Luck and Cap de Llauset – they seem to go together!

Back at Cap de Llauset in the month of May once more..and once more with a weather forecast that left a lot to be desired. And once more, luck was on our side.. ‘audaces fortuna iuvat’ maybe? The proverb dating from classical times says that fortune favours the audacious..but i wouldn’t push it too far with the weather in the mountains.

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Incredible event..!

An incredible event at the top of Hermana Mayor, a mountain of 2270m in the Sierra de Guadarrama, after two ‘Winter’ months, February and March, without a single snowflake – hardly even a drop of rain – on the last day of March 2019..it snowed! Snow fell!!

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The Winter that never was

The Winter that never was..apart from a single week at the end of January-beginning of February. The one-week Winter. It’s true that we had a few days of serious snowfall at end October, followed by quite a lot of rain in November. The first half of December offered some days of wintry sensations..but by the time the calendar Winter rolled in, the anticyclone was firmly installed over southern Europe and the sun was beating down. January continued in the same vein – sun, sun, sun – until about the 20th when the weather finally changed and a couple of Atlantic storms blew in bringing some days of rain, snow and high winds. But it was all over by the first days of February, the anticyclone was back in place and there it stayed thru the rest of ‘Winter’ into Spring..an incredible eight weeks with hardly a drop of rain or a flake of snow, rare clouds the odd day, the skies dominated day after day after day by the sun, very mild temps..weird weather indeed.

Things were looking good in early February

Things were looking good in early February, cirque and laguna of Peñalara.

A visit to 'Bola del Mundo' at the end of February..the snow was holding out despite the sun.

A visit to ‘Bola del Mundo’ at the end of February..the snow was holding out despite the sun.

Early March, it's getting dryer, but still plentiful snow in some places..

Early March, it’s getting dryer, but still plentiful snow in some places..

..some areas in the distance betray bareness.

..some areas in the distance betray bareness.

In general snow on South faces is disappearing fast..

In general snow on South faces is disappearing fast..

..forcing us to turn to North faces, North of Citores.

..forcing us to turn to North faces, North of Citores.

North of Citores, still looking good, mid-March..

North of Citores, still looking good, mid-March..

..if you don't look around too much.

..if you don’t look around too much.

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Mr. Atomic Red Boots goes to Peñalara

A sunlit day in the forest high on the mountainside, a young boy wearing big red boots walks among the trees..small birds chirp, the breeze stirs the pine-needles, there is no wolf to be seen..but who knows?..above the treeline, in the realm of the alpine..who or what may appear before our eyes, flitting across the snow-blanketed landscape, sliding over the snowpack and back, lower down, to the cover of pines..?

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Soft snow ski

Soft!

Soft!

So..it snowed! Just at the end of January and in the first days of February we got some of the white stuff..not exactly a huge cold dump, but days of snow interspersed with days of rain. And then days of fierce winds blowing the top snow around. The final result was not beautiful in some places, leaving an irregular checkerboard of exposed patches of old frozen snow and new windpack slabs with a sastrugi-type finish in high open terrain, but lower down in certain bowls and valleys the wind deposited quantities of snow in soft poudreuse-style drifts..making for excellent skiing.

Rocks and all things hard..made soft.

Rocks and all things hard..made soft.

So while others toiled on the hardpack in the higher alpine areas, those of us who knew made for the treed bowls, where the goods had been stored by Brother Mistral..the softer side of life. There was at times up to half a meter of new snow on top of a good base..to be honest it wasn’t the lightest driest snow you could imagine, at best it was poudre lourde but, hey, am i complaining about heavy pow?!!

Arcing thru somewhat steeper terrain at the top of the bowl..

Arcing thru somewhat steeper terrain at the top of the bowl..

The trees and their low-hanging branches will sometimes complicate matters a tad in this kind of skiing, but this really just adds to the interest of such terrain..ain’t no piste, bro! Wearing a helmet is probably not a bad idea.

..mellowing out halfway down..

..mellowing out and opening up into meadows halfway down..

I like to call this area the ‘Bullpen Bowl’..owing to a feature to be found where the bowl bottoms out. It does get a bit flat at the end but skis still run well in schuss..and there are rocks and bumps everywhere to pop off at speed.

..flattening out at the end. The Bullpen is hidden in the background.

..flattening out at the end. The ‘Bullpen’ is hidden in the background.

Not everybody’s cup of tea surely but popping off rocks into soft snow is a whole lotta fun. It’s nothing like cliff-hucking, pro ski jumping or downhill racing 50-meter airy blasts..it’s just fun.

Flat..but not boring!

Flat..but not boring!

And the enormous importance of the place, the Bullpen, the bowl with its trees and meadows, the larger surroundings – el entorno – and, of course, that thick blanket of soft, soft snow..days to remember!

The Bullpen Bowl, in all its glory.

The Bullpen Bowl, foreground, in all its glory.

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Hard snow ski

I generally tend to publish photos of my son skiing what some denominate the backcountry..mountain skiing or ski-touring, whatever you like to call it..skiing on natural snow or wild snow – back to nature and all that. But we do ski on groomed snow and on artificial snow every once in a while too..resort skiing or skiing on piste – and here’s a photo to prove it.

Skiing on the 'groomed' piste known as El Bosque.

Skiing on the ‘groomed’ piste known as El Bosque.

I’m not particularly crazy about spending time in ski-stations, the mechanized mountains of our times, but there is some justification for it when it comes to learning, practising new techniques and suchlike. And when their isn’t much natural snow about, or what there is of natural snow is something akin to reinforced concrete, or there’s lots of natural snow and avalanche danger is high, or the weather is just not conducive..then the resort scenario, though often vulgarly unattractive – when not downright ugly – in its transposition of urban shittiness to the mountains, can seem more tolerable.

At the moment we’re experiencing the ‘reinforced concrete’ variation in justifications for resort skiing, but it’s not like the supposedly groomed or machined snow of the piste in the above picture was especially good to ski. Underneath a couple of centimeters of loose crystals – quickly banished to the side-borders of the piste – lay a bed of ‘snow’ which offered sensations that i imagine as not dissimilar to skiing on polished asphalt. Smoother and faster than the bone-jarring rough concrete sensations off piste..but not a whole lot of fun either.

We have been getting out to the wild the odd day too..and sweeter sensations!

Hiking for turns..in more or less wild snow.

Hiking for turns..in more or less wild snow.

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Frozen mountain lake

La Laguna de Claveles, 2120m, below the East face of Peñalara.

La Laguna de Claveles, 2120m, below the East face of Peñalara.

Strange weather indeed, this dry Winter. Though temperatures have been more or less normal thru December, the emblematic laguna of the Sierra de Guadarrama, la Laguna Grande de Peñalara, typically frozen over from early December to late March or even into April in cold years, remains completely devoid of ice this January. Nevertheless, barely 100m higher up, the similarly sized Laguna de Claveles has a covering of ice 20cm thick.

View of the Southern shore of Laguna de Claveles, with some accumulation of snow on what are North-facing slopes.

View of the Southern shore of Laguna de Claveles, with some accumulation of snow on what are North-facing slopes.

You wouldn’t think there could be so much difference in 100 vertical meters, but apparently there is..the Laguna Grande at 2020m has no ice, while the Laguna de Claveles at 2119m is completely frozen.* What’s also curious is how the level of the water in the lake has dropped since it froze over, probably in late November or early December. The near total drought of the last month combined with freezing conditions has meant that the lake receives less water than it loses, so the thick layer of ice is almost a foot lower now than when it originally formed..as evidenced by the obvious collapse all around the lake’s perimeter.

View in the opposite direction towards the Northern shore, with little or no snow on the South-facing slopes.

View in the opposite direction towards the Northern shore, with little or no snow on the South-facing slopes.

Of course we had to do a little testing out on the ice..or was it Inuit style fishing? Making a hole was not easy, chipping away at the thick ice with an ice-axe took its time, and we were able to open it up a bit with the snow-saw..but the fruit of our efforts over 45 minutes was barely 10cm in diameter.

Big enough to get a fish thru?

Big enough to get a fish thru? Hmm..

Well, we had some fun anyway..and the fact that no fish live in this small mountain lake which often dries up in Summer made the size of our hole somewhat academic.

 

*Also frozen is the third significant Peñalara lake, Laguna de los Pájaros, higher still at 2170m.

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