The blue mountain that i see in the distance when i step out on my balcony looking South, as the crow flies some 15km away, is the mountain that rises above El Escorial, Monte Abantos.
When i first started to visit the Sierra de Guadarrama – while still living in Madrid – i frequently visited the El Escorial area and its mountains, including of course Abantos. But since i moved out to Cercedilla, close to the central Guadarrama sector, i hadn’t been back. In at least fifteen years. My six-year-old son has often asked about ‘that mountain that we can see far away’ and i promised him that we would go to visit it as long ago as the Summer before last. Finally this last weekend we got around to it.
Leaving the small town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, we hiked up thru the forest of oak, ash, willow and pine on the southwestern slopes of the mountain. There’s a fairly well-marked GR trail that leads all the way to the top..and many stretches of it have a good deal of shade so it’s fine for a Summer hike.
Along the way we were treated to the delights of flowering escaramujos (musk rose), piornos (broom) and jaras (rockrose). We were particularly interested to see the jara which, though abundant in many areas of Guadarrama, is not so common in our local Fuenfría Valley.
The middle part of the trail ascends the relatively steep mountainside by means of a long series of zigzags..some will say this makes for a gradual evenly-paced ascent, others will complain that the switchbacks are interminable. After a couple of hours walking you arrive at a rocky shoulder and the views open up.
From this point there’s a long straight stretch that continues to rise gradually until you reach a small meadow with a spring, la fuente del Cervunal, at 1670m. The water was good and cold, a throwback to Winter – or cold Spring days at the very least! – and a delight to drink on a warm Summer afternoon.
Just five minutes from the spring the climb ends..as you emerge onto the summit plateau of Abantos. Now the views really open up, looking down on El Escorial, las Machotas, the southern Castilian plain stretching away to the horizon..and the central Sierra area to the NorthEast.
We spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering about the summit, taking in the views in different directions, eating, watching the sun drop to the West. A few other people came and went, griffon vultures planed above – not surprisingly, as Abantos is named for the abanto or alimoche (Egyptian vulture), a species still present in many parts of Spain but long disappeared from the Sierra de Guadarrama – and we even saw an eagle briefly soar past.
But there was still more fauna on the menu for the evening. As we were taking it easy sitting comfortably on the rocks of the summit block, hungrily gobbling pasta, a fox suddenly appeared just ten meters away. It eyed us interestedly – probably our food more than us – closed in cautiously, backed off, circled round behind, came several times to within three meters or so of our group, and generally behaved in a most unfoxlike manner.
Not only did this ‘wild’ animal display little or no fear of humans, at one point it even lunged towards us with apparently aggressive intent when somebody produced a packet of biscuits (we did not feed it)..obviously accustomed to receiving tidbits from primate hands. Another unfortunate victim of Sierra tourism and the seemingly unstoppable humanization of the wild.
All in all the fox hung around for over ten minutes in broad daylight, coming and going, scavenging for whatever scraps other summit visitors might have left between the rocks, closing in on several occasions – we had to scare the intrepid little guy off a couple of times – before i finally decided to reintroduce a little wildness to the evening and chased him/her away in full scary human predator mode.
We camped a little below the summit, not far from the spring, and were treated to a night of fox barking though we weren’t raided. I well recall a night many years ago in Sierra Nevada, bivouaced at 3000m on the snow close to Laguna de la Mosca below the North face of Mulhacén, late Winter/early Spring, waking up in the small hours to a tugging sensation and having to fight to hold on to my backpack..barely a meter away with a strap firmly gripped between his teeth, one of Sierra Nevada’s notorious foxes.
So, an entertaining visit to Monte Abantos and one that i am sure we will repeat..hopefully before another fifteen years have passed!