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Picos de Europa

Picos de Europa

Postby Pensioner » Tue Sep 04, 2018 9:49 pm

Date walked: 16/08/2018

Time taken: 17

Distance: 52 km

Ascent: 1040m

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Picos de Europa trip. This is a mountainous area about 100km west of Santander well inland with an area of roughly 645km². It is opening up to British climbers and the main centres are Las Arenas, Sotres, Potes and Fuente De. We flew into Bilbao and drove over 200km on good roads to stay in a comfortable hotel in Las Arenas de Cabrales from which most of the northern region of the Picos can be accessed. For the southern area, a better base would be Potes or Fuente De which has a cable car onto the high tops. In addition to GPS we used the excellent 1:25000 Picos de Europa subset of the Mapa Topografico Excursionista series available locally or in the UK from Stanfords.

Day 1, 16 August - Cabrales circuit - Cabeza Juan Robre 871m.

These hills dominate Arenas to the east and rise steeply above the main road. The route started through the village to the east up a side street through a popular tourist quarter and over a bridge spanning a minor tributary of the Cares. Initially slightly confusing back streets and apartments but then a good rising track is picked up through farmland with opening views of the hills ahead and the first ridge. The weather at this point looked somewhat gloomy with low cloud. Rather unexpectedly the track deteriorates into a loose gravelly ribbon with rock outcrops. In this manner height is easily gained onto the crest of the northern limb of the route.

Juan Robre.JPG


Cabrales circuit.JPG

This section of about 500m length over a narrow but straightforward ridge is by far the best part of the whole circuit. At this point the sun came out and we had great views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. A group of Griffon vultures circled overhead. The path continued rather sketchily until it merged onto the broad saddle between the two summits. We were surprised to come across some cattle at this point on quite a narrow section of ridge at about 700m. There is an old stone shepherd's hut here and the nature of the route changes markedly from this point on. The path marked by the occasional red spot now wends tortuously through a landscape of low limestone outcrops as it makes its way down circuitously towards the steep slopes above the main road and back to Arenas. We found this part rather tedious with challenging route finding through muddy limestone gullies and rock slots. At one point the path seems to disappear as it had been blocked off to retain cattle until we realised that it went between a large tree and a wall. Suddenly you emerge onto a high wide meadow and wonder how the route descends from here. But I could see from my GPS that there was a steep sweeping path ahead traversing the face below us looping into a gully and then taking an exposed dropping line across the hillside underneath the rocky pinnacle southern ridge of Juan Robre. From the high meadow onwards the path had greatly improved with a long cobbled section but beyond the gully it was loose and rocky. Eventually the path enters a forest and after a rather spooky dark section over a small bridge joins a network of farm and factory tracks above Arenas which leads back to the starting point or alternatively down to the eastern entrance of the village. An interesting introduction to the area but a rather tedious second half. If only the initial ridge was much longer.

Day 2, 20 August - Cares Gorge - 26km return trip

An intended early start was thwarted by thick fog which persisted until about 9.30am and then cleared suddenly to reveal a clear azure blue sky. We drove to Poncebos only 6km from Arenas to be confronted by miles of parked vehicles on the verge and every available space. Stewards were turning vehicles around and when asked where we were going we said Sotres and were allowed to continue. Fortunately we found a parking space on the verge not far up the road to Tielve. The Cares Gorge is one of these "must do" classic routes and starts with quite a stiff uphill pull for about 2km which then levels out and then descends. Almost immediately the views are spectacular from overhead with ridge upon ridge of mountains, the dizzying drop into the river below and the dramatic scale of the gorge ahead.

Garganta del Cares 1.JPG

Garganta del Cares.JPG

This is a very popular walk with Spanish families and hikers especially at weekends and I recommend getting to Poncebos early so as to find a parking space within a couple of km of the start. After the initial quite demanding climb, the route flattens out and then descends to a level trail for the remaining 8km or so. The route follows an impressive engineered track built into the rock face high above the Cares River to service a canal and hydro system. In places it reminded us of parts of the Kaibab trail on the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the Inca Trail where the road is hewn out of the rock and perched above a sheer gorge with a huge drop-off. In places, the surrounding peaks rise over two thousands metres above the path.

Cares Gorge.JPG

Despite the impressive surroundings, after about 8km the going becomes a bit monotonous as the track is busy and level and offers no real challenge. Eventually about 2km from Cain the track enters a series of amazing rock tunnels and galleries and then crosses and re-crosses the river before entering the village after a dam with a hold-up lake. Along this last section there are several points where you can easily descend to the river itself and cross to paths on the other bank. Suddenly you arrive in Cain with many parked-up vehicles, restaurants and bars. Despite the jolt back to "civilisation", Cain is hemmed in by some spectacular mountain scenery.


Mountains from Cain.JPG

We had a very enjoyable and well deserved meal & drinks in Cain before making the return journey in about an hour less than the outward route, arriving back at Poncebos at about 6pm.

Day 3, 22 August - Andara refuge and Mancondiu Peak (1998m) 11km

Again the day started with thick fog but we left early and drove on narrow windy roads, dodging regular potholes, through Tielve and onwards up through Sotres and taking the road to Treviso where we finally parked after about 2km in the surprisingly large car park at Vega el Conde roughly 20km in total from Las Arenas. By now there wasn't a cloud in the sky. From here various trails head out but the main one rises south on a disused mining track to the Andara refuge and a host of surrounding peaks. The 4x4 track is easy and climbs gradually to the small serviced refuge nestled into the rock face where you can stay the night and eat.

Anadara Refuge.JPG

What draws the eye however, both during the walk-in and soaring above the refuge is PIca Mancondiu at 1998m an impressive pyramid of rock.

Pica Mancondiu above the Andara Refuge.JPG

After some refreshments and advice from the warden we took the not very obvious track up behind the refuge towards the Andara Col below Mancondiu and a rather fearsome looking blade of rock which appeared to block the way up the south ridge. From this point on there were superb views of the various peaks of the eastern massif. The steepening path bypassed the large rock outcrop and became an enjoyable scramble for the final 150m or so onto the rocky summit.

Pica Mancondiu.JPG

We traversed the narrow ridge between the two summits and descended by the long easy heather and grassy north ridge down to the main track which skirts around the mountain. We then followed this back to the refuge and the outward trail. This is a great area allowing access to many peaks. I can recommend the Sotres Hotel for a much needed beer. All pictures taken with a Canon EOS 200D fitted a 18-55mm IS STM lens.
Last edited by Pensioner on Thu Oct 04, 2018 9:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Picos de Europa

Postby petelynn » Thu Sep 06, 2018 9:53 pm


We visited the Picos in June based mainly at Cordinanes - just south of Cain. We did the Cares gorge which wasn't too crowded at that time of year though the car parks at Poncebos were full. The was a fair bit of snow then but the wild flowers were amazing. This is the first view we had looking towards Cain and the Cares Gorge when we arrived. Would love to go back and explore more.
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Re: Picos de Europa

Postby Enduro Bikepacking » Thu Sep 06, 2018 11:34 pm

Very nice! thats my home mountains, I live in a town on the coast. Nearby San Vicente de la Barquera.
Nice pictures of well-chosen routes.
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Re: Picos de Europa

Postby Alteknacker » Tue Sep 11, 2018 10:35 am

Looks like a very fine area, with some very alluring looking peaks, that I'd struggle to resist exploring!
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Re: Picos de Europa

Postby past my sell by date » Wed Sep 19, 2018 10:50 pm

Great area. Was there maybe 25 years ago- stayed at the camp site at Potes and took the cable car up to the plateau. Did the Cares gorge and also a lot of climbing - with the "vulturey" things flying around - hoping for a meal no doubt :lol: :lol: Sadly never managed Naranja which is I guess The main attraction. I seem to remember the problem with the northern side is frequent mists coming in off the sea
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