Monday, 20 May 2013

Spain in Spring - sea, sun and Sangria

Some readers may have noticed that thus far I have avoided the mountains in the Picos de Europa. I now realise that it is too early in the season for my level of competency to contemplate tackling mountains of this difficulty, especially this year as the snow is lingering longer than is normal. Maybe I will return later. 

In the meantime there are plenty of lesser Majors to bag, like Turbina/La Torbina 1315m P873 in the Sierra de Cuera at N43.35426 W4.77007. If there had been a parking space available at 702m N43.33633 W4.78366 I would have started from there. As it happened there was no room so I had to make do with being two hundred metres lower down at 501m n43.33025 W4.77875 on a tiny patch big enough for two vehicles. From the higher up parking space there is a variety of routes that zig-zag steeply up on to a ridge that reminded me a bit of the Trotternish ridge on Skye. 
What was astonishing was the range of alpine flowers growing on these slopes as Griffon Vultures circled overhead. Once on the first ridge it is matter of working across the rising plateau of karst limestone around  a series of sinkholes, clints and grykes. 

Warning not to destruct the trig point - hope lightning can read.
The main summit is marked by a cylindrical trig point. There is another slightly lower summit close by at N43.35493 W4.77006 marked by a metal sculpture.

Marker on alternative summit

 I descended by a similar route to my ascent route except I must have zigged when I should have zagged and there was a section when the descent became a little desperate and the Griffon vultures were beginning to feel hopeful of some tasty carrion.
10.32km, 1239m ascent.

Overnight in centre of Cangas de Otis in designated motorhome parking area.

Pico Pienzu
Asturian daffodil - Narcissus asturiensis

Pico Pienzu – Major 1161m P883 – in the Sierra del Sueve at N43.43183 W5.24214 is reached by one of those cunning paths that follows the line of least resistance from Mirador del Fitu 590m N43.43998 W5.19342. Contrary to other reports the path is clearly waymarked much of the way. 
View of Bay of Biscay enroute

And meeting others is no longer a novelty, I met literally a coachload of teenage schoolchildren on the way. And so I deliberately strayed from the set route towards the end and scrambled up the in the karst limestone chaos. 

The summit is marked by a cylindrical trig point and a large unimaginativeness hideous cross. The clouds cleared occasionally to give a partial view, including that of the Picos de Europa.

View from summit of Pena Corvera towards the Picos de Europa
I varied the return route by visiting the summits of Pena Corvera 963m N43.42540 W5.23766 and Canto la Teya 728m N43.43043 W5.21241 on my way back to the mirador (viewpoint).
Four hours, 13.86km, 1121m ascent.
Overnight in large car park at Tuiza de Arriba 1179m.


I woke up on this mid May day in Tuiza N43.02746 W5.91772 to find I was in thick mist (Tuiza May – isn’t she the Home Secretary?). I thought I was in for a miserable wet day. The route to Fontan Sur/Pena Ubina/Penya Ubina, a Major 2414m P1124 N43.01833 W5.95671 begins by following a choice of ginnels from the village up to a grazing area at the foot of the Macizo de Pena Ubina. As I reached the grazing area I came out of the mist to realise that I had been the victim of a temperature inversion and all was clear above with blue skies and a splendid view of the snowy mountains. 

Spot the skull
The path passes a sheepfold with a long seat on one side at N43.02576 W5.93707 and soon afterwards the rather ugly looking Refugio del Meicin at N43.02501 W5.93838. A price list on the door showed that the refugio was a guarded one and offered refreshments, however it was not open today.
Refugio del Meicin
The refugio looks OK from a distance
JMH has route that goes up on the north side of the main hill. However, that seemed to involve walking up a lot of snow. I opted to go for the bealach on the south side as it looked a bit easier. The way was quite steady up to the bealach at N43.01487 W5.94712 with good views back towards the cloud filled valleys to the north. It looked like the cloud stretched far over to the sea – like a sea fret. The valleys on the south side of the hills were cloud free, though.
The summit from the bealach - it is steeper than it looks, though
See what I mean?
From the bealach it was a steep climb kicking steps in firm snow with occasional deep soft patches all the way to the summit. The summit was marked by the familiar circular trig point and the views were excellent in all directions – except down, of course. 

Primula Auricula - Bear's ears
I did consider using the JMH route as a descent, however the cloud below had moved much further up the hillside and I thought better ‘the devil you know’ than trying to find a way through the mist on unknown slopes. Glissading and bumsliding down to the bealach was quite good fun, anyway – as well as an opportunity to practice ice axe braking. Then it was back into the mist for a similar route to that of the ascent.
12.75km, 1590m ascent.

I attempted to drive out of Tuiza de Arriba via a road through the Puerto de la Cabilla in very thick mist. There was a long stretch of the already narrow road where it was half covered in knee deep old snow and I could sense, but not see, a steep drop on the other side. At the Puerto itself the road just came to an end with no advance warning that it was ‘cerredo’. This has happened to me a few times now – the satnav thinks there is a road, my 2013 edition road atlas shows there is a road, however there ain’t a viable one on the ground. In this case they are building a new road far down the valley with tunnels through the mountains – you’d think they would close the old road after building a new one rather than the other way round. So it was another overnight at Tuiza de Arriba – and it snowed during the night.

Alto de la Canada

I managed to escape from Tuiza and drove to a small village called Riolago and parked up by a signboard at N42.94368 W6.07405. The signboard shows a route that heads towards the Alto de la Canada (‘the summit of the drove road’) a Major 2154m P889 in the Sierra de Villabandia. The weather was mixed sunny periods and hailstorms. There was a choice of unpaved roads from the start – the trick is to take the one on the right. 
La Brana refugio

As I neared the unguarded but nice-looking refugio/bothy, La Brana at N42.91020 W6.09570 I met a group of Spanish walkers. They advised me to head for a bealach that was much further to the right than the one on the signboard and in JMH. However, as I got nearer to the bealach I could see that it was o
verhung by a large cornice and I did not want to risk causing an avalanche. So I avoided the snow in all the passes by heading up onto the crinkly crags of Pena Negra that involved a bit of scrambling up and down to reach an unnamed summit on the main ridge.
Crinkly crags

From there it was a walk over the top of Robinalto to Alto de la Canada. A hailstorm arrived at the same time as me, therefore no view from the summit.
Summit of the drove road

Guess which way I came down

My descent route was a variation of the JMH route with a long snow descent and having to cross several swollen streams – or was it the same stream several times?
Six hours, 18.83km, 1832m ascent.

Stayed overnight in the centre of Bembibre, Leon province.

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