4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spain

Fancy a four day circular walk taking in all the highlights of the Central Picos? 
There are insanely steep sided mountains, spectacular views around every corner, trails that will test your legs, lungs and nerve and super friendly locals.
You can get to and from this route without a car and you can pre-book all the accommodation – so you just need to turn up and walk J
4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spain

Bulnes

Day 1 – ‘Cares de Gorge’ – Poncebos to Cain
Distance:- 15km
Height gained:- 300m

This walk is well documented so a lengthy description is not needed – plus it’s one path that you can’t get lost on – turn right and you are scaling cliffs or turn left for a quick trip to the river a couple of hundred metres below you!

Yes it is busy path – no getting away from that – however it is spectacular, both scenically and as example of great engineering (this service ‘road’ was built without any mechanical aids in the 1930’s) – and well worth walking.
We walked it as day one of our walk which worked out well as we arrived by taxi at midday, had a spot of lunch and then started walking around 2pm.  It was also a perfect warm up for the much more challenging hiking over the following three days.
At the end of the walk we stayed at Hostal La Ruta in the tiny hamlet of Cain, the accommodation was very comfortable and included free showers (the last you will see for a few days), a library, free charging for phones and comfortable bunkbeds, the food was lovely and the staff were very accommodating laying out our breakfast the night before as we wanted an early start.
 For a description of this walk then read this:- Walkopaedia Cares de Gorge review 
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The ‘road’ through the gorge – an amazing feat of engineering

 

Day 2 – Cain to Refugio Jermoso
Distance:- 8.5km
Height Gained/Lost: 1660m/105m

From the La Ruta, walk along the road and out of the village, following the signs to Cordinanes – it is well worth taking in the detour path along the river as it takes you off the road which is narrow, windy and fairly busy. This path, peaceful and picturesque, goes past Corona, a tiny church and a collection of shepherds huts, up to the lookout point at Mirador del Tombo and then finally to the peaceful village of Cordinanes.

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From Cordinanes take the track signposted to Refugio Jeromosa – initially a steep start over a small exposed ride, then along through pretty and sheltered woodland – welcome shade in the increasing temperature of the day.  It’s steady climbing to the plateau of Vega de Astoin – a lovely ampitheatre and a perfect spot for some lunch and breather before the steep stuff really begins!
 





It starts with a scree zigzag climb up to Collado Salano followed by an uphill traverse before an insanely steep climb!  Save some energy and water for this part, no other way to describe this than a long, steep slog with some short sections of easy scrambling.

It’s a physical effort for the last part of the day, and just when you think you are nearly at

4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spain

The last climb of the day

the top it just keeps on going up (and getting ever steeper!)  Just when the thoughts in your head are saying that this steep, scree path is a perfect place to stop and rest for the night, the hut appears!  You are met with a welcome from the friendliest staff that you are ever likely to meet and the promise of beer on tap (or cooking wine if you are like me and don’t drink beer – lovely cooking wine though J) and your bed for the night.

The hut is cosy and social, with a lovely area to sit outside and admire the scenery (and watch the knackered hikers ).  Plus if the weather is on your side the sunset from the ridge about 100m away from the hut is breathtaking.

 

4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spain

Refugio Jermoso

Costs
Hut – €32.70 for accommodation, evening meal and breakfast
Picnic – €12 (lots of food – it was enough for lunch and all our snacks through the day)
We were in a six-bedded dorm, phone charging was free and the dinner and breakfast was pretty impressive considering the food comes up on the back of mules!
4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spain

sunset tango-ing me


Day 3 – Refugio Jermoso to Refugio Urriellu
Distance: 8km
Height gained/lost: 1100m/1200m

Our intention for this day was to head to Refugio Urriellu via the Tete de las Llastrias, however one of the hut staff advised us against that route due to an element of exposed climbing and not advisable with big backpacks, so instead we headed straight on from that

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junction (which is the obvious well trodden path up and over a small col) from here you can turn around and get a last glimpse of the hut.  Continue on but keep an eye on the ground to follow the markers (red dots) as they are easily missed (you need to via left and not continue on the main path straight on).  It’s then a pleasant traverse and gentle ascent up to Tete Del Hoyo Oscuro. 

Get some fuel in you here, and admire the view towards Cabana Veronica, as the fun is about to start…
There is descent down to a small snowfield before continuing on undulating ground over limestone pavements with lots of spikes.  Poles aren’t ideal here, but slow steady balanced moves are key – a fall would hurt!  Luckily the rock is super grippy so lots of fun too.
f0131-21331040188_9694b866f4_oIt was really windy for us on that day, and Cabana Veronica is pretty exposed, so we stayed long enough for a quick lunch, small talk with other walkers and a peek into the Cabana (believe it or not but someone lives there!  And he has done for two years….so understandably acts a little unbalanced when you try and chat to him).
Post lunch it’s a nice gentle rise to Horcados Rojos where you will have your first view of the spectacular Urriellu rock.  There is also a possible detour up to Tete de la Horcados Rojos (2502m), although I am not sure how much more view you would get up there.  We didn’t bother and glad we didn’t as the most challenging part of the day was about to begin.
 4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spain

If you scared of heights or exposure then really is not the route for you (in fact the whole walk is not for you),  as the descent is approximately 270m and is almost all rope assisted which you pretty much abseil down the steep scree and limestone slabs.  Take care with the steel rope as Fran got a nasty ‘scratch’ from it, and do not rush this section –

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Really was that steep!

consequences would be pretty severe to say the least.

Once recovered at the bottom, make sure you look up and admire what you have done and
watch fellow walkers slowly make their way down the ropes (it looks like a sheer cliff from below and from a distance!).  The remaining journey to Refugio Urriellu is really pleasant, take pleasure in the solitude and peacefulness of this last stretch before the craziness of the hut.
The hut is big, with people, kit and furniture in every conceivable space.  We were in a room of 24 and it was full (as was the whole hut) and whilst it didn’t have the friendliness or cosiness of the previous Refugio, it was still preferable to the camping spots outside (very exposed and extremely windswept), the tents were getting battered!
Hut accommodation, dinner and breakfast – €32, no phone charging facilities
Day 4 – Refugio Urriellu to Poncebos – ‘what goes up must come down’
Distance: 10.8 km
Total time: 3hr 30 moving time
Total ascent/descent: 160m/1700m

The day started with a drab breakfast and a windy but beautiful sunrise.  We were surprised to see some climbers starting on the rock due to the very high winds (we were 4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spainstruggling to stay upright in some gusts), the original intention was to sit out and watch the climbers however we decided to get moving and get out of the wind.

The path is not immediately obvious, do not take the prominent path downwards to the right as you leave the hut, instead go straight on (no real path) over a small rocky outcrop, you will then see the path heading to the left of the valley towards Bulnes.

Your day will start fairly bonkers from the outset with a 5 metre drop/scramble down some slabs of rock– we took our packs off to do this.  Once past this then it is a relentless, knee crunching descent all the way into the steep side valley that you see at the start of the day.  The path is a mixture of largish scree and steep muddy sections so fairly hard going. 
The valley – much like a Scottish Highland valley, but without the rain or midges – is a brief respite for the knees from the constant down, before you get to (yep) more steep descent following a dried river for a while.  Once you leave the river bed you will have a view of Bulnes below – a picturesqe and welcome view.  I recommend a cool drink in one of the many restaurants and dipping your feet in the ice-cold stream.

From here you have a choice – the venicular back to

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Recommend a foot dip in the stream behind – Bulnes

Poncebos or the walk down.  Two of us did the walk down – which was a fabulously kind downward gradient and whilst busier
than the past few days, very scenic with opportunity for another dip in river if you wish.  The scenery changes and become much more green with vultures constantly circling in the air currents above you. 

Pros:- Huts are good value, the walking is varied and challenging, it’s all very compact, the weather was great and not forgetting those views. Wow!
Cons:- Not sure I would want to do this walk in bad weather, if you don’t like heights or exposure to heights this is definitely NOT the walk for you, unless you have your own car you need to give some thought into how you are going to get to and from there (see below).  Make sure you pre-book the huts – both the huts we stayed in were full both nights.
4 day circular walk in the Picos de Europa, Spain

Last chance for a dip – just before you arrive back in Poncebos

Getting there and away
We flew from the UK into Bilbao.
Bus to Llanes – Llanes is a lovely seaside town, it has a lovely hostel right next to the train station, well worth staying for a day or two after the hike for some relaxing plus there are some lovely beaches in the area
Taxi to Poncebos – taxi’s have a sheet with all the prices on, so all taxis charge the same – €45 each way per car
What I am glad I took?
An ipod with podcasts – great way to relax in the huts post-dinner (check out black tapes)
Walking poles – the walking would have been so much harder without them
Once a day suncream
Face wipes – make you feel soo much better at the end of a day
Sheet sleeping bag – was so hot in the huts, that the duvet provided were way to hot
2 different maps – as they were both useful at different times – 1:40 000 Cordillera Cantabrica and 1:25 000
Ear plugs
 
What I wish I took?
Antibacterial gel
Pillow case – not sure how often they wash the bedding in the Refugios…
 
What didn’t I need?
Travel pillow – pillows provided
Reading book – found the ipod the best way to relax, way to much distraction to concentrate on a book
Lots of snacks – the packed lunches we purchased were big!
Sandals for post-walk wearing, the Refugios provided you with crocs

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