Skiing and solitude in Río Moros Valley

These last weeks have seen multiple days of intense mountain activity. Standouts have been skiing the South and the East of La Peñota, the closest mountain to my house and one which rarely accumulates enough snow to ski, skiing off the wind chilled summit of Hermana Menor with my son on a cold and cloudy afternoon before Easter, skiing the North of Peñalara in near zero visibility – yes, that means not seeing anything most of the way down – and skiing the South, North and West of Cabeza de Hierro Menor in the day with a good cover of fresh snow during Easter week. Also a quick visit to the Pyrenees to ski the emblematic Montardo of Val d’Aran, though somewhat disappointing – less snow than expected at lower elevations, the summit was memorable for the wrong reasons, skiing off it in driving snow, another low visibility ski – the descent was nonetheless pretty cool. But the activity that i choose to highlight is..a day of skiing in the valley of Río Moros.

At the top of Río Moros Valley rises Montón de Trigo, 2155m.

At the top of Río Moros Valley rises Montón de Trigo, 2161m.

Valle de Río Moros is a major valley in the Sierra del Guadarrama range, surrounded by peaks rising to 2200m with its eponymous river running down SouthWest to the municipal area of El Espinar in Segovia province. It’s probably among the least visited valleys of the Sierra..for different reasons, related one way or another to questions of access. The lower valley has an extensive system of forestry tracks – forestry has been a prime traditional activity in El Espinar and there are two small dams in the middle of the valley – but access to the upper valley means a serious hike and trails are few. Add to that the fact that in Summer access to the valley is entirely prohibited by the municipal authorities due to forest fire concerns. Result: one very quiet valley. Apart from people visiting the peaks on the ridge between the busy Fuenfría Valley and Río Moros, or crossing over from Fuenfría to hike the ridge from Montón de Trigo to Pinareja (2197m) and Oso (2196m), it’s rare to bump into humans in the valley itself.

Nature making magic in the puddles.

Nature making magic in the puddles, early morning Fuenfría Valley.

So the other day i set out from low in the Fuenfría Valley, skis and boots on my back, to climb towards Collado de Marichiva and Peña Bercial..from where i would enter the Río Moros Valley. I started hiking from 1350m, at 1600m was able to put on skis and cautiously skin on a few centimeters of new snow, and at around 1650m began to find skiable snow. Above the col known as Marichiva, though it didn’t look too promising, i found a reasonably good quantity of snow on the South ridge of Peña Bercial (2002m), a place where i had never skied before.

Looking back down from near the summit of Peña Bercial towards Collado Marichiva and Peña del Águila rising to the SouthWest.

Looking back down from near the summit of Peña Bercial towards Collado Marichiva (lower left of foto) and Peña del Águila rising to the SouthWest.

Arriving at the top of Peña Bercial the clouds closed in and the wind blew fiercely to provide very wintry sensations..temperature quickly dropped to 1ºC and the wind chill was considerable, that feels like Winter – cold Spring days! I crossed the top of the upper Río Moros valley in low visibility towards Montón de Trigo, my first objective for the day. There was abundant snow on the mountain’s south-western slopes, 10-15cm of fresh on top of hard frozen old snow.

The South side of the West ridge of Montón de Trigo, complete with up and down tracks.

The South side of the West ridge of Montón de Trigo, complete with up and down tracks.

It was possible to ski from a couple of meters below the summit on the western ridge, then dipping directly down into the Río Moros valley, skiing between the small pines which, though not tightly packed, required some manoeuvring at times on relatively steep terrain. On reaching a confluence of streams in the area known as Ojos de Río Moros at about 1725m, i had to take skis off to precariously cross the water, insecure ski-boots on snow-covered rocks.

Confluence of streams, Ojos de Río Moros.

Confluence of streams, Ojos de Río Moros.

Having made it up the steep bank on the other side, and finding still abundant snow, i continued to ski along the left bank of the river..coasting all the way down to 1620m where another confluence brought my descent to an end.

Waterfalls in Río Moros, 1630m.

Waterfalls in Río Moros, 1630m.

From this point my direction homewards would be SouthEast towards Peña Bercial and Fuenfría once more. As i headed back up towards Bercial along its gentle northwestern slopes, noting consistent snowpack of 30-50cm, i found myself thinking that it’s not that often that one gets the opportunity to ski in this zone..and that i really would have to ski back down to the river once more.

The suave NorthWest of Peña Bercial sloping down to Río Moros.

The suave NorthWest of Peña Bercial sloping down to Río Moros.

And so i did. Arriving at about 1930m the snow began to run out – the summit area of Bercial, blasted by the wind, was almost completely snowless – so there i stopped, got skins off and slid, solitary, turning on my boards among the well spaced trees all the way back down to Río Moros.

Tributary stream to Río Moros,

Tributary stream to Río Moros.

All day i had encountered no tracks other than my own, and it occurred to me that few people at any time of the year must come this way. How far from Cotos on a Sunday morning! And such a delightful place..in all its solitary splendor.

Light and shadow magic among the trees in Río Moros Valley.

Light and shadow magic among the trees in Río Moros Valley.

Nature played a wonderful game of light as the evening wore on and i climbed back towards Bercial once more..the wind-driven clouds flirting with the sun and our local star’s rays casting fleeting pine shadows across the snow.

Finally on Peña Bercial, i got ready to finish the day with one more ski heading South towards Collado de Marichiva and the Fuenfría Valley, leaving behind the secluded Río Moros Valley. The summit itself, just above 2000m, desolate, wind-blasted, snowless, gave way to surprisingly good skiing for a couple of hundred meters on its South side.

The craggy, though flat, summit of Peña Bercial seen from the South.

The craggy, though flat, summit of Peña Bercial seen from the South.

Just above Collado de Marichiva (1753m) i had to take skis off twice, first for a couple of steps and then for a couple of dozen meters, before skiing down to the lowest point of the col..where i was surprised to suddenly see a human standing on the wall that separates Madrid and Segovia. The first person i had seen all day since Hospital de Fuenfría in the morning.

Collado de Marichiva, below Peña Bercial..and with person!

Collado de Marichiva, below Peña Bercial..and with person!

From here i continued to ski, searching for the skiable snow and avoiding bald and shallow patches – guarreando en Guadarrama at times – to reach 1650m before finally taking skis off and putting them on my pack..

Last turns 100m below Marichiva.

Last turns 100m below Marichiva.

..leaving just the 6-7km hike home down the Fuenfría Valley past the Hospital and along the Puricelli trail to Cercedilla. A day i won’t forget in a while.

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About coldspringdays

Éireannach is ea mé, i mo chonaí insan Spáinn. Rugadh mé i lár na tuaithe, ar feadh blianta bhí mé ag teitheadh uaithi, i bhfad as an tuath, ach sa deireadh d'fhill mé, ar ais go dtí an tuath.. An Irishman am I, settled in Spain. Born was I in the middle of the country, for years I ran from it, far from the country, but in the end I returned, back to the country..
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