Since early May we’ve had weeks of cloudy skies with storms in the afternoon or late evening – and sometimes in the morning too. While temperatures have remained relatively cool, the amount of water falling from the skies has made for rapid retreat of the snow even high up in the mountains.
The lowest surviving snowfields are at about 2050m, below Peñalara’s East face.
Nevertheless, the fanatics and diehards among us are still getting out there to ski! On Sunday (03 June) the forecast once more projected storms for the early afternoon, but i decided to go for it anyway. It’s been practically the same forecast every day for the last four weeks.
Narrowing gully, but still good to ski.. (Tubo de la Pared Negra de Claveles).
After an hour’s hiking with skis on my back i began to close on the zone where i hoped to find several hundred meters of vertical skiing still intact. This time of year there’s always a sense of trepidation.. will the late-season steep lines maintain continuity, or will there be crevasses opening up and complicating things?
Top of the gully flattens out and then rises up again with untrammelled continuity to the top.
The first line i wanted to ski, and perhaps the most classic of all Guadarrama, is to be found on Peñalara’s East face and is the Pala-tubo Ruau/Pared Negra de Claveles (Ruau Face followed by the Black Wall of Claveles Gully). Even in poor snow years it can often be descended as late as May, this year it might last to mid-June or later.
The full line, 300m of vertical ascent/descent.
I was relieved to find that it was still in, no breaks in the steep and narrow sections, no rocks poking thru in the flatter part. Despite having a snow depth of several meters in the gully, the dynamics of steep narrow snow means that splits will occur, resulting in gaping crevasses not unlike those found in glaciers. But not yet! On the way up i could see the incipient splits at a couple of points, but nothing to impede a sliding descent.
From the Summit of Peñalara the storm can be seen brewing in the distance.
The storm was well on its way by the time i had skied back down, but i decided that as there was no way of avoiding getting wet.. i might as well ski another line a bit further to the East, below the Claveles ridge. So, back up i went. Within twenty minutes, getting close to the steep part just below the ridge, i realized that the storm was on top of me..lightning starting to crack down close by. So skis on..
200m+ of vertical ski on the east face of Claveles Ridge.
..and back down to the flat, and away from the flashing electric bolts. But not from the follow-on, a ferocious shower of hail segueing into heavy rain. Thank God for Gore-tex! ..and multiple other amazing marvellous plastics that protect us from the elements. (If only we could keep them out of the sea..and mountain streams..and so on..).
The storm about to hit..
It only lasted for 15-20 minutes, then lightened up a bit. I only got minimally wet. And was fortunately back down to civilized bricks-and-mortar shelter before the next episode, a torrential downpour an hour later.
All in a fine day of late Spring skiing in the Sierra de Guadarrama.