Here’s my write up September’s 10 days in Northern Spain and our eight day circuit of the Picos de Europa with Alfonso and Manu.
It was definitely third time lucky.
That said, we left London a couple of days after the Queen had died and completed the circuit and came out of the mountains on the day of her funeral. A strange time to be out of the UK.
But before I start, I should share some of the catch phrases – these won’t mean anything to anyone else, but they bring a smile to my face whenever I think of them!
- Poles Monitor (and other Monitors)
- “It’s nothing you haven’t done before”
- Mucho Gusto!
Right, now that I’ve got that out of my system, here we go!
Photos are in my Flickr Album: Spain: September 2022. I’ve belatedly christened us Team Extreme, in honour of the route.
I’d been in London since Monday for a Leadership course at work followed by a couple of days with C and SL, travelling down to Hazel’s on Friday night.
Saturday 10 September 2022: To Gatwick North (Photos)
Shopping. Repacking. Just enough time for a speedy trip into Central London making it to Buckingham Palace to pay my respects to The Queen. Quite an emotional experience.
Train to Gatwick to rendezvous with Steffi and Rach in our rooms at the Gatwick North Premier Inn. More repacking. Twilight Bag Drop. M&S food and wine for dinner.
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.
Overnight: Hotel Picos de Europa, Arenas de Cabrales
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.
A hearty dinner, then bed.
Overnight: Refugio Vega de Ario
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.
Overnight: Refugio Vegarredonda
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….
Overnight: Refugio de Vegabaño
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.
Overnight: La Casa Vieja en Valdeón
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.
Magical and mystical.
A fabulous day.
Overnight: Refugio Diego Mella / Collado Jermoso
Subida a Collado Jermoso y a la Torre de la Palanca on Rutinas Varias describes the route well.
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.
Overnight: Refugio Vega de Urriellu / Delgado Ubeda
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.
Overnight: Refugio Jou de Los Cabrones
Monday 19 September 2022: Trek day 8 – Cabrones (2034m) to Puente Poncebos (277m). Drive to Llanes (Photos)
Our last day. Why should it be an easy one? The morning’s trail featured a rope traverse, a rope ascent and a rope descent with abseil.
“Nothing you haven’t done before”
Picnic lunch at Majada de Amuesa, the summer pastures still high up at the head of the Bulnes valley, then a fond farewell to Manu – see you next year, we hope!
The descent to Bulnes was a bit of a slog – hard on the knees. Hot in the sun.
Hazel and Steffi opted for the funicular, Rache, Alfonso and I took the footpath. We rendezvoused at a roadside restaurant in Poncebos for end of trek beers before Alfonso drove us to Llanes.
Checked in at the Hotel Montemar (v smart; we blended right in….) then out for a late dinner at a pizzeria just off the main plaza.
Back to watch highlights of The Queen’s funeral on BBC World. Strange times.
Overnight: Hotel Montemar, Llanes
Tuesday 20 September 2022: Llanes (Photos)
Breakfast out at Cafetería El Latino followed by a lovely sunny day to relax, swim and potter around Llanes.
Overnight: Hotel Montemar, Llanes
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.