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The massif of Alto (High) Carrión is a vast mountain area that stands to the south of Picos de Europa, on the junction of León, Palencia and Cantabria provinces. It takes name from the River Carrión, that have its source in this mountains and flow to the south through Castilla. Peña Prieta (Tough Rock) is the maximum height in the massif, setting up with Espigüete and Curavacas a prestigious trilogy that rivals the most famous summits of Picos de Europa. Here, the Cantabrian mountains reach the higher altitude outside Picos de Europa, with a lot of peaks above 2,200 meters. However, the most of it is the typical Cantabrian mountain: valleys covered with Atlantic forest, green meadows or bushes in the slopes and very wide and gentle crests. Only occasionally the limestone appears to do the terrain rough.
Espigüete is precisely one of those exceptions. It is made with the same limestone that Picos de Europa, which reappears in the south edge of Alto Carrión to build this huge rock. The structure of this mountain is simple: imagine an inverted boat, one thousand meters tall and with the keel oriented east to west. Its great prominence, nearly 500 meters, and its outstanding position to the south, make it very visible from a lot of peaks of the mountain range, and in logic reciprocity, Espigüete is a good viewpoint. Moreover, with the upper half of the peak of bare rock, there is a great alpine atmosphere and terrain suitable for climbs of medium difficulty and considerable height. Because all that, many people consider Espigüete the most interesting peak of the massif, despite it is only the third in altitude. In the following link, you can see an interactive 360º panoramic view from the summit.
Apart from the main summit, Espigüete has two secondary peaks with some importance: the Eastern Point (2,445 ms) and the North Needle (2,203). From the main ridge, six other ridges are projected, four to the south and two to the north, defining different faces and gullies of the mountain that, in turn, define the main routes of ascent. Espigüete is separated from the rest of the massif of Alto Carrión by Collado (Pass) of Mazobres, which is located in the westernmost ridge projected to the north; on the other side of that pass, the peaks Murcia (2,341) and Bildares (2,077), also called La Rasa, are the nearest main summits. The east and south slopes of Espigüete fall directly to the valleys of rivers Cardaño and Carrión, with altitudes between 1,200 and 1,300 meters.
On the name of this mountain, I can’t find too much information. The only theory I heard to explain it is that Espigüete can be a distortion of espiguete (without diaeresis), which in Spanish can be an adjective to describe something small and ear shaped (seen from the east, there is actually a resemblance). What we know with certainty is that in 1854, the Spanish geologist Casiano del Prado was the first person to be on Espigüete summit. Del Prado was a pioneer of mountaineering in Spain, who did also the first ascents of some summits in Picos de Europa, as known as Llambrión.
Shortly years later, this mountain called the attention of some illustrious foreigners, such as the English hispanist John Ormsby, well-known for his translation of Don Quixote and founding partner of the Alpine Club, who climbed Espigüete in 1872 and narrated the ascent in an article ("The Mountains of Spain", the first published report on an ascent to Espigüete) in the Alpine Journal. Another celebrity related with this mountain was the Compte de Saint-Saud, a famous French pyrineist (there is a peak named after him in the massif of Gourgs Blancs) and explorer of Picos de Europa in the late nineteenth century. He climbed to this summit by its most classical route, the north face gully, in 1892 and was also the first person to expend a nigth on the summit. The first ascent in winter was so late as in 1967 by a large Spanish team: Miguel Ruiz de Ausín, Ángel Ramos, Estanislao Aguado, Luis González, Ernesto Díez, Julio Maiquez and Lauro Vicente.
Regardless of the chosen route, the ideal base to climb Espigüete is Velilla del Rio Carrión, a village of about 1,500 inhabitants, where there are accommodations and some shops. Another option is Guardo, only 4 kms far away, that is the main town of Alto Carrión with 7,500 inhabitants and all kind of services.
To get Velilla del Rio Carrión, the better option is by car. Public transportation is not good in this area and the trailheads are all between 15 and 20 kms away. Velilla is 380 kms away from Madrid, 150 from Burgos, 250 from Bilbao or 400 from La Coruña. Anyway, you can find the most convenient route from your point of departure in the Michelin website.
There are three usual trailheads, depending on the ascent route. All the villages below are very small, sometimes semi-deserted, and with only some rural accomodations, not always open. The way to go from Velilla are:
- Cardaño de Abajo: Take the road P-210 for 21 kms, passing Otero de Guardo and Camporredondo de Alba.
- Pino Llano: Continue by P-210 after Cardaño de Abajo for 1km and turn left on the road to Cardaño de Arriba for 2.5 kms. Pino Llano is not a population but a junction of valleys where there is a parking place with a water fountain.
- Valverde de la Sierra: Take the road CL-615, passing Besande, for 14 kms and turn right on the CV-106-1.
Cartography of the area: IGN, MTN50 series, sheet 106 "Camporredondo de Alba", 1:50,000. You can download freely an old edition (1976) in.pdf format in this link to the IGN official web (Spanish government cartographic agency).
Espigüete is included in the Natural Reserve of Fuentes Carrionas. No permits are required but there are the usual restrictions in protected areas: no free camping nor campfire, nor plant or animal collection, mor to take pets without tying, etc.
Camping and Huts
Free camping is forbidden, as it's said before, but you can do a one-night vibouac.
There is a small free hut under the Northeast face, about 1,500 ms high. The building is in good condition and clean last time I was there. It has fireplace, table, benchs and space for about 12 people. Water can be taken from Arroyo Mazobres, which waterbed is 500 or 600 ms far away.
Most Common Routes
More than 20 routes have been described, with a variety of difficulties, in this mountain. Below, only the most used but there are many more.
From Cardaño de Abajo (elevation gain 1,150 ms.):
- South face, by La Pedrera. UIAA F (YDS 2nd class). 550 ms.
From Valverde de la Sierra (elevation gain 1,100 ms.):
- SW gully, by Collado Armada . UIAA F+ (YDS 3rd class). 500 ms.
- NW ridge, by Collado Mazobres. UIAA PD+ (YDS 5.3). 400 ms.
From Pino Llano (elevation gain 1,100 ms.):
- North face. UIAA PD (YDS 4th class), snow up to 50º. 500 ms.
- Northeast face. UIAA PD (YDS 4th class), snow up to 60º. 400 ms.
- Eastern ridge. UIAA PD- (YDS 3rd class). 1,100 ms.
When to Climb
All the year, with the following cares:
- Snow persists usually untill late may and can appear at any time between october and december. A strong snowfall persisting a few days is possible one month before or after that period.
- In summer, it can be very hot because gray limestone reflects the sunligth intensely.
- Routes in the north and northeast faces can be done in summer but they are better with snow, in winter or spring.
For a local, mountain focused, weather forecast, visit the website of AEMET (Spanish government weather agency).
There is a website exclusively devoted to Espigüete: www.espiguete.es, with a catalog of ascent routes (only some of them have a description available), a lot of photos, etc.
Mountain forum focused in Cordillera Cantábrica: www.foropicos.net.
Valverde de la Sierra has its own website: www.valverdedelasierra.com. It includes information about the village and some routes around.
Velilla del Río Carrión Town Hall official website: velilla.dip-palencia.es.
Guardo Town Hall official website: guardo.org.