From Winter to Summer..

A thing that never ceases to amaze me is the transmogrification of landscapes by snow.

Walking on a Summer trail with brush over a meter high in furious yellow bloom all round, i find myself thinking.. but did i really ski down this slope, right about here by this dead tree, just a few months back? The photographic evidence suggests that indeed i did..that there was well over a meter of consolidated snow covering this slope in mid-April, corroborating my memory. Nevertheless, my brain, confronted by Summer’s blooming abundance, seems affected by some kind of inverse suspension of disbelief and i have a hard time convincing myself that it actually happened. This weird suspension of belief can make itself felt as a challenge to sequentiality, and even to what we might call sanity. One’s mental soundness, the reliability of memory, the perceived sequence of events that leads to ‘us’ or ‘me’ becomes dubious, challenged by an overwhelming sense of surreal. What memory presents as real events – concrete happenings occurring in the not too distant past – takes on an oneiric quality when confronted by the immediate in-your-face reality of the present. It’s not just a detail or individual element, a discrepancy, within the bigger, it’s the whole landscape which is discrepant.

A variant of cognitive estrangement? (Cosmic discrepancy, anyone?) You would think that experience of the cyclic, repetitive nature of the seasons would diminish this sense of estrangement or discrepancy, but then not all our Winters are so generous in snow..nor all our Summers so lush.

Thank God for mobile phones.. where would our mental health be without them?(!)

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Summer.. with water!

Water is often on the wane by July in the Sierra de Guadarrama, and in Central Spain generally. It’s weird to read of water restrictions in Ireland this Summer, while the liquid element continues to be relatively abundant locally..

The video is from the middle of June, when we visited the Cascada del Chorro, not far from La Granja in the province of Segovia, on a very wintry day barely a week before the Summer solstice. But even now, close to the end of July, we are still blessed by generously gushing streams and springs. Not to mention relatively cool temperatures. While Sweden burns. And Vietnam drowns. And Japan simultaneously roasts and drowns. And Greece burns. Und so weiter.. weird weather indeed.

Burbling brook in Fuenfría Valley

Burbling brook in Fuenfría Valley

Climate change, anyone? Some expert views: Why-is-Europe-going-through-a-heatwave? ‘Europe’ here, i guess, referring more to Northern Europe.. we’re cool in Spain! ..though things are not cool at all in Greece?

Welcome to extreme weather.

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End of cold Spring days for this memorable year

Summer’s heat is finally upon us.. i can hardly complain, it’s the middle of June. The skies have cleared at last and though a persistent North wind has kept things cool early in the morning and late evening..there is no disputing the reign of the sun at midday.

One last throwback to this memorable snow-season and its generous quotient of cold Spring days, a day in late April that we went to ski Cerro de Valdemartín:

Although the temperatures were very mild – causing the snow to retreat considerably in the second half of April – this day was overcast and had a wintry feel to it. Down in the valley the torrents of water swirling down in the streams, along with the obviously receding snow, made it clear that Winter was gone. Higher up however, things were different: no shortage of snow, albeit nieve of a kind that was hardly ideal for ski, and an unforgiving wind under grey skies that produced those so valued sensations..of cold Spring days.

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Stormy Spring skiing

Since early May we’ve had weeks of cloudy skies with storms in the afternoon or late evening – and sometimes in the morning too. While temperatures have remained relatively cool, the amount of water falling from the skies has made for rapid retreat of the snow even high up in the mountains.

The lowest surviving snowfields are at about 2050m, below Peñalara's East face.

The lowest surviving snowfields are at about 2050m, below Peñalara’s East face.

Nevertheless, the fanatics and diehards among us are still getting out there to ski! On Sunday (03 June) the forecast once more projected storms for the early afternoon, but i decided to go for it anyway. It’s been practically the same forecast every day for the last four weeks.

Narrowing gully, but still good to ski..

Narrowing gully, but still good to ski.. (Tubo de la Pared Negra de Claveles).

After an hour’s hiking with skis on my back i began to close on the zone where i hoped to find several hundred meters of vertical skiing still intact. This time of year there’s always a sense of trepidation.. will the late-season steep lines maintain continuity, or will there be crevasses opening up and complicating things?

Top of the gully flattens out and then rises up again with untrammelled continuity to the top.

Top of the gully flattens out and then rises up again with untrammelled continuity to the top.

The first line i wanted to ski, and perhaps the most classic of all Guadarrama, is to be found on Peñalara’s East face and is the Pala-tubo Ruau/Pared Negra de Claveles (Ruau Face followed by the Black Wall of Claveles Gully). Even in poor snow years it can often be descended as late as May, this year it might last to mid-June or later.

The full line, 300m of vertical ascent/descent.

The full line, 300m of vertical ascent/descent.

I was relieved to find that it was still in, no breaks in the steep and narrow sections, no rocks poking thru in the flatter part. Despite having a snow depth of several meters in the gully, the dynamics of steep narrow snow means that splits will occur, resulting in gaping crevasses not unlike those found in glaciers. But not yet! On the way up i could see the incipient splits at a couple of points, but nothing to impede a sliding descent.

From the Summit of Peñalara the storm can be seen brewing in the distance.

From the Summit of Peñalara the storm can be seen brewing in the distance.

The storm was well on its way by the time i had skied back down, but i decided that as there was no way of avoiding getting wet.. i might as well ski another line a bit further to the East, below the Claveles ridge. So, back up i went. Within twenty minutes, getting close to the steep part just below the ridge, i realized that the storm was on top of me..lightning starting to crack down close by. So skis on..

200m+ of vertical ski on the east face of Claveles Ridge.

200m+ of vertical ski on the east face of Claveles Ridge.

..and back down to the flat, and away from the flashing electric bolts. But not from the follow-on, a ferocious shower of hail segueing into heavy rain. Thank God for Gore-tex! ..and multiple other amazing marvellous plastics that protect us from the elements. (If only we could keep them out of the sea..and mountain streams..and so on..).

About to hit..

The storm about to hit..

It only lasted for 15-20 minutes, then lightened up a bit. I only got minimally wet. And was fortunately back down to civilized bricks-and-mortar shelter before the next episode, a torrential downpour an hour later.

All in a fine day of late Spring skiing in the Sierra de Guadarrama.

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Cold Spring Days in Picos de Europa

Another return to Winter really..more than cold Spring days. Unusual for mid-May, though not unheard of. The weather forecast was merely discouraging when we set out for Cantabria on Friday..and then it got worse, and worse. Though in the end the reality wasn’t so bad.

Picos de Europa, a small mountain group of great abruptness in the North of Spain, characterized by huge bowls surrounded by vertical peaks.

Once more the weather forecast was not say the least. Once more a group of puny humans decided to risk it. Once more they were lucky. It doesn’t always work out like this, especially when you venture into big mountain terrain.

So we’ll take our good fortune and give thanks for it, and another unforgettable four days of ski-touring in the mountains.

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Cold Spring Days in Cap de Llauset

I was complaining ten days back about the warm temps of late April, but right at the end of the month the weather changed, temperatures dropped and first water and then frozen crystals began to fall from the sky. The May Weekend brought Cold Spring days..and more so high up in the Pyrenees. A return to Winter almost, the five memorable days i spent at Cap de Llauset. Here’s the video:

The new mountain refuge, Refugio de Cap de Llauset, is the highest in the Pyrenees at 2425m. It opens up a vast new area until now unknown to most mountain recreationists and difficult to access especially in Winter, the SouthEast sector of the Maladeta group. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though..access from the Pont de Suert-Vielha road implies over 1100m of uphill travel, translating to several hours for most people. Real ‘backcountry’ terrain!

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Yes, Spring..


..but of the warm-to-hot these last two weeks there have been no cold Spring days. The furious electric twittering of Greenfinches is all about, trees are in radical bloom and flowers are popping up unabashed everywhere..but no cold Spring days!

Still lotsa snow high up in the mountains though..

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