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The most beautiful day..

Sublime

Sublime

I have been lucky to spend many beautiful days in the mountains..and it would not be an easy task to choose one day in particular as the best. But last Sunday 08 February would certainly be a strong candidate for the most beautiful day.

Working our way thru the trees..

Working our way thru the trees..

After days and days of snowfall, storm, wind and cloud – some of which were also very wonderful days – the sun finally shone upon the Sierra once more. We headed for Cotos and the Loma del Noruego where we knew we wouldn’t meet too many people.

..and thru the Winter Wonderland.

..and thru the Winter Wonderland.

And indeed but a few minutes walk from Cotos all was quiet and wondrous white..everything absolutely covered, caked, plastered with snow. The views were..well, spectacular.

Cabezas de Hierro from Loma del Noruego.

Cabezas de Hierro from Loma del Noruego.

It didn’t really matter which direction you looked..things were equally spectacular all around..

Siete Picos and La Mujer Muerta.

Siete Picos and La Mujer Muerta.

I had skied the North and the surprisingly delightful SouthEast of Siete Picos the previous day in the cloud..so i wasn’t too powder-hungry on this day and could just take it easy and try to take it all in.

This is the person i have to thank for several pow-days last week.

This is the person i have to thank for several pow-days last week.

Of course we did get to ski some very lush powdery snow on the southeastern flanks of La Loma too..so really no room for complaints at all.

About to ski from close to the top of Peña del Águila, looking towards Lozoya Valley and Somosierra.

About to ski from close to the top of Peña del Águila, looking towards Lozoya Valley and Somosierra.

Then in the afternoon i had a few hours to myself, so i decided to go visit my beloved Hermana on the other side of Cotos. On the way up thru the forest i risked a shower – or a succession of showers – as the snow began to fall from the trees due to the action of the sun.

Trees starting to lose snow.

Trees starting to lose their snow.

Higher up some cloud began to waft in from the North..working magic with the light among the wild pines.

Sun and cloud playing among the pines.

Sun and cloud playing among the pines.

And when i got above the forest, the spectacle broadened..once more in every direction..

Looking South to Cabezas and Cuerda Larga.

Looking South to Cabezas and Cuerda Larga.

Like many of us who love Guadarrama, i never tire of looking towards La Mujer Muerta..

La Mujer Muerta (The Dead Woman) and Peña Cítores to the right.

Westwards, La Mujer Muerta (The Dead Woman) and Peña Cítores to the right.

I skied down, down thru the forest..and then back up. The second time on the way up, as the sun dropped lower in the sky and evening came in, things got really breathtaking.

Looking West to Siete Picos and La Mujer Muerta.

Looking West again to Siete Picos and La Mujer Muerta.

A great sea of cloud washed over Valsaín and the huge valley that lies between Peñalara and Mujer Muerta..and the low-angled light wrought deep contrasts of texture, on the mountains and on the clouds.

Yet another shot of Cabezas with snow-covered trees in the foreground.

Yet another shot of Cabezas with snow-covered trees in the foreground.

I should say that all the afternoon – all the day even, excepting the area immediately close to the road in Cotos – i had seen practically no-one. During the morning maybe seven or eight people on La Loma del Noruego..and four or five on the southern slopes of La Hermana during the afternoon. At 6 in the evening near the top of Hermana Menor (2271m)..

People in the mountains..pure magic!

People in the mountains..pure magic!

..just before i reached the summit for the second time that day, there suddenly appeared two other people..moving towards the SouthWest on their descent. I quickly grabbed my phone two or three seconds before they disappeared, not wanting to miss the opportunity for a perfect photo.

The most beautiful day..? There or thereabouts.

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Powder frenzy..North of Siete Picos!

Severe oscillations in the weather over the last week..a deluge of rain last Friday – 107mm in Cercedilla in 24 hours – threatened to wipe out the snow right up to the tops of the mountains, but several days of snowfall in the wake of all that water have put a different face on the Sierra.

El bosque del Telégrafo, in the forest North of Siete Picos.

El bosque del Telégrafo, in the forest North of Siete Picos.

It has snowed persistently in recent days with relatively low temperatures, and the result is half a metre or more of cold dry powder in the forest above 1800m. So it was necessary – really necessary – to go and check it out..

Climbing towards Siete Picos..

Climbing towards Siete Picos..

This morning my friend Mariano and i headed for Puerto de Navacerrada, amid fairly extreme weather conditions. It was blowing a real blizzard in the car-park but fortunately it was partially cleared of snow and we were able to park. The road that links Navacerrada and Cotos was not passable. So we made for the North of Siete Picos..

Close to 2000m, that's at least 130cm of snow.

Close to 2000m, that’s at least 130cm of snow.

A day for fat skis indeed..once among the pines the wind was much less violent – even close to calm at lower elevations – and we descended several times thru el bosque, the pine forest that covers the northern slopes of Siete Picos..in truly wonderful snow conditions.

Mariano gets some air..among the pines.

Mariano gets some air..among the pines.

Two years ago we also found perfect snow in this area, and it lasted for weeks. Back then i didn’t think we would be seeing such conditions again for years..but the low temps forecast for the coming days are likely to preserve the white stuff in its cold and dry state.

Deep snow..even down to 1650m.

Deep snow..even down to 1650m.

So the forests of Valsaín are calling once more to Madrid’s powder-hounds..here it is, come and get it! Who needs Canada..when you have the wonderful wild pine woods of Guadarrama full of pow?!

Wonderful wild pines..looking down on wonder-powder!

Wonderful wild pines..looking down on wonder-powder!

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Winter hits in mid-January..once more

After almost a week of snow in Cercedilla, it’s clear that Winter has definitively arrived..and yes, once more, it has arrived in the second half of January.

Cercedilla in the snow

Cercedilla in the snow

Some of us were getting worried, after weeks and weeks of sunshine, that it wasn’t going to happen..yet again. But we were wrong..and for the third year in a row, Winter has rolled in mid-January.

The station at Cotos

The station at Cotos

In the mountains there’s up to half a meter of snow where before there was nothing..and some areas obviously have even more. So we got our skis out a bit in recent days..

Time to ski!

Time to ski!

..although conditions have not been perfect for little skiers. The baseless new snow is at best difficult to ski..so we’ve had to stick to the machine-compacted track leading up from Cotos.

The sun breaks thru the cloud.

The sun breaks thru the cloud.

On the way up the other evening the sun even made a brief but welcome appearance to warm us a little..since daytime max temps were several degrees below zero. Unfortunately it didn’t last..

Into the cloud..cold, cold, cold.

Bye bye sun, hello cold.

..higher up the cold was really palpable and the wind added its chill and little hands began to feel the bite. Nevertheless, the ski down was pretty good.

A photo-stop on the way down towards Cotos.

A photo-stop on the way down towards Cotos.

And it’s not all about skiing..there’s other things you can do with snow – especially when you have almost a foot of the white stuff in your patio. Practise the art of making snow-bears for example..

Working hard into the night in the patio.

Working hard into the night in the patio.

Winter!

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Valdemartín times three in the day

Day after day of bright sunshine in central Spain. Practically no significant precipitation since mid-December. We continue to have pretty weird snow conditions in the Sierra de Guadarrama. On the North-facing slopes it looks like a normal Winter scenario, as you can see in the photo below..

Heading for Valdemartín

Heading for Valdemartín

..but some areas facing South and East – where you would normally expect to find the biggest accumulations – have virtually no snow at all. The South and East faces of Peñalara for example. Or the SE slopes of Cabezas de Hierro as seen in the next shot..

Looking SE from the top of Escalerón, towards Sierra del Francés and La Pedriza.

Looking SE from the top of Escalerón, towards Sierra del Francés and La Pedriza..and, beyond, a wondrous sea of cloud.

I have skied down into this remote valley many times..but it’s totally dry for the moment. Maybe the amazing sea of cloud over the southern meseta was meant to compensate for the lack of snow?

Curiously the gentle slopes to the West have a modest cover of hard and compact snow and are quite skiable. Bringing us back to Cerro de Valdemartín once more, the mountain which sits between Cabezas de Hierro and Bola del Mundo..

The North of Valdemartín as seen from near Cotos. Beautiful mountain.

The North of Valdemartín as seen from near Cotos. Beautiful mountain.

..mountain which i have been up as many as three times in the day in recent weeks. Between ten and fifteen times in three weeks. A bit repetitious? Maybe.. beggars can’t be choosers i guess! At least we have some snow in some places. God knows we have seen worse in Guadarrama in mid-January..

Will the early Winter anticyclone finally back off and possibly let us have some quantity of new snow this weekend? Hope!

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Mountain art – Landscape, abstract, Nature morte, pop..and more!

Mountain art? I gave up on the world of visual art years ago (and started getting back to..nature) but some photos from recent days have had me fantasizing..

Sierra sun shower

Sierra sun shower

Landscape is the obvious genre for mountain imagery..or sometimes more particularly snowscape..

Skribbles on snow

Skribbles on snow

But just as Van Gogh or Monet found, landscape tends easily towards abstraction..

Der Eiger

Der Eiger

Or am i suffering from confusion with subliminal figuration? Perhaps you have more of a taste for some Romantic figure painting..?

Mountain shade on snow

Mountain shade on snow

..with maybe a touch of Giacometti? Or for those with more classic tastes, what about a little still life..or as the Latins would have it naturaleza muerta..but literally?

Nature Morte

Nature Morte

Here you will permit me a naturalistic digression: i had always assumed that vultures, those great birds charged with keeping the mountains free of rotting cadavers, would have left nothing after them but bone (some vultures, famously the quebrantahuesos or bearded vulture, not even that) and so i was quite surprised to find a few meters away, as the snow melted over the last week, the skin of the beast.

Tough cowhide, almost complete..too much of a mouthful for vultures.

Tough cowhide, almost complete..too much of a mouthful for vultures.

Hey, but where’s the art in that? (you may ask..). Hmm, well..look at it like this:

Rawhide I

Rawhide I

..whaddya think? Not impressed? Let’s see if we can do any better..

Rawhide II

Rawhide II

..or more sombre:

Rawhide III

Rawhide III

If abstrakshun just ain’t your thing, we have still other genres..what about minimalist land art for example..

Sinuous snow

Sinuous snow

..or, what might be considered the other extreme, a little mountain pop..!

Skinning on skis in Scarpas

Skinning on skis in Scarpas

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Classic ski-tour in Guadarrama..before Christmas?!

Sometimes the unexpected occurs..and life surprises!

Skinning upwards on skis..in relatively abundant snow.

Skinning upwards on skis..in relatively abundant snow.

For several years now we’ve had little or no useful snow in December in the Sierra de Guadarrama – useful that is, from the admittedly narrow point of view of a backcountry or mountain skier.

However this December things are a little different. We haven’t had huge quantities of the white stuff, but above 2000m there has been a fairly reasonable accumulation in some areas and in certain orientations, this last due to the mysterious ways of the wind. And yes..there’s enough of those white frozen crystals piled up to make for some alright skiing.

What’s more – and this is really surprising – there’s even enough snow to make ski-touring possible, a ski-tour being something that implies covering considerable distances and elevation gains (and drops!) in the day while travelling over the mountains.

So my buddy Felix and i set out, the other day, to do a little ski-tour starting from Puerto de Navacerrada. We headed up towards El Alto de Guarramillas (Bola del Mundo, 2262m) and from the top skied down the other side into the quaintly named El Ventisquero de la Condesa, a toponym which might be loosely translated as “the Countess’s Blizzard-Zone”..! A ventisquero is a place where ventiscas or blizzards occur, and it’s also used to designate great accumulations of snow.

El Ventisquero de la Condesa..looking back up towards Bola del Mundo.

El Ventisquero de la Condesa..looking back up towards Bola del Mundo.

From down in the valley – where the River Manzanares rises – at just below 2000m, we skinned back up to the top of the next mountain heading East, Cerro de Valdemartín, 2282m. The whiteness of this mountain is often dramatically visible from Madrid in Winter..and this year is no exception.

Bola del Mundo and El Ventisquero de la Condesa seen from halfway up Valdemartín.

Bola del Mundo and El Ventisquero de la Condesa seen from halfway up Valdemartín.

Looking East from Valdemartín offered the wonderful prospect of Cabezas de Hierro, 2380m, second eminence of Guadarrama, and views into the Lozoya Valley. The “Iron Heads” seemed well covered in snow too!

Las Cabezas de Hierro.

Las Cabezas de Hierro.

We skied off the top heading SouthEast towards the Arroyo de Valdemartín area, traditionally a place where you are guaranteed to find good snow. To our hurt surprise just below the summit we encountered a stretch of extremely shallow snow and did some rock polishing with the bases of our boards. Fortunately, further down the snow was good as expected and made it possible to really let the skis rip.

SouthEast of Valdemartín, known to some as the "Río" area.

SouthEast of Valdemartín, known to some as the “Río” area.

Once more below 2000m, it was time to put skins back on skis..but now we had to choose between continuing East and heading up towards Cabezas – which would make for a really long day – or back towards where we had come from. Partly influenced by minor damage to ski bases we decided to head back.

Felix once more approaching the summit of Valdemartín.

Felix once more approaching the summit of Valdemartín.

We looked longingly back in the direction of Cabezas de Hierro, but knew that our legs would thank us for being merciful..and that the solstice day is only so long and that night comes quick and sudden in Winter.

Cabezas de Hierro..and the Lozoya Valley to the left, Somosierra in the distance.

Cabezas de Hierro..and the Lozoya Valley to the left, Somosierra in the distance.

Felix insisted on us shooting a selfie before leaving the top of Valdemartín again..though he was out of battery, so..yes, “your wish is my command, Sir” it was, et voilà!

Me and Felix on Valdemartín, with Bola del Mundo behind.

Me and Felix on Valdemartín, with Bola del Mundo behind.

I’m sorry that i have no heroic ski shots to post but, as usual, we were too busy enjoying the ski to bother with fotos. So, we skied back down towards the Manzanares and the Countess’s Blizzard-Bowl, once more letting skis rip in abundant creamy snow for a good part of the descent. All too soon it was time to trudge back upwards again.

Shadow shot on the snow of heroic ski-tourers in action.

Shadow shot on the snow of heroic ski-tourers in action on the Manzanares.

The sun was now dipping in the western sky, throwing ever longer shadows, and the snow was starting to refreeze under our skis..adding a little challenge to skinning up with legs growing tired, and the cold began to bite for the first time in the day.

Lengthening shadows, once more in El Ventisquero de la Condesa..lots of ski-tracks too.

Lengthening shadows, once more in El Ventisquero de la Condesa..lots of ski-tracks too.

Last summit of the day was Bola del Mundo, the weirdly named “Ball of the World” once more, where we stopped to talk for a while – glad that there was no more climbing to be done – and take in the dreamy views to the West.

Looking West past Siete Picos towards the Fuenfría Valley and beyond to a sea of cloud over the tableland of Castilla y Leon.

Looking West past Siete Picos towards the Fuenfría Valley and beyond to a sea of cloud over the tableland of Castilla y Leon.

We started our last descent of the day towards Puerto de Navacerrada, doing a tad more rock polishing in the upper part of the piste that drops sharply down from the top-station and then finding some slightly crusted snow that required more careful skiing. Still, an interesting descent..we had gotten quite bored with all that sweet creamy snow from earlier in the day(!)..and when the snow began to peter out at the end we stopped, took skis off and walked down the last fifty meters or so.

So, a ski-tour of 12-13km and just under 1300m of elevation gain..and drop of course – that’s the fun part! What you climb is what you get to ski. Not bad, even pretty good for pre-Christmas in Guadarrama.

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