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Walking to the Pico de Urbion

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Offline Spanish Footsteps

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« on: February 03, 2009, 18:44 PM »
The Picos de Urbión is one of the most important sections of the ‘Sistema Ibérico’ (Iberian System), the mountain range that crosses east to west through the north of the Iberian Peninsula.  In this range we find the source of the Duero, one of Spain’s great rivers.  The region is also a popular location for walkers and outdoor enthusiasts and is home to the magnificent glacial lake, the ‘Laguna Negra’ (Black Lagoon), an inspirational place of the famous Spanish poet Antonio Machado. 

The higher levels are steep, rocky and barren, with an abundance of vegetation in the valleys and lower slopes.  The surrounding forests are the habitat of the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), Badger (Meles meles), Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and a large variety of birds.  The Sierra de Urbión is also home to Soria’s only recorded pack of European Wolves (Canis Lupus Lupus).     

One of the most popular walks is a circular trail from ‘Laguna Negra’ to the ‘Urbión’ peak, returning via ‘Laguna Helada’.  The best time of year to undertake this walk really depends on your level of experience.  Summer is when you’ll find it most frequented by all levels of walkers.  Spring and early autumn offer a quieter journey and a sense of solitude, sometimes with a small amount of snow on the surrounding peaks.  In winter the trail can be covered in snow and should only be attempted if you are an experienced hiker.  Whatever the season it’s important to check the weather before departing.  We opted to complete the walk in mid autumn as the weather was cooler and the surrounding vegetation took on new hues. 

After checking the weather forecast we set off on a cool but clear Saturday morning.  The road up to ‘Laguna Negra’ is clearly signposted, and is accessed from the picturesque village of Vinuesa.  The 18km journey weaves through forest, predominantly Pine, which in autumn are teeming with mushrooms collectors looking for Saffron Milk Caps (Lactarius deliciosus) and Pine Boletes (Boletus pinophilus). 

We arrived at ‘Laguna Negra’ around 10.30am and found ourselves sharing this wonderful spot with several family groups, photographing the autumnal scenes and reciting Machado on the boardwalk that surrounds the lagoon.  The sheer granite cliffs that hang above the lagoon are partially wooded with Beech (Fagus Sylvatica), Durmast Oak (Quercus Petrae), Trembling Poplar (Populus Tremula), Silver Birch (Betula Alba) and Rowan Mountain Ash (Sorbus Aucuparia). 

At the end of the boardwalk the walking trail begins at 1,761 metres above sea level.  Being a variant of the GR86, the start of the trail is marked out with posts bearing white and red stripes, emerging from between the boulders that line the lagoon foreshore.  Crossing over a small stream, that is fed by a cascading waterfall and leaving the day trippers behind we commenced our ascent up the granite rock face.  The trail was well worn, but required concentration.  Twenty minutes later, following plenty of stops to turn and admire the scenery, we arrived at the top of the cliff, called the ‘Portillo’ (1,850 metres).  Here we were greeted with fantastic aerial views over ‘Laguna Negra’ and ‘Risco Zorraquin’ (Zorraquin crag).

After a few more photos and a short break, we followed the trail along the precipice passed Scots Pines (Pinus sylvestris) and Heather (Calluna vulgaris).  Crossing the stream again we headed away from the cliffs in a north westerly direction along a well worn narrow path.  At this point the GR markings are replaced by cairns (those small piles of stones maintained by other thoughtful walkers) reassuring us that we were on the correct trail through the glacial valley. 

Following an old shepherds route we crossed several small streams with crystal clear waters and traversed undulating pastoral land before heading up a steep slope with spectacular views over the Revinuesa Valley.  The trail then gently descended bringing us alongside another glacial lake, ‘Laguna Larga’ (2,016m).

From here it was only another 15 minutes before we were at the summit of the ‘Pico de Urbión’ (2,228m).  There was not a hint of snow on the solemn yet stunning peak.  The barren stony ground underfoot gave way to breathtaking views over the valley of the Revinuesa and the Sierras de Neila, Demanda and Duruelo, a scene very similar to the Andes in South America. There were numerous unusual rock formations rising up out of the flat land between the ‘Llanos de la Sierra’ (flat lands of the mountain range) and the peak on which we were standing.  Although we were less than 2 hours to Vinuesa, it felt like we were a continent away from civilization.         
From the summit you can either continue on to the source of the Duero or to the ‘Sierra de Neila’.   However, with lunch planned in one of Vinuesa’s superb restaurants we decided to descend via ‘Laguna Helada’, returning back to ‘Laguna Negra’.

Leaving the summit and heading in a southerly direction, we followed a forestry road for about 900m before bearing left into the ‘Llanos de la Sierra’, where we came across a ‘Chozo’, a small stone shepherd’s refuge.  There were several deer tracks in the moist dirt, but none to be seen.  The trail then skirted the edge of the Laguna Helada (1,993m), which was teaming with life such as, Floating Water Plantain (Lurunium natans) and scores of Marsh Frogs (Rana ridibunda) that being startled by our arrival, were diving for cover into the water. 

As the trail descended further, vegetation started to reappear and we were once again in the presence of heather and young Scots pines. At the lookout point called ‘El Mirador’ (1,981m), we were rewarded with more fantastic views over ‘Laguna Negra’ and another opportunity for aerial photos.  From here we followed the same steep trail we taken up, this time heading down, with stunning views of ‘Laguna Negra’ in front of us 

Whilst our wildlife count for the day was lighter than expected the dramatic scenery more than made up for it and we’ll definitely be returning to the area in spring to take up another challenging walk.  All in all a highly recommended excursion.  :)       
« Last Edit: February 03, 2009, 18:52 PM by Spanish Footsteps »
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Offline Sue

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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2009, 11:48 AM »
It really is a magical place at Laguna Negra, the huge pine trees and vertical cliffs are impressive,
but we walked no further than this on our brief visit - so thank you for taking us to the peak through your experience.
Your spring trip will offer a completely different aspect...looking forwards to it!
Thinking of visiting the beautiful Sierra de Grazalema in Andalucia?