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 it 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 encouraging..to 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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Spring!!

Yes, Spring..

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..but of the warm-to-hot variety..in 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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Skiing the ‘Electric Piste’ – La Pista Eléktrika!

This one’s been around in my head for a while now..and finally this year it came together.

A stretch of La Pista Eléctrica between Puerto de Navacerrada and Puerto de los Cotos

A stretch of La Pista Eléctrica between Puerto de Navacerrada and Puerto de los Cotos

There’s a high-tension line that runs across the mountains of Guadarrama from Puerto Navacerrada to Puerto de los Cotos, dipping down and up across multiple small valleys between 1800m and 1650m at the lowest points. It cuts straight across the landscape, and thru the pine forest..giving rise to what i like to call: La Pista Eléktrika (the ‘Electric Piste’).

One of the early sections, starting out from Pto. Navacerrada.

One of the early sections, starting out from Pto. Navacerrada.

The idea of following this piste or track thru the forest had been with me for some time..but as it’s more like a fire-break than a proper track, doing it in Summer would be rough, and while a Winter tour with skis was really what i had in mind, the fact is that it’s not every year there’s enough snow to guarantee a comfortable passage.

Zoom in , and you can just about make out the ski-tracks between the pylons!

Zoom in , and you can just about make out the ski-tracks between the pylons!

This was the year! Good snowfall thru February and March created a solid snowpack of up to a meter down to 1600m, and fresh dumps in mid to late March made for perfect conditions. I set out one gloomy, beautiful Saturday afternoon and laid downhill and uphill tracks along the piste. A lot of ups and downs and skin-ski transitions, some challenging stream-crossings, and chasing pylons seemingly without end – i know this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, i wouldn’t do it every weekend either – but still, on the whole, it was pretty cool.

Crossing streams occasionally presented a serious obstacle.

Crossing streams occasionally presented a serious obstacle.

I even got some excellent heavy pow turns on some of the steeper drops. The full route could easily be done in the day but as i started late, i opted to spend the night at an establishment along the way. Hotel Vaquerizas was quite exclusive..in fact i was the only guest.

Leaving Hotel Vakerizas in my wake, early next morning.

Leaving Hotel Vakerizas in my wake, early next morning.

Early on Sunday morning i took a small detour and followed the rail line a stretch to ski the V-Pedriza (‘La Pedriza en V’), another variety of piste formed by a kind of scree-slope very visible from Dos Hermanas but rarely skied. In the moody half-light of a wintry morning..’twas indeed a delight!

Sweet sliding turns on a moody wintry morn..

Sweet sliding turns on a moody Winter’s morn..

Then back on La Pista Eléktrika, pursuing steel pylons between the Valsaín pines shrouded in fog. Dreamy, oneiric even, some would say magical..certainly a trip to remember. On the whole, quite the electric dream of an experience.

Pine forest under snow in fog..is there a more magical place?

Pine forest under snow in fog..is there a more magical place?

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Where’ve i bin? Skiin’!

This is where i bin..!

This is where i bin..!

Not bin bloggin’ much recently..nor anything much else, apart from working, sleeping and skiing.

Skiing the soft..

Skiing the soft..

Skiing the soft, skiing the hard, skiing the wet, skiing the cream, skiing the deep, skiing the crust, skiing the sweet, skiing the light.

Over a meter..

Over a meter, this in late February..

And while we might complain about conditions sometimes – it has rained a lot, making for variability – this year we cannot whinge about the quantity of snow.

A meter 20, North of Siete Picos..

A meter 20, North of Siete Picos 1900 m, consolidated..

In the month of March, there’s been no scarcity..

A meter 20, Peñalara..

A meter 20, Peñalara 2000m..

Lots of the white stuff..

A meter 30+, Cabezas de Hierro 1900m..

A meter 30+, Cabezas de Hierro 1900m..

There has been a little instability at times, but generally safe conditions.

Close to 180cm, North of Siete Picos 1900m..

Close to 180cm, North of Siete Picos 1900m..

Nothing was moving here.

Super stable.

Super stable.

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Tino skis Hermana Menor – video

Multiple days out this Winter in difficult weather had left Tino thinking this mountain skiing business seems kinda tough. Finally we had a day of blue skies and moderate winds, wonderful..although the snow, as is often the case when the weather is ‘good’, left a lot to be desired. Frozen hard all day on the higher mountain, it loosened up a bit lower down after midday and made for reasonably good, if not exactly relaxed, skiing.

 

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Trees, rocks, streams.. in the snow.

One of my favourite trees, 2200m, Sierra de Guadarrama.

One of my favourite trees, 2200m, Sierra de Guadarrama.

This is a tree that i visit regularly in Winter..on days of bad visibility it’s often as high as you can go, or at least the last reliable landmark on the way to the top of Hermana Menor.

Same tree seen from below.

Same tree seen from below.

How many times have you sheltered me from the blizzard? How many times have you shown me the way? I sure owe you a few, little tree.

Bactrian rocks, 1900m, Sierra de Guadarrama.

Bactrian rocks, 1900m, Sierra de Guadarrama.

But it’s not only higher altitude trees that are transformed by their coats of rime..down in the forest, rocks also get coated in snow.

Same rocks, different angle.

Same rocks, different angle.

Funny how a hard grey thing seems to transmogrify into a soft white thing..the magic of snow!

Same rocks, later on the same day.

Same rocks, later on the same day.

And amazing what light does to everything all the time.

Same rocks, different day.

Same rocks, different day.

Obviously we’ve had a good deal of snow over the last month or so in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Some relief after all the water in liquid form that fell in December. From the 6th of January to the first week of February copious crystal precipitation has been where it’s at..

Stream under snow, 1700m, Sierra de Guadarrama.

Stream under snow, 1700m, Sierra de Guadarrama.

The liquid water has been overcome by the crystal version, you might almost say drowned out, marginalised..

The stream struggles under snow..to be something more than just a hole in the white landscape.

The stream struggles under snow..to be something more than just a hole in the white landscape.

..like everything else, above 1500-1600m. The peaks, the forest, the hillside, the rocks, the trees, even the streams..everything blanketed in white.

An apparent universe of white..Winter wonderland!

An apparent universe of white..Winter wonderland!

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