It’s surprisingly easy to forget, when one gets very involved in the sporty or athletic side of mountain activity, just how beautiful it is to be in the mountains. It certainly happens to me sometimes..but this last weekend i got reminded, once again, of just how powerful, in a sensual and aesthetic way, the mountains can be.
We spent a couple of days in an area that i know very well but have visited little in recent years, Puerto de Fuenfría and its Northern aspect where the ancient Roman road begins its descent towards Segovia. We started out from the Hospital de Fuenfría (1345m) and ascended towards the Fuenfría pass (1792m) along the Camino Viejo de Segovia (Old Segovia Way), a trail made very pleasant by Fuenfría’s wonderful wild Pines and the shade that they give on a hot Summer’s day.
On the other side of Fuenfría the shady ambience continued as we headed for the ruins of Casa Eraso overlooking the vast valley of Valsaín with its great pine forests.
Casa Eraso, also known as Casarás, was once a large palatial residence used by Spain’s royalty travelling over the mountains between Madrid and Valsaín. Built by Felipe II in the late 16th century, this was how it looked back then. And this is how it looks today..
Though Casa Eraso is now little more than a pile of ruins, the beauty of the spot is undiminished..and perhaps even added to – for those of a Romantic spirit – precisely by the ruinous decadence of past human presence. The views over the enormous extension of Valsaín’s valley and the massif of Peñalara are magnificent.
We spent the night just by the ruins..and though no ghost appeared, we were disturbed by the aggressive bellowing of a small bull who came to check us out, and thereafter by the jangling of the bells of the cows who followed him. A night in the wild is not always a guarantee of blissful peace!
However the sunrise was magical, as it almost always is in the mountains in Summer. We quickly broke camp and headed for Montón de Trigo, the mountain which stands over Caso Eraso and Puerto de Fuenfría.
Our plan was to start early so as to complete the ascension before midday, thereby avoiding the heat of the afternoon. We were on the move well before nine, which i thought was pretty good given the inclusion of at least one five-year-old in our party.
Back at Fuenfría pass once more, we began to climb towards Cerro Minguete..soon leaving behind the trees and their shade. Though still early, this is Summer in Spain and the sun starts to hit long before midday. Despite being close to 2000m, we began to feel the heat.
At this point we were getting up a sweat, and from the top of Minguete we would have to drop down slightly and then ascend once more along a steep path to the rocky summit of Montón de Trigo. I could sense that our spirits were flagging..maybe the heat and the height were going to be too much for us.
We pushed on. I pushed a little (and pulled a lot)..and we pushed on up. Close to the top, as the trail steepened even more, mamma and auntie had had enough and gave up. But there was no stopping the youngest mountaineer of our party, barely five years old, who went hopping – yes, literally hopping – to the top. Montón de Trigo, 2161m.
From a sporty, athletic point of view, that’s close to 1000m of vertical gain (and almost 17km) in under 24 hours. Not bad for a day over five!
More on the history of Casa Eraso (in Spanish).