Looking out of the van window, all I could see was white. The landscape around us had transformed into a postcard-perfect winter picture overnight. For the third time during our travels, which were supposed to be all about us escaping the winter, we were well and truly snowed in.
Predictably, we ended up spending more time than planned back in the UK. Miraculously, the van passed its MOT, but various things needed fixing.
Then, just as we were ready to leave, Clay came down with shingles – I didn’t even know what it was until a few weeks ago! So we lingered until we were sure he wouldn’t need urgent medical attention.
But despite the stresses, we had a lovely time catching up with friends and family; we didn’t stay in London, so didn’t end up spending ridiculous amounts of money on parking; and the weather consistently astounded us. It was the warmest October I could remember.
So we were really optimistic about heading out to Spain and making the most of this warm autumn, now that the heat of the summer had finally subsided. We planned to head to Rodellar first, to check out its three-dimensional tufa climbing and catch up with our friends from back in the London, Phil and Andy. But then just before we finally set off, the weather turned. It was too rainy there, the tufas were dripping and all climbing was off for the season.
It’s funny how you never think that winter is coming until it’s well and truly upon you, and even then you refuse to accept it. If not Rodellar, then we’ll head to our beloved Asturias, we thought, where in our minds climbing was possible throughout the year. True, the weather forecast looked depressing – rain and single digit temperatures for days on end – but for some reason we thought “no, it can’t be that bad, it’s Spain after all”.
So, armed with our guidebook and a lot of enthusiasm for getting back on real rock, we headed straight to La Hermida, an area we hadn’t been to before and one we really wanted to check out.
We arrived at our camping spot, right on the beach, amid a steady downpour. “Maybe it will clear up tomorrow,” we said to ourselves, as we made dinner, trying to warm up the van by keeping on both gas stoves.
The next morning, however, came just as grey and dreary as the night before, with low-hanging fog obscuring the natural beauty of the national park which was, theoretically, right on our doorstep.
Trying to stay optimistic, we checked the forecast for other climbing areas in the region, and settled on Leon, which, though still very cold, at least seemed to be bathed in sunshine. Climbing in 8 degrees Celsius, but in blazing sunshine isn’t so bad, right?
Except when we arrived, it turned out we hadn’t factored in the fact that the climbing areas were much higher up in the hills than the town itself and had their own weather front. Up there, it wasn’t just raining, it was beginning to snow.
By this point, we gave up and decided to head to our old camping spot in Entrago, a large car park with free toilets and rock all around. The forecast looked grim, but we thought we could wait out the rain in hopes for better weather in the coming days. For one thing, we really didn’t want to spend more money driving around the country in search for dry conditions.
We arrived in the evening to a soggy picture and cuddled up under a blanket with a movie. The car park was nearly deserted, but some stragglers still persevered. The rock looked so inviting, but most of it was a bit of a waterfall and the temperatures were arctic. We got ready to hunker down and wait for a sunny window.
Then, the next morning (or rather what I thought was the middle of the night because it was so dark and gloomy) we awoke to this sight.
A winter fairytale, but not if you’re living inside a tin box on wheels (albeit a well-insulated one), and not when you see the prospect of climbing in this area this side of 2018 disappear in front of your eyes.
I don’t know if Entrago has seen this much snow in a while, especially in October. It weighed heavily on the trees which, not used to this onslaught, groaned and buckled under the icy weight, their branches snapping off noisily.
The electricity in the whole town cut out, as falling tree branches damaged the power lines. Then our phone reception completely disappeared, cutting us off from the outside world. We were definitely a little trapped.
We spent nearly two days in that car park, waiting for the snow to melt. We met a nice Spanish couple from Madrid, who recommended some climbing areas around where they come from, and a British guy called Ben, who kept us company over a couple of ciders.
The snow day was a Sunday, so even the bar was closed in the evening. We tried to go for a walk and I quickly realised that my only remotely wintery boots were not intended for such conditions. With snow up to the ankles and deep puddles where it had melted, my feet were soaked through after five minutes. It took a good week to dry out those boots afterwards.
We finally managed to get away, but not before nearly getting stuck in the snow trying to cross the hills and having to reverse many kilometres down a windy road back to safety. Lesson learnt: if the weather forecast looks shit, don’t get all optimistic about it. Get the hell out while you can!