Yoyo weather..and pink ski!

Last weekend the weather was bouncing around all over the place. On Friday there was fresh snow, great to ski, and the Sierra looked wonderfully wintry once more.

La Cuerda Larga seen from Peñalara, last Friday,

La Cuerda Larga seen from Peñalara, last Friday.

Then Friday night and Saturday it rained heavily – once more – right up to the tops of the mountains..washing away the fresh snow and leaving visible the layer of African sand brought by the winds of the previous week. Making for reddish-brown or even, some would say, pink snow.

Pink ski, anyone?

Pink ski, anyone?

I have to say the colour didn’t like me very much..and it wasn’t great snow to ski either. Anyway on Sunday we got out for what may be my son’s last day of ski this year..and it was ok despite the dodgy colours and textures.

Ready to ski down the morrena from close to 2200m.

Ready to ski down the morrena from close to 2200m..towards the pink stuff!

There were reports about sand from the Sahara reaching even as far as  Britain last week. I’m off to the Alps next week and i sure hope those winds didn’t swing towards the center of Europe!

 

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Earth Hour

I meant to do a post last week about celebrating Earth Hour on Saturday 29 March, when people all over the world turned out the lights and shut down electrical devices for an hour to show that they care about the planet..but i had a really busy week and just didn’t get around to it..

Candlelit dinner for Earth Hour..almost

Candlelit dinner for Earth Hour..almost.

Well, i mean to say..we did celebrate Earth Hour but i didn’t get around to doing the post about it. Above you can see the table set up for dinner..although the truth is that by the time we were ready to eat, Earth Hour was well over and, quite tired and not feeling particularly romantic or anything, we just put the lights on, ate and went to bed.

I suppose i’m not really big into collective actions in general, but i don’t want to be apathetic about Earth Hour. I’m sure millions of peeps around the globe had wonderful semi-dark dinners..maybe we’ll get it right next year.

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Daffodils and snow..cold Spring days

Daffodils on my balcony under La Peñota

Daffodils on my balcony under La Peñota

A couple of daffodils opened  on the balcony the other day, a sure sign of Spring..and yet the following days saw temperatures below zero (the lowest was -2.4ºC on Thursday last)..and yesterday Saturday, though 0nly rain fell in Cercedilla, it snowed all morning in Cotos.

Heavy snow at Cotos on Saturday morning

Heavy snow at Cotos on Saturday morning, we were able to ski right down to the train.

Not the best day to be out weatherwise – especially when you are only four – although the fresh snow was great to ski. We got a couple of descents in before the blizzard forced us to take refuge in the station bar.

Unfortunately later in the day the snow seems to have turned to rain..but still, it’s a pretty cool start to Spring.

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Spring comes, bringing with it..Winter!

Close to the top of Siete Picos this afternoon

Close to the top of Siete Picos this afternoon

Well yes, it’s Spring isn’t it? Officially since last week..though in reality we’ve had three weeks of Spring weather since the beginning of March. But yesterday and today, surprise, Winter’s back..at least in the Sierra. In Cercedilla we awoke this morning to about 10cm of windblown snow, and higher up in the mountains there was up to 20cm..at least where the fierce winds that blew last night let it accumulate. So this afternoon we headed up to Siete Picos and..skied back into Winter, a decent ration of new snow and 3º below zero in the middle of the day.

Here's me on the way up, looking really chuffed to be out in the cold..to hell with the heat!

Here’s me on the way up, looking really chuffed to be out in the cold, in Spring..to hell with the heat! (Foto: Felix Ortiz)

Many of us cold-lovers were beginning to despair of the weather (once again) over the last week or so..until yesterday it looked like we were only going to get more rain and little new snow. However the meteo picture has changed slightly and with a bit of luck we might even get some more snow at the weekend. Hurrah for cold Spring days!

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Happy Paddy’s Day

I had quite a happy St Patrick’s Day..and i didn’t down seventeen pints of Guinness or a bottle and a half of Irish whiskey (traditional forms of “celebrating” the day in Éireann)..

Hermana Menor cornice with my ski tracks just about visible

Hermana Menor cornice with my ski tracks just about visible (top, leftish, hit by the sun)

No, i just got my skis out and downed a cornice on my local mountain a couple of times. Hardly a typical Irish way to celebrate(!)..and maybe not such a big deal but this is the same spot where i had the accident last year that threatened to put an end to my skiing shenanigans*. Certainly i thought it unlikely even up to a month ago that i’d be doing much in the way of jumping off cornices on skis again..just goes to show, you never really know. Truth be told, i was dropping in more than jumping..but i’m happy enough with myself one way or another!

*shenanigans: colloquial American English with a hint of Irish in it, meaning mischief, playing pranks or tricks, playing around.

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Tragedy, dragons, avalanches..the mountains are beautiful but also dangerous

Why do people go to the mountains?

Because we are drawn by their beauty, by the incomparable sensations that the mountains provoke in us, because the experience of being in the mountains stirs our soul in a way that few other things do.

But going to the mountains is not only beautiful, it can also be dangerous. Witness the terrible death-count of this last weekend..six people lost their lives in different accidents in the Sierras of the center and north. Six people like you or me who were happy or excited on Friday evening or Saturday morning to be heading to the mountains for the weekend..six people who came home from the mountains in a box. They will never again be happy or excited, or sad or angry, about anything. Some might say that it’s a high price to pay for having fun in the hills.

In the mountains dwell dragons.

Ice dragon spotted on Hermana Menor last week

Ice dragon spotted on Hermana Menor last week

You’re not convinced? The nature of the beast is unclear? Well, take a look at this one from a couple of years back..

Frozen rime dragon..frozen in time

Frozen rime dragon..frozen in time

Can you doubt it? Do you not see the saliva dripping frozen from his terrible mouth? ..the coiled power of his tensed rear leg ready to defreeze, uncoil and pounce?

Yes, there is great beauty to be found in the mountains.

There are also very real dragons to be found in the mountains.

Last weekend there was also an accident in Guadarrama, on the steep frozen slopes of Cabezas de Hierro..not fatal but still serious and requiring heli-rescue. Maybe surprisingly, it did not involve an avalanche. I say maybe surprisingly because of the multiple and enormous avalanches that occurred during the earlier part of last week as a consequence of the massive amount of precipitation that fell over the previous weekend. When speaking of snow science in North American English it is typical to refer to factors of instability in the snowpack as dragons. So you have invisible dragons, hidden dragons, sleeping dragons..and so on.

Avalanche debris from a major slide above the Laguna Crande

Avalanche debris from a major slide above the Laguna Crande

I have never seen slides in Guadarrama as big as those of last week (and there have been very considerable avalanches in recent years)..nor extending over such a large area.

Looking towards Dos Hermanas, various slide paths and crown fractures can be observed

Looking towards Dos Hermanas, various slide paths and crown fractures can be observed. You can also see the frozen Laguna in the bottom left corner.

Probably most of these slides ocurred while the storm was still blowing, or soon afterwards, thereby limiting the possibility of accidents involving skiers or climbers.

Here you can see the debris reaching right down to the Laguna

Here you can see the debris reaching right down to the Laguna

Though in Guadarrama you never know..lots of people get out even in the worst weather imaginable. Myself included.

Looking in the opposite direction (towards Peñalara), the run-out of another big slide from the east of Hermana Menor

Looking in the opposite direction (towards Peñalara), the run-out of another big slide from the east of Hermana Menor

So..let’s be careful out there.

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Sun and snow, beautiful days in the mountains

After weeks of wet weather the anticyclone has made a comeback and will continue to reign over most of Spain for at least ten days. That means clear skies or little cloud, and sunshine..lots of it. Early Spring, anyone?

Top of Hermana Menor the other day, view towards La Mujer Muerta

Top of Hermana Menor the other day, view towards La Mujer Muerta

Most days it will mean “spring” conditions for snow..also known as freeze-thaw conditions, where the snow freezes at night and presents a solid crust early in the morning but then softens up as the sun begins to hit and becomes corn..excellent for ski. I was out with my son the other day and we were lucky enough to find a super creamy surface layer of perfect corn in La Hoya de Peñalara skiing down from 2100m.

Big skier and little skier with Cabezas de Hierro in the distance

Big skier and little skier with Cabezas de Hierro in the distance

Despite the dreadful flood of rain that lacerated the Sierra last week there is still a pretty good quantity of snow for early March. It’s still possible to ski down to around 1700m in many areas, for example La Hoya del Toríl which lies below the Laguna de Peñalara trail.

El Toríl, 1785m, with up to a meter of snow in places

El Toríl, 1785m, with up to a meter of snow in places

And above 2000-2100m there are, this year once again thanks to extreme weather events, enormous accumulations of snow..much more than the norm of the last decade. The East faces of Peñalara are looking really splendid.

The South-East faces of Dos Hermanas-Peñalara

The South-East faces of Dos Hermanas-Peñalara

Freeze-thaw conditions can mean that getting out early to ski doesn’t make much sense..up to midday you will only find hard frozen snow. Staying out until later in the evening is the thing..with untrammelled sunshine you now have light till after 7. And as well as soft snow you get to enjoy the wonderful evening light as the sun edges downwards in the Western sky.

Looking once again towards La Mujer Muerta from Hermana Menor, after 6 in the evening

Looking once again towards La Mujer Muerta from near the top of Hermana Menor, after 6 in the evening

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