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Cañones del Gógora

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Offline Dave

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« on: August 12, 2008, 18:32 PM »
Dear All
Exciting trip report, I am still recovering from.
For several years now I have driven up to Montealegre near Astorga in Leon province, going past a route called the Górgora, which is signposted as medium to high difficulty, 3 to 4 kms. With a time of 3 to 4 hours duration. To me it always seemed a short distance to take so long. This last weekend I was able to put it to the test. My brother in Law, Avelino, had arranged an excursion, up the Górgora, for a party of six, including a local guide, experienced in the walk, Gabriel, Avelno´s two sons, Avelino and Alfonso, Gavino a cousin and experienced hill walker, and two complete novices, my brother in law, Julio, and myself. I was not feeling exactly 100% as I had been suffering from sickness and diarrhea a couple of days previously, in the light of this I should perhaps have decided not to go.
We set out around 9:00 am and had breakfast in the local hostal, before Gabriel joined us. Of course everything started badly, as usual Avelino, had no intention of joining us, and had decided he would provide vehicular support in his Pajaro, with the intention of dropping us off for easier access to the `interesting´parts of the walk. We set up to meet him at the old mine, the start of the actual walk, beating him by several minutes, at this point we were told to wait, while he shot off up a camino forestal, with our guide, Gabriel. With the start of the walk beckoning, we decided to wait and see what he was up to. He reappeared after several minutes, without Gabriel, and told us to get on board, as he had decided we should do the walk in reverse, starting at the source of the river and walking down it. A few minutes later we were reunited with Gabriel, and dumped on top of a hill of some 1400 metres in altitude.
I will now explain a little of the two valleys that make up the Górgora Canyons. Two rivers starting at some 1200 metres, flow either side a bluff of rock, to meet a few kilometres, distance, and a few hundred metres below, this sounds simple, ascend the canyon wall and follow the river to its confluence, if only this had been so.
Nowhere in my genes is a trace of Mountain goat, or any other type of goat, I have little experience of ascending gorges, or any other type of mountaineering, I am reasonably fit if overweight, I normally do not suffer from vertigo or any type of phobia, this walk was about to change all that.
We were faced with a fairly vertical climb down, of some 200 to 300 metres, often walking narrow ledges, clinging to the rock face, sometimes, vertical slides, to reach the next ledge, to say I was nervous, would be an understatement, terrified would have been more accurate. On the way down, we came across the Cueva del Morro, apparently an old Roman gold mine, very interesting, but my mind was elsewhere. Eventually we reached the canyon floor, and I was looking forward to a nice riverside walk, before lunch, it was, however not to be. On the way down I had twisted my knee, nothing serious but walking down hill it felt a bit wobbly, the outcome of this would become apparent later.
We set out at a fairly brisk pace, and the walk although uneven was not difficult, until the true meaning of canyon, became apparent, cascade after cascade of water, in between sheer rock walls, the only way round, being either, straight over the rocks, or more often than not, clinging to narrow ledges, while supported by fingers in narrow crevices, i wa glad i was wearing brown trousers. Luckily the sheer walls soon gave way to more open river banks, the only problem being keeping our feet dry while we constantly crossed and recrossed the fast flowing stream.
The canyon is, in retrospect, very beautiful, with lots of ferns and trees, and ever present moss clinging to the rocks and trees. It was difficult to say if there were any birds, as the river was quite noisy, but after so many weeks of high temperatures, the coolness was a real treat.
Just as I was really starting to enjoy myself, reality came up and slapped me in the face, The river suddenly disappeared downhill, rapidly, with no chance of us following it, and Gabriel pointed out the only way to continue, straight up a 15 metre chimney, with rudimentary steps cut in the rock, and virtually no hand holds, apparently it was a question of bracing your arms across the gap and climbing the steps. I gallantly allowed the some of the party to precede me, so I could at least, get some idea how to proceed. I started up, and realized, my twisted knee could not support my weight. My first attempt took me up about 5 metres before my leg gave way and I slid back towards the rivers edge, before Avelino, my nephew, stopped me falling any further, a second attempt was no better, and I was getting a lot of nasty scrapes and bruises, despite encouragement from above, I could not climb anymore, as I was exhausted and in pain. Eventually Gabriel climbed back down, in a final attempt to get me up the chimney, but i had to admit defeat, and asked if there was an escape route, which luckily there was, and he agreed to take me out that way. The escape route, may have been a softer option, but it was by no means easy, as it entailed doubling back, and climbing back up the canyon sides, just a little further down from were we had descended. After traversing several scree slopes we eventually met up with a camino forestal, and set off to rendevous with the others. The mountain top was hot and arid, and with the network of caminos, even Gabriel, took his time to find the right route home. My leg felt like it was made of rubber, fine up hill and on the straight, but really wobbly going down hill. It took us around an hour to reach the rendezvous point, and while Gabriel went to meet the others, I sat and licked my wounds, in the shade of the old mine, until the vehicular support turned up. Every one was pleased i had not sustained any seriuos injuries, but the hair raising tales they told, made me realize, my decision was the right one. They had had to climb more chimneys, crawl through narrow tunnels, and finally leap across a metre gap, wrap themselves around a tree and slide to the floor, and safety. Julios feet failed to connect with the tree and he burnt his finger ends sliding down the trunk. Apparently the name  Górgora comes from the noise the river makes at the confluence, I cannot comment as I never made It that far. Still I survived, and will put it down to one of lifes little experiences, and Gabriel has said he will take me up the proper route sometime, which you can stop walking before it gets too difficult. The meal afterwards was superb, and to make up for it my Brother in Law paid. After a few days, I can walk properly again, although I have some really spectacular grazes and bruises.
Great video of the route here, not mine
http://blip.tv/file/527174
Regards
Dave

Offline lisa

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« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2008, 22:57 PM »
That's not a walk Dave, that's a scramble. Did anyone have a rope? Summer madness I think it's called. How are family relations now?
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Offline Sue

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« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2008, 10:20 AM »
  :o Well done for getting out of there! It is a real shame that your guide could not have told everyone that another route out existed avoiding the chimney..and given you an option before the bruises and grazes..have a good rest and get back into action on a more leisurely stroll

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Offline Dave

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« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2008, 12:07 PM »
Hi All
Yes certainly a form of midsummer madness, and yes we are all still on speaking terms, I am taking Avelino and his wife to Scotland next month, will probably arrange to get him lost on Ben Nevis. I realize now how easy it is for things to go wrong, when people are ill prepared, I have always been very critical of people who have to be rescued, because of stupidity, in many cases, now I realize it is sometimes more than easy to misjudge things
I have attached a few photos of the route
1 is the view before the descent into the canyon
2 one of the many cascades
3 The chimney that beat me with Alsonso (nephew) about to set off up it
We are ging to approach the local Ayuntamiento to provide rope railings and possibly ladders for parts of the route, my Brother in Law is about to start looking for sponsorship
regards
Dave
« Last Edit: August 13, 2008, 12:08 PM by Dave »

Offline Technopat

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« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2008, 20:43 PM »
Greetings Dave,
Hairy and painful experience!
Hope you're getting over it by now. Alcohol de romero and Traumeel work wonders for the knees.

As you so vividly express, not much mileage (Sp. anyone?) to be had from a scramble if you don't get the chance to enjoy the scenery, the company and the grub.

I always leave the "Because it's there" attitude for others and let them press on ahead of me so I can take my time and take in the surroundings - and always leave plenty of energy and time for the return journey.

As you point out, foolhardiness apart, so many things can go wrong and even the most experienced hikers/mountaineers etc. can and do have accidents, and at the very least, sustos (En. anyone?).

Be interested in the professional opinion of all you guides out there as to how to best gauge the difficulties of a particular route (official ranking/personal experience*) and the pros & cons of starting and finishing routes at different locations, etc. Obviously huge range of variables involved, but might be an interesting thread to unravel...

*obviously taking into consideration the guide's own level of experience vs the experience of the average punter...

Regs.,
Technopat

PS.
Ben Nevis next month? September? Rainy? Fog? Apparently it's one of the most treacherous micro-climates around... Revenge is indeed sweet, but have you worked out all the angles?
Technopat's disclaimer: If this posting seems over the top and/or gets your goat (Sp. anyone?), please accept my apologies and don't take it personally - it's just my instinctive tendency to put my foot in it whenever/wherever possible. See also:
http://www.iberianatureforum.com/index.php/topic,266

Offline Clive

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« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2008, 21:35 PM »
Hi Dave, trust all is mended soon and you are fit enough to wander around the highlands... Gosh, I just has a thought that I would like to see Scotland from the top of Ben Nevis again... Maybe even get a funny photo made at the dinosaur thing at Drumnodrogit... :)

Seriously, If your guide was a professional guide and he took out paying customers then he made some pretty serious mistakes that could have ended in a disaster... What if you pushed a metre more up that chimney and then came down hard breaking a leg? How would they have got you out and to safety?...

To partially answer the question Tp made I believe that the skill of a walking guide is mostly seen in the way he or she constantly assesses the condition and abilities of the people under his or her care. Always thinking of an alternative way out and always leading by example. I have found that a situation of one person crossing from a state of sensible determination to an insane obsession almost always ends in tears and it is important for the guide to see this in his clients and act accordingly... (The culprit here is normally a type of male superiority complex or female "I am as good as you attitude")

In Dave's case his admission that a part of the walk was too much (as well as the limp and facial expression probably showing pain) should have been noticed and acted upon before he even made the first attempt up the chimney that caused real pain....

In Spain I also find the categories of walks to be misleading and in many cases blatant lies. We have walked easy routes that took us over 500 metre cliff edges and hard routes that really should involve ropes and crampons... Times of walks are almost always out of sync with the vast majority of walkers...

That said The Cañones de Gogora look to be a great place to SCRAMBLE!
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