06 October 2013

Lomond Hillrunners' Trip to Picos De Europa


 Thursday O'leary eyed at an unearthly hour we just managed to withstand the 6am siren call of the airport W'spoons (sorry Deek - I was fibbing - we were Guinnless!). On the plane Gordon felt woozy and for a spell didn't know who he was or even where he was - most would pay a lot for that on a Ryanair flight! Later I spotted C and J getting a severe ticking off for illicit alcohol consumption - naughty but one up on big bad Micheal! We picked up the car (spared the hard sell when he recognised me from June!) and headed to the beach to relax. Gordie slept on the sand, the rest of us had a snack and a beer, Colin and Joan paddled, Alan swam (briefly!) Gordie woke up a new man. We drove through the impressive foothills to Arenas de Cabrales. With the Supermarket not opening till 4 it was either head up to the house or wait at the bar supping beer - we waited at the bar and supped beer! Laden with booze and food we drove the 4k up the hill to our house in the lovely wee village of Arangas. The key was in the lock but opening the door proved to be the greatest challenge of the week. An old lady was found who showed us the technique - three turns and then a kick! The evening sped past with John whipping up a fine meal washed down with local Rioca (the strategy for the week was to work down from 3euros to under 1euro and nobody seemed to notice (much) - although at one point there complaints about fuzzy heads - forgetting that quantity counts as well as quality! Alan brought back memories of Morocco by producing the Hanky Banister quiz book and we spent the week on the quest of the perfect score.  

Friday Blue skies - easy choice - the Caries gorge walk - the plum of the Picos! We parked at Poncebos and set off on the three hour walk gorge walk to the wee hamlet of Cain at the other end. You teeter along the exciting narrow path with the river far below and the mountaintops high above - narrow ledges hacked into the cliff and tunnels make for an exciting time. Near the end we found a good lunch spot but had to fend off the local goats who had smelled food. In Cain we found a welcome hostelry to quench our thirsts. There is really no alternative to returning the same way but no complaints in this case. Another fine repast from John then Gordon regaled us with a story about his visit to Italy to see the mummified flying priest of Lorretto (in a box) - go easy on the magic mushrooms next mealtime John!

 Saturday Alan suggested a look at the Western massif which involves a longish drive up past he Covadonga shrine and then up the narrow mountain road to the lakes. Joan particularly enjoyed looking down the huge drops as driver Alan guessed at how much clearance he had - a scream meant you're close! We arrived safely (otherwise you wouldn't be reading this!). The terrain up here was much more open with pasture around the two lakes and 2500m mountains a few hours walk away. We opted to follow the decent path undulating up to the Vega de Ario hut. In less than the 3 hours recommended we reached a superb open area of limestone with fantastic views across to the main peaks. After lunch we decided to bag a small peak of about 1800m but then failed to find any trace of the return path marked on the map. Up here you leave the path at your peril! 'Badlands' sums it up perfectly! Summoning up every iota of our navigational skills we emerged at the lakes unscathed. Alan's turn as chef (spud con chorizo) seemed to go down well and washed down with another fine selection of wines we launched into a heated debate on the referendum. With a 4 to 1 majority wee Eck should be happy next year. A few Hanky B's rounded off the night. #

Sunday It was a bit overcast but the forecast was good so we packed the sacks and headed back to park at Poncebos. A good path leads up a fine gorge to the remote hamlet of Bulnes. Instead of following the crowds we opted for the now unfrequented route up to the Uriello hut. An awkward clamber up slippy rocks beside a waterfall took us into a fine steep sided valley. Passing a camper and two ponies we reached a dead end and lunched in a stone circle. The route now sidestepped with a steep climb up a gully disappearing into the glour. At the top and now in the clouds the route turns into the main valley and we were climbing on a steep scree path. To make the effort worth while we popped out of the mist to give stunning views up to the bulging 550m face of the Naranja de Bulnes. Up at the bustling hut kitty man was persuaded that a couple of beers was essential to life and we sat chilled enjoying the views over the clouds and the surrounding rocky peaks. Our meal at 8 was worth the wait - three refills of the excellent minetrone with bread (tip - save some bread for your lunch) and then big servings of a pasta dish and a chickpea stew. The green banana served as desert seemed to have arrived at the hut a fortnight early. Bed came early (unlike sleep!) as the 5 of us squeezed onto a sleeping bench. With about 20 in the wee room and the window closed the only blessing was no snorers (no sleepers?).

 Monday Brekker (dry biscuits with jam and wee buns with tea and coffee - one cup) was disappointing but the sun was kissing the surrounding summits. We decided to try for a peak and Gordie had discovered that the nearby Neveron de Urriello at 2559 would go. Leaving some gear at the hut we followed the rough track round to a col and then set off up the slabby ridge. When it started to get steep we checked the book and spotted the track below. A steep scree slabby scramble brought us to within 100 feet of the summit. Al and Joan called it a day and watched the others disappearing up the steep rock. In the end only Gordie summited with the final moves being a bit too airy hairy for Colin and John. Back at the hut Gordie got into conversation with an American tucking into a platter of bread with ham and cheese. Maybe he thought Gord needed fattening up because he offered some to Gord and then told us to help ourselves - we fell on the plate like vultures! We opted for the 'easy' but longer tourist route back down. A great path took us easily down to the pastures of Pandebano and Colin got a good discussion going on whether the moon landings really took place (maybe the flying priest made it first!). From there we got onto a endless track of unpleasant slippery round boulders down to Bulnes. The final gorge walk to the car was much more impressive than we remembered. Even more impressive was El Matador Gordy's handing of a large bull blocking the track - he walked straight up to it and shooed it along with a clap of the hands. To celebrate our great wee trip we passed the night feasting on fajitas, tippling the Tempranillo and brainstorming over the Hankey Banister.  

Tuesday Not feeling like rushing off today we lingered at breakfast with Joan in definite danger of becoming the Mrs Doyle of LHR as she delivered endless cups of tea upstairs. Today we opted for a short day up the hills behind the village (just the height of Ben Nevis!) - Gordie was on a roll! Our first route ended after a few metres when an old man conveyed that the path was impassable. Further along the road we found a good track leading up to a parked car where another local pointed out the track through the crags. A steep zig zag brought us to the edge of a plateaux where the views over the Picos were stunning. Al decided to chill out while the others led by El Torro disappeared up the rocky ridge of Turbina. Tonight it was definitely time for a treat so we headed down to the town to sample an all day menu - great value with a good starter (the local fabada, bean and chorizo stew is to die for!), main course and sweet washed down with plenty of wine - all for 11 euros. John offered to drive us up the road - an exciting taste of bareknuckle rally driving (Alan desperately checking the excess insurance!)  

Wednesday Gordon, Colin, Joan and John decided to go for a final climb while Alan felt he deserved a day off (although he did walk down to the town and back!). Parking at Poncebos (200m) again they headed up the hill to the left of the gorge eventually reaching 1600m - the views were impressive!. On their return Al thought they all looked like they had had a good beasting. After some recovery time we returned to the town to enjoy another menu of the day in a much busier restaurant - as can be seen our attempt at a tip was returned in the form of the local liqueur.  

Thursday In the morning it was back to reality with our dreich early morning drive back to the airport. No complaints though - by common consent we'd had a brilliant week!

21 June 2013

Mer to Montagne 400K

a great week's cycling in France. Alan devised this 5 day, 400KM route from Narbonne Plage to Mont Ventoux, the famous Tour de France climb (12 miles & 5000feet) to celebrate his 50th birthday, and to complete his 3rd different ascent of Ventoux.