Going down from the highest streches of the course of the Cares river means going deeply into a limestone gorge of genuine dizzyness which begins in the municipality of Cabrales. Nature here shows its most secret beauty.
Surrounded by an unexpected path, the almost vertical slopes of the Peaks of Europe seem close to every human being and also close enough to enjoy the mountain and its valleys.
The path that follows the gorge of Cares river is the most spectacular route for mountain walks and it is the best known in the Principado of Asturias. Without any doubt, this is the best known of the Peaks of Europe, and according to several statistics this is also the mountain route most used in Spain. This is perhaps the most attractive point for nature lovers from all over the world. It shares its beauty with an easy access so, for that reason, more than 200,000 people visit it each year. This statistic also points to something that must be taken into account,- it is not advisible to do the route in August, or summer weekends, due to the fact that sometimes, in this season, the route is overcrowded. Choosing another date is much better if we want to get closer to the mountain. The best clothes to wear are trainers or comfortable walking shoes, and a rucksack with the most useful things (a raincoat, in case it rains). The route can be done at any time from may to october, the only thing is to choose a suitable day to set out.
As well, we should know some of the historical details, that help us to understand this long stretch of many kilometres that cross the mountain in such exciting way, because we may wonder who first did this and why. The first journey across Cares was made by well known English mountaniers such as Abel Chapman and Walter J. Buck together with the Marquis of Villaviciosa, Pedro Pidal (the first man who climbed the top Naranjo de Bulnes). This route did not become popular until the begining of the last century after changes were made in order to make the route accessible to many people.
The oldest known route had at first a slightly different course to that of today. To begin with it had only a pastoral use and not until 1916 did things start to change. This was when the path was used by operators from the Electra company of Viesgo. They were able to keep a channel of water running. This channel was used by diverting part of the Cares river for hydroelectric purposes in the centre of Camarmeña. The construction of this electric centre was combined with a minimal widening of a path with continuous ups and downs, from Caín’s dam to Camarmeña. Then, the distance between Poncebos and Caín took around seven hours. Later, the new path was used to transport the agricultural products from Ca’n to the markets of Cabrales, and only in the 40’s or 50’s today’s path was built to improve maintenance of the channel. The route was first opened with picks and dynamite. In recent decades some streches have been improved in order to make sure of a route with no risks.
As the time went by the route became a central point for tourism. Currently, it is one of the cardinal points of the Peaks of Europe for any mountain lover. It is also known as la Garganta Divina, due to its spectacular beauty and its wonderful sights for the workers along the twelve kilometres that mark the division between the Occidental Massif of the Peaks, or Cornión and the Central Massif, also called Urrieles. If we look up we will see the Cares route as the starting point of many channels that follow the strong overhangs of both the massifs that divide it. The channel of Mesones to the West or the Dobresengros to the centre both are clear examples of this. In addition, the top of the Peaks and Torre Cerredo, both fall vertically over Cares river, leaving a beautiful shape to the canyon.
Cares Route.This route for the mountain walk starts in the Central Massif of the Peaks of Europe, between the provinces of Asturias and León. The true Cares route starts in Poncebos (Asturias) and ends in Posada de Valdeón (León) or vice versa but due to its length, 21 kilometres, it can only be done if a car is waiting at the end of the walk. Currently, SNP Travels (985 846 455) has its main office in Arenas de Cabrales and it is in charge of bringing the walkers to Poncebos and waiting for them in Caín with a 4×4 which takes them on adventure through the valleys of Valdeón and Liébana. Also Alsa has buses which offer trips to Poncebos and Posada de Valdeón. To check timetables please call: (902 42 22 42).
From Posada of Valdeón it would take around 5 or 6 hours to arrive at Poncebos. Once through the town the travellers follow the road to Cordiñanes. Afterwards they pass through the town and they find the Mirador of Tombo, where they find an emblematic sculpture of one of the best known species of the Peaks, the chamois. The road is parallel to Cares river, and later passing the Chorco of the Lobos, they cross the grazing areas of the Corona, before the town of the Caín. Crossing the bridge over the dam they pass Caín, here the path starts to narrow due to the presence of the walls of both massifs, forming a true gorge. Several excavated channels in the rocks lead towards the bridge of Rebecos and the bridge of Bolín, from here one can see the course of Cares river in the depths of the gorge. Following the path and leaving behind the little grazing grounds of Culiembro, from which part of the channel takes its name, and going up to the top the travellers stay on the pastures of Ostón, in the massif of Cornión. Here the path goes round the edge of the river and, after a light descent, they are close to the end of the route in Poncebos.
From Poncebos to Caín.
This is the usual itinerary to follow. There are twelve kilometres there and back. The time it takes is more or less similar to the time from Posada of Valdeón, but in this last case one does not have the inconvenience of waiting for a vehicle at the arrival point. One can park their car in Poncebos and go back for it after returning from Caín. The route takes more or less 3 or 4 hours from the begining to end, and the same time returning. The route is not difficult and the grade is around 700 metres. A few metres after the town of Poncebos, the road becomes a gravel racetrack, and a sign indicates the beginning of the walk to Cares. On it is also written “Caín 3 hours, Posada de Valdeón 6 hours”. The first 2,5 kilometres are the hardest. There is also a certain descent before reaching the ruins of a house and a tree (whose shadow is the first seen for many metres). A bit later, one gets to Los Collados, this is the point where there is a light descent. Later one finds a path carved out of rock near the channel. From this point there is no descent. After five kilometres one reaches la majada de Culiembro where there is a channel of the same name that ascends towards the passes of Ostón. Walking down one realizes that the height goes up in respect to the river. After this the travellers gets to the bridge of Bolín, where he crosses the river at a great height. Later one returns to cross it over the bridge of Los Rebecos. At last, one goes through a channel with large windows excavated on the rock. This is the narrowest point of the trip. After that one arrives at the dam of Caín, where the valley starts to open and from here one can see the houses of the inhabitants of León.
Information of interestSome practical advice:
· It is advisable to bring water and comfortable shoes; in summer must be careful with the sun. Remember that the canal water is not potable.
· Do not forget the camera because the views are really spectacular.
· To reach Poncebos we turn on the AS-114 passing through Arenas de Cabrales. There is clear signage.