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mcrtchly: Track 4188 in area near Spain, Asturias ()
The return to the Orange Tree
Length: 12.4km, Creator time taken: 6h35m, Ascent: 685m,
Descent: 884m

Places: Start at Lon -4.79363, Lat 43.2256, end at Lon -4.78121, Lat 43.2316 1.2km NE from Start
Logged as completed by 2

In 2016 we first visited the Picos de Europa National Park, a 647 square kilometre wonderland that straddles Asturias, Cantabria and Castile and León. This area of Spain is unusually green due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, lending it a more temperate climate than the rest of the country. Its cooler climate makes it a mecca for those escaping the heat of the south and it’s something of a paradise for trekkers. Indeed, we were so taken by this rugged and verdant limestone landscape that we decided to return there again this May. In particular we wished to climb one of the most stunning routes in the Picos Mountain Range: to the Refugio de la Vega de Urriellu below the Naranjo de Bulnes.

Panorama of six photos of the Bulnes de Naranjo at sunset

Known as Picu Urriellu in the Asturian language, the 2,519 metre high Naranjo de Bulnes is a towering chimney of grey-white Palaeozoic limestone which soars high above the shoulders of its spiky neighbours, and is the icon for the entire mountain range. Naranjo means ‘orange tree’ in Spanish, and Picu Urriellu is so-named as it turns this colour in the setting sun. We had experienced this incredible spectacle in July 2016, and wanted to repeat the experience now we have better cameras. To get the iconic shot, you need to have all your ducks in a row: skies free of cloud, particularly on the western horizon; not too much snow on the high ground and a decent moon rising behind the mountain for maximum dramatic effect! The trade-off is higher temperatures which can easily soar into the high twenties (even in this part of Spain) often accompanied by sapping humidity. Knowing how fickle the weather can be in this part of Spain, we waited for the forecast for fine, clear weather.

Last time we started our climb at the village of Bulnes Bajo which is served by a funicular railway running up from Poncebos (see MV track 3331). From Bulnes it is a very steep 1,500 metre climb to the Refugio de la Vega de Urriellu, which we did over two days, stopping en route overnight at the Refugio de la Terenosa, and then camping the following night at the Refugio de la Vega de Urriellu. This time our line of attack was different. Rather than carry heavy rucksacks full of camping equipment, we managed to drive our Land Rover from the Sotres direction up a narrow zig-zag mountain track past numerous abandoned shepherds’ huts, to an informal parking space at Fuente del Monte. From here a steep pathway leads up to the Collado (Col of) Pandébano which is not far below the Refugio de la Terenosa. Tackling the route from this direction is around 700 metres less height gain than if coming from Bulnes, and the track is just about driveable without a 4X4, although we would not recommend it!

We began the climb in the late afternoon to avoid the very worst of the heat, aiming to arrive at the Refugio de la Vega de Urriellu before sunset, spend an hour or so taking photographs, and then return the same way to our vehicle in the dark.
Passing the Refugio de la Terenosa

The heat was absolutely tremendous as we passed by the Refugio de la Terenosa, and the long climb to the Callado Vallejo, a narrow cleft in a great rib of limestone through which the route passes, seemed endless. We paused here in the shade for a bit of a breather before rounding the huge couloir above which great piles of barren limestone sweep up to the Naranjo de Bulnes. Care must be taken here as the route threads its way along a narrow ledge with precipitous drops. By now the sun had begun to sink behind the mountains to the west and the route was cast into the shade.
The Bulnes de Narajo soars above the rugged trail

With the mercury falling to more comfortable levels, we picked up speed as the path rose steadily upward in a series of zig-zags through a boulder field. We were surprised to see that there was still a considerable amount of snow on the high ground, some of which we had to cross, and although crampons were not necessary, extreme care was needed due to voids below. Martin managed to fall through one up to his waist! The refuge was eerily silent and surrounded by snow, but those inside eating their dinner were still skiing and snow-boarding judging by the equipment on the veranda outside. The camping spots nearby were invisible, buried metres deep and we were glad we had decided not to bring our tent after all!
Encountering the first of many snow fields on the high ground

We set up our camera equipment on the mountain slope facing the refuge and the Naranjo de Bulnes soaring up behind it, and waited for the setting sun to cast its orange glow. Whilst waiting we were treated to the sight of a herd of rebecos (chamoix) crossing the snow directly below us. The sunset did not disappoint, as is so often the case with photography; the mountain glowed a gorgeous shade of tangerine, and the magic was sealed with the sight of a waxing moon floating up behind the mountain like a Chinese lantern. We came away with the shots were had been looking for.
The Refugio de la Vega de Urriellu surrounded by deep snow

After stopping at the refuge for a quick beer and some chocolate bars, we began the long walk back to our Land Rover in the fading light. It was now deliciously cool and as darkness fell, we were treated to an incredible starry night sky, and the moonlight casting its opalescent glow over the limestone peaks made for a truly magical experience. Having safely negotiated the snow fields and the narrow ledges of rock, we arrived back at our vehicle in the small hours where we celebrated with a bottle of wine and some tapas! We were mightily glad that we did this trek when we did, as only 48 hours later, the refuge would have been impossible to reach in blizzard conditions, and the weather remained iffy for the duration of our stay in Asturias.

Uploaded on: Thu, 4 Jul 2019 (23:03:59)
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NOTE: ALL information such as Ascent, Length and Creator time taken etc should be regarded as approximate. The creator's comments are opinions and may not be accurate or still correct.
Your time to complete will depend on your speed plus break time and your mode of transport. For walkers: Naismith's rule, an approximate though often inaccurate estimate, suggests a time of 3h 37m + time stopped for breaks
NOTE: It is up to you to ensure that your route is appropriate for you and your party to follow bearing in mind all factors such as safety, weather conditions, experience and access permission.

* Note: A GPS Height in the elevation profile is sourced from the device that recorded the track. An "SRTM" height is derived from a model of elevations for parts of the earth. More detail

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Some mapping:
Open Street Map
(Various variations used.)
British summit data courtesy:
Database of British & Irish Hills
(Creative Commons Licence), a Hill-walking Website for the island of Ireland. 1100+ Visitors per day, 2100 Summiteers, 1300 Contributors.