By far the most predominant geography where I live is the mountain that protects my town of Colindres, and the neighboring tourism beach town of Laredo, from the open Cantabrian Sea: Mount Buciero. Today I have yet another harrowing tale, not unlike the one from a few months ago, involving this salient landscape feature. Go have a glance at the introduction to that post to get a feel for the size and layout of this big green peninsular mountain.
For the ten long years that we have lived here, my wife and I have wanted to climb this mountain, and when we heard that there was a set of four hiking trails of varying difficulties, we were sure we wanted to try it. This past weekend, with our children in Extremadura with their grandparents, we invited my sister-in-law to come visit, and we decided to give the mountain hike a try.
The Blue Route, which circumnavigates the entire mountain, was listed as “Easy”, with a distance of 11 kilometers (6.84 miles) and a time of three hours, which we all felt pretty sure we could handle. I can walk for three hours, no problem! And I can totally go without water for three hours. Easy peasy!
Here is a PDF from which I copied that image. In fact, it would have been very good to have read that entire document before setting out, for reasons that will become clear shortly.
The hike begins by climbing the stairs to the old fort, which overlooks the tip of the peninsular Laredo beach.
The weather was gorgeous.
It didn’t take long before we had climbed to a considerable altitude above the water.
Soon, we had rounded the corner to where we could look down upon the mountains most prominent feature, which will, in another million years or so, probably become an independent seastack.
Selfie time! Feeling proud. Unaware of the doom lurking around the next bend…
My sister-in-law is a fan of the back-of-the-head genre of travel photography. I can see its charm.
We prefer to show our faces.
“Ooh, what’s down there?”
The views through the foliage were breathtakingly blue.
Much of the hike was through the cool dense forest.
El Faro del Caballo – The Horse Lighthouse
When I did my boat tour around the mountain, the point at which we turned around was at the Horse Lighthouse. I remember seeing that there were stairs down to the lighthouse, and being surprised to see someone running down them.
At this point in the hike, we were presented with a sign pointing to the right to the lighthouse. We went to investigate to look down to the lighthouse, but there was no line of sight. What there was, was another sign.
We were feeling good, and it had taken us a decade to get out to the mountain, so if we were ever going to go down to the lighthouse, now was the time. Plus, there was a big group of people who had gone ahead of us, so it couldn’t be that bad. As we were deciding, ten 14-year-olds ran by us towards the lighthouse. “We don’t have to go down all the stairs…just enough to take a photo and we’ll come back. How bad can it be?”
None of the photos we took really capture just how steep these steps were.
There was a steel cable running along the side of the stairs. That was all there was to hold on to. The whole time, we were keenly aware that any little slip, by us or anyone above us on the staircase, would mean a really bad rocky tumble and a helicopter rescue to the hospital. We would learn the day after that a Belgian teen had such a fall a few months ago and was, in fact, taken away in a helicopter.
“Are we there, yet?” It only took about thirty steps before my calves began to ache. At no time during the descent was there any view of the lighthouse.
After what seemed like an endless calf-muscle-destroying plunge towards sea level, we finally arrived to the little lighthouse.
“Hello, down there!”
The views down the rocky clifflike were gorgeous. That’s a kayaker in the water.
Looking north, out towards sea. I can see how having a lighthouse to warn about the rocks might have been a good idea.
Down even more steps, we saw all the youngsters who had come with a specific activity in mind: swinging off a rope into the cool emerald water. I later found a video online showing what total fun this must be.
Soon, there was only one thing to do…
Back up the stairs!
There were helpful notes along the way telling you how many Stairs of Misery you had left in your future.
Sis-in-law, happy that she made it to the halfway point.
One thing became exceedingly clear.
HOLY CRAP, ARE WE OUT OF SHAPE!
My heart rate monitor got up to 185 bpm on the half-dozen occasions when I had no option but to stop and rest, and never dropped below 150 bpm on the whole ascent. The CDC estimates 181 bpm as the maximum heart rate for my age.
Stair selfie of the three of us approaching the top.
Maybe 100 steps before reaching the top, an older gentleman sped by us, literally running down the stairs. Just after we reached the top, he came back up. I asked him, “You’re back already? How far down did you go?” Before I could catch my breath again from asking the question, he said, breathing totally normally, “All the way down.” When we expressed disbelief, he explained that he does it 3-4 times a week, and, while he’s not the slowest of a club that does it regularly, he’s not the fastest, either. He said he was 63-years-old, and I think my face has more wrinkles. Both of the women I was with later commented on how attractive he was. I’m pretty sure his heart is twice the size of mine. Humans are amazing!
The stairs in my house are not nearly as steep as the ones going down to the lighthouse, and there are sixteen stairs to go from one floor to the next. So, if we adjust a bit for added steepness, our jaunt down to the lighthouse works out to the equivalent of walking down and back up 50 floors.
So far, we had only walked 4 kilometers of the 11 kilometer blue route, and we had to decide what to do, to go back or to continue around. We asked another hiker, who hikes the mountain often, and he told us that the rest of the path forward was less rocky and easier to traverse than going back the way we had come, so we took his advice and continued around our counterclockwise route around the mountain.
The color of the water through the trees was positively tropical.
The rest of the journey was not nearly as easy as our mountain friend had made it out to be. There were some wet muddy slopes that were quite dangerous, but we made it, even as our leg muscles were screaming at us.
The mountain’s other lighthouse. No path to get to it, and definitely no interest in going there. This lighthouse, however, has a road going to it, so the rest of the journey was on asphalt, which was a very welcome surface.
At this point, I could already taste the cold beer I was fantasizing about at the end of the journey.
More gorgeous coastline.
Eventually, we could see Playa Berria and signs of civilization.
We stopped at the first bar we came to and ordered three glasses of water and three beers. Mine didn’t last very long.
If we had had the PDF that I linked to above, with this lovely altitude chart of the route, we might have seen the leg-demolishing feature of the route and avoided it. Or maybe not…
We stopped for a few tapas on the way to the car.
We were very worried about how crippling our cramps would be the following day, and, while we are definitely in pain, we can all still walk. Although going down stairs is pretty painful. And my calves seem to be twice as big as before.
In the end, it was a wonderful day out, and, although we suffered at times, we’re glad and proud that we walked around the beautiful landmark that is Mount Buciero.