Picos de Europa, Spain
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
This two-day hike traverses the south-western shoulder of the central Picos massif, via the amazingly situated Ref. Mella just beneath the Jermoso col. Read more...
There are various ways up, but the best is probably the well-established trail from Cordiñanes in the upper Cares valley. You will soon be scrambling up a dramatic, exposed path, up and round the cliffs in Peña del Porracho, then continuing round into the beautiful forests of the lower end of the huge gully, the Canal de Asotin. An odd feature here are the watercourses, which descend between almost straight walls of debris as if mechanically dug.
At the brief respite of the lovely Vega de Asotin, flatter meadow surrounded by the most spectacular of cliffs, you will be directly below the day’s destination – and the main path does climb, precipitously, a direct way up. The better alternative, though, is to continue the long climb up the Canal, until you reach a classic high, broken limestone plateau below the long cliffs that screen off the true highlands. We passed a heap of smashed materials where a helicopter shed its load en route for the refuge – and spotted a rare, orange-bellied Cantabrian newt.
The path then continues on to the famous bowl at Vega de Liordes, then drops several thousand steep feet to the Fuente Dé roadhead, which would make a superb day’s walking. We instead struck up another heartstoppingly-exposed path that steadily climbs round the long upper cliffside. The rebeco chamoix antelopes we got close to were of course completely unfazed.
At the top of the cliffs, a trudge over more broken limestone and another long climb get you to a grassy little shoulder with miraculous views, sadly hidden to us in the thick mist that had dogged much of our route. As we sat and drank our water, though, the mist thinned above us, granting ethereal glimpses of the bright pinnacles high above us. Magical. Another half hour of superb viewing traversing above and below vast drops gets you to the antiquated (no loo when we were there in 2010 – renovations in progress following a complaint by no less a person than the King) but amazingly situated Ref. Diego Mella, just below the Jermoso ridge.
As we clambered to the top of this ridge, something magical happened. The mist cleared, leaving us above a sea of cloud, in the company of clumps of peaks and spires all around us, the sun, dropping behind the western massif, which loomed from across the hidden chasm of the Cares Gorge, bathing us all in a golden light. Behind us, our shadows, surrounded by golden halos cast by the sun, hovered on the mist just below. This phenomenon is known as a Brockenspecter, and a Buddha’s Halo to those who have climbed China’s sacred Emei Shan; I had never seen it, perhaps a good thing as pilgrims are said to throw themselves into the void there in a religious ecstasy at the sight. Truly amazing.
A gemütlich evening and supper, and a surprisingly comfortable night in a large military tent serving as a large dormitory. You will sleep well after a climb of more than 1,200m.
The Second Day is also marvellous walking. You retrace your steps back to the top of the long line of cliffs above the Vega de Liordes, then continue across rock broken by deep fissures and clefts to the 2,300m Pico de la Padiserna, an impossible looking spike from most angles, but an easy climb at the back. Take a leisurely lunch at the top in the company of outstanding views all around, to the lovely Cantabrian mountains and beyond to the plains of Castile to the south, and the high peaks and towers of the Picos’ central ridge to the north, the beauty of Vega de Liordes directly below.
From here it was a long descent, at times an easy scramble, across brief pasture and plenteous rock, to the top of the Fuente Dé cable car.