A small cirque at the very headwaters of a cantabrian valley, that’s the definition of the perfect overnight spot and I feel fortunate to wake up in such glorious place. The only downside in a mid-November morning is how long the sun takes to shine. I leave the area before I get a chance of getting any warmth. Morning lights are beautiful anyway.

Majada Vallin, looking back to the saddle I came down from. No way to fix this huge light difference

A steep, grassy climb takes me back to the crest. A mountain goat herd roams the slopes far more gracefully than I ever could. I remind the goats that they’re not carrying a heavy pack with them so the comparison is not totally fair. It must be the same group that flew away at my arrival yesterday evening and I’m glad I can say my good mornings.

The upcoming crest section is a dream come true in the current, fair weather conditions: it’s long, prominent and airy with big drops on both sides but wide enough for safe walking. It’s terribly scenic.

Upcoming crest section

As usual, the views north are the most spectacular helped by the south-leaning sun. The valleys in this area are totally unknown to me and I have a blast admiring the complex geography, the fall colours, the precipitousness of it all and even the signs of human activity like the shepherds’ dwellings and the access tracks that invariably traverse deep limestone canyons before reaching the meadows above. Those tracks are like the secret access to a forbidden paradise and I can see and understand it all from up here.

I can see it all from up here

The divide crest drops in height to a low saddle where the terrain turns much gentler as the crest track disappears in the stunted heather. According to the map, it’s gonna be like this pretty much all the way to the next road crossing upcoming, the dreaded Tarna pass that I have yet to ride in any kind of vehicle. From my crest vantage point I can see the hairpins and the blasted-off-the-rock-wall sections on the northern side and I can understand why trucks don’t like this road.

Hairpins and blasted-off sections in the Tarna pass road

I easily reach Pico Remelende, the last before the big dip and I can see the road pass below lined by a few buildings. There might be a pub there! I spend some time looking back on all the crest sections behind, envisioning my way over peaks and saddles, then say my goodbyes and start coming down.

Tarna pass

As I turn my view to the descent, my relaxed mood goes rolling down the hill: it’s a super-steep grassy slope with no visible track. Guesswork/Map-reading works fine in the first convex lip but not on the second and I end up holding onto the grass with hands and teeth to avoid a dangerous slip in a particularly vertical bit. I eventually reach safety. Then the road. This is Tarna pass.

Tarna pass. 1490 meters high

The place looks deserted. I’ve come all the way from Pajares pass in this epic journey and there’s nobody here to greet me. Even the road is empty.

I see two pubs, one on either side. One is definitely closed. The other looks closed but as I push the door, it opens up to a bar so deserted that my first reaction is to ask whether it’s indeed open. The apathetic lady behind the bar muses a yes that actually sounds like a no but I eventually get a welcome coffee fix. Just that. I don’t really need anything else.

The place must also work as a lodging, I guess from the sudden flow of new pub customers that come downstairs. Their chat makes the place appear much like a normal pub.

Time flies when daylight is so short. The sun is already on my back as I head east again. I take an off-crest route with the excuse that I saw it in a trip report from previous watershed travellers. Reality is I’m glad to get off the divide for a while and it feels great to walk on a wide track without any need to route-find anything.

Ahead through the beech woods and up over the ridge on the left

It turned out a case of diminishing returns. I soon needed to leave the track and go cross country. It was easy and beautiful while on the beech woods but I eventually had to face the fact that I had to cross the dense bush strip in between the treeline and the crest. The bush was taller than myself and with thick, stiff trunks that interlocked and wouldn’t bend. It was a short while in hell. The sun was setting and it was difficult to take things easy.

I eventually found some cattle throughways that helped me out and onto a spur ridge that I crossed to enter a different valley still in the southern side but one ridge away from humanized areas. At this stage I’m bit nervous with the sun already gone and nothing but bushy slopes on sight, then relieved when the headwaters come into view with their fair share of flat grass. Mountain goats once again watch my comparatively clumsy progress.

I could push a bit further down the valley but I deliberately stay in the highest meadow I can find. Valley bottoms are to be avoided in high pressure conditions as cold air tends to sink overnight, humidity condenses and the place freezes over.

It’s the headwaters for river Esla. I can pinpoint the location of the actual spring. It’s nice to see the actual birth of a major river system, one of those in the geography books I had at school.

It’s an immensely lovely place and time. I can see familiar ground from a previous, recent trip in the area, I can play with the map and compass to oversee the route that’ll take me back to the divide tomorrow and I can definitely marvel at the sight of Ten mountain, a massive limestone pyramid in front of my pitch and whose name has nothing to do with number ten, as far as I know. Just an odd, inter-linguistic coincidence.

Camp above the Esla headwaters. Ten mountain in the background

Then it’s the stars and the milky way. Then it gets cold. Then I go to sleep.

Maps & Track

View route map for Cantabrian High Route Stage 4: Majada Vallin – Arroyo Valdosin on plotaroute.com

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Cantabrian High Route East
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