Not Your Average Camino – Garganta Del Cares – Las Arenas, Spain
Our next stop in Northern Spain is a small national park along the coast called the Picos de Europa. The Picos are the third highest mountain range in Spain. Everything about this place is awesome. It’s got loads of great hikes. There are free-roaming cows and mountain goats, whose milk is used to produce two Spanish blue cheeses (Cabrales and Valdeon). And it’s sparsely populated; no big cities, just small picturesque villages sitting in the shadows of the mountains.
We’re staying in two such villages as we make our way around the Picos. Our first stop is in Las Arenas, on the north side of the mountains. It’s been cool, foggy, and eerie here – perfect conditions for a hike! The reason we’re staying in Las Arenas is because it’s in close proximity to the most famous day hike in the Picos, if not in all of Spain. It’s called the Ruta Del Cares. Cares is the name of the river that cuts through the Picos, from the town of Cain to Poncebos (just a few miles down the road from Las Arenas). It’s also the name of the massive canyon created by the river, which in some areas is a mile deep from the river to the peaks of the mountains it cuts through.
The hike itself is almost identical to the Caminito Del Rey that we did in Southern Spain. It’s an old mining trail that was built to connect hydroelectric plants on either side. This trail lacks the protective measures though. The majority of the hike is along a path carved into the canyon wall, where the dropoff is anywhere from 50 feet to 500 feet. It’s also a bit longer…it’s 9 miles each way, and unless you’ve arranged for a car or taxi to drive you 60 miles around the Picos to get to your starting point, you’re in for an 18 mile stroll.
As usual, to have some time on the trail to yourself, you have to show up early. We started at 7am, and aside from a few people out running the trail, it was a peaceful morning. Peaceful until we hit a stretch that had a few packs of mountain goats. Goats aren’t as shy as sheep, but they aren’t necessarily friendly either. Kevin managed to pique the curiosity of one goat (who we named “Larry”) that followed us on the trail for a few hundred feet…where another goat was coming from the other direction. This goat approached Christine and let her pet him, so we thought we’d be nice by feeding him a kiwi. This immediately got Larry excited. So Kevin went to give Larry our second, last kiwi. Well, the other goat who already had a kiwi butted in and took that one too! And at this point, one of Larry’s friends from a few hundred feet back (who was staring at us from afar…now we know why) started running down the trail towards us to get in on the action. That was our cue to leave…we should know not to feed the animals by now! If you give a goat a kiwi…
The hike through the Cares gorge was like walking through a Lord of the Rings film. It took us back to New Zealand. There were massive, rugged mountains as far as we could see, and the only sounds were the river rushing far below, and the echoing of bells from unidentifiable mountain goats ringing as they wandered the mountains above (or below?) us. There was a layer of fog a few hundred feet above us that never cleared up, so we didn’t get to see just how high the mountains around us stretched up. But the views were just incredible. This is the type of hike we dream about.
The picture was taken on our return hike to Poncebos, looking back from where we had come from. The little trail carved into the canyon wall winds all the way back into the farthest reach of the picture. This was taken just before the spot where we had our first encounter with Larry and his two friends…no joke, those same three goats were still hanging out at that very spot, five hours later. We took some bread from our lunch in Cain so we could make it up to Larry, if we happened to run into him. He didn’t seem too excited that it was just bread, but at the end of the day, goats will eat anything. Sorry, Larry!