Naranjo de BulnesThe Naranjo de Bulnes, literally the ‘Orange of Bulnes’, had acquired a somewhat legendary status amongst our trekking group. It’s Asturian name is Picu Urriello, and it is one of the best known sights of the Picos de Europa mountain range in Northern Spain– a huge monolith of limestone rock, towering over the tiny isolated mountain village of Bulnes.

There are many view points from which to appreciate it, but thanks to several days of rain and low cloud, we hadn’t yet had so much of a glimpse. But that was to change today, or so we hoped…

The day had started off clear and sunny, so we bundled our packs into our tour leader, Juan’s, four wheel drive and started climbing the rough zig zag path to the Pandebano Col, which was to be the starting point for our quest. Abandoning the car, we leapt out and walked uphill through green meadows, noticing with some consternation that the cloud had already started to hide the tops of the mountains surrounding us, begrudgingly allowing the sun to shine through from time to time to spotlight the valley far below.

Approaching the viewpoint

The Pandebano Col

The trail passes by a collection of shepherds huts and the small refuge of Terenosa before gradually contouring the hillside to reach a rocky window where we hoped to catch our first sight of our peak. We were out of luck. The mist had reached it before us and hidden it. Just as we resigned ourselves to another tough climb with no view, I noticed that the mist had started to thin, and I could just make out a dark shape slowly emerging from the mountain range in front of us. As we watched, entranced, the clouds gracefully parted, like theatre curtains on a stage, to reveal the main act- the huge tower of The Naranjo in all its rocky glory.

Our first sight of the peak

Our first sight of the peak

It was a truly magical moment that had us all reaching for our cameras and lingering to gaze as long as possible in case it disappeared just as suddenly, but Juan reminded us that we had not yet reached our destination. Cameras safely stowed away, we carried on along the rocky path, slowly climbing through increasingly large, deep patches of snow. Vultures circled overhead, drifting lazily on the thermals. As we climbed, we passed between enormous boulders resting at crazy angles like giant discarded gaming pieces. Each one must have weighed several tonnes; it looked for all the world like some vast play room of the gods.

Now we had reached the snow line, and one false step could see our feet plunging through the rather slushy snow into nothingness, so we needed to concentrate on placing our feet into the footsteps of those who had gone before and kicking toes well in for traction. Step by step, into the cloud, trekking poles in both hands for balance, edging ever closer to the now invisible Naranjo de Bulnes, feeling my feet become wetter and wetter thanks to the osmosis of the snow through my ancient fabric boots, it felt like a true adventure in high mountain country.

Me in front of the Naranjo de Bulnes

Me in front of the Naranjo de Bulnes

After a couple of hours my legs were burning, my lungs were heaving and despite the snow I was sweating beneath the three layers I was wearing. Eventually the walking became easier. The path levelled and suddenly a brick wall loomed out of the mist in front of me as I realised we had reached our destination- the Refuge Vega de Urrielu, where a burning stove and steaming mugs of hot chocolate were waiting for us. Snow drifts nearly as high as the top of the windows shut out most of the natural light as we munched our packed lunch and tried to dry out wet socks as best we could.

Warmed and well fed, we left the refuge, turning our backs to the hidden peak, and retraced our steps down through the snow; back to the lush grasses of the Pandebano Col and coffee, grateful that we had been permitted a glimpse, albeit brief, of this iconic mountain.

We started our trek from the Pandebano Col, where there is space for parking. Walking to the refuge Vega de Uriellu is quite a demanding trek. It involves an ascent of around 800 metres along a path that is rough and rocky in parts so boots are a must. Poles may also be beneficial, especially as there is likely to be snow early or late season. We used the same path for the descent, but if you are not reliant on getting back to transport at Pandebano then there is an alternate descent down to Bulnes.

Terenosa Refuge, Pandebano

Terenosa Refuge, Pandebano

The Terenosa refuge is open from May to October and has accomodation- (+34) 985 252 362

The Vega de Uriellu refuge is open all year round and has 96 bunks – (+34) 985 925 200. Food and drinks are available at both refuges.

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