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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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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