The Puricelli trail – el camino Puricelli

Near the start of the Puricelli Trail

Near the start of the Puricelli Trail in Spring

There are many celebrated trails in the central Guadarrama area, but surely one of those you must begin with is el camino Puricelli – the Puricelli trail. It starts in Cercedilla, right out of the train station, and meanders up the Fuenfría Valley for about three kilometers and barely 200m of ascent as far as the Hospital de Fuenfría.

Looking back towards Cercedilla train station

Looking back towards Cercedilla train station..

..and forwards to where the trail kicks off

..and forwards to where the trail kicks off

After several short switchbacks right at the start, the trail basically heads straight up the Fuenfría Valley, ascending very gradually in general – sometimes it seems almost flat – and always easy to follow. You can see regular trail markers, dark blue circles, on trees and rocks. The predominant tree in the first part of the route is the rebollo or melojo, Iberian (or ‘Pyrenean’) Oak, Quercus Pyrenaica.

Notice the blue circle trail mark on the tree trunk to the left

Notice the blue circle trail mark on the tree trunk to the left

As you advance into the territory of the Wild (or ‘Scots’) Pine, Pinus sylvestris, you will notice that the path is generally quite wide, in fact it’s more like a forestry road than a trail..and this has to do with its origins and the name of l’ingegnere Puricelli, an Italian engineer who was indeed hired to build a road.

View towards Siete Picos from the Santa Catalina stretch

View towards Siete Picos from the Santa Catalina stretch

Apart from the width of the path, this road reality is given away by the elaborate banking that you can often observe – usually on the right or valley side – plus the obviously calculated gradual ascent, designed for motor vehicles. Until a certain point just after the second kilometer that is, when the trail abruptly changes character and ascends more steeply over relatively rough, more natural terrain for a few minutes.

The point where the trail suddenly steepens

The point where the trail suddenly steepens

After about one hundred meters of somewhat less regular – less engineered – and steeper travel, the trail joins with the Campamentos Forestry Track (Camino de los Campamentos) for the last stretch before the Hospital. The dominant floral presence continues to be the Wild Pines.

On the Campamentos Forestry Track

On the Campamentos Forestry Track

For a part of this last section you walk alongside a finely built stone wall on the right-hand side and there are several cerezos silvestres or Wild Cherry trees to be seen. If you pass by here in Autumn they can sometimes offer quite a spectacle.

The wall and the Wild Cherry trees in Autumn

The wall and the Wild Cherry trees in Autumn

For those really into flora, there is also a fine example of a mostajo or Whitebeam, Sorbus aria, a little further along this wall. By now the end of the trail is nigh, as we round a long bend the huge building that is the Hospital de Fuenfría appears above the trees.

Hospital de Fuenfría finally in sight!

Hospital de Fuenfría finally in sight!

Within five minutes you are at the Hospital where there is a café open to the public should you be in need of sustenance. At this point there are several options to continue: you could just return the way you have come, or take the public minibus (stops at the entrance to the Hospital) back along the Fuenfría road to Cercedilla, or also walk back along the road which has a generous sidewalk all the way. Alternatively if you want to walk some more, you could cross to the other side of the valley – passing by the Fuenfría Valley Visitor Center on the road about 200m down from the Hospital – and take the ‘Water Way’ (Camino del Agua) back to town. More serious hikers could continue upwards from the Fuenfría Hospital (1345m) along the ‘Old Segovia Way’ (Camino Viejo de Segovia) to the top of the valley and Puerto de Fuenfría (1795m).

The Puricelli trail is an all-year round option, many sections offer generous shade in Summer and even in the most rigourous of Winters it’s rare to see more than 20-30cm of snow on the ground.

Evening in Winter among the tall pines on the Puricelli

Evening in Winter among the tall pines on the Puricelli

Puricelli in the fog

Puricelli in the fog

Puricelli in the snow

Puricelli in the snow

 

GPS track of the route (Puricelli trail plus Camino del Agua) here.

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Tino bikes to Puerto de Fuenfría..and back!

This past long hot Summer has been exhausting..in part due to the protracted heat that we have suffered, but also as a result of the high frequency of relatively strenuous outdoor activity that we have engaged in. Day-hiking, rock-climbing, biking, sleeping out overnight in the mountains, archery sessions in the forest – with homemade bows and arrows – and usually combined with biking, rope games in the trees, scrambling on rock ridges..you name it, we do it. My son not being so little anymore – he turned eight in July – means that the range and scope of activities we can take on is ever less restricted. The day when it’s me who can’t keep up looms ahead!

As an example of an activity that many an adult – and not just the clinically unfit – might think twice about undertaking is the bike ride that features in the video below: from our house in Cercedilla to the mountain pass of Puerto de Fuenfría and back, 26km round trip with just over 700m of elevation gain.

 

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Flowers of the Pyrenees – Flora Pyrenaica VI, Saxifraga – the Stonebreakers!

My last post on this subject is dedicated to a few flowers of the genus Saxifraga, literally translatable from Latin as ‘stone-breaker’ and commonly known in English as Saxifrage or Rockfoil. There is some debate as to the sense of the term stonebreaker – does it mean that the roots of the plant were believed to be capable of splitting rocks? or is it a reference to medicinal use against kidney stones? – but there can be no doubt about Saxifrage’s ability to survive in harsh alpine environments on scraps of shallow soil among the rocks and exposed to difficult meteorological conditions..all over the Arctic and as high as 4000m in the Alps.

Saxifraga paniculata, White Mountain Saxifrage, at 2200m in Vallibierna.

Saxifraga paniculata, White Mountain Saxifrage, at 2200m in Vallibierna, Central Pyrenees.

Saxifraga paniculata, known in English as White Mountain or Alpine Saxifrage and also Lifelong Saxifrage, is seen in the above image with its characteristic long red or green stems and small white-petal flowers. What you do not see is the plant base with its dense leaf clusters..visible in the following shot.

Saxifraga paniculata at 2650m, Ibon de O, Valle de Estós.

Saxifraga paniculata at 2650m, Ibon de O, Valle de Estós.

Most saxifrages tend to be similarly small flowers, 10-15mm in diameter, with white petals occasionally dappled with brighter-coloured specks. Saxifraga moschata, known in English as Musky Saxifrage, often has a greenish-yellow look about it although its petals can vary from white to pale pink. The leaf clusters of the plant base can resemble moss..whence the name.

Saxifraga moschata, at 2600m in Valle de Estós.

Saxifraga moschata, at 2600m in Valle de Estós.

Another well-known member of the genus is Saxifraga oppositifolia, known as Purple Saxifrage or Purple Mountain Saxifrage. Distinguished from the typically white-petal saxifrages by its pert purplish pinkness, it’s also an outstanding performer in terms of extreme survival.

Saxifraga oppositifolia, hanging out at 2750m on the South-facing slopes of Tuca de Clarabide, Central Pyrenees.

Saxifraga oppositifolia, hanging out at 2750m on the South-facing slopes of Tuca de Clarabide, Central Pyrenees.

This small plant with its apparently delicate violet-pink blossoms holds a number of botanical records. It has been found growing at 83º40’N, on Kaffeklubben Island at the northernmost tip of Greenland..and the most northerly point of land in the Arctic. The limit for plant life in the Alps is traditionally considered to be around 3800m, but Purple Saxifrage – Saxifrage à feuilles opposées in French – has been found at 4070m on the South face of the Barre des Écrins (4122m), article here (in French), and, more amazing still, at 4507m on the rocky NE ridge of the Dom (4545m) in Switzerland, article here (in English). Incidentally the common German name for Saxifrage is Steinbrech..back to the ‘stonebreaker’ theme!

It’s tempting and typical to think of high mountain flowers as delicate and fragile, but the fact of the matter is that some of them are really tough little cookies!

 

PS: Of course there are hundreds of other flowering plants in the Pyrenees. I do not pretend to be an expert in botany nor did i set out with any intent to be comprehensive or exhaustive. In these posts i have included plants that i happen to have reasonably good photographs of; there are many others that i would have liked to include but did not..for one reason or another. In any case i think the posts are quite representative of what you can expect to see in the way of flowers during the Summer months in the Pyrenees.

For anybody who wants to know more, let me recommend:

Atlas de la Flora de los Pirineos, very comprehensive botanical listings, in Spanish, French, Catalan, Basque;

Herbario de Jaca, very comprehensive, official Government of Aragón site, only in Spanish;

Flores de Aragón, an introductory list, a bit more comprehensive than my posts, only in Spanish;

Flora Aragonesa, introductory but fairly comprehensive, part of Manuel Bernal’s blog, only in Spanish;

Flora de Aragón, comprehensive botanical listings, only in Spanish.

Also, even though it’s specific to the Alps and not Pyrenees, Florealpes continues to be a wonderful resource for the identification of European alpine flowers. Very comprehensive botanically, multiple search options, multiple photographs, only in French.

And let me not forget Wikipedia, wonderful botanical resource in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German..and many other languages.

 

 

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Flowers of the Pyrenees – Flora Pyrenaica V, Purplish-Pinky-Violet..!

The ‘colour’ of a flower is sometimes not so easy to define, either because it combines two or more colours or because the colour varies across a certain spectrum or because our words to describe colour fall short. For example, in the Red post it would be feasible to argue that none of those flowers are truly red..at least not in the sense that ‘roses are red’..even the Rhododendron has a certain pinky hint to its redness. In the mountains we find very few flowers with that deep redness characteristic of red roses. Blue, yellow and white are more readily defined. But here are some more flowers that defy colour characterisation..

Lilium martagon, the Martagon (or Turk's Cap) Lily.

Lilium martagon, the Martagon (or Turk’s Cap) Lily.

We’ve already seen the Lily (or Iris) in blue, white and yellow..here it is in purplish pink. Lilium martagon, known in English as Martagon Lily or Turk’s Cap Lily and in Spanish as simply Martagón or Lirio Llorón, has petals with a background colour that goes from near white to pink/violet and with dark purple or deep red spots..and large stamens that are usually reddish but sometimes present a bright orange colour.

Another flower that combines two quite different colours is the Alpine Aster, Aster alpinus, in Spanish simply Aster. At least here the colours do not vary so much..the petals are usually violet-lavender, occasionally straying to purplish-blue, with the defined yellow center.

Aster alpinus, the Alpine Aster, growing at 2100m in Vallibierna.

Aster alpinus, the Alpine Aster, growing at 2100m in Vallibierna.

Here’s another shot where some difference in colour can be appreciated in two flowers growing barely a meter apart..tho it may be due to camera optics or the angle of light hitting the flowers, or to a difference in the age of the flowers.

Two Asters looking a little bit different in colour.

Two Asters looking a little bit different in colour.

A flower which might possibly be confused with Aster alpinus is the often very similar, tho smaller and much rarer, Erigeron uniflorus (subsp. aragonensis?)..one of those true high mountain flowers generally found above 2200m and often on rocky ridges or close to summits. Also presenting some variation in the colour of its petals.

Erigeron uniflorus, sharing a spot of fertile ground with Silene acaulis at 2900m, Pico de Clarabide.

Erigeron uniflorus, sharing a spot of fertile ground with Silene acaulis at 2900m, Pico de Clarabide.

No common name in Spanish that i know of, Vergerette à une fleur in French, reputedly ‘One-flower Fleabane’ in English. Notice that in the above photograph, where you would expect a reddish pink, Silene acaulis looks decidedly purplish violet..!

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Flowers of the Pyrenees – Flora Pyrenaica IV, White

White flowers some may find a bit less spectacular than others, but they are nonetheless beautiful too. And among their number we have some of the most highly prized of all alpine flowers.

Leontopodium alpinum, the famed Edelweiss.

Leontopodium alpinum, the famed Edelweiss.

Whatever you opine as to the beauty of the flower itself, nobody can deny that Leontopodium alpinum has a collection of the most wondrous names that humans have applied to any flower. Known popularly in German, and by extension in English and other tongues, as Edelweiss (the ‘noble white’), French has called it pied-de-lion (‘lion’s paw’ as in the Latin name), étoile d’argent (‘silver star’), or étoile des glaciers (‘star of the glaciers’), while in Spanish it’s la flor de las nieves (‘the flower of the snow’) and in Italian la stella alpina (‘the alpine star’).

Edelweiss, la flor de las nieves, at 2200m in the Benasque/Maladetas area.

Edelweiss, la flor de las nieves, at 2200m in the Benasque/Maladetas area.

Maybe not the rarest flower of the Pyrenees, but it’s not like you bump into it all over the place either..in fact i only know of two places in the Benasque valley area, both among the less travelled spots, where you can expect to find this elusive flower.

Another rare and much less famous white flower is the Gypsophila repens (literally ‘creeping chalk-lover’), known as Alpine Gypsophila or, weirdly enough, Creeping Baby’s Breath..

Gypsophila repens, Creeping Baby's Breath, at 2100m in Valle de Remuñe.

Gypsophila repens, Creeping Baby’s Breath, at 2100m in Valle de Remuñe.

It has no popular name in Spanish, though it is not so terribly difficult to come across it in the Pyrenees between 1500 and 2700m in areas of, not surprisingly, chalky soils.

Better known but also relatively scarce is Dryas octopetala, (White Dryas/Dryad or eightpetal mountain-avens, no common name in Spanish), an arctic-alpine flower occurring between 1800 and 3000m in the Pyrenees.

Dryas octopetala, at 2550m on Pico de Paderna.

Dryas octopetala, at 2550m on Pico de Paderna.

To be found in calcareous or karstic terrain, on rocky ridges in the Pyrenees but also close to sea level further North..for example in the West of Ireland’s Boireann. And don’t be fooled by the name, the flower can have up to sixteen petals!

For those who like flowers with many petals, Astrantia major will look attractive..though in reality it has multiple bracts – leaves that look like petals – and tiny individual flowers, all together forming a beautiful inflorescence that is reminiscent of exploding stars..or fireworks(!)

Astrantia major, in Valle de Estós at 1700m.

Astrantia major, in Valle de Estós at 1700m.

Known in Spanish as Sanicula hembra and in English as Great Masterwort, this large plant (60-70cm) grows in abundance in mountain meadows and valleys, often in humid areas or close to streams.

And just one more white flower to finish..this one a real rarity.

Iris latifolia, coming in blue..and white!

Iris latifolia, coming in blue..and white!

We’ve already met Iris latifolia – in Spanish known as el lirio azul – in the blue post, and that’s normally how you will find it, out of hundreds and hundreds of blooms, blue. But every once in a while it comes in white too.. el lirio blanco!

 

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Flowers of the Pyrenees – Flora Pyrenaica III, Yellow

Yellow, countless wildflowers bloom in this colour..well, surely botanists have counted them, but i haven’t. Just looking thru the lists of Flora Pyrenaica there are hundreds. Here are a few..

Lilium pyrenaicum, flower of many names, Valle de Remuñe at 2300m.

Lilium pyrenaicum, flower of many names, Valle de Remuñe at 2300m.

Lilium pyrenaicum, known in English as Pyrenean Lily, Yellow Martagon Lily or Yellow Turk’s-cap Lily, in Spanish as Lirio Amarillo, Lirio or Azucena de los Pirineos, and in French as Lis des Pyrénées. As many of these names suggest, it is principally found in the Pyrenean range though it does appear in other European ranges. While it is a very visible flower, growing as high as a meter from the ground, it is relatively uncommon..this Summer we came across it just once in ten days of activity.

Another large yellow flower (up to 50-60cm) which is not especially common is Trollius europaeus, in French Trolle des Montagnes or Trolle d’Europe and known as Calderones in Spanish. It fascinated me when i first saw it years ago, and still does. It’s the flower that never seems to open – what you see in the foto is not some pre-bloom stage, that’s how the flower is.

Trollius europaeus, another favourite, here at 2100m in Vallibierna.

Trollius europaeus, another favourite, here at 2100m in Vallibierna.

 

Staying with plants on the larger side of life, next up is Doronicum grandiflorum, classified as relatively rare and with no popular names in either English or Spanish (Doronic à grandes fleurs in French, Doronico dei macereti in Italian). Nevertheless, i seem to come across it regularly enough in the Central Pyrenees, and when you do find a plant or cluster of plants, you can expect to see 10-20 individual flowers.

Doronicum grandiflorum, at 2400m in Valle de Remuñe.

Doronicum grandiflorum, at 2400m in Valle de Remuñe.

 

A flower often confused with Doronicum is Arnica montana, commonly known as Arnica and widely cultivated for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately it is reported to be increasingly difficult to see it in the mountains..i myself have come across it very infrequently in Pyrenees, perhaps somewhat more often in Alps. While the flower is very similar to Doronicum, the stem and the base leaves are quite different.

Arnica montana, at 1950m in Vallibierna..one of the few times i have seen it in Pyrenees.

Arnica montana, at 1950m in Vallibierna..one of the few times i have seen it in Pyrenees.

 

Those who visit the alpine tundra of the Pyrenees, and particularly areas of loose limestone surface, gravel or small stones, where practically nothing grows, may be lucky enough to come across Crepis pygmaea, usually a small terrain-hugging plant. The bright yellow flowers, reminiscent of dandelions, stand out like the moon in the night sky while the dull greyish-green leaves blend in almost mimetically with the surrounding stones.

Crepis pygmaea, at 2600m in the Sierra Negra.

Crepis pygmaea, at 2600m in the Sierra Negra.

 

And just one more.. this one a flower which – unlike the majority of the plants presented here – is also to be found readily in the mountains of the Sistema Central: the Great Yellow Gentian, Gentiana lutea, in Spanish Genciana Amarilla. Very different from the small blue gentians, this plant grows to over a meter tall and appears in extensive colonies both in grassy areas  and among the rocks.

Gentiana lutea, great yellow gentian, Valle de Estós at 1800m.

Gentiana lutea, great yellow gentian, Valle de Estós at 1800m.

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Flowers of the Pyrenees – Flora Pyrenaica II, Red

WP_20170710_18_21_24_ProSiempreviva! Sempervivum montanum, or Mountain Houseleek for anglophones.

Siempreviva! Sempervivum montanum, or Mountain Houseleek for anglophones.

This Summer in the Pyrenees the star of the floral show was almost certainly Sempervivum montanum, in Spanish Siempreviva de montaña and rather quaintly known as Mountain Houseleek in English. I have to say that i much prefer the French name, Joubarbe des montagnes. This plant belongs to a family known as Crassulaceae, a type of succulent. The base plant formed by tight rosettes of ‘succulent’ light green leaves is attractive in itself, but when it flowers the spectacular pink-red-purple structure of the bloom is a delight to behold. It grows to a height of 10-15cm and can be found up to 2500m. We came across it several times this past month of July.

Siempreviva flower cluster at 2200-2300m, Valle de Estós.

Siempreviva flower cluster at 2200-2300m, Valle de Estós.

 

On the subject of prevalent plants, few have more to say – or to show – than the Rhododendron, Rhododendron ferrugineum, called Alpenrose in English, Rododendro or Azalea de montaña in Spanish. Very widely present in the Pyrenees, usually appearing at or just above treeline in extensive bushlike shrubs with clusters of flowers.

Rhododendron ferrugineum, Azalea de montaña

Rhododendron ferrugineum, Azalea de montaña, at 2200-2300m in Valle de Remuñe.

When the trees run out Alpenrose runs wild.. Vallibierna 2200m.

When the trees run out Alpenrose runs wild.. Vallibierna 2200m.

 

Moving up above the trees into the alpine realm, among the rocks and even close to the summits, we find isolated cushions of green with tiny red-pink flowers. Silene acaulis is a high mountain plant known in English as Moss Campion or Cushion Pink, evidently due to its similarity to the cushions of moss found in the forests at lower altitudes. Musgo Florido in Spanish. Far from being a moss however, this is a plant that survives in extreme alpine and arctic environments.

Silene acaulis, at 2900m close to the summit of Pico de Clarabide.

Silene acaulis, at 2900m close to the summit of Pico de Clarabide.

 

Back down in the valleys, another common flower is the beautiful Dactylorhiza maculata, an orchid type known as Satirión Manchado in Spanish and Heath (or Moorland) Spotted Orchid in English. Sometimes debatable whether it’s more of a white flower than a red one – or an in-between pink – the examples we came across this year were generally closer to red (..pinkish red?) though the flower below is definitely on the paler side..

Dactylorhiza maculata, a pale Satirión from Valle de Remuñe at about 1900m.

Dactylorhiza maculata, a pale Satirión from Valle de Remuñe at about 1900m.

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