Picos 2011 Day 2: Fuel
After a breakfast of Cafe con Leche and a Bocadillo de Lomo y Queso (White coffee and a ‘baconish’ and cheese sandwich) the hunt for fuel began. The ferreteria (no, it doesn’t sell Ferrets, its a hardware store -or an ironmonger if you translate directly) was open. I went in and asked if they had kerosene, paraffin or something similar. “No” came the answer. “Hmm” thought I, wondering what was going to become of cooking this week. In my best dodgy Spanish I said to the owner “I need some flammable liquid for cooking, but not alcohol” He looked at me and perhaps thought me odd. He thought and brought two products to the counter, The first was a toluene based solvent. I wasn’t particularly keen on carting a bottle of toluene about the place with me. The other was ‘Aguarras’ a brand name for a paint thinner. This was turpentine with sulphuric acid. Again, not keen on putting Sulphuric acid in the stove. He brought another Aguarras. “Mas puro” he said. I checked the label. Turpentine without the acid. I couldn’t think of a reason why it wouldn’t work and I hadn’t read any contra-indications on the MSR website. It was €3 for a litre, or about €2 for half a litre. Never having used it as fuel before, I opted for the litre bottle as I didn’t know how quickly (if at all) it would burn up.
Back at the hotel room I opened the turps bottle and filled my fuel bottle. I’d forgotten just how much turps smells. Its a smell I’ll not forget in a hurry as by the end of the week a lot of the contents of my backpack smelled of it!
I thought it prudent to check that it actually worked in my stove before I head off to the middle of nowhere. But where to test it? When a pressurised stove like this is lit it needs to ‘prime’. That is heat up to build pressure in the system to produce a vapour which burns more efficiently. Priming often produces smoke, soot and a foot high flame.
My hotel room was carpeted (unusually) so that was out of the question. Lighting it in my room was certainly going to end in tears, and possibly arrest. Where to go? Somewhere outdoors, out of the way.
A short while later I had checked out of the hotel and was sat at the side of the bus station’s car park, reasonably out of the way, where I could cause no damage.
Picture the scene. I’m sat there, cross legged on the kerb with a fire in front of me. Coaches and buses are passing, the drivers looking at me as if I am a crazy person, wondering what I’m up to… The test was a success. Turps was difficult to prime but it did work. I cooled the stove and packed it up just as the local Police pulled into the car park. “Nothing to see here” I thought as I had thankfully tidied away when they passed.
The bus ticket to Los Lagos de Covadonga was €7.50 for a return ticket, they didn’t sell singles to keep the (rather large) queue moving quickly.
The bus ride was about 45 minutes and very enjoyable, sights that I hadn’t seen for 10 years passed by evoking memories of the first trip and the long hard slog up to the end of the road. Bus travel certainly was an improvement!
Disembarking a the car park de Buferrera between the lakes I arranged my equipment ready for the hills and marked the spot on the GPS. Checking the map I set off. The journey had finally begun!
The path began along a well-used tourist trail. Through an arboretum, past the old mines (and now museum) and to Lago Ercina. At Ercina car park I spotted a right-hand-drive car and said hello to the family who were getting their walking gear on at the rear of it. A brief stop at Ercina to check the map, take some compass readings and then I was off to Vega de Ario, my first night’s stop.
Signposts at the start of the path to Ario said 3 hours and, unusually, in my experience they were about right! The path began very muddy and my boots were soon caked but it, and they, dried after a few Km. The trail was well marked with white and yellow paint marks.
Before long I reached Las Bobias, a small Majada or collection of stone huts where the Pastors (cow-herds) stay. One hut was in use, judging from the smoke rising from the chimney. There was a fuente (spring) at the end of the majada where I stopped for a bite to eat and to enjoy the views.
The terrain now became more challenging, less grassy and more rocky. The trail was quite popular, there was even a couple carrying a baby of only a few months of age. The kilometres passed and began to tire. I found myself stopping to ‘admire the view’ more and more frequently. It has been several years since I’ve carried a pack of this weight.
A few hours in and the ‘steep climb’ mentioned in the guide book appeared. At the top of this col the central massif (Macizo central) appeared. Peaks rising high above me, bare limestone with sheer drops into the cares gorge. I remembered being awestruck when I first saw it 10 years ago. It hasn’t become any less striking in that time. Familiar peaks, Torre de Cerredo, perhaps El Naranjo towering high. All the more impressive as the ground I was standing on is higher than any point in the UK. Vega de Ario appeared not long after, the refugio (Mountain hut) at the far end. A few tents were camped at the near end, close to some pastors huts of the only bit of notable flattish ground in the whole vega.
I stopped at the refuge for a coke €3! (only fair as it arrives by helicopter!). A British couple were outside the refuge packing up their gear for the descent. They had been in Ario for 2 nights and had walked up to the summit of Jultayu that day. They told me that another couple had climbed the canal de Trea (my descent route into the Cares gorge) and had nearly been hit by a rock which fell from the mountain passing between them as they climbed the path!
I crossed the vega to where the few tents were pitched. I looked around for a piece of flattish ground away from them to pitch my own tent but it was all too uneven. A patch of yellowed grass behind a boulder close to their camp is where I pitched, nicely sheltered and obviously used before. The tents belonged to members of the Oxford University Caving Club who were here on a seven week expedition to explore some of the region’s deeper caves.
There were a number of cows and a solitary donkey here to keep me company with their incessant munching and the clanking of their bells.
Evening came and I prepared my dinner -one of the dehydrated meals I’d brought with me. I think I added too much water as it didn’t taste as good as I’d hoped.
A Spaniard appeared over the rocks close to my tent. He looked exhausted. He told me he’d just climbed Canal de Trea with his friends, they’d started from Cain at 8 in the morning! Minutes later the rest of his group appeared, about 11 or 12 in total. The men went off to collect water from near the refugio leaving the women, about 6 of them, behind.
I sat on the rocks enjoying the sunshine and my dinner. The women, about 15 metres away, began to strip off. I’ve seen people change a t shirt at the end of a hot walk but they were stripping, to their underwear, and some even beyond that! Being a gentleman of good character I didn’t look, of course. (well, not open mouthed staring anyway) I couldn’t believe it, shirts, shorts, bras, knickers all discarded on the ground. One or two used a towel to hide in but the others just turned to the side a little. I really thought I had got summit fever, I’ve never seen this before on a mountain!
(Dear reader, you’ll be certainly reassured/disappointed to note that I didn’t take up my camera to record this spectacle).
The English family to whom I had said hello in the car park wandered over, they were staying in the refuge for the evening. In that ‘small world’ sort of way I discovered they lived not too far from me and even more unlikely the father of the family worked, until recently, for Lancashire council as a ranger -the same people I work with as a volunteer!
Later that evening the caving team re-appeared, they had been taking some equipment down the mountain as their expedition was nearly at and end. I spent some of the evening sat in their kitchen shelter chatting to them.