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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The Wise Kings have been generous!

Well over half a meter - now that's a gift we appreciate..

Well over half a meter – now that’s a gift we appreciate..

After the utter misery of December 2017, the first days of January 2018 brought us.. more of the same, rain and, possibly even worse, the soul-destroying ‘pissing mist’..known as niebla meona in the Sierra de Guadarrama. And then on the sixth of January came the feast of Los Reyes Magos, the magic kings(?¡), as The Three Wise Men are known in Spain, country where it is they, and not that skroogey fnurg S. Nic-Cola-Claus, who bring gifts to children of all ages.

Is that the image of an oriental king..or some kind of smurfy Santa?

Is that the image of an oriental king..or some kind of smurfy Santa?

It finally began to snow – after several hours of rain – close to midnight on the 5th of January, the Eve of Reyes. Next morning the magical transformation of the landscape was well under way.. at 1800m there was a good 30cm on the ground, and it continued to snow all day. We went up on the mountain train to Cotos for a look, and we took my son’s abu (grandad) along to see the spectacle.

Snow excursion en famille.

Snow excursion en famille.

The day was cold but with very little wind, so no blizzard sensations, and we got el abu well wrapped up to resist the elements. You don’t see too many eighty-two-year-olds out and about in Nature on a day like this.

Marching resolutely thru the snow.

Marching resolutely thru the snow.

I think he enjoyed it. It wasn’t his first time seeing serious snow, but i guess you forget. Strange how the white stuff can put a face of wonder even on a man in his ninth decade. The gift of the magic kings!

Epilog: the following day it was more like 50-60cm, 70+ higher up, so we got our skis out to do a little sliding on the parcially compacted track leading up from Cotos..

Shot from the exact same spot as the two preceding fotos of the previous day, opposite point of view.

Shot from the exact same spot as the two preceding fotos of the previous day, opposite point of view.

Winter has arrived.

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Sad Old Year..Sierra de Guadarrama sets new depths for no-snow misery

This year-end some in the US are pining for a ‘liddul bit of thaat good ol’ globul worming’..the fact that morons will be morons aside, here in the center of Spain we seem to be getting a pretty good ration of global warming. More than enough in fact. After months of serious drought the weather finally changed and we began to get some precipitation in December. Precipitation in the form of snow even down to 1000m in the first days of the month.  And the forecast showed more precip on the way. Whitesliders and snowlovers in general were grinning from ear to ear. But they’re not grinning very much in these last days of the month. It was not to be.. well precipitation yes, there’s been lots of it in fact, over 150mm in Cercedilla at 1200m and close to 180mm in Cotos at 1800m, but practically all of it in the form of rain. A few centimeters of snow here and there, never amounting to much, and then followed by downpours of rain. Basically we’ve had a month of rain, right up to the tops of the mountains at 2400m, rain.

Climate deniers and flat-earthers locally love to evoke the cyclical droughts that Spain does undeniably suffer. Yes, up to the end of November this year we’ve suffered severe drought, eight months of minimal – in some areas not even minimal – precipitation. But not in December. No drought in December. Normal to high precip levels. Even fairly normal – cold – temps.. and hardly a shred of snow in the hills.

Worse still, for Guadarrama, just a few hundred kilometers to the North in the Pyrenees many areas have received up to a meter of the white stuff. In the Benasque Valley, for example, La Renclusa reports 180cm of snow at 2140m. They may have received  a few drops of rain too but i’d guess they haven’t gotten much more than 200mm of precipitation. So in Benasque 180-200mm of precip at about 2100m translates to 180cm of snow. In Guadarrama 180-200mm of precip at about 2100m translates to.. not even 10cm of snow.

Yeah, comparisons are odious. Tons of snow in the US NorthEast..not so cool this December in Colorado. But they have some snow, however miserable it might seem compared to December averages. In Guadarrama we don’t need to compare. It’s total misery. Exactly as it has been every practically every December since 2008.

Good ol’ global warming, huh?

 

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So who was Puricelli?

Our local Puricelli trail (Camino Puricelli) is named for Piero Puricelli (1883-1951) who was an Italian engineer famed for building the world’s first motorway. Puricelli, a man of his times, was imbued with the futurist thirst for speed. He had already built the Monza race-track in 1922 when Mussolini’s fascisti came to power. It seems to have been a happy coincidence of up-and-coming talents. Though Puricelli had already been scheming and dreaming for several years with regard to his autostrada concept, few shared his vision in a country where automobiles were still relatively scarce in the early twenties – 80,000 in Italy compared to 600,000 in Britain – and the project was moving slowly. Fortunately il Duce took a shine to it, turned up to provide the inaugural pick-stroke himself, and generally facilitated the construction of the Autostrada dei Laghi, a dual carriageway exclusively for cars that connected Milan to the Lakes of Varese and Como. The world had not seen its like. The Milano-Varese stretch was inaugurated in September 1924, and the branch to Como in 1925. Others were to follow. Not only at national level, in the late twenties Puricelli participated in the planning of Germany’s first Autobahn, the HaFraBa project which aimed to connect Hamburg-Frankfurt-Basel.

In the early 1930s this road-building fever reached Spain – with its brand new Republic – where the Ministry of Public Works came up with several ambitious, not to say outlandish, projects to provide citizens from the Madrid area with better access to the newly discovered Sierra de Guadarrama. One such project was a road to connect Cercedilla to Valsaín, crossing the mountains via Puerto de Fuenfría. Piero Puricelli was hired to build it. The plans were drawn up, the company Puricelli Española was set up to build it, and work commenced. The project was well advanced by mid-1936 when the Civil War broke out. It is easy to conclude that few good things came of the brutal Spanish conflict, but there was at least one positive note. Puricelli’s road was never completed. What in the later twentieth century we might in all probability consider to be an environmental atrocity instead became the most elaborately realized forest track on the Peninsula, if not on the planet.

The first section, which retains Puricelli’s name, runs from the edge of Cercedilla up the Fuenfría Valley for about three kilometers almost reaching the Hospital (Puricelli trail to Hospital de Fuenfría). The engineered road dies suddenly a few hundred meters short of the Hospital giving way to a rougher, steeper section of trail. From here, past the sanatorium and on up the valley, there are another three kilometers where it is not clear if Puricelli’s road was to coincide with the existing asphalted road or otherwise. Close to the top of the valley in the spot known as Pradera de los Corralillos the road designed by Puricelli sets off anew swinging obliquely out to one side of the valley so as to overcome the remaining three hundred meters of vertical gain in a gradual way, thereby reaching the mountain pass of Puerto de Fuenfría over a stretch of almost seven kilometers known as la Carretera de la República (the Road of the Republic). Again this section is very obviously a product of road engineering with major earthworks, banking and considerable extensions hewn from rock – most notably the stretch known as el Mirador de la Calva o de la Reina.

Walking or biking along Puricelli’s unfinished road today, it is hard to envisage the potential nightmare of hundreds – maybe thousands – of noisy, exhaust-spewing automobiles blasting past, not to mention the huge car-park of Puerto de Fuenfría and the  inevitable bars, hotels and other services that come with auto sprawl. Would it be far-fetched to imagine poor Piero Puricelli as some sort of personification of the ‘curse of the twentieth century’ that the horse-loving Winston Churchill alledgedly saw in the car? Of course it might be unfair to lambast the vision of Puricelli  – and others – with regard to the development of the private automobile..in the early century it was hardly foreseeable that there would be such an explosion in car ownership, that vehicles would come to clog every city large or little and even the smallest towns, that mass use of the internal combustion engine could have such nefarious effects on both the health of people and that of the planet. But then what are visionaries supposed to see?

Like the automobile, Piero Puricelli’s early and protracted success came to blight his life. Il Re delle autostrade (the King of the Highways) became more and more involved in the fascist administration, his companies built engineering projects across the ‘Italian empire’ from Albania to East Africa, as a result of all the money rolling in he became very wealthy, he was appointed to various positions of national responsibility including that of Senator-for-Life. So, inevitably, when the edifice of fascism came tumbling down, the engineer fell with it. While he escaped serious retribution after the Second World War, Piero Puricelli was a forgotten man in the new Italian Republic. His death in 1951 was barely noticed.

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Snow biking on the Puricelli trail

As i was saying in my last post, we got out on our bikes despite the serious cold temps of recent days..a foray up the Fuenfría Valley as far as the flat Puricelli trail would take us. Cool sensations in every sense! Some more pics..

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Two weeks of Autumn, then Winter!

Mid-November, Autumn finally arrived..

Mid-November, Autumn finally arrived..

Our interminable Summer finally drew to a close a couple of weeks back, the oaks of the lower Fuenfría Valley seemed to suddenly turn orange-red and temps dropped, and i thought to myself: ‘well, get ready for another December-January Fall season’.. was i wrong! A blast of polar air and accompanying Atlantic front brought us snow on the 1st of December.

..and then this white stuff appears on the ground in the first days of December!

..and then this white stuff appears on the ground in the first days of December!

Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a foot of the white stuff – more like the thickness of two or three little toes – but the sensation of Winter cold was the real thing. Temperatures haven’t been spectacularly low, minimums of -3º or -4º C locally, but on Saturday 2nd of December we were below zero all day.

Autumn or Winter?

Autumn or Winter?

To put that into perspective, we went out for an afternoon bike-ride wearing full, multi-layered Winter gear..and didn’t remove a single thing even on the up section.

Multi-layered Winter biking!

Multi-layered Winter biking!

And the forecasts suggest more wintry weather on the way – let’s hope they get it right!

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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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