OUCC Proceedings 11 (1983)

The Expedition Area

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Martin Laverty and Stephen Gale


The Picos de Cornion form the western massif of the Picos de Europa mountains in northern Spain. The expeditions were to the part of this area within the province of Asturias (Oviedo), but Leon and Santander also have territory there. The mountains rise to 2596 m within 30 km of the aptly named Costa Verde: the Green Coast. The climate is therefore strongly influenced by oceanic effects and is rather wet, 2119 mm of rainfall per annum being recorded at Buferara near Los Lagos. Although June, July and August are slightly drier than other months, the summer can bring period of prolonged drizzle and fog, as well as severe thunderstorms and occasional snow. The former may be accompanied by hail stones or winds of prodigious size and intensity; both have been seen to wreck tents with great ease! Permanent snow fields are a common feature of the peaks and snow plugs persist in dolines and shafts at altitudes as low as 1250 m. The spring thaw with its associated impressive flooding must be an important time for continuing cave development. The evidence for such flood events is particularly clear in the lower levels of caves, where new vegetation chokes appear each year in sites far above observed summer water levels. Vegetation is generally sparse above the level of Los Lagos, and is probably decreasing in extent as a result of overgrazing by goats, sheep, cows, and sometimes horses. Further details of the biology of the area are contained in Fisher et al. (1979).

A Note on Map Coverage of the Area

In order to reach the expedition area, road maps obtained from the Spanish National Tourist Office or published by fire stone (Costa Verde y Picos de Europa - 1:250,000) are quite adequate, and usually in agreement one with another. At a more detailed level, no really accurate maps appear to exist. The most accurate looking map is the Mapa de Los Tres Macizos de los Picos de Europa at 1:50,000 scale produced by the Federacion Espaņola de Montaņismo (Alberto Aguilera 3, Madriud 15; the same address as the Comision Nacional de Espeleoligia, from whom permits are required to cave in Spain). This map is on sale only in Potes, Aliva, Posada de Valdeon, and Arenas de Cabrales and is basically the same as the relevant portions of the Mapa Nacional sheets 55, 56, 80 and 81. However the Lambert grid on those is not reproduced, so map references must be given in terms of latitude and latitude (West of Madrid, not Greenwich!). Another 1:50,000 map is produced by the Federacion Asturiana de Montaņismo (Melquades Alvarez 16, 1. izda, Oviedo) and this gives full details of the network of mountain refugees. Its contouring is far less detailed than the other map, but the rivers, settlements and paths are generally more accurate. The most used map of the area, and the most easily available, is the 1:25,000 Mapa Topographico - Excusionista produced by Editorial Alpina (Apartado de Correos, 3, Granollers) entitled Picos de Europa I Macizo Oriental. This comes complete with a guidebook to walks in the area, but can be rather misleading or confusing to use. This problem is exacerbated if comparison is made with the other maps! The map which is considered best by experienced members of the SIE group of cavers from Barcelona is another 1:25,000 map produced by J R Luege for a book called Picos de Cornion, published by Gijon in 1968. Unfortunately, this is not easily available.

Area Maps in OUCC Proceedings 11.


Fisher, R.C., Hooper, M.B. and Warren, A., 1979. Proposals for the Biological Management of the Parque Nacional de la Montaņa de Covadonga , Asturias, Spain. Discussion papers in Conservation, University College, London, 25, 44pp.
Rose, D., 1983. Revenge in Sight. Descent 54, 26 - 32.
Singleton, J., (ed.) 1982. Proceedings Oxford University Cave Club 10.
Singleton, J., 1982. The Oxford University Cave Club Expedition to the Picos de Cornion. Caves and Caving 18, 24 - 27.
Singleton, J., and Gale, S.J., 1983. The 1983 Oxford University Cave Club Expedition to the Picos de Cornion. Caves and Caving 22, 12 - 15.