Location: North 43:11.865, West 004:51.173 (GPS at the summit)
Location: Picos de Europa, North-West Spain
Difficulty: YDS class 4, PD (with snow)
Climbed: October 6, 2008
Picos de Europa is located only 20 kilometer from the northern coast of Spain. The name originates
from being the first sight of Europe from ships arriving (back) from America. Picos de Europa is mainly
limestone, the area is compact, about 15 by 35 kilometer, but extremely rugged with many peaks exceeding
2500 meter. Picos de Europa was the first area to become a national park in Spain already in 1908.
The area consists of three distinct regions, the west, central and east part. There are deep north-south
valleys separating the three parts. In particular, the valley between the west and the central section is a
very deep canyon/gorge. A trail runs along the river from the village Cain at the south side and across to the
to the limestone, almost all water drains directly into a complex underground system of caves. Thus, there
are numerous basins from where one must ascend in all directions (negative prominence), as well as some of
the deepest caves in the world, the cave Torca del Cerro extending 1589 meter in depth. The nearest major
city is Bilbao, about 215 kilometer east of Picos de Europa.
The main hut (refugio) in the central
part is called Vega Urriellu,
it has room for 96 guests and is open
all year. The phone number is +34-985925200, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This hut is located just below the very impressive,
500 meter vertical wall of Picu Urriellu (2519m).
When coming from the south, the cable car
at Fuente De is a convenient point of departure. It
operates all year between 1000 and 1800, with longer (0900 to 2000) hours in the summer time.
A one way ticket was 8 Euro in October 2008.
call for further information at +34-942736610.
This web site seems
to be a good source of information (and discussions) about Picos de Europa (local weather, routes, etc.).
The staff at Cabana Veronica also provided the email address: email@example.com and the phone number
+34-689027994, for possible use if interested in climbing peaks in the region. Much of this is in Spanish,
but try Google translate if needed.
Cabana Veronica is open all year, this small
shelter was actually the dome of an anti aircraft battery on the US carrier Palau before becoming a refugio in 1961.
How to get there:
From Bilbao, take the coastal Hwy. west to Santander, then continue west on E-70 towards Oviedo.
Exit south on N-621 (near Unquera), and drive a bit more than 10 kilometer before making a right turn onto
Arriving in Arenas de Cabrales, leave AS-114 and head south (make a left turn) following AS-264 the
last 15 kilometer to the village of Sotres. Locate the trailhead west of Sotres for the path that
will lead to the refugio Vega Uriellu.
Note that one may also stop already about 7 kilometer south of Arenas de Cabrales, and take a ride with a
funicular that serves the tiny village of Bulnes via an underground tunnel. Again, there is an easy trail
from Bulnes to the refugio Vega Uriellu.
From the south, the best approach is likely the tourist area Fuente De. From Fuente De, a cable car serves
the top of the steep cliffs above. From Madrid, head north on A-1 to Burgos (2 hours). Continue north, follow
signs for Hwy. N-627 to Aguilar. Continue north-west via Cervera de Pisuerga and then C-627 north across a
smaller mountain range to the village Potes. From Potes, there is a rather large road that runs up the valley
to Fuente De. One can complete this drive in 5 hours. As you enter Fuente De, there is a large (free) parking
area on your right, while the cable car station is slightly higher on the opposite side of the road. This
is the trailhead, park here.
As I have only arrived via Fuente De, this is the route that will be described below.
See the remarks above for alternate possibilities.
To the hut Vega Urriellu:
From the top station, called El Cable (1834m), follow
the road that heads north in the direction
of the nearby, impressive Pena Olvidada (2406m).
Here the road forks, follow the left fork on the west
side of the mountain to the end of the small valley
where the road makes a sharp left bend (1960m).
Leave the road here (going right) and follow the nice, marked path as it climbs to the pass
Hdos Rojos (2344m). Shortly before this pass there is a trail fork and you can see the rather
special Cabana Veronica (2325m) up on the ridge to your left.
The descent from the Hdos Rojos pass is rather steep and assisted by a cable. It is
strongly advised not to take this route when there is snow. There is an alternative route that
is much safer. Well before reaching the col, leave the main trail and follow a cairned route up a rather
big gully on your left. This route will lead up on the west side of the subsidiary peak Penes Urrieles (2398m),
locate a small col there at location N43:10.855, W004:50.131. At this point, there is a small gully leading
downhill on the opposite side. The cairned route continues in a gradual, descending traverse and arrives
below the steeper part of the hillside, where a traverse back east will merge this route with the steeper,
cable route from the Hdos Rojos pass.
Circle south and east of the pit Hou Los Boches (2099m) then descend towards the pit Hou Sin Tierre (1955m).
This pit is passed on the east side as the trail again climbs to the final col at 2082 meter. (Thus, this
pit has a negative prominence of 127 meter.) From this saddle,
the trail descends gently to to
the refugio Vega Urriellu,
location N43:12.166, W004:49.287, elevation 1957 meter.
Approach to the summit:
Proceed west from the hut, ie. as you exit the main entrance, just continue straight.
There is a clear path that will take you in a north-west direction as you climb the slopes east of
and below Neveron de Urriellu (2559m). This trail enters a nice ramp going more north and, surprisingly,
at the very top of this ramp where everything appears to dead end,
there is a narrow crack ascending
to the very top of the ridge (easy YDS class 3).
Follow the ridge west (left) a short stretch, then continue along the trail as it traverses the
slopes on the north side of Neveron de Urriellu before reaching
the very distinct col (photo when returning)
named Hda L'Arenera. This col has location N43:12.550, W004:50.329, elevation 2283 m. Descend slightly,
then proceed south (into the small valley) before arriving at a new (smaller) col at location
N43:12.325, W004:50.428, elevation 2294 meter. From here, there are two (minor) trails forking
left providing access to the two peaks Neveron de Urriellu (2559m) and its higher neigbor
Torre de la Pardida (2596m).
In order to cross over to the base of Torre de Cerredo, there are several possible trails, on either
side of the pit (2186m) located
immediately west of this fork. It is slightly longer, but probabely the
easiest to follow the main trail as it descends a bit and contours north of the pit.
Another trail from the north (Refugio J.R. Lueje) merges in from your right hand side.
on easy terrain and follow the cairned path as it turns south towards Torre de Cerredo.
The route proceeds along a broad ridge, first
the pit (2220m) just north of Cerredo appears on
your right hand side, next you traverse into the east slope of Torre de Cerredo with a new (2222m)
pit on your left. This pit fills in the end of the valley and you now see the jagged ridge connecting
from Torre de la Pardida to Torre de Cerredo.
Pay attention as the cairns suddenly heads quite steeply uphill.
Higher up, there is even
a short section that requires (YDS class 3) easy climbing. The terrain is more gentle higher up
as the route follows natural gullies while steadily gaining elevation. Finally, you emerge at
the base of the upper part of the mountain. This location is N43:11.854, W004:51.103, and you have
reached 2512 meter of elevation.
From location N43:11.854, W004:51.103, you are less than 150 vertical meter below the summit.
Continue up the slope in order
to access a very distinct crack
(gully with vertical sides) that
is easily visible above you.
Enter this crack and proceed uphill inside it until stopped by a steep section. At this point,
climb out of the crack on your right hand side (YDS class 4 move). Proceed uphill on the
right side of the crack (short stretch), until you can easily cross the crack above the
steeper part encountered further down. From here, continue to gain elevation as you move up
along a very natural passage heading more left. This section will lead you to the final and
more exposed part of the climb. The remaining part is well
illustrated on this picture (taken from the summit of Torre de la Pardida.)
First, continue an ascending traverse (going left) that will get you to an area with several
distinct rocks just above the steep cliff below. This section may be about 25-30 meter. Next,
head straight uphill, a rather steep section, but technically easy, as there are natural steps
all the way. You will arrive at a small flat area with a partial overhang (tiny cave). This section
is approximately 20 meter. From here, traverse horizontally left, then move up an easy (short) gully followed
by a second gully going right, that tops out on the summit ridge. Follow the narrow, but easy summit ridge
to the concrete cylinder that serves as a summit marker. This final leg is about 35 meter.
I did this trip with my friend Geir Åke Dahlen. I flew from Bergen to Oslo early Saturday morning,
hooked up with Åke and flew onwards to Madrid. Ideally, I wanted to fly to Bilbao, however,
the air fares there were just unreasonably high. We arrived on time in Madrid around 1215 and after the
normal delays, we were on the road with our rental car by 1300. We knew that the cable gondola (Teleferico)
at Fuente De ran until 1800, thus the first thing to check out was the feasibility of driving there in
4.5 hours. This worked out and by 1745 we had parked our car at Fuente De (large parking area) and bought
a map as well as tickets for the teleferico.
We took one of the very last rides of the day and started out on foot around 1800.
A couple of unexpected events had already come to our attention. When crossing the last range before Picos
de Europa, we had observed that the mountains were all white of snow. This was indeed very bad news. My research
on this mountain indicated that this was a peak where we should have dry, summer conditions. I called the refugio a few days
earlier and asked about possible snow, the reply was "no snow and good conditions". The weatherforcast did not
indicate any snow, but we soon heard that they had received a major snowfall just the day before our arrival.
This was supposed to be a last "summer hike" before winter, we both carried shorts in our packs. Here, we are
met with snow and a temperature just barely above freezing.
Another surprise was the brutal steepness of all
peaks around us. There were dozens of peaks everywhere and they all
looked rather wild and rugged. Thirdly, there
was not a single small creek anywhere. The limestone rock made all water sink directly into the ground and the
landscape between the sharp peaks contained numerous rather large pits.
We left El Cable shortly after 1800 and walked to the refugio called Cabana Veronica. It is located high on a ridge
next to some solar panels and antennas.
The refugio looks like a lunar station and
this was also the name we used for
the rest of the trip. Arriving at 2000, just as the twilight was
gradually giving way to nightfall. There were 4 people
in the hut and it was indeed already crowded. We were still welcomed and ended up sleeping at the lowest level
of the single bunk bed in the hut. This bed had 4 levels and the lowest level provided about 10 centimeter of
free space from your nose to the wooden support of the next bed.
The next day, we started out around 0900.
Our first destination was the bigger refugio Vega Urriellu.
However, already at the main pass, Hdos Rojos, we ran into trouble. We had been told to avoid the cable
route and go further left. The directions were certainly incomplete and we looked around further left, the
cliffs and terrain looked nasty. Åke was quite unhappy about the future and I believed strongly that
if we had trouble hiking a trail from one refugio to the next, then we would indeed never be able to climb
the peak Torre de Cerredo.
We finally decided to backtrack and explore the possible route that would first go
on the left side of the pass. This turned out to be a wise decision, we quickly discovered
the correct route.
Everything was now more easy
and we arrived at the Vega Urriellu at 1200. After a long break and
some lunch we set out at 1300 in the direction of Torre Cerredo.
As the hiking from the refugio to the base of Torre Cerredo typically takes at least 2 hours, we
decided to wait with Cerredo to Monday and rather try climbing the Torre de la Pardida (2596m).
There were several reasons for this. A climb today, starting out at 1300 would likely run into
evening and night. Tomorrow, we could start at 0800 and hopefully, the sun would melt more snow and
make the climbing somewhat easier and much safer. We still decided that we needed to return to
Cabana Veronica on Monday in order to make certain that we would make our return flight from
Madrid on Tuesday.
Consequently, we left the main trail and attempted the (much) easier
Torre de la Pardida. This trip would give us an opportunity to look across to Torre Cerredo
and get a good impression regarding the snow conditions.
Successfully back, we enjoyed a good, three course dinner (with red wine) and a good night sleep.
The next morning, we got up at 0700, had breakfast and started out a few minutes before 0800.
We knew the first part of the route from yesterday and soon started out circumventing yet another
huge pit. The nature in this area keeps you impressed wherever you look. Sharp peaks and
incredible pinacles. We jokingly thought about
climbing all peaks exceeding 2000 meter with a prominence exceeding
10 meter (as some do back in Norway). Such a project would indeed be quite demanding.
We contoured around the
pit located between us and Cerredo, then entered the "dead end" valley at
the base of the peak. The weather looked omnious with big black clouds as we started out this morning.
The local weatherforecast also said rain after 1200 and substantial rain in the evening. However, the
clouds had vanished and the sun was shining from a reasonably blue sky. The trail started steeply
uphill and tested its users in a scrambling section.
We arrived at the base of the upper mountain at
1030 and decided to proceed with helmet and climbing harness
from here. Before soon, we encountered a
(YDS) class 4 move, then more snow higher up. Suddenly, the terrain shifted and asked us more
serious questions. I looked ahead, then told Åke that we should take out the rope. Proceeding
with the rope, I first crossed along a ledge covered by slippery snow, then traversed across to some
rocks that looked like somewhat safer terrain. Åke soon joined me here while I looked for the
continuation. There were still patches of snow, but overall the rocks were more dry here. It looked
possible to climb straight uphill. Good holds and good placement for feet, however the exposure just
below is indeed a bit intimidating. No room for any mistake in this terrain. I proceeded up and soon
discovered a tiny cave (overhanging rock) with a good rock to belay. The third leg turned out to be rather
easy, two gullies and a short top ridge. I anchored
the rope to the concrete summit marker and shouted
"climb" to Åke.
We had arrived at 1250 and
sat down to enjoy the scenery all around us. Against most odds, as we
had been seriously in doubt if we could complete this ascent, with new, wet, melting snow left on
the steeper slopes. The views were not
quite as good as yesterday, but still magnificent. We could
see the blue Atlantic, Torre de la Pardida that we already climbed and all the major peaks in the
central part of Pico de Europa. Straight down on the west side,
we could see where the deep valley from
We left the summit at 1315, quite focused on making the descent equally safe. The first third could
be descended without any risk, the second leg was certainly technically easy, but required attention
since recovery from any slip would be very difficult. A couple of intermediate slings and Åke came
down with all the care that was called for. The last third had more snow and fewer good holds.
I suggested that we should negotiate this via a
rappel (abseil), the route was diagonal,
but relatively short.
This made the last section relatively quick and safe at the expense of a sling, quite a good investment.
We continued unroped and arrived
at the base shortly before 1500. The hike back was
both nice and easy, we really
felt we knew the route walking along the last section for the fourth time.
We arrived back at the refugio around
1645, well ahead of our goal being back before 1800.
Near the refugio, some local mountain deer were peacefully walking
After a 45 minute rest with food and drink, we set out for refugio Cabana Veronica.
The weather was still nice, evening
light hitting the famous Picu Urriellu.
We made a brief stop next to the deepest pit in order for Åke to
Later, we contoured around the
last significant pit along our route, ascended the steeper
slope above, then traversed back to the final gully where
the route crosses the ridge at
close to 2400 meter.
The staff at Veronica knew we were coming. It turned out
that this tiny hut with only 4 beds had a staff
of two. Thus, the maximum number of (comfortable) guests would be limited
to two. We arrived well before 2000 and
a rich vegetable soup followed by an omelette and pineapple for dessert were promptly served.
The weather turned stormy during the night, our tiny "lunar" station was shaking in the gusts. We set out the next morning
at 0800. Rain gear for the first time. We arrived at the "El Cable" top station well ahead of the first car at 1000. It was
a somewhat cold and wet waiting time. What if they decided to cancel the first hour of operation due to the strong
wind? However, at 1000 sharp we descended to the valley floor onboard the first run of the day. Our trip back to Madrid
went according to plan and by late
evening we were back home after a very successful trip.