I took the divide at the Pajares road pass after a short hike up the road from the nearest railway station. The choice wasn’t random: that’s where my previous hike in the High Route finished a few years back. I would hike east and as far as I could go in 8 full hiking days.
I eventually walked 180 km all the way to the Piedrasluengas pass.
Only San Isidro and Tarna have services.
San Isidro is crossed by a regional, yet somewhat important road. It’s the easiest road pass in the area but it had virtually no traffic mid day on a monday.
There is a ski resort there with several hotels and apartments and at least one of the businesses was open as a pub. I had a great meal there, so hefty I couldn’t finish it all (after two and a half hiking days)
Tarna has one minor and another very minor road that meet at the very saddle. None carry much traffic, virtually nil when I went through in a tuesday afternoon. Only a few buildings with two pubs: one of them was closed, the other one looked like closed but it was actually open. I had a coffee there. It looked like there was lodging upstairs.
No other services are found along the High Route line.
Roads could provide transportation to villages down the valleys. No idea about public transport. Hitchhiking is the best bet. Not much traffic but mostly local people who are the most likely to take a hitchhiker on.
Some villages on the southern side are reachable on foot in a relatively short time but they’ll be very small and most likely will not have shops. A pub, at most. Some not even that.
Transportation to and from the trail
The closest sizeable towns are Leon in the south and Oviedo, Gijon and Santander on the north side. All have railway and coach services that would allow travelling anywhere, if not directly. Small airports in Leon, Santander and Gijon/Oviedo (Asturias Airport, serving both). Santander has ferry service with the UK.
Near the mountains, public transport will take you as close to the divide as the closest village. Small hamlets may have very limited public transport. The best option to get up to the divide on a road is by hitching a ride. Hiking up from a nearby village may be a good idea too.
Out of my start/end points in the divide, the Pajares pass can be reached from railway stops 4 kms south (Busdongo de Arvas; this was my option) or north (Pajares village) of the pass in the Leon-Oviedo line. A Coach also stops in Pajares village.
At the east end of my hike, the Piedrasluengas pass has most probably no public transport options, being in a secondary road. I hitched a ride down the valley.
My strategy for this trip was straightforward: keep it as wild as possible. Avoid civilization and be self-sufficient for the whole trip. 8 days is very doable despite the initial load.
This is how I wanted it anyway but it comes with a huge logistical advantage: no advance planning necessary, no need to get anywhere in particular every day.
The same section of the High Route can be hiked staying in some kind of lodging every night but it’d require a road detour most of the times.
With self-sufficiency come the food, water and overnighting issues though. Best done in lightweight style…
I packed food planning for 8 days and nights. First day breakfast was not taken from it and I had one full, hefty meal at a pub along the way. Initial food weight was almost 7 Kg. By the end I had 1.5 Kg of spare food.
Water is hardly a problem in Cantabrica, it’s a wet place. Two considerations worth mentioning though: being a crest route, some advance planning for the terrain just ahead is worth. Low level saddles may have a spring nearby, just off the actual saddle, but long sections on a high crest may be devoid of water. In a worst case scenario, it should be possible to find water by climbing down from the crest but it may be worth it to carry some extra and avoid the detour. That’s where the advance planning matters.
Limestone terrain may be tricky as far as water goes. By its own nature, limestone lets water filter underground easily so even dump areas may show no surface water for a relatively long stretch. I found this not an issue in the High Route but it definitely is in the nearby Picos de Europa.
Many springs are piped so they’re easy to take water from. This is often the case around shepherds’ dwellings:
Water is abundant but so is cattle scat. Spring water should be fine to drink without any treatment. Once on the surface, take more care. In general, I take free-flowing streams as drinkable if there are no signs of flat meadows above or even if there are when the flow is rather big. Small trickles that have gone through possible scat areas, I’d probably treat.
I carried a selection of tablets. I used them only once. I had no problems. I’ve never have in these mountains.
Camping is easy along the High Route. As far as regulations go, it’s not clear whether an overnight camp is formally allowed but I tend to think that it is. Anyway, it’s better to be discreet, which is straightforward in the High Route as there won’t be many people around or even close.
As stated in the Description section, there’ll be no shortage of fine grass to pitch a shelter. Saddles or foothill meadows are the best places to plan for it.