The high pressure conditions remain and the weather should be clear. I don’t know what caused yesterday’s fogs, maybe some cold air mass in the area. I would expect a new, clear day today no matter how dark and thick the fog was yesterday but I have a plan in case it remains: the track I was following would actually take me out of the mountains. It’d be acceptable given this is my last day of hiking.

I wake up before dawn to another frosty, gloriously clear morning.

Bring back the light

Frost over the tarp was particularly odd: it’s usually found in the form of small ice crystals but this time it was water-drop sized. Apparently, drops condensed on the tarp before the temp went below zero, then quickly froze over and stack to the nylon. They were almost single-malt glass worthy.

Frozen water drops on nylon, TM Mother Nature

Now I can see the place as I remembered it from a previous visit, when I thought it’d make a great camping spot. You can see why:

Puertos de Riofrio

The view also shows the mighty Penaprieta and surrounding peaks. At 2539 m, this mountain is actually the highest in the whole range that’s not part of the Picos de Europa. Its dark rock sets it apart.

I set myself a rather ambitious goal, distance wise, for the day: the next divide road pass, more than 30 km away, is well beyond my usual daily travel distance so far but today I’d be walking on good trails for several miles. It shouldn’t be difficult to get there.

I take a slope route, just below the crest, enticed by an initial section on a wide track and based on previous trip reports I had checked and on the map showing intermittent trails along. I eventually had to spend some time searching for cattle trails when the terrain got bushy and steep, a most dreaded combination. I can’t help thinking it’d have probably been easier over the actual crest but I’ll never know.

Once on the crest again, I get some killer views back to Penaprieta peak and the Riofrio meadows where I had spent the previous night, this time under clear skies.

The Fuentes Carrionas massif at its northern end

There’s now a partly trail-less crest section of diminishing height that will take me to an awaited wide track that I’ll follow for most of the rest of the day. The terrain for now is grassy so it’s easy enough. I cross paths with these nice guys:

Horses on the crest

I eventually get to the wide track which turns out to a be a dirt road that parallels the crest. I’m now transiting between 1600 and 1500 m high which the consistently lowest crest section. The track provides for quick progress.

Easy walking for a change

Eventually the track leaves the crest for the valley and I cross fingers in front of a very bushy traverse ahead hoping there’ll be a trail. I’d have a real problem to make to the day’s intended goal on time if there isn’t. As a bad omen, the spring that the map shows is not anywhere to be found and now I have to apply water shortages. I have to guess where a possible foot trail would depart across a meadow section with no signs. Best-guessing usually works and it does this time. I find a good quality track across the bush, one of those that will not fade away.

Limestone’s not over

I need to climb again and I meet limestone again. Limestone, grass and beech woods, the magic trio, all together again:

Rock, grass & woods

The Picos de Europa are still on the horizon but they’re now behind. For the first time in the trip, I see them getting smaller. This really contributes to give perspective to the walk.

Picos de Europa are now behind

I eventually start descending towards the Piedrasluengas pass. Further ahead is the Pena Sagra massif, the last one with peaks above 2000 m and where some consider the Cantabrian Ranges end even though there’s still sizeable mountains and a clear watershed crest farther on. Pena Sagra is visible here in the background:

Next crest section at the back will be left for future trips

I won’t have time to traverse that section. My trip ends today at the next road crossing over the Piedrasluengas pass.

I eventually get down to the pass roughly one hour before sunset. The road is surprisingly not as empty as all the roads I’ve found throughout the trip. It’s a saturday and I’ll later know there’s a major festival event going on down in the valley during the weekend and that’s what’s surely bringing also cars up here. This will turn a blessing and a curse for me tired hiker.

Below lies the Liebana valley, the biggest and less secret of the secret valleys. It follows the same pattern of mountain enclosure with high passes over the divide to its south and a narrow, deep gorge as its only drainage to the north. This time, with a road along it.

I start walking down the road towards the valley hoping to get a ride down so I can devote the sunday to travel to the regional capital, where I’m set to catch a bus home.

My hiking trip ends shortly after when a car stops. At this stage, I’d have hoped to find some lodging for the night but the festival has all options booked out. I’ll need to camp out once more, which is great, but I’ll need to improvise some emergency hygiene with the little spare clothes options in my pack to make the 6 hour bus ride bearable for my seat mates.

On the plus side, my last pitch will be a scenic lookout to the Picos de Europa easter massif that I could only appreciate come following morning:

Last camp in the Liebana valley. Picos de Europa still around

My days on the Cantabrian High Route November edition will end by the Cantabrian coast that I used to call home, the mountains now providing the far background. Game is over.

Santander bay

Maps & Track

Part 1/2

Part 2/2

View route map for Cantabrian High Route Stage 8: Puertos de Riofrio – Piedrasluengas on plotaroute.com

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