Monday, 20 May 2013

Welcome to northern Spain

Remains of trigpoint on Castro Valnera
Bit of a fiddle
When I was packing the van for this trip I thought I was being a bit of a Cassandra when I included my winter climbing kit. On the way to Portsmouth to get the ferry to Santander I bagged a few small hills in the Downs in hot sweaty sunshine and told myself I would have to get used to it. The ferry took exactly 24 hours to get from Portsmouth across the Bay of Biscay to Santander and the weather turned from hot to dreich.
On landing I set off to the nearest mountains in the Montes de Valnera which form the boundary between the provinces of Cantabria and Burgos. Disappointedly I found the road to Portillo de Lunada was closed so I stopped for the night in a small layby big enough for one vehicle next to a picnic table. I assume that in clear conditions I would have had a view across the Bay of Biscay.

Eyed lizard  - Lacerta Lepida 
In the following morning it was still misty, cold and wet – a bit like a typical November day in Scotland. I discovered that there was a discernible path that followed the Rio (river) Miera from  N43.16684 W3.67645 (994m) up the hillside past a ruined shepherd’s hut into snowfields to meet the path from Portillo de Lunada in a bealach/pass, Alto la Piluca at N43.15482 W3.67302 (1438m). From there it was possible to follow a path that occasionally disappeared under the snow to the summit of El Castro Valnera, a Major 1718 m P866 at N43.14585 W3.68123. The summit is marked by a badly damaged cylindrical trig point. There was no view because of the thick mist. I descended by almost the same route as my ascent.
Four hours, 8.28km, 1282m ascent.
That night I slept in the centre of Reinosa, Cantabria.

From Reinosa I drove to Brana Vieja in the Alto Campoo. There is a large aparcameinto (car park) at Calgosa N43.03591 W4.37337. The weather was still misty with low cloud although quite mild. I did not have a map, however I used the diagram shown in Jose Martinez Hernandez’s book ‘Las 100 cumbres mas prominentes de la peninsula Iberica’ (JMH) as a guide. 

However, I had also set a waypoint in my GPS for the summit from Europeaklist. Confused – I certainly was. There seemed to be a lot more ski-lifts than I expected. By luck rather than skill I visited the top of El Cuchillon chosen by JMH and then followed a quite difficult snowy/icy ridge for 1.5km to a false summit marked by a cross at N43.03695 W4.40288 (2149m) and then to the summit also known as Pico de Tres Mares/Peak of the three seas – Major 2174m P818 at N43.03801 W4.40413. This summit is marked by two sculptures and a viewing platform. According to the Dorling Kindersley guide the top gets its name from the fact that rivers starting from here flow into the Med., the Adriatic and the Bay of Biscay. It also says there is a ‘breathtaking panorama of the Picos of Europa’. My breath was not taken as the visibility for me was no more than a few metres. I was able to make a more direct descent route glissading on snow much of the way.
Pico de Tres Mares summit marker
9.02km, 1022m ascent.
Overnight in Valle de Cabuerniga, near Renedo.

Thore's buttercup - Ranunculus thora
At last the skies cleared, for a while, anyway. Today’s objective was El Cornon – Major 2047m P894 at N43.15226 W4.47561 the highest point of the Sierra de Pena Sagra. The start is from the picturesque village of San Mames high up at 1017m N43.11348 W4.43483 and involves following a long  driveable/cycleable track to a ridge that blocks the valley. Getting over this ridge was made more difficult by deep soft snow.

El Cornon
On the other side is a clear track that traverses the south-western slopes of El Cornon to a pass below the summit. At this point I was able to get my first peek at the Picos de Europa peeking up through the clouds. Not for long though, the sky was beginning to cloud over. 
Picos de Europa from slopes of El Cornon

The next part of the ascent was quite steep and involved a stretch of thick vegetation, followed by deep snow and finally a rocky scramble to the top. By the time I got to the summit there was no view. The summit is marked by a curious empty metal container. From the summit I traversed downwards towards the aforementioned ridge that blocks the valley, glissading and bumsliding on a snow filled slope. This was fine until the last stage when I came to a barrier of almost impenetrable vegetation – the air was blue as I battled my way through. From thereon it was simply a matter of following the ascent route. And I actually saw two other parties on the hill, a novelty for me this year – and this is after bagging something like 150 hills in Scotland this year without meeting anyone – except on Costorphine hill in the centre of Edinburgh.

El Cornon's summit marker
 20.7km, 1873m ascent.
Overnight at La Cruz de Catezuela.

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