Hikers look for parks and natural spaces to explore wherever they go – and we are no exception. Pulling out the map, we spied Urkiola Natural Park, in the heart of Basque Country just south of Durango in northern Spain. A quick internet search unearthed hiking options worth investigating.
The road winds up and up and up from Durango to Urkiola Pass.
Driving past the imposing Urkiola Sanctuary shrouded in fog, we parked and began the gentle uphill climb into the heart of the park.From the Sanctuary, it is easy to follow the signposts indicating the route to go up Mount Urkiolagirre.
The fog slowly lifted. Wire fences separate herds of belled livestock. The path climbs gently up the verdant pasture land.
It takes about half an hour to reach the small summit of Urkiolagirre, where photogenic Basque ponies demand to be photographed. Look for the orientation table with the names of some of Urkiola’s limestone peaks and other notable points of interest.
The way down from the peak leads to the Asuntze col, with the Pol-Pol spring and its reddish waters. There are several well-marked paths from the col. A signpost lists various trail options. We chose to head up to Larrano.
It took less than half an hour to climb up to the Larrano col. Here stone herder cabins and the tiny Santa Barbara Chapel capture the imagination.
This lush, grassy pass overlooking the town of Durango would be a good place to stop, but the rocky series of small summits to the southeast were calling our names.
Up and up and up – the trail winds to the first summit
There isn’t a readily identifiable trail. We headed up, following a fence line and animal trails and then funnelling into a rocky access point where a more obvious route appeared.
A short scramble and we summited the first small peak with stunning views of the countryside. Hiking options in northern Spain are endless. Urkiola Natural Park is only one of the hidden gems in this region.
Have you hiked in northern Spain? What gems have you uncovered?
When You Go:
Read more about the Hiking Routes through Urkiola Natural Park here.
Share the post "Exploring Northern Spain: Hiking Urkiola"
Zipping up close to 700 metres (2300 feet) without breaking a sweat sounds like heaven. Indeed, the cable car at Fuente Dé is a little slice of bliss. Exploring the hiking trails of Picos de Europa in Northern Spain just got a whole lot easier!
The Southeastern Side of Picos de Europa
There are places that make your heart sing. Picos de Europa is one of those places. From Arenas de Cabrales, we moved southeast to Potes to continue our exploration of Picos from Fuente Dé.
It is an easy half hour drive from Potes up to Fuente Dé. The rugged stone wall at the end of the valley draws eyes away from the cable car – or teléforico – passing overhead.
We couldn’t help snapping a few pics before heading over to the terminal for the ride up into the still partially snow-covered alpine. The cable car has been hauling people up the mountainside since the 1960s.
Hiking around Fuente Dé
Mere minutes after boarding, we are standing at the cable car summit. Packs on backs, light hikers laced tight on eager feet and we’re off.
Within 20 minutes there are no crowds and only a few other people working their way through lingering patches of snow.
We took route PR24 in a clockwise direction. The trail climbs up to a pass before heading down the other side to a red-roofed refugio (closed until summer).
From the refugio, we took a short detour up onto a rise in search of the elusive chamois.
And wouldn’t you know it, we saw one!
We climbed back up to the route, past Hotel Áliva (again, closed for the season) and down towards an old church.
The Virgen de la Salud Puerto de Aliva stands out in the meadows like a beacon to all who wander nearby.
Heading Down from the Alpine
From here the trail joins up with a gravel road for a short distance as it descends back down toward Espinama.
We pass an historic fountain before descending into a thick oak forest. Towards the end of the hike, the trail surface became a bit of a mud bog in early May.
The sight of the cable car at Fuente Dé looked even sweeter than it did on our initial approach. What a hike!
Trail PR 24 – over and out.
If You Go:
The cable car at Fuente Dé cost 11 Euros each on our visit.
The circular route following PR 24 – including countless detours and an extended picnic time – took us 6 ½ hours. Total distance was 16.8 kilometres (10.4 miles).
Share the post "Exploring Northern Spain: Fuente De"
More than 500 workers carved over 70 tunnels to carry water from Cain to Poncebos for a hydroelectric project. The project started in 1915 and was finished in 1921. Eleven workers died. Of course we didn’t know any of this when we started out. All we knew is that we were going to hike into the famous Cares Gorge, in Picos de Europa, Spain.
The Spectacular Gorge
The Cares Gorge (Garganta del Cares) is a cleft running through the heart of the Picos de Europa mountain range. Carved by the Cares River, this massive rift reaches more than 1000 metres (3300 feet) deep in places. It stretches 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) in length.
Portions of the Cares River were diverted in the early 1900s for a hydroelectric power. Some of the water from the Cares flows through a canal that is built into the mountainside. The maintenance path for the canal is now an extremely popular hiking path through Cares Gorge.
It is possible to do the hike in either direction. Because we based out of Arenas de Cabrales, we started at Poncebos. The six kilometre (3.7 mile) drive snakes high into the mountains. After one false start, parking too early and crossing over the canal before the bridge and tunnel, we found the trailhead.
It is a steep, rocky climb up to the pass. Near the summit, old stone buildings speak to another life. It is also here that the first signs of the canal appear. At the summit, interpretive signs tell the story of the canal’s construction. Who knew?
Down, down, down – the path levels off as it hugs the cliff above, below and on top of the leaky canal. Stone retaining walls and short tunnels help maintain the grade. We catch occasional glimpses of the fast-flowing, blue Cares River far below. There are numerous side trails – goat tracks for the most part – veering off down into the canyon. The views continue to make us stop again and again for photo after photo.
Should you consider doing even a portion of this walk if in northern Spain?
Without a doubt!
Tips for Hiking the Cares Gorge
Be prepared for hundreds of people if on a weekend.
There are no washrooms or trash cans along the route, use Leave No Trace principles.
Sporadic signposts help mark distances.
Weather can change without warning, pack an umbrella and windcoat.
Don’t forget your camera.
To get to the trailhead, take route AS-264 to Poncebos from Arenas de Cabrales. Drive across the bridge and through the tunnel and watch for the sign “Funicular de Bulnes.” Take the right fork of the road here and continue uphill to the gate and trailhead.
Get a hiking guidebook:
Share the post "Exploring Northern Spain: Cares Gorge"
For me, the thought of travel to northern Spain was always about hiking the Camino de Santiago. That was always the goal. While it’s good to have a goal, some trips have a way of morphing from an original idea to something even better than you could imagine. Discovering Picos de Europa took our exploration of northern Spain in a different direction.
Ideas and a Different Reality
It all started with the Camino de Santiago. If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen, you’ve seen portions of this historic route. I’ve had a guidebook and map on my bookshelf for years. It’s on the list to do eventually, but…
The reality is that the Camino wanders not only along forest and mountain paths, but across vast stretches of farmland, through towns and along sections of roadway across northern Spain. It is a long and winding path. Furthermore, the section we were considering ran some 750 kilometres (465 miles) from St Jean Pied de Port in France through the Basque Pyrenees, across the plains and on to Santiago de Compostela. Check out A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago if you’d like to to learn more.
The more we researched, the less it sounded like a trek we could realistically do with only one month of holidays and a host other “must-sees” on the list.
Flipping through the The Rough Guide to Spain, we stumbled across Picos de Europa – a small mountainous region in Asturias and Cantabria. A couple quick keystrokes and we were looking at pictures of rugged and snow-capped limestone peaks and deep river gorges. Without a doubt, we knew Picos de Europa was our kind of place. In addition, we discovered that Cantabria was also home to one of the best collections of cave paintings in Europe. Our path was set.
Picos de Europa
Spain’s oldest national park (est. 1918) is located about a seven-hour drive north of Madrid. The area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. The region’s lush meadows, forests and alpine pastures have been farmed for the past 5,000 years.
Picos de Europa straddles three provinces in northern Spain: Asturias, Cantabria and León. The peaks rise up just 20 kilometres (12 ½ miles) inland of Spain’s northern coast. It is home to such endangered species as the Cantabrian brown bear, the Iberian lynx and the Cantabrian chamoix.
The mountain range itself is relatively small, stretching only about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east to west and 20 kilometres (12 ½ miles) north to south, but it rises like a steep barricade. As a result, the roads wind through narrow valleys and it takes more than you’d think to get from one section to another. None of the main roads cut through the centre of the massif, so we decided to base out of Arenas de Cabrales for our first foray into Picos de Europa.
If You Go:
Picos de Europa is about a seven-hour drive north of Madrid. Flying into Santander and renting a car might be a good idea if short on time. More information about Picos de Europa can be found online from the Tourism Office of Spain.
Next up: Hiking Cares Gorge
Share the post "Picos de Europa: Spain’s First National Park"
Posted in one of the cooking shelters at Sheep Camp, we found a sheet of paper with historic packing list suggestions for men and women planning to hike the Chilkoot Trail through Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon.
Read the lists below and – after you research to learn that oakum is tarred fibre used to plug cracks, that mackinaw is a water-repellent woolen cloth and you stop laughing at the fact that women were advised to bring both house and knitted slippers – you will appreciate why the Chilkoot Trail became the world’s longest museum of discarded gear!
Gear for Men – as listed by Pierre Berton in his book, Klondike, p. 245
Three suits of heavy underwear
A mackinaw suit
Two pairs of mackinaw trousers
A heavy rubber-lined coat
A dozen pairs of wool socks
Half a dozen pairs of mittens
Two over shirts
Two pairs of snag-proof rubber boots
Two pairs of shoes
Two pairs of blankets
Two pairs of overall
A suit of oilskin clothing
Five yards of mosquito netting
400 lbs flour
50 lbs cornmeal
50 lbs oatmeal
35 lbs rice
100 lbs beans
40 lbs candles
100 lbs granulated sugar
8 lbs baking powder
200 lbs bacon
2 lbs soda
36 yeast cakes
15 lbs salt
1 lb pepper
½ lb mustard
¼ lb ginger
25 lbs evaporated apples
25 lbs evaporated peaches
25 lbs evaporated apricots
25 lbs fish
10 lbs pitted plums
50 lbs evaporated onions
50 lbs evaporated potatoes
24 lbs coffee
5 lbs tea
4 dozen tins condensed milk
5 bars laundry soap
60 boxes matches
15 lbs soup vegetables
25 cans butter
In addition, one must bring these items: steel stove, gold pan, three nest of granite buckets, a cup, plate, knife, fork, two spoons, two frying pans, coffeepot, pick, hand saw, whipsaw, whetstone, hatchet, two shovels, three files, draw-knife, axe, three chisels, twenty pounds of nails, butcher knife, hammer, compass, jackplane, square, Yukon sled, two hundred feet of rope, fifteen pounds of pitch, ten pounds of oakum, and a canvas tent.
Gear for Women – as suggested by Annie Hall Strong in The Skagway News on December 31, 1897
1 pair house slippers
1 pair knitted slippers
1 pair heavy-soled walking shoes
1 pair arctics
1 pair felt boots
1 pair German socks
1 pair heavy gum boots
3 heavy all-wool stockings
3 pair summer stockings
2 pair summer stockings
Moccasins can be purchased here of the Indians. The tall bicycle shoe with extra sole would make an excellent walking shoe. In the way of wearing apparel, a woman can comfortably get along with:
1 good dress
1 suit heavy Mackinaw, waist and bloomers
1 summer suit
3 short skirts of heavy duck or denim, to wear over bloomers
3 suits winter underwear
3 suits summer underwear
1 chamois undervest
1 long sack nightdress, make of eiderdown or flannel
1 cotton nightdress
2 pair arctic mittens
1 pair heavy wool gloves
1 arctic hood
1 hat with brim broad enough to hold the mosquito-netting away from the face
1 summer dress
some sort of gloves for summer wear; to protect hands from mosquitoes
1 piece of canvas, 5 ft x 14 ft
1 rubber blanket
2 pair, better 4 pair, all wool blankets
1 feather pillow
A ready-sewed tick will be very nice to have, for it can be filled with dried moss and makes a good pioneer mattress.
“An old miner would no doubt laugh me to scorn for suggesting a little satchel or handbag, but the comfort derived from the hundred and one little extras a woman can deftly stow away in it will doubly repay the bother of carrying it.” – Annie Hall Strong
Yup, I always take a little handbag… of course mine is called a backpack.
Overloaded and frantic to reach the goldfields near Dawson City in the Yukon, Canada, the stampeders of 1897-98 abandoned much of their gear along the Chilkoot Trail – especially during the first 41 km (26 mi) of the trail from Dyea, Alaska to Lindeman Lake, British Columbia.
Time and nature have had a lot of time to remove all traces of this crazy rush. Will there be much left to discover as we wander along the stampeders trail close to 120 years later?
They Called Them Cheechakos
Many of goldseekers taking the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea to Lindeman Lake and beyond were ill-prepared. They struggled get themselves and their gear up the trail, over Chllkoot Pass and down to Lindeman Lake where they could build a boat to go a little further. Old-timers called them Cheechakos. Cheechako is a Tlingit word for greenhorn.
Each stampeder was required to haul one ton of goods up to the scales at Chilkoot Pass. It took the average stampeder three to four weeks to pack his goods from the water’s edge at Dyea to shores of Lake Lindeman.
Interpretive signs warn that “your load may be lighter, but you face some of the same hazards. Weather can be extreme, especially on Chilkoot Pass. Start this hike only if prepared for severe conditions.”
In 1897, Pat Finnegan and his two sons established a ferry service. They later built a corduroy road – a road made of tree trunks laid down side by side – through the boggy areas approaching the Point and operated it as a toll road.
In the summer, this point eight kilometres (5 miles) from Dyea was the northern terminus of the wagon road. In the winter, stampeders could pull their sleds up the frozen riverbed. Finnegan’s Point was a convenient place to cache their gear and go back for another load. Our loads were lighter and we weren’t ready to stop for the night. We continued down the muddy trail to Canyon City.
Hundreds of tents crowded this ravine in 1897. It was the first major stop for most stampeders. Canyon City was a good place to cache goods before the steep climb out of the canyon. By spring 1898, two freight companies were building power houses for aerial tramways and stripping hillside to fuel boilers and build log houses.
Within a year Canyon City would vanish. Before heading on to Sheep Camp, we took the spur trail across the swinging bridge to see signs remaining from the site of all the 1897 action. Rusted chunks of metal, pieces of glass bottles, decaying cabin logs and the rusting hulk of a boiler were found.
This tramway – which only ran during the last few months of the gold rush – was powered by the 50-horsepower steam boiler that was too heavy to take out when Canyon City died out. If you could afford the 7 ½ cents per pound freight charge, you could send your supplies over Chilkoot Pass via a tram. Most stampeders had to carry their loads from cache to cache.
Tripping Along From Pleasant Camp to Sheep Camp
The trail from Canyon City to Pleasant Camp was described by one stampeder as “the worst piece of trail on the route, fairly muddy, with many boulders and with some short, steep ascents and descents in and out of small gulches.” For us, it was a little less muddy than the first day’s slog, but it did climb!
From Pleasant to Sheep – it was a transition from rock to muddy puddles for our crew.
Sheep Camp to the Scales to the Pass
The tramways that carried the wealthier stampeders’ supplies from Canyon City to Crater Lake paralleled the stream of men who had to shuttle loads on their backs. The brush has long since grown back around Sheep Camp, probably hiding a wealth of discarded supplies, but the occasional piece of rusted metal can still be seen. Tumbled piles of wood – the remains of the tram towers – can still be spotted on the hillsides.
A distinct change comes about at the scales near the foot of the climb up to Chilkoot Pass. It was here that stampeders re-weighed their goods. Professional packers could be hired to carry loads up to the pass, but they would sometimes charge up to a dollar a pound. Every ounce made a difference. As a result, the area became littered with excess gear.
It took forty, 50-pound trips to carry the required ton of goods to the top of the pass. Climb up, unload, slide back down, reload, and wait. At times it took up to half an hour to break into the human chain of stampeders inching their way up the slope. With our single loads, most weighing under 50 pounds, it seemed relatively easy to pick our way through the boulder field to the summit.
After the pass and the final tram station above Crater Lake, the flotsam and jetsam of the goldrush era dwindles. The downhill leg of the journey on the Canadian side of the pass was little less punishing that the climb up.
It’s Canada’s 150th in 2017. What better time to celebrate our country’s past than now?
British Columbia’s Mount Robson is a blast to my past.
Many years ago – who’s counting? – I spent a summer working on a youth crew in Mount Robson Provincial Park, B.C.. We did a little trail work and hiked a lot. We sang along with the soundtrack from “Grease“, packed external frame packs badly, jogged down for morning polar bear dips in Moose Lake and became park advocates and history buffs.
What’s in a Name?
Mount Robson Provincial Park is the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system (formed two years after Strathcona Provincial Park). The park was named for the peak. Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres (12,972 feet).
Until the arrival of European trappers and explorers, the peak was known as “Yuh-hai-has-kun” or the “Mountain of the Spiral Road” – a name given to it by the Texqakallt, the earliest known inhabitants of the upper reaches of the Fraser River. The named refers to the mountain’s many layered appearance.
How it came to be named “Mount Robson” is a little vague. In the earlier part of the 19th century, the North West Company sent hunters and trappers into this same area. One of these people was Colin Robertson, who worked for both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Robertson camped near the peak in about 1815. This spot became the campsite for subsequent hunting parties and the peak was named – or sort of named – after him.
Fur trader George McDougall is credited with the first written reference in his journal. He called the peak “Mt. Robinson” in his journal in 1827. Explorers crossing the Yellowhead Pass in 1863 referred to the peak in their journals as “Robson” and “Robson’s” Peak.
The first attempt to climb Mount Robson was in 1907, but it wasn’t until 1913 that W.W. Foster, and Albert H. McCarthy summited the peak with their guide, Conrad Kain.
More than just a big peak waiting to be conquered, Mount Robson Provincial Park is the headwaters of the mighty Fraser River. It borders the renowned Jasper National Park. Mount Robson Provincial Park is more than 100 years old. It was established on March 11, 1913. The park was designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.
History – you don’t always have to hike too far to find it, even in this relatively “young” country.
What is your favourite Canadian historic hike?
Share the post "Exploring the Past at Mount Robson Provincial Park"
“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”
Some historical journeys are shorter than others. Just off the highway near our home town, down a winding gravel road, is a piece of the past called Glenbow Ranch. In a meadow beside a river called the Bow is a weathered grey building. You can’t drive up to it. You have to purposefully travel down a path, back down in time, to a place that now only spirits call home. The ramshackle building, once a post office and school, is all that remains from a townsite that was home to 150 people in the early 1900s.
Visiting the Past
The closer you look at the site from a perch up on one of the hills at Glenbow Ranch, the more you see. Scanning the fescue grasslands it becomes easy to visualize herds of bison moving through as they grazed the prairie. Look closer and you’ll see tipi camps of the native tribes that depended on the bison for their survival. This land has a history dating back thousands, not just hundreds of years.
Settle in and you will see a change. The bison are gone and cattle from the historic Cochrane Ranche have taken their place. Move ahead slightly in time and watch as a ribbon of wood and steel is built through the valley bottom. By 1891, Glenbow became a water stop for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steam engines. Twelve years later, a CPR station would be be built here.
Becoming a Townsite
Take your gaze up on to the hillsides and you’ll see remnants of another era. In 1907, the sounds of quarrying rang out across the valley. Sandstone blocks, hewn from these hills were used in the construction of Alberta’s Legislature Building in Edmonton. A growing population meant a demand for a postal service and in 1909, the post office building was open for business.
When the quarry closed in 1912, a brick-making plant was opened and soon 100,000 bricks a day were being manufactured. The wooden frame of the post office building was originally painted green and then faced with brick. Glenbow bricks – still visible in a few of the older homes in the nearby town of Cochrane – were yellowy-orange to red in colour.
End of an Era
Unfortunately, these bricks tended to crumble easily over time and the brick plant had a short lifespan. In 1914, the brick-making plant was closed. The post office and store stayed in business in 1920 before shutting down forever. The last Glenbow residents moved away in 1927.
The property became part of Eric Harvie’s ranch in 1934. Glenbow Ranch remained a private ranch for over 70 years until the park was established.
Isn’t it amazing what you can see when you look back in time? Some historical journeys are shorter than others; some are found in our own backyards.
If You Go:
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, established in 2008, is one of Alberta’s newest parks. You can find a park map and directions online.
Share the post "A Journey Close to Home: Glenbow Ranch"
Some places pull you in because of their beauty; others grab your heart because of the sheer magnitude of the story they hold. Mountain Meadows in Utah is not necessarily the most stunning of settings, one of dozen of open fields in the southwest dotted with sagebrush and juniper trees, but its story is gripping.
We’re suckers for any roadside stop that lets us get out of the car and stretch our legs on longer road trips to a hiking or paddling destination. Cutting westward from St. George, Utah on our way to King’s Canyon, California, we saw the signs indicating an interpretive trail and couldn’t resist. A short path led uphill from the Mountain Meadows parking lot to an historic monument. Grabbing a quick veggie sandwich, we’re up the trail – and almost losing our lunch.
In 1857, a wagon train travelling from Arkansas to California on the Old Spanish Trail was attacked and laid siege by a party of Mormon militia and Native Americans. Fifteen of the emigrants were killed over the course of the next five days. On September 11th, the emigrants were convinced to give up their stronghold in return for safe passage to Cedar City, Utah.
It was a ruse. Less than a mile away, guns were pulled and 14 men, 12 women, and 35 emigrant children were killed. An additional 35 unidentified people lost their lives as well as nine cattle drivers. Once the massacre was over, 17 children under the age of seven remained alive. They were eventually returned to Arkansas. Sometimes history isn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
“Only he that has travelled knows where the holes are deep.”
– Chinese Proverb
Visitor information centres are our best friends. “Where can we go hiking?” It’s our standard refrain. And when they give us an option like McElmo Canyon, just southwest of Cortez, Colorado – we jump for joy.
Anasazi – okay, I know the term is no longer vogue, that technically I should be writing Ancestral Puebloan, but I love the way one rolls off my tongue and hate the way the other gets stuck in my craw – cliff dwellings on a bright blue day. What more could we ask for?
To reach the McElmo Canyon trailhead, we went south from Cortez on Hwy 491 and then headed west towards Hovenweep National Monument. The trailhead was nothing more than a pullout on the road – with a big sign saying “Canyons of the Ancients.” There are scattered remnants of ruins right off the parking area on Castle Rock – but proximity to the road has made these targets for vandalism. The resulting piles of rubble are not exactly inspiring. Hiking up the canyon a few miles leads to small, but spectacular, cliffside ruins.
Even without the ruins, the landscape is worth journey – because you never know what you might see along the way!
Although it is possible to continue six-and-a-half miles (one way) to Sand Canyon Pueblo, we opted for a shorter return hike. Next time we’ll take more time and go further afield. The monument has over 6000 sites – up to 100 per square mile in some areas. Who knew that Canyons of the Ancients had so much to offer?
If You Go:
For more information, visit the Bureau of Land Management website.
Share the post "Canyons of the Ancients National Monument"