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Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

A Perambulation in the Picos

It's January - lurching damply into February. Let's face it - it's a bloody miserable time of year. Short days, and what daylight there is has so far been mostly filled with brass monkey frost, snow or grey persistent rain. The flower decked footpaths of summer have become slithering death traps made of slurried mud and dog muck.

How does one escape the midwinter blues, especially after enduring  the Christmas burden of being nice to people that you spend the rest of the year avoiding? Well, how about revisiting your last summer jaunt? I've been doing just that, and my current liferaft is to sip a warming Rioja and drift back to Spain, in September ....

Quite why the Picos de Europa are not overrun with brits is a bit of a mystery, considering how easily accessible they are to the economy traveller - in fact not much more expensive to get there from southern englandshire than it is to the highlands of Scotland.

David crossing a steep arete
David crossing a steep arete
At the beginning of September we (brother-in-law David & I) took a Tuesday Ryanair flight to Santander where we picked up a hire car to drive to the Casa Cipriano in Sotres for the start of our walk the following day. We did a three day loop from Sotres, taking in the refuge under the Picu Urriellu (Naranjo de Bulnes) where we spent a convivial evening,  followed by a night interrupted by various climbers who had under-estimated the time that climbing Urriellu would actually take (they descended by head torch late at night). Then we went off on less frequented paths through some of the most spectacular limestone country that I have ever seen.

Phil climbing rocky path
More upwardness
A long trip on unfamiliar ground brings home the importance of careful navigation, and day two brought this point to the fore - twice!  Observe the picture of me to the right. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you will see that I have a hydration tube clipped to the rucksack chest strap. This is an Osprey Hydraform and very good it is too - but there is a trap for the unwary in its cunning design. The tube attaches, not with a clip, but with powerful magnets on both the valve and the strap. This makes stowing the tube and valve very easy indeed. Put ir vaguely in the right area and it snaps smartly into place. So stow it before you use your compass and keep the compass well away!  My oh-so- careful compass bearing was just slightly off. Alright, a lot off. Fortunately before we had not gone too far before we noticed that the sun was in the wrong place!
The other more general navigational point to note in the Picos is that whilst the main paths are waymarked, the maps of the area aren't exactly OS standard, and less frequented routes across bare rock and scree are not always that obvious on the ground. After lunch on day two we strayed off piste following a line of small cairns through a ravine. Unbeknownst to us, this was parallel to our intended route (which had no waymarks). The cairns led down a steep scree filled valley and after about 1k we realised that we were slowly turning away from the correct bearing. The map was consulted. Damn - we had come down the wrong ravine. We were just 500 meteres off course, but it was a hell of scramble to get back. The well defined path with the cairns was not on the map at all!

David admires view of mountainsBut that was no problem. We knew where we were. We knew where we wanted to go. Indeed we could see where we wanted to go. So off we trotted. It was just the unforeseen (and unmarked) ravines, bottomless potholes and sharp boot shredding rocks in between that made our progress slower than a three legged tortoise with arthritis. And to make the afternoon just perfect, on the last scramble I dropped a walking pole which bounced, teetered and plummeted down a pot hole. I could hear it rattle and chink ever more faintly for a good 30 seconds or so. 

Fortunately just as we approached yet another impassable chasm we came across a shepherd bringing his flock of milking ewes to a new pasture, and he pointed out a faint trail that put us back on track with minimal effort. Frankly, after an afternoon's floundering, that was bit of a relief - and the evening beers when we finally ambled into Bulnes after a long day were very welcome indeed!
view of Naranjo de Bulnes rock face
Naranjo de Bulnes

But that bit of excitement aside, we had a superb trip. Blue skies, comfortable temperatures and as for the scenery - well it's just fantastic. An evening high in the Picos is sublime. Clear sky and stars above, a blanket of cloud below and just a few chamois for company ... well, and Dave of course.

Plus, as I mentioned right at the start, it's so cheap to get there. Here are the base costs (we put both rucksacks into one carrier - so only one luggage charge for two). Some sample prices:
  •  Return flights Stansted/ Santander: £91.98 pp. inc luggage.
  • Car Hire: £55.38 plus fuel. We reserved a wee microcar, but actually got a very presentable Renault Clio. 
  • Hotel in Sotres: about £45pp inc dinner and drinks.
Not bad eh? And here are a few more pictures to tempt you. Early September seems the ideal time to me - the crowds have gone, and midweek you can pretty much have the place to yourself once away from the pinch points near the refuges and the odd village (not many of those - and those you do find are largely abandoned).

Yellow wild flowers
Wayside flowers

Climbers high on the Naranjo de Bulnes
Insane danglers on the Naranjo de Bulnes - look at the guy top left! (click to enlarge)

two figures look out over cloud inversion
A young couple enjoy a moment of solitude

David on peak above cloud with chamois nearby
David meets some chamois (reminds me - must wash the car)

David using rope on steep rocks
A handy rope

Shepherd's guard dog
The shepherd's guard dog
Bridge in abandoned village
Bridge in abandoned village

View from front of funicular under mountain at Bulnes
On the funicular below the mountain from Bulnes to Poncebos

Our next September jaunt is already in the planning stage - the Mercantour National Park in the Alpes Maritimes - as my french is rather better than my Spanish, we may get to have a wider choice of menu - although one can grow to like the various chorizo and sheeps cheeses, a little variety goes a long way. 

Toodle pip for now :-)

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Blogger John said...

Ah, I wondered where you had got to, now I know!

That Humphrey chap (a fine fellow if ever there was one) has been pointing me at the Picos, I fear his efforts may be successful.

Your write-up has fired my enthusiasm for the area - nice one!


January 28, 2013 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Alan Sloman said...

It's not a proper walk if you don't have a mouthful of midges with your chorizo.

David seems to be all lean & mean! It's surely time for his triumphal; return to the Challenge?

January 28, 2013 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Alan R said...

I agree with you. Its a great area for Brits. I loved it completely. The people at Bulnes and Puente Poncibos were especially good considering non English speaking.
Your post brought back some great memories. I would love to go back someday. Thanks.

January 30, 2013 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Glad it brought back some memories for you, Alan. Looking at the pictures really does make me question why I spend so much time in the wet and windy uplands of GB!

February 3, 2013 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Phreerunner said...

That's a great area Phil, it reminds me of some happy, and not so happy, days. I had an 'interesting' trip that I may relate at some point.
On a happier note, you'll find that Sue, and I enjoyed the Mercantour in 2011 - see here: http://phreerunner.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Maritime%20Alps
The Maritime Alps, in particular the Italian side, is one of our favourite places. Enjoy!

February 4, 2013 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Thanks for the link, Martin. The Refuge des Merveilles is on our itinerary as we lurch noth-west to the Refuge de Nice. Nice pic of the Ibex twins btw!

February 5, 2013 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger Phreerunner said...

I'm sure you're aware that you'll need to book Merveilles well in advance. Your beds will be allocated in advance so there's no need to rush to join the queue when they open the dormitory area at 6pm. The walk to Nice should be easy enough. Do take time to seek out some of the prehistoric rock engravings.

February 5, 2013 at 9:26 PM  

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