Every Spanish town has a bar, no matter how dinky the town may be. Conventional wisdom that my son had internalized and enjoyed repeating.
As I drove on the long, narrow, hair-rising road to our trailhead of the day, I wondered whether the isolated hamlet of La Cueta, in Babia county (León) would hold true to the adage. What a remote place.
We had chosen La Cueta as the trailhead for the hike up Peña Orniz (2194m), one of the biggest summits in the area. Day three of our hiking holiday had been reserved for our biggest hike, and for a while we also considered the lofty Cornón (2188), towering over Somiedo Nature Park, which we had spotted from Muxiven the day before.
The owner of our inn shook his head as we bounced our ideas off him over dinner.
Forget about it, he said. Cornón is way too long.
We generally trusted his judgment. Amongst other things, he had played Alice Cooper’s Poison on the TV.
I see you liked good music, he nodded, as he saw us singing along. No chance of playing any Maluma around here.
A reggaeton free establishment? Check.
And what about Peña Orniz, we asked him? You know, fuentes del Sil?
No idea, he shook his head. Never been there.
Locals, we shrugged.
In want of better information, we decided to head for Peña Orniz, which promised a long day of walking, too, but there seemed to be more possibilities of making a loop. Also, it felt right to visit the source of river Sil, that had shaped the valley we stayed in. The remoteness of La Cueta also looked enticing, at least on paper.
It did turn out to be a long day of hiking, as expected. Unlike in Muxiven, routefinding was generally easy, with only marginal bushwhacking. The landscape was barren, with yellow-brown hues. Not an ideal place to be caught in a storm, really.
No other hikers to be seen until we got to the pass above Fuentes del Sil, which marks the steep climb in scree toward the summit.
Shall we? I asked the kids, tentatively.
The last part of the climb was fun, with some scrambling and plenty of views. And a middle-aged couple of Asturian mountaineers who complemented the guajes for such an impressive climb.
We engaged in the usual Q&A about the landmarks in sight. Cornón, Ubiña, the Somiedo lakes….So many hikes to be enjoyed.
Hey, you want to follow us down a different route? They offered, It’s easy and beautiful. We’ll wait for you.
The last part turned out to be not entirely true, as it was hard to keep up with their pace. They hopped from boulder to boulder as if they were mountain goats.
But, really, it was fun to be off trail and try a different way down. Only they wanted to hit another summit on the way back, and I had started seeing some signs of exhaustion in the guajes. I even heard my daughter swearing as she slipped a couple of feet down a scree slope. Now that’s another premier!
Hey guys, I screamed. We’re heading down to catch the main path. It was fun. Enjoy the way back to town.
So we headed back on the long, gradual descent. It is in these moments that we turn to pastimes such as guessing games about our favourite series’ characters, or making lists of top ten songs by the Descendents. When all else failed, we discussed what drink we’d have when hitting the bar, or whether we’d order a burger for dinner.
It was nice that the bar had some outdoor tables. All yours, said the rowdy mountaineers, a.k.a. mountain goats, who were ready to leave. We also bumped into two French friends that we had encountered the previous day on another hike. It was fun to see familiar faces and strike friendly post-hike conversations.
Back in the car, my daughter reflected.
You know, dad? You’re not the same when in the mountains. It’s like you can’t stop talking to people. I never thought you could be so social.
I smiled. I could totally see what she meant.
One of the perks of mountain life, I guess