In this regular feature from the British mountain guides, Al Powell from Alpine Guides shows us 'The Pico Padierna circuit', which is a classic day ski touring in the Picos De Europa mountains of Northern Spain. This is one of the wildest mountain ranges in Europe and a brilliant venue for real adventure skiing.
Guide book & Map: The best map available is published by Adrados Ediciones 1:25000 - Picos De Europa, Central and Eastern Massifs. In terms of guidebooks, there is limited published information available for ski touring in the Picos: Desnivel publish a selective guide to ski touring in the wider Cantabria Mountains (this contains 2-3 easier tours in the Picos), but otherwise it's local knowledge, or go take a look and have an adventure!
Approach: It's an easy one – take the Feunte De cable car up from the valley to the top station known as El Cable. This runs from 10.00 – 18.00 in the winter, leaving ~7hrs skiing time. The cost is about 16 Euro return.
Route Summary: From El Cable, roughly follow the line of the summer path on the map, first heading northwest under Pena Veija, before swinging west up to Cabana Veronica (500m climb, 2hr). This is a good spot for an early lunch in the tiny hut, which was originally a gun turret off an old battle ship!
Behind the hut, head 300m west up the broad ridge, before skiing down into the Hoyos Sengros. A short skin south leads to another col and 2 further short descents and climbs, traversing east around Madejuno to the Col de Casares (2374m). The final climb to this col gets progressively steeper and it's sometimes easier to boot track the last section.
The views from this point are stupendous, as is the descent which heads south down lovely spring snow slopes into the Hoyo del Sedo, before skirting east to the final 200m climb up to Pico Padierna (2319m). Usually you need to walk the final section to the summit on foot, which is often quite icy, so (as with all tours in the Picos) both harscheisen and crampons must be carried.
1. Ski north down to the entrance of the Hoyo Oscuro, before turning right and skiing east down into the Canal de S Luis.
2. Turn right at the col and ski east down to Pt 2065m, then north to join the Canal de S Luis about half way down.
Both lines give plenty of different aspects to ski on, in order to make best use of snow conditions. At the bottom of the Canal de S Luis, traverse along the southern edge of Hoyos de Lloroza before heading back to El Cable.
Best tactics for an ascent: This is a tour that can be done throughout the winter, but late Feb to early April is a good time to visit. Keep an eye on the time, as there are several short ups and downs in the middle section, which means you need to be efficient at putting skins on and off etc in order to make the last lift (it's a very long walk down if you miss it!)
If pushed for time, from the Col de Casares you can traverse left (35dg slope for last 50m – take care) and cross a small col down into Hoyo Oscuro (30dg for the first 100m) and so shortcut to the Canal de S Luis - this misses out Padierna, but saves about an hour.
Take a look at the map and you'll see there are numerous other tours in the same area: eg straight out and back to Padierna for a shorter day, Torre Blanca, Pico Tesorero, allez retour down into Cimero etc etc.
What makes it so special: The Picos de Europa still retains an essential wildness that much of the Alps has lost due to development (seeing chamois and large birds of prey is a daily occurrence here, rather than a rarity) so it's my favourite mountain range in Europe. In summer there are limestone walls up to 700m high and caves and gorges a mile deep and in winter you can look out across the ocean from a summit climbed on skis, before enjoying a great descent followed by beers in a local Tapas Bar.
In the winter months, Al specialises in ski touring and ski mountaineering throughout Europe and further afield. In the summer he works in the Alps and runs up and down hills far too much whenever possible.
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