The night goes in between heaven and hell. Heaven because that’s what the night usually is: a time to relax, do nothing but rest, heal the wounds of the day’s work, feel at peace with the world. Hell because sometimes the world gets aggressive and you become a tiny piece of nothing at its mercy.

That’s how I felt during most of the night due to the heavy wind that picked up. I wouldn’t have camped in the rather exposed location I was if I’d had felt it was a possibility. It wasn’t in the forecast and nothing in the cool, late evening breeze seemed to suggest the Cantabrian crest would become a windswept wasteland during the night. But that’s the mountains.

I even was in the leeside of the prevailing wind, several vertical meters below the actual crest but this didn’t seem to help. The wind would come down in blusters that hit violently from what appeared like all directions at the same time, followed by a steady, strong blow with a clear north component that would fortunately miss the southern orientation of my tarp’s opening.

I would hear the bluster before it hit and then I knew I was in for some rock’n’roll. A few seconds later the show started. It was like that for the whole night.

I would certainly have benefitted from a tighter, lower pitch but I didn’t bother going out. The windward side was quite low already anyway. The wind would still get underneath and blow things up but it was the occasional, multi-direction battering that was most frightening.

My first fear was about something small being blown away. I took care of making sure anything that was free was heavy enough. At some point it became difficult to decide when something was heavy enough though. I lost nothing.

Second fear was about the tarp and its stress points. I was holding fine but with those sudden, heavy blusters, you never know… nothing broke, eventually.

At some point, I realised the central pole was on the ground. It made no difference in the habitability of the sleeping quarters so I decided to reach out to the front pole and put it down too. I was left with a tarp flat over my bag. I guess it spared some suffering to the tarp stress points. It made no difference in my sleeping comfort and didn’t mean any condensation: the wind would keep everything bone dry.

I managed to sleep but dawn was a welcome relief anyway. Once I got up I took care of re-pitching the Trailstar in a low, locked down configuration that stood the still-blowing wind much better and I used it as a shelter during breakfast and camp chores. Still a welcome relief.

The locked down Trailstar stood the wind

Evidence shows how being tired and/or stressed lends to bad decision-making. If I would have paid correct attention to the map yesterday evening, I’d had realised how close I was to lower level, much better camping than where I eventually pitched. Just around a spur the route led me to a saddle with a manageable climb down and some meadowy areas below. I’d have been there just before darkness but it’d had been much more welcoming and quieter.

Climbing down from that obvious saddle

I eventually get to near the dead-end of a dirt road. It probably was planned as a tarmac road that eventually never got the hard surface as it’s got a limited slope, hair-pinned design and it shows in the map as part of the road network. Down its southern bound valley there’s a village that’d be reachable in an hour’s walk. This is to show how close I’ll be to civilization sometimes on this trip even though I chose to stay away from it. It’d have been a tiny hamlet with no services anyway.

I use the dirt road to climb back up to the crest after a rather narrow, rocky and steep section. It takes me to the Piedrafita pass where I can see the track descending into the depths of the northern valleys. The crest is gentle from here. Up we go.

Gentle crest

Next section in the divide is grassy, football field wide. A minor saddle holds a few shallow lakelets that keep from draining either side for a few meters wide ground section that acts as a natural dam.

Top-of-the-crest lake: water on top of the actual divide

This was a very pleasant section except for the wind that kept on blowing all day through. I failed to capture the big blow on any pic though. It was really tiring.

I briefly come down from the divide to bypass a rocky, narrow crest section in a limestone wonderworld enhanced by the greenest meadows ever. I take the chance to stop for lunch getting myself as away of the wind as I can. It’s the first real stop I make since trip start. It’s here also the first time I meet anybody else: two day hikers climbing from the north. I realise it’s a Sunday, and a gloriously sunny one, only partially spoiled by the constant wind. A short climb back to the crest follows: higher peaks and steeper slopes in view further ahead.

La Laguna and Morgado peaks: Cantabrica trademark grey limestone. Grazing horses right below

Next milestone is the Vegarada pass, an obvious low point in the divide crossed by a dirt road. Deep in my pre-trip wet dreams I expected to get to Vegarada late on day 1 or early on day 2 at the latest. Reality check: it’s late afternoon on day 2 and I still have a high spur to go over before I can start coming down from the crest. The High Route is proving more rough than I anticipated. Or maybe it’s the short days. Or maybe it’s me. OK, the short days are definitely a factor. The trail-less, the route finding, are all factors. Me, I feel fine and I’m trying hard.

One final climb on the crest before descending and the peaks ahead look impressive. I’m tempted to leave the divide at a previous saddle and go around (instead of above) that final spur ridge but it’d take longer, which would make the performance issue worse yet. No way: if my pre-trip notes say it’s non-technical, it must not be. Over the Llastres peak it will be. Another 2K one.

The crest turns wilder for this section but indeed nothing technical. In fact, it’s got an attractive mountaineering character as it comes down from the peak to a narrow gap on the crest that leads down to a series of terraces in the limestone substrate. As with every time limestone is part of the scene, impressive, vertical walls show up, this time on a crest off the divide so they’re fortunately not part of the route, just the magnificent backdrop.

Vegarada pass down below as seen from my crest gap

Vegarada pass is visible below. Shepherds huts line the dirt road which turns tarmac further down the valley for a side-climb to a dead-end at the end reaches of a ski resort. Even the occasional car can be seen on the road. It’s sunday evening and the latest local hikers/mountaineers/tourists must be coming home.

According to internet reports, there should be a pub near the pass but the big building that must be the one appears closed for the long term.

The wild camping aphorism

Vegarada pass and the area down from it south of the divide is flat and grassy but not nice for a camp as it’d be utterly visible from the road. I could retrace steps to one of the grassy terraces I just went through on my way down but I prefer to keep forward even if that means a climb with no visible flat land (nor in the terrain, neither in the map) in a bush covered slope. Not a nice prospect when daylight time is nearly over but I boldly decide to risk it for the sake of my missed performance and based of the core, wild camping aphorism: something shows up. Always.

For a good while, it seems like it won’t. I keep climbing as steadily as I can and eventually I find hope: a minor cirque just below the main crest that I didn’t hope I’d have time to reach but necessity obliges.

I get off-route to reach the cirque in the dimming light hoping it has some flat land and at least a gap that’s bush free. It does, all of it. I will be not my most comfortable camp ever but it’ll be scenic. The aphorism will stay true for today.

Yet another low-light, out-of-focus, late evening camp shot. Looking south

Maps & Track

View route map for Cantabrian High Route Stage 2: Collado Valverde – Fuentes de Invierno on plotaroute.com

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