Trekking sandals: Didn’t use; all the refugios had crocs
I wore the shorts every day, even the wet and windy ones. I could have managed with only 1 spare pair of pants. We had the opportunity to wash a few smalls in Soto and they dried overnight.
For the sun
Buff: Lightweight Ladakh one, to keep the sun off the back of my neck
Sunscreen + lipscreen
I wore the hat and the buff every day.
For the rain
Lightweight showerproof, windproof jacket: my trusty Uniqlo blue one
Goretex jacket: Didn’t use
I didn’t take my waterproof trousers. I might have worn them (and my Goretex) on the first couple of very wet days, but it wasn’t that cold. Just wet.
Berghaus Flare 700 1-2 season synthetic sleeping bag: bought off eBay for £8
Long t-shirt: as PJs
Head torch + spare batteries (3xAAA)
Watch with alarm
Toothbrush & tiny toothpaste
Flannel & soap in ziplock bag
Hair brush & comb
Shower hat: For our one night in a hotel, midway through
Tissues: for any number 2 al fresco loo stops
Earplugs: Didn’t use – I’m used to sleeping with snorers
Plastic carrier bags to keep stuff dry / separate
Plastic carrier bag for dirty laundry
Personal first aid kit
Ibruprofen (aches & pains)
This is a tiny kit, which I keep in plastic zip lock bag in the lid of my rucksack for easy access. I’ve one blister pack of each of the tablets, a couple of wipes and rehydration sachets and a few plasters and compeed in a range of sizes.
Just in case
Emergency foil blanket
Money & cards in my travel purse
Passport & copy of photo page
NHS COVID pass
Travel Insurance Policy
GHIC (NHS) Health Card (aka the post-BREXIT EHIC)
2 spare camera batteries, charged
Mobile phone (and handy as a back up camera)
Things I wish I’d taken but hadn’t
Wet wipes: If there’s one thing I’d say, it’s TAKE THE WETWIPES! It’s a hot and sweaty trek and even with bathrooms in the refugios it’s easier to have a ‘wet wipe wash’ than a ‘soap and water wash’.
Penknife: would have been handy for our DIY packed lunches.
Nail file: A snagged nail is a pain and an emery board weighs next to nothing. Luckily S had her nail scissors and let me borrow them.
Another battery for my camera: I turned off the GPS, and eeked out the battery to Poncebos. So many things to photograph.
We paid to have dinner and breakfast at each refugio, and for a packed lunch most days too. The convenience alone would be worth the expense, but for the most part we were served up excellent meals, especially at Vega de Ario and Collado Jermosa.
If you get a refugio packed lunch, allow space in your daypack for it – some were pretty big!
We skipped the packed lunch option on a couple of days – lunching at the sidrería in Cangas (day 3) and the bar in Soto (day 4) – and had another couple of days where we’d not refugio‘d the night before – day 1 (out of Arenas) and day 5 after Soto. In both cases we bought a large loaf, a big cheese and fruit to share (for day 1, we bought supplies in Arenas the day before, and for day 5 we went to the small shop / bakery in Posada de Valdeón), and shared the carrying too.
We all took snacks, sweets, dried fruit, nuts. Plenty to go around.
Practicalities & Maps
The El Anillo de Picos website has everything you need to know: info & booking for the refugios, routes, recommendations and maps.
My main advice is that the time estimates are for experienced alpine walkers. Even with all the trekking we’ve done, we took a lot longer – sometimes double the estimate.
Paper Map: Picos de Europa National Park – Anillo de Picos (1:50,000) by Adrados Ediciones, ISBN 9788493317775. At the end of the trip, Alfonso gave us a copy of this map with the route marked on it. Although Adrados do two more detailed maps at 1:25,000, the 1:50,000 has all three sections of the Anillo on one map.
That said, having a guide who knew the route inside out meant we didn’t need to rely on maps or GPS.
On the ground, the routes are way marked – yellow and white stripes, red dots, plus PN PNPE signposts in the main places. Most of the time the trails are clear. The trickiest sections were day 1 (Puente Poncebos to Vega de Ario) over the high pastures and day 6 (Collado Jermoso to Urriellu) crossing the moonscape. On both occasions the way marks were sometimes hard to spot. You do get your eye in though.
Sunday 11 September 2022: London – Bilbao – Arenas de Cabrales (Photos)
Early start for our 6.15 Easyjet flight to Bilbao. All good. Swiftly through COVID checks and passport control – my first post-BREXIT experience: there are stamps! – and out to rendezvous with Alfonso.
We spent the (sweltering) morning in Bilbao then Alfonso drove us to Arenas de Cabrales. Checked into the excellent Hotel Picos de Europa, out for a late lunch, back to relax and unpack (!) and then a route review and recommended kit run through. Repacking and dinner out.
Monday 12 September 2022: Trek day 1 – Puente Poncebos (277m) to Vega de Ario (1630m) (Photos)
Manu had arrived overnight, so we got to meet over breakfast in the hotel. Then a 15 minute drive to Puente Poncebos to park the van before setting off to walk to Vega de Ario (1630m) in the Western Massif – we did the Anillo Anticlockwise.
The first hour or so was easy walking along the Cares Gorge before striking off and up into a steep valley on our right at the start of the Blue Route (GR 202 Ruta de la Reconquista) to Vega de Ario. With hindsight, thank heavens we didn’t try the Green Route!
Once we’d reached the high summer pastures we stopped for lunch – bread, cheese, fruit purchased in Arenas yesterday – then more up, with a slight initial detour across the hillsides. We spent a lot of the afternoon in the rain, and as we got higher up the terrain became quite steep and rocky. Very windy.
We were very glad to reach the Refugio which turned out to be compact and bijou, and home to 5 or so other residents: a large dining room downstairs, a double decker bunk platform dorm upstairs; bags, boots and goretex etc left in the vestibule; outside the fence line, a water pipe for refilling water bottles, al fresco loo facilities and clever cows.
Tuesday 13 September 2022: Trek day 2 – Vega de Ario (1630m) to Vegarredonda (1460m) (Photos)
A wet and windy night continued once the day dawned. Too windy to attempt the optional extra summit, and even though the rain stopped for a few hours it was destined to return and so Alfonso opted for an alternate route: PNPE 4 back down to summer pastures and on down to Lagos de Covadonga (1134 m). Very muddy underfoot and very, very strong winds down at the lakes – we could barely stand.
Very strange arriving at Lagos de Covadonga to find the grasslands around Lake Ercina teeming with tourists and a car park packed with day trip minivans.
Still, there was a cafe, where we settled in for a spell to warm up with hot drinks and to dry off a little. And there were loos. We headed back outside to eat our picnic lunches provided by Refugio Vega de Ario then set off down to the lower lake (Lake Enol) and on along the valley bottom towards Vegarredonda. Easy walking on PNPE 5, the wind had dropped and the sun came out. A final couple of hours of up brought us to Refugio Vegarredonda just before the rain returned.
A bigger refugio, and with only one other resident we had a room of bunk beds to ourselves.
Bags into cages, wet things hung up to dry and mugs of tea to warm up, then plenty of time to sort out our beds. do some diary and chat before dinner and then bed.
Wednesday 14 September 2022: Trek day 3 – Vegarredonda (1460m) to Vegabaño (1432m) (Photos)
Another wet and windy day; another alternate itinerary.
Manu did the Plan A route, up and over the mountains, battling the wind and the rain. But before he left he’d been called upon to deploy his firefighting expertise to break into the kitchen after the warden’s key had broken in the lock.
We, on the other hand, walked back down to Lagos de Covadonga and caught the bus to Cangas de Onís, passing Covadonga “Cathedral” built to commemorate the eighth century battle of Covadonga – the first time the Christians managed to defeat the Arab-Berber invaders.
In Cangas de Onís we lunched tucked away in the old cider-making room at Sidrería El Polesu, took a few photos on the Puente Romano, then boarded a taxi-bus which took us south along the twisty turny road in the narrow gorge formed by the Sella river which forms the boundary between Asturias and León. A single track lane off the main road took us up to the village of Soto de Sajambre, and the end of the road.
We continued on foot, past fields and through woods, emerging in the meadows at Majada De Vegabaño.
The morning’s wind and rain had eased off by the time we got to the lakes and we had a sunny spell from Cangas to Soto de Sajambre, but by the late afternoon the skies had turned overcast.
At Refugio Vegabaño we found lots of strange artwork and statues – fairies, toadstool-type stuff – and Manu. Plus two Spanish girls. The log stove was on. We had a room to ourselves – triple decker bunk platforms. A “tiger” arrived overnight….
Thursday 15 September 2022: Trek day 4 – Vegabaño (1432m) to Soto de Valdeón (850m) (Photos)
Better weather today – we could see the mountains we’d missed yesterday. No rain! Our first DRY day!
After breakfast, a lovely gentle walk up through woodland and out onto moorland, including a spot of mindful walking amidst the beech tree trunks, ferns, fungi and hellebores.
A long descent from the moorland ridge (Puerto de Dobres), through the forest and emerging back out into fields and rejoining a road that eventually brought us to lovely Soto de Valdeón.
We ate a late lunch at El Pino, where our host rustled up a smashing spread.
Then on to La Casa Vieja en Valdeón, occupied by Red Bull sponsored American climbers and, temporarily, by a German walking group. Rach and I shared a triple room – plenty of space to spread out. And A SHOWER. What a treat.
Dinner at Begoña Restaurante in Posada de Valdeón. They offer a set menu, 15E, and very speedy service.
Back along the lane to Soto de Valdeón and to bed.
Friday 16 September 2022: Trek day 5 – Soto de Valdeón (850m) to Collado Jermoso (2064m) (Photos)
I woke to the sound of owl hoots and cow bells. And clouds.
Breakfast in the bar at La Casa Vieja en Valdeón, then back on the road to Posada de Valdeón for supplies (bread & cheese), and on to Cordiñanes. Here we left the road and embarked upon the trail (PNPE 16) that would lead us to lovely Collado Jermoso, high up in the Central Massif.
It was an ‘exciting’ route: straightforward at first, and then the trail (La Rienda) narrowed and hugged the cliff face, chains providing secure hand holds as the path wound up and down and up, eventually levelling off (relatively) and entering woodland (Hayedo de la Sotín). Spiders webs glistened in the cloud dew, but today the sun was getting the better of the clouds, burning them off the mountainsides as we watched.
The woods gave way to a high valley (Vega Sotín) and at the compass-point boulder we turned left and embarked upon a zig zag climb up to the narrow ridge (Collado Solano) where we lunched, and Manu’s free climbing gave us heart failure.
The afternoon provided a whole other level of ‘excitement’: a narrow trail (Traviesa de Congosto) over exposed scree slopes, long drops thankfully hidden in cloud, culminating in a Grade 3 scramble up Argallo Congosto. “Difficulty High” did not lie, but we all emerged out of the final gully and onto Collado Jermoso’s gentle grasslands on a high.
We treated ourselves to beers and crisps to celebrate, sat at one of the refugio’s picnic tables soaking up the views and the late afternoon sunshine while Alfonso and Manu headed off for some proper climbing, thoughtfully keeping out of sight.
Fab dinner inside the warm, snug and busy refugio – my favourite one by a long way – then out for a technicolour sunset looking out over the Picos, and a stunning cloud inversion.
Saturday 17 September 2022: Trek day 6 – Collado Jermoso (2064m) to Urriellu (1950m) (Photos)
A sunny day. A hard day.
More narrow trail over high slopes, the moonscape horseshoe to Refugio Cabaña Verónica with a roped up chimney descent en route.
At the Collado Horcados Rojos pass (2344m), Alfonso rejected the via ferrata option for the new route down into the valley – a steep, narrow trail over exposed scree slopes – very Dolpo – followed by a long, long, walk to the refugio. We arrived at 8.20pm, just as the last of the light faded. Manu had run on ahead to let them know we’d be arriving late and to keep back some food for us.
Refugio Vega de Urriellu is very big, very busy. Lots of climbers.
Sunday 18 September 2022: Trek day 7 – Urriellu (1950m) to Cabrones (2034m) (Photos)
Another sunny day. Another hard day – but this time only half a day.
A slow start – we were all tired after yesterday’s marathon – out over rolling grassland, then up to a rocky ridge requiring a steep ascent culminating in a via ferrata ladder up a chimney (aka Paso la Corona del Raso).
We continued on over exposed rocky “hillsides” surrounded by even higher ridges and peaks (Corona el Rasu), stopping at Horcada L’Arenera pass where Manu left us to climb some of the peaks, and we followed the trail down to Cabrones, lunching en route.
A relaxing afternoon – in spite of all the flies – at the tiny Refugio Jou de Los Cabrones. A spot of stretching, a beer, chats with the four french ladies. Alfonso headed off in search of Manu, and more mountains.
Steffi, Rach and I walked up to the Collada del Agua pass for sunset. So peaceful. Beautiful views. Leaping chamois.
Various chaps from the refugio arrived, and then Alfonso and Manu. We left them all there, knowing we’d take a lot longer to descend than they would.
Wednesday 21 September 2022: Llanes – Bilbao – London (Photos)
Caves Coast Bilbao Beer
Breakfast at the same cafe terrasse as yesterday, then checked out of the hotel and Alfonso started the day’s drive east. We stopped for a few hours at Playa de Cobijero, to explore the cave, rock bridge and salt water pool, and for lunch in the gardens at El Horno de Buelna.
Then the final drive back to Bilbao where it was time to say our heartfelt thanks, fond farewells, and See you Agains! to Alfonso.
Good flight back to London Gatwick, courtesy of Vueling, then we all started our journeys home – Rache headed for Reading and H, S and I catching the train back to CJ where Thai takeaway was rejected in favour of bread, cheese and bits. And wine.
Thursday 22 September 2022: London – Hereford (No Photos)
Overnight: my own bed
As I said in my previous Picos post, I don’t think we quite realised what we were letting ourselves in for when we asked Alfonso to take us on El Anillo de Picos – it turned out to be Extrem by name and extreme by nature, but it was totally, totally fab. I loved every minute of it.
I’m back after my 10 days in Northern Spain with Hazel, Steffi and Rach, and our exciting eight day hut-to-hut trekking circuit of the Picos de Europa with Alfonso and Manu.
We did El Anillo Extrem, which turned out to be Extrem (ES) by name and extreme (EN) by nature….
In fact I don’t think we quite realised what we were letting ourselves in for when we talked to Alfonso about a private trip after our 2019 Exodus introduction to the mountains of Northern Spain.
But it was totally fab. And no COVID this trip!
The first four days were coloured by the weather – cool, wet and very windy conditions made to soggy, muddy walking and we did Alfonso’s Plan B Itinerary on a couple of the longer days. But in Soto de Valdeón the sun returned and – in blithe ignorance – we embarked on the much more adventurous second half of our trip.
But it was “nothing we hadn’t done before” …. just chain-rails and rope-rails, grade 3 scrambling, rock climbing, via ferrata-ing up and around rock faces, occasional abseiling down…. none of which we had anticipated. Plus narrower trails, more scree, steeper, more sheer drops and trickier terrain – especially the moonscape around Cabaña Verónica.
We had a great time 🙂
So much so that we’ve asked A&M to plan a trip for us next year in the Pyrenees!
London, Aylesbury, Gatwick, Bilbao & Arenas de Cabrales.
Tuesday (R’s graduation ceremony – yaaay!), Wednesday and Thursday morning I was in a leadership course at work. A good blend of focused, applicable sessions and meeting colleagues from a range of European offices.
Tiring though, especially when you’re trying to wrap up the day job before going on hols for 10 days. And sort out Family Christmas.
WW with H and R and F. BLWV is now Balfours – it’s OK, but I think they’ll soon learn that the after work regulars don’t come for food. Sadly Pizza Express Russia Row is no more. So we went to the one in Leadenhall. Not a patch…
Bit of a work-crisis on Wed evening / Thursday, but was back on top of things by the time I logged off on Thursday and headed north to Aylesbury for an overnight stay with C and SL.
And it was while I was sitting on the train to Aylesbury when Buck Pal announced that The Queen had died.
I still can’t quite believe it. I feel like I’ve been dropped into a parallel universe where King Charles is greeting the public.
And just when I really hoped things wouldn’t get any worse: Right wing, Free market Govt, Economy / Inflation / Recession, Gas & Electricity bills, War in Ukraine, a divided society fuelled by anger and hate, and controlled by powerful, manipulative people with no morals.
Still I had a lovely time with C and SL. Just what I needed. Good company, good food and a walk to Wendover Woods and picking a large carrier bag’s worth of damsons. On Friday, not only did Charles make lunch for us but it was a special Vegetarian Version of the Mid-Autumn Festival specials – Steamed Egg with Silken Tofu & Sweetcorn and a Buddha Mixed Vegetable Bowl:
Friday afternoon it was back into London to nip into work to pick up my Picos Pack and to leave my work clothes etc in my locker from hell. Then the Northern Line to H’s. Armed with a bottle of wine.
Saturday morning, after a leisurely start, Hazel and I got down to packing for Picos. For me this entailed emptying my big rucksack (stuffed to the gills), filtering out all my work stuff, working out exactly what I need in my daypack for 8 days hut to hut in the mountains of Northern Spain…. Oh, and putting the damsons into H’s freezer. Turns out 1 large carrier bag = 8 takeaway tubs.
Into CJ for a final spot of shopping for the trip then lunch…. and with a couple of hours spare until we needed to head down to Gatwick I decided to nip into central London to pay my respects to The Queen at Buckingham Palace.
I made it to The Mall – very speedy walk to Buckingham Palace and then on down the Victoria. Quite an emotional experience.
It’s going to be a strange time to be away and I’m really sad that I will miss The Queen’s lying in state and her funeral too. Very different from how I felt about missing the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death 25 years ago. A whole range of reactions from family and friends.
Back to CJ then the train to LGW to rendezvous with S & R in our rooms at the Gatwick North Premier Inn. Very hot rooms. Repacking to accommodate poles etc prompted the purchase of an extra hold baggage, and happily we were able to take advantage of the Twilight Bag Drop that EasyJet are trialling at LGW. Worked like a dream. Then back to our room to tuck into the M&S “bits” H and I had got for dinner. One of the reasons my big rucksack had been So Heavy had been the two bottles of wine…
Early start on Sunday for our 6.15 flight to Bilbao. All good.
BIO is a small airport so we were swiftly through COVID checks and passport control – my first post-BREXIT experience. There are stamps!
Alfonso materialised in his new van looking fitter than ever. It felt strange to actually be doing this trip at last after two years of failed attempts, but that feeling didn’t last long.
We spent the (sweltering) morning strolling around Bilbao – lovely on a Sunday morning: we had coffee in an open air cafe next to the Guggenheim museum, explored the riverside’s sculptures and pedestrian paths, flower markets, and bric a brac stalls and had a mooch around the old town.
I was all a bit zombie from the hecticness of the past week and the day’s early start, so I snoozed for most of the drive to Arenas de Cabrales. Once there we checked into the excellent Hotel Picos de Europa, in a lovely old building in the heart of the town, then headed out for a late lunch, a beer and an ice cream / sorbet to cool us down. After a bit of time to relax (unpack!) at the hotel Alfonso ran us through the route and recommended kit. Then repacking and dinner out.
Back in the UK, The Queen’s coffin arrived at Holyroodhouse.
After a sweltering night, Monday saw the start of our 8 days doing El Anillo Extreme.
We met Alfonso’s mate Manu over breakfast – he’s coming with us to see more of the Picos (and, as it turned out, to be a very, very welcome extra pair of experienced mountain guide hands!) – then a short drive to Puente Poncebos and the walk / hike / trek along the the Cares Gorge and up to our first Refugio, Vega de Ario (1630m). We’d opted for the easier Blue route. Everything’s relative…
Cloudy morning gave way to rain. A lot of rain.
You’ll have to wait for my Picos trip write up to find out more…