In the legend world, these mighty peaks were named after the Phoenician princess Europa, who was abducted because of her great beauty, by the great, god Zeus. However,in reality, the peaks were named because the mountains are visible to ships sailing into Europe from the Americas.The Picos de Europa was my first, proper, trekking experience despite its difficulty and steepness. I was drawn by their allure and beauty but also by the supernatural myths and legends, as they are located in España Verde, the most superstitious part of the country.The peaks here are not as high as the alps, and are snow free in summer but they are very striking, jagged and wild. The picos are divided into three sub ranges, I trekked the Macizo Central, the highest part. I started from the town of Arenas de Cabrales up to the mountain refuge of Vega Uriellu via Collado de Pandébano and one of the remotest village in Spain called Bulnes.
The tallest peak here is Torreceredo at 2648 meters, but the most celebrated mountain is Naranjo de Bulnes (Picu Uriellu in local Asturian language) so named because of the limestone rock composition that glows orange in the setting sun. The north face of this peak is the most coveted by all rock climbers and mountaineers in Spain for its grandeur and difficulty. Like a stone sentinel guarding the other peaks that surround it; it also features many species of plants and animals like the rebecos (local chamois), mountain goats, vultures, choughs, iberian wolves and cantabrian bears. A feast for nature lovers.
I saw the most beautiful mountain orchids. I never thought orchids could could grow in rocky terrain, yet the thorny thistles that gashed my skin and hindered walking the trail, once in a while.
Trekking around the mountain range brought me to primeval forest as well as grasslands used for pasture in the summer. As I went higher, the mood changed to very moon-like, barren, rocky scenery .
However, the true reward waited at the higher summit above theclouds. Here is one of the natural wonders, from the rain shadow phenomenon. As the Picos face the Cantabrian sea on the north, they block the rain clouds. Therefore on the south side, it is dry and barren, giving Spain distinct climate variations. The Green Spain on the north composed of lush, green forests and the drier, hot south.
It is very dangerous to trek in the Picos, even in the lower altitude, because when the clouds roll in, the visibility reduces to almost zero. Combine this with the very narrow, zigzag trail that in some sections drops a thousand meters, creates a place where many trekkers have lost their lives, navigating through the thick fog.
Here the superstition comes alive. In Asturian and Cantabrian legends, clouds are created by El Nuberu. Whenever he is enraged, he unleashes clouds and storms to defeat his enemies. He does have a good side because he can also give rain to fertilize the crops. He sometimes disguises himself as a beggar and asks for food. In return,he will protect the farmers and their homes in the coming storm.
It was a great challenge to trek in the Picos, as a first timer, I did this in summer and the scorching heat of the Spanish sun together with the toughness of the terrain brought me literally to my knees and water is scarce. I felt that I was just a grain of sand, in this remarkable creation of the universe.
The mountain range is so remote and wild in the higher altitudes, that I actually got first time fear. But, this journey was the adventure, the wilderness, beeing above the clouds, the glowing jagged peaks in sunset , the lunar-like landscape and my will to reach the top all rolled into one experience.
Very simply, it was so breathtaking that I laughed like crazy with tears in my eyes as I reached the mountain refuge. It was my rite of passage.