Valles de los Picos de Europa – sports climbing in Cantabria
One more off my bucket list. We finally decided yes for north of Spain! YESSSS! I have heard often of the wild beauty and ruggedness of Cantabria and Asturias. I have seen so many inspiring photos of the region, that made me want to not only see the soft, wide, green and mountainous landscape for myself but touch it with my fingers. It was a dream come true. Yayyy! 24 hours later, we locked our doors and left on a 6000 km road trip. Just like that. Totally unprepared.
After driving straight for four days, we finally crossed the borders to northern Spain. Looking at my gps device, it kept telling me that another 470 km is still waiting on before we reached Teverga. That was when we decided to pull off at Valles de los Picos de Europa which lays between Santander and Gijon / Oviedo, the next place nearest en route.
We found ourselves here the next weeks. The valley is quiet in the weekdays. Apart from the many tourist buses heading to the Picos de Europa and Potes on the road, you would find yourselves climbing alone with perhaps a few other tourist climbers. This gave us a clue, there must be other great hidden spots to climb in. Not a wonder, there were so much potential in every corner of the valley.
We withstood more rain than we would’ve done on a normal vacation. But it never rained long enough to kick us out of the country. How could we leave, with such a beautiful landscape. This is the first posting on our trip northern spain. Read here for our trip report to Teverga in Asturias.
It’s the first pull off, when you drive into the valley. You can’t miss the overhanging walls of Chorerras as you stand at the parking lot below. The access is steep and slippery, not fun after a rainfall. Standing under the mighty overhanging wall infested with tufas, the easiest route to warm up on is a 7a. I thought for a moment it looked like the Gran Bovedas in Kalymnos, where you climb on huge tufas hanging down. The wall is in the shade in the afternoon, making this a great venue for those of you who hates waking up early. Amazing climbs. Amazing tufa pulling climbs.
We took on a crimpy, technical 7a+ for starters, Viñia Rock. It had very painful and sharp crimps at the first two bolts and continues with some technical moves up. The crux lays right at the fixed sling. Invocando de Onan is so polished, it was quite hard to enjoy the possibly nicest pumpy 7a “warmup” here. But the variety of tufas makes this route so amazing. Pánico Nuclear, 7b+ has just one tufa and felt more like a 38m journey into space. There were some routes with rusty bolts, so do take precaution.
The sectors below offer climbing on easier grades on some slabs.
Cueva del Ribero
This place has perhaps the shortest access in the vicinity. 5 mins from the parking lot in town gets you to a wall right behind the town La Hermida. Best on cloudy days and very polido! (polished) Payeso Sarcaspompis 6b, Madre tierre 6b, and Chuchus wall 7b are great lines to get your hands on.
No, definitely not so slabby as it looks. There are some really nice and easier vertical climbing with great views high above of La Hermida. I found the gradings pretty hard and there’s one or two run outs in them. Great on cloudy days or cooler sunny days. The breeze makes it bearable. The views here are fantastic.
Theres an upper sector just before you reach the wall (not in the guide-book) , but the access seemed a little tricky, so we left it as it was. The following day, Pablo, a local guia, told us that there were some great 7s there. We would’ve given it a try if not of the fear of getting fried.
Other areas like Urdon or El Salmon were climbable only in the late afternoons. We weren’t so lucky the following days. Either it rained or strong winds blasted and made us opt for other walls in the area. We climbed in two other areas not mentioned in the guidebook, which made the valley interesting enough to spend a couple of weeks.
Oriente – Poo de Cabrales
We went straight up to the last sector of this area. Chorreras. Again, another chorreras. A spanish amigo told us not to miss this once in the vicinity. It was about an hours drive from where we were staying. It would’ve been definitely nearer if you were based right at the coast. When we arrived, the sun was blazing hot. By the time we reached the last sector of that area, we were like …oh give me some water, as we stared at the sunny wall. We layed there motionless for a while, and waited till the wall got into the shade. What seemed like hours later, it finally did.
Chorerras lies on the upper end of the cliff, and starts getting shade in the late afternoon around three-ish. This wall is full of tufas. Long and solid, funny shaped tufas decorated the wall with intimidating grades to start on. Plenty of chalk on those tufas hints immediately where the holds are. Very sustained, a little bit shorter (unless you take in the second pitch as well) and fun describes the climbing here. It also has a wonderful view off to the opposite Picu Urriellu when it is not hidden from the clouds.
Valles de los Picos de Europa is the first climbing spot described in the guide books, if you’re coming from Santander and France. Though all sportsclimbing areas are squashed in almost a single valley, the routes are sustained, exciting and sunny. Access to the walls are not always long, and most of the walls can be seen off from the roadside. The valley where the climbs are is narrow, windy and pretty busy with many trucks and tourist buses, so do pay attention while crossing any roads. On sunny, bluebird weekends, traffic will be heavy, and the crowd becomes a mix of sports climbers, Via-Ferrata-ists, hikers and SPA-ists (there’s an official (and inofficial!) Thermal bath in La Hermida).
There are many more climbing areas in the region. My next post will give an insight on Teverga.
Best time to go:
When I asked the campsite owner how the weather was going to be like, he said – it never rains here. True enough, it poured the next day. I checked the weather forecasts, it said it was sunny and dry. So that was what they mean when it “never rains”. Put it this way, it has a typical english weather also known as the Orbayu. It rains, and then it shines. Or ist gets misty. While we were there, we were lucky we had more dry than wet. Cloudy days were perfect for many sunny crags. So we were not complaining. In Chorerras, it gets shade after 1 pm, and is by far a favourite for many. There are no north facing crags listed in the guide books, although we did find one hard crag and destructed ourselves after the first climb.
We chose to come here in autumn, after checking out the guide book at home. Many crags are south sided. As Richie from RocaVerde confirms it below, the best time of the year is Autumn /Winter (December).
70 m is compulsory, 80 m is better for some of the longer routes. 15-17 quickdraws is good to take along. The bolting is perfect, especially on the easier grades. Take heed on some rusty bolts that may appear here and there. We found many in Chorerras/Rumenes, which is a shame to find on some fantastic lines.
Limestone. You will be climbing on ledges, tufas, on slightly overhanging walls. There’re sectors for both beginners and intermediate, so it’s fine if you’re coming in mixed levels.
Published in 2014, this guidebook in english gives you a good idea of what to expect before coming in to Asturias and Cantabria. The book is also available in some of the bars in Teverga, Quiros and La Hermida. 190 selected sectors and 3000 routes. 35€ including postage for deliveries to the EU. ISBN: 9780992887407
J. Alberto Boza – Cordillera Cantabrica
230 sectors with 3300 routes to climb on. Paired with a digital App from Vertical Life, this book is written in both english and spanish. However, not all access are always translated so it would be good to have a bit of spanish knowledge. 32€ including App. ISBN: 9788461704415
You can choose to put up your base either on the coast, or in the mountains. Either way, it brings you quickly in about 15 mins to the sectors in the valley. There are plenty of campsites and Habitaciones or little Hotels to choose from, however you will have to note that most of the campsites starts closing after September. Campsites in Spain are categorized in 1, 2 and 3, where 1 is the best. (Unlike in France, the more stars, the better)
- Campsites in Cantabria (from the official SPAIN tourist info)
Other listings in spanish
- Areas de servicio y parking (if you’re travelling with a Motorhome)
- Vayacamping (good overview with opening times at first glance)
- Camping La Paz (situated directly on a cliff right infront of the sea. Great views compensates for the sanitary rooms that needs an urgent upgrade, free wifi zone)
- Camping La Viorna (Great site, great views, great sanitary rooms, free wifi zone)
Supermarkets, Culinary experiences
- smaller supermarkets across Potes. The Dia Supermarket has more local goods, Lupa is more sorted. Try getting your meat in one of the butchers there. Its amazing.
- In almost very corner of Potes, a Menu del Dia starts from 9€ which includes a starter, mains, dessert and a drink. It’s almost not quite worth to cook up a meal yourself. Try the different stews cocido lebaniego, cocido montanes or the blood sausage Morcilla.
- Try Orujo, a liquor produced specially in the region. There’s the Orujos de hierba and Orujo de Crema to choose from. Ladies, I suggest the latter. It tastes almost like Baileys. Delicious!
- Otherwise, there’s another bigger Lupa in Unquera, just before the Motorway. Smaller supermarkets are spreaded out in each town. A fish shop is right on the main road in Panes.
- You can’t leave this place without visiting once the Picos de Europa. Hike up to catch the picos,or make a multipitch for a change. If you really want just the view, and still have a rest day then take the cable car: TELEFÉRICO DE FUENTE DE up. It’s opened till end of October.
- There’s a lot of tours offering Bear Watching in the area.
- Monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liébana which lies just above of Potes
- Try find the inofficial hot springs ;)
- Go surf a wave. If you are not already based at the coast, the beaches are just some 30km away. A short drive will bring you to some really beautiful beaches around the area. It doesn’t really matter which Playa you end up on, they are all really pretty.
- In Autumn, is also a time for harvesting walnuts and chestnuts. Abundance in the wild. Great to collect and then roast.
nice article again. Pictures of Rumenes and Poo/Po looks really nice. From my recent “tufa trips” I can strongly reccommend area of Buzet in Croatia. They have quite a nice overview on climbistria website if you are keen to check it. Have a nice day…
glad you enjoyed my post. More coming up. You ‘ve just reminded me that I have to finish up my post on Buzet. Great place too :-) now that winter is on the way …
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thanks for the review of the area it reads really well – great to see you enjoyed it!
I am the author of the Roca Verde guidebook and I think a couple of things are worth mentioning: People can find updated and new topos in Bar La Cuadrona in La Hermida and in Bar La Reunion in Potes – quite of lot of crags that are not in the guide (for political reasons) can be found.
Also it’s worth people in motorhomes being a little careful where they park as the year before last they were fining people who were badly parked.
When to go: You don’t actually give a time here so I think it’s worth saying here that Summer and Autumn/ early winter are the best times especially the latter – I would say May to December. And as you say in summer it’s hot and there are not many North facing crags (except one big one which they wouldn’t let me publish) However, this is because culturally Spanish climbers don’t climb until late afternoon. Many only start at 4pm so they bolt crags that come into the shade then. Strange but true!!
So for me Sept/Oct/Nov are best! Also as there are so many tufas obviously depending on the winter they can take a long time to dry out so early spring can be a bit hit or miss.
Also about the weather, I think saying ‘it’s typical English weather’ is a bit of a cliche – as you say it can rain (but to be honest this is not typical in summer) but as you also say the next day it’s too hot to climb in the sun – not very English!! I think just because you had a slightly rainy trip it’s a bit unfair to bring out the ‘English weather’ trope for example I was in La Hermida with James Pearson a week ago climbing and filming in shirt sleeves…not very English… :-) I have now been living here 10 years after moving from Sheffield after 14 years there – and I can state it’s not very English at all LOL
And a bit about the guidebook: the Roca Verde guidebook has a bolt fund which has provided 3500€ worth of bolts so far (including plenty for the major equippers of the La Hermida region)- so if you buy this book you are contributing to the health of the climbing. Also as a favour if you could add my ISBN to the book reviews as you have with the other…9780992887407
Finally for your puzzle about El Salmon you actually have a big picture of the fish it’s named after…it’s the one in the parking opposite! Oh and one small thing there is no route at Rumenes called Planetas Atomic, I think you mean Pánico Nuclear…
And if you’re coming out again and want to go further west let me know and maybe we can meet up…
thanks for dropping by and for the insider view and tips. A shame our paths didn’t cross while we were further up west. I found out about your little hut only after our trip and would’ve loved to give it a try. Perhaps next time. The weather isn’t anything like what it used to be, so it’s just my subjective opinion. No offense ;) If it had been sunny all the time, we would’ve probably done less climbing. Do you have an idea how the place El Salmon got it’s name? Are there Salmons anywhere in the river? I didn’t see any while I was there. Yes, you’re right, Pánico Nuclear – no idea how Atomic got into the picture :-D See you some day.
Buenas tardes Chris,
Agradecerte que hayas incluido nuestra guía en tu artículo, que por cierto, es muy completo y da una información interesante para el visitante. Comunicarte que en nuestra editorial también hemos publicado el siguiente libro en relación a Picos de Europa; sobre el Picu Urriellu ( Naranjo de Bulnes) http://www.edicionescordilleracantabrica.com/free-climbing-in-picu-urriellu.html. De esta forma, sobre todo para el verano, puede ser una opción más que interesante combinar ambos destinos.
También aprovecho para que, si te es posible, modifiques la información. Nuestra guía es la más completa sobre la Cordillera Cantábrica 280 sectores y no 25 como indicas.
Y algo más importante, para la elaboración de la misma, además de un conocimiento exhaustivo por la práctica continua de más de treinta años escalando en las diferentes zonas que recoge la guía ( a diferencia del corta y pega de otros trabajos), se ha contado con los principales escaladores y equipadores de las principales zonas reseñadas. Y muy importante, nuestra guía además de los canales de distribución normales de guías de escalada, se vende en las principales librerías de Asturias, Cantabria y León. Otras guías, que no pagan impuestos en España, las venden en bares y lugares que no son legalmente adecuados en nuestro país.
Un cordial saludo.
sorry I’m replying back to you in english. 6 weeks wasn’t long enough to polish up my spanish knowledge completely ;) Thanks for the hints and notice and for stopping by. I’ve updated the Typo. Hope you guys will have a great and peaceful winter season!
I was on Invocando de Onan this week. Polished is not a word I would use to describe it. The rock was perfect and clearly not that trafficked.
thanks for dropping by. We are quite spolit brats when it comes to traffic. If there’s any shine on the rock I set my toes on, it’s polished. It’s probably better conditions now when it’s cold – thats when the grip is best :-)