Traverse of The Picos de Europa
Unlike most of my adventures which are conceived and planned a year in advance, this was a last minute affair. This year’s summer trip was meant to be Part 3 of the big cycle trips following LEJOG and Titanic Ireland. LEJOG started with 6 of us, finished with 5 and by Belfast we were down to 3. By early June this year it was pretty clear that no-one else shared my excitement about the 2019 trip.
I loved last year’s High Peaks of The Balkans trip so much that the KE Adventures website was my first port after killing the cycle trip. Of the 4 possible trips in July the Picos de Europa Traverse stood out. With my current Camino obsession it also ticked a couple of boxes. This would be another Northern Spain trip tucked between the routes of the Caminos Frances and Norte. I could even do a tiny bit of the Norte when passing through Bilbao.
So, 6 weeks later, I was wandering around Bilbao airport looking for 11 random people that I would spend the next week with. I'd done group trips like this a couple of times before so I knew what to look for: rugged types, alone or in couples with big bags, also looking lost. Eventually we all found each other and the local Guide and started the 2 hour drive into the National Park.
The Picos de Europa is split into 3 massifs by the Cares and Duje rivers. This trip covers the Western and Central Massifs in a continuous 6 day trek. Day 1 was a good intro with a long, steady day, a 2,026m summit and a variety of terrain. As well as a taster day for the trip, it gave our guide Rosanna an idea of abilities in the group.
The first night was the Vegarredonda Refuge where we had an outbuilding to ourselves. Even having done my share of refuge/albergue stays, it still takes a night or 2 to get used to the communal sleeping and basic toilet facilities. This wasn’t a bad start though and still luxury compared some of the stops in the Balkans.
Day 2 was the least memorable and mostly covered in low clouds. It started with retracing our route back to the parking spot then heading East to Lago de la Ercina. This was the day where I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy the trip. In hindsight it was the Balkans that set my expectations too high. Having had such a great experience on that one I was too eager for this to match it from the outset.
Any fears of being underwhelmed vanished on day 3. This started with a 4-hour steep descent into the Cares Gorge. The gorge splits the Western and Central Massifs and it’s a beauty. The footpath follows a man-made channel that takes water from the Cares River to a hydroelectric plant further North. The trail provides some easy walking with dramatic views along the steep limestone walls.
That evening gave us a break from the refuges as we stayed in a nice hotel in Poncebos. We were now at the lowest elevation of the trip so the only option now was up. Day 4 gave us the most elevation in 1 day at nearly 2,000m metres. We had the option of taking the funicular railway to avoid the first third of the climb. We’d already learnt not to take any of the easier options as there was always something amazing to be missed. This was no exception as the completely enclosed funicular misses a rewarding climb. This day finished at the Vega de Urrielu refuge under the imposing Naranjo de Bulnes, a popular climbing spot.
Day 5 was the technical day with more steep scrambling sections. Our guide did well to manage our expectations on the difficulty of it. After last year’s tricky climb of Montenegro’s Zla Kolata I figured that it couldn’t be so bad. It definitely wasn’t, but it was still an exhilarating diagonal traverse of the back of Torre de los Horcados. The end of this section rewarded us with a summit of that peak and a lunch stop at the quirky Cabaña Verónica.
The rest of the trip was mostly downhill with pleasant walking. There were still interesting diversions like the stay in a hotel once owned by the King of Spain, an abandoned mine, a final summit and an excursion to Potes, an historic town near the end of the trek at Espinama.
While this didn’t have the drama of the Balkan peaks or any country high points, this matched that trip in overall enjoyment. The lack of heavy tourism will keep it a hidden gem and one for those of us wanting something different. As a tour company, KE Adventures more than lived up to expectations and I'm sure I'll be signing up for several more of their trips.
Day 1 - Lago de Enol to Vegarredonda Refugio
Date: Monday July 15th 2019
Start: Aparcamiento Pandecarmen near Lago de Enol, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Finish: Vegarredonda Refugio, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Rest stops: Mirador de Ordiales, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Distance: 12.4 km / 7.7 miles
Ascent: +958m / -577m / Net +429m
Walking time: 6 hours 32 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 5 Bufferera-Ordiales
Summit: Pico Cotalba (2026m)
Day 2 - Vegarredonda Refugio to Refugio Vega de Ario
Date: Tuesday July 16th 2019
Start: Vegarredonda Refugio, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Finish: Refugio Vega de Ario, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Distance: 14.7 km / 9.1 miles
Ascent: +694m / -521m / Net -173m
Walking time: 6 hours
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 4 Vega de Ario
Day 3 - Refugio Vega de Ario to Puente Poncebos
Date: Wednesday July 17th 2019
Start: Refugio Vega de Ario, 33556, Asturias, Spain
Finish: Hotel Garganta del Cares, Lugar Puente Poncebos, 0 S N, 33554 Camarmeña, Asturias, Spain
Distance: 17.6 km / 10.9 miles
Ascent: +830m / -2,168m / Net -1,338m
Walking time: 8 hours 34 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 3 - Ruta del Cares
Day 4 - Puente Poncebos to Naranjo de Bulnes
Date: Thursday July 18th 2019
Start: Hotel Garganta del Cares, Lugar Puente Poncebos, 0 S N, 33554 Camarmeña, Asturias, Spain
Finish: Naranjo de Bulnes: Refugio Vega de Urriellu, 33554 Cabrales, Asturias, Spain
Rest stop: Refugio de la Terenosa
Distance: 11.9 km / 7.4 miles
Ascent: +1,748m / -20m / Net +1,728m
Walking time: 6 hours 42 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 3 - Ruta del Cares, PR-PNPE 19 Canal de Camburero, PR-PNPE 19 Vega de Urrielu, GR202 Ruta de la Reconquista
Day 5 - Naranjo de Bulnes to Refugio Aliva
Date: Friday July 19th 2019
Start: Naranjo de Bulnes: Refugio Vega de Urriellu, 33554 Cabrales, Asturias, Spain
Finish: Hotel Áliva, Puerto de Áliva s/n, 39588 Puerto de Aliva, Spain
Rest stops: Cabaña Verónica, Parque Nacional Picos de Europa, s/n, 39570, Cantabria, Spain
Distance: 11.8 km / 7.3 miles
Ascent: +685m / -989m / Net -304m
Walking time: 6 hours 42 minutes
Other Routes Touched: El Anillo de Picos, PR-PNPE 23 Horcados des Rojos, Mirador de El Cable - Cabana Veronica
Summit: Torre de los Horcados Rojos (2,506m)
Day 6 - Refugio Alvia to Espinama
Date: Saturday July 20th 2019
Start: Hotel Áliva, Puerto de Áliva s/n, 39588 Puerto de Aliva, Spain
Finish: Hostal Restaurante Nevandi, Barrio Espinama, s/n, 39588 Espinama, Cantabria, Spain
Distance: 10.3 km / 6.4 miles
Ascent: +255m / -1,036m / Net -781m
Walking time: 4 hours 21 minutes
Other Routes Touched: PR PNPE 24 - Puertos de Aliva - Fuente de, , GR202 Ruta de la Reconquista
Summit: Pico Valdecoro (1,841m)
The Full Traverse
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