factor looking at the cost of doing our own flights suggested that the Exodus flight-inclusive option was competitively priced.

Exciting to have something in the diary between now and Nepal in November.

To do: Pay back Steffi. Purchase travel insurance (post Brexit!). Put together prep spreadsheet.


* If you want details, you’ll need to find the trip on the Exodus website. They don’t like me linking to it. It spoils their SEO. Really?