How to avoid a near-death experience conquering the mountains in North of Spain!
Updated: Jul 17
Just because you go to Spain, doesn’t mean you have to tourist your way through the country like everyone else. Although Spain is the flamenco capital embodying a fused culture of modern Latin with a fascinating history and incredible rich foodscape, it’s true colours lie higher up in altitude.
Spain may not have the status of Canada or Switzerland for mountains, but the north of Spain could win themselves a title for the most incredible monumental mountains to explore. With the impressive name Picos De Europa – The Peaks of Europe, it is Spain’s or maybe in all of Europe's most underrated, below the radar, mountainous/alpine region.
“When you go there, you will probably be scratching your head wondering why isn’t this place more famous on a global scale? ”
The Picos de Europa National Park is the largest hiking area situated between Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y Leon. Covering an impressive 64,660 hectares, known as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is characterised by deep vertical gorges, sprawling forests, snowfields, peaks over 8,000 feat and glacial lakes.
It speaks endless opportunities for adventure.
It truly is a haven for those who are or want to try an outdoor challenge, in saying that you don’t have to be hardcore outdoors to get a real hiker's experience from what’s on offer! I know I wasn’t, but this summit summer challenge was too hard not to pass and with only 10% of people attempting high altitude peaks being female it seemed like the perfect place to start hiking. After all, a mountain challenge doesn’t have to mean climbing Mt. Everest. What’s important is that it’s meaningful to you, whether it be to push yourself mentally, experience something new or find empowerment, Picos De Europa will fulfil just that or even more.
But with every adventure comes preparation and if you are intending to go, a one day trip simply won’t cut it, the natural beauty, tranquillity and intensity of this region will keep you hooked. Here are my top 3 tips on where to stay
1. Firstly, the most cost-effective stay is camping, you will find these campsites and holiday parks near the charming old town Potes. We stayed at http://campinglaviorna.com/en/ with only a 15 min walk from town and a grand outdoor swimming pool to cool down after a day of hiking.
2. Secondly, if you’re really adventurous, there is the hut to hut – multiday hike. If you are new to doing extreme mountaineering it might be a good option to get a guide http://www.aegm.org/.
3. Lastly, for those of you who can afford a more upgraded stay, there are plenty of mountain guesthouses and a hostel to stay but be warned book this far in advance in summer, at least by 4 weeks to reserve a spot.
But if you’re really adventurous, you could get lost and decide to reside in a man-made cave?
During our first day hike, we decided to stay overnight in a cave as the light had fallen short on us without realising. One piece of advice I can stress is bringing thermals and a warm sleeping bag because temperatures drop rapidly to minus 20 degrees celcius at nightfall due to the high altitude and snowy capped mountains.
Having said this, at that point, I truly did feel like I was at Mt. Everest base camp.
Although the incredible views from the cave with cascading rocks made it look like planet mars was at our very doorstep. I had begun to shake rapidly and uncontrollably. Hyperthermia was on the rise and with a ~6 hour hike down to safety, there wasn’t much option for us but to stay put. Luckily, I chose my climbing partner wisely – he was not only a surf lifesaver from New Zealand but surprisingly had an emergency blanket on hand.
I was truly in luck!
"For the first time in my life, I was scared to fall asleep. Why? Because I was afraid I may not wake up again."
But despite the fatigue, exhaustion and adrenaline pumping through my body I miraculously made it through the night, waking up bright and early to make a slow descent down.
At the peak of the sunrise, this is truly the best time to capture Picos De Europa in its finest element. The burnt orange and yellow hues resembling much like The Lion King safari, emphasized the draw dropping rocky mountains and glistening glacial lakes.
So, having said all this, I have outlined the top 10 tips to properly prepare yourself!
1. Navigation (map & compass)
2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
3. Insulation (thermals & -20 Celsius sleeping bag)
4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5. First-aid supplies & emergency blanket
6. Nutrition (extra food)
7. Hydration (extra water)
8. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
9. Tell someone where you are going, always!
10. Check weather forecast & familiarise yourself with the map
Hot tip: Download the Wikiloc app for full coverage of offline maps & track your trail so you never get lost.
To make your way to Picos De Europa, you can either rent a car or take a bus service such as http://www.autobusespalomera.com/index_en.htm. The bus service times and fees are reasonable, costing between 15-20 euros, return, from Santander’s central bus station.
If you are backpacking and intending to camp overnight in the charming old town of Potes, I would recommend staying at Santander Central Hostel the night before. This will allow you to get a good night’s rest and leave any unwanted excess baggage behind. Not to mention, it is also the ultimate hot spot for foreign hikers both experienced and newbies, a perfect place to gain hot tips for the trails and perhaps make a new friend or two along the way! As for hiking trails, I would highly recommend travelling by cable car to some of higher peaks - Fuente Dé in particular, with the highest peak to reach more than 8,000 metres into the clouds.
Otherwise, there are other breathtaking trails such as:
The Cares Route, Covadongo Lake, Ordiales
Scenic Balcony Trail
Vega de Ario Plain
Ruta de Fuente De a Puertos de Aliva
Ruta de Torre de Horcafos Rojo
Either way, with more than 646.6 square miles to discover by foot this is the perfect place that is both scenic and challenging so put on your hiking shoes on and head to the Peaks of Europe – Picos De Europa!
After all most people avoid fear and discomfort to take on new challenges, this only welcomes stagnation into their lives. So, why not challenge yourself through hiking one of the most underrated and incredibly scenic mountains of Europe, who knows it must just inspire you to take life further or climb Mt. Everest.
Make the Peaks of Europe yours to conquer and to remember!
By Marika Suzuki