Yet another January scarce in snow..

Sea of cloud, seen from the West face of Maliciosa.

Sea of cloud, seen from the West face of Maliciosa in early January 2017.

I hate to be repetitious but that’s the way January is in the mountains of Guadarrama in recent times. Scarce in snow. Prodigious in days of high pressure, sun, temperature inversion and seas of cloud..

The same sea of cloud seen from the summit of Maliciosa, 2227m, looking South to Madrid.. the city of course swathed in fog.

The same sea of cloud seen from the summit of Maliciosa, 2227m, looking South to Madrid.. the city of course swathed in fog.

..and low in snow. Some years we get rain but hardly any snow, even up high. No rain either this year though. Drought, basically. Those of us bent on skiing survived on a meager ration of white stuff that fell in mid-December.

My son skinning on bulletproof white stuff, Peñalara, early January.

My son skinning on bulletproof white stuff, Peñalara, early January.

We’ve seen worse of course. Like nothing at all. Hardly a flake of decorative snow, let alone skiable matter. This year it’s not quite that bad.

Ready to slide, top of Peñalara. Doesn't look so bad, does it?

Ready to slide, top of Peñalara. Doesn’t look so bad, does it?

However, the reality is that the above shot makes things look really good. Ouch. So, a couple of days out on our bikes. We got a few days of mechanical ski in not quite totally minimal conditions at one of our local stations. As the month wore on into its final third, we finally saw some precipitation..coming from the South/SouthEast once more, so not supergenerous, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Fresh snow at last, twenty days into January. Thirty-something since the last snowfall.

Fresh snow at last, twenty days into January. Thirty-something since the last snowfall.

Although twenty centimeters doesn’t change things a lot, it does at least look nice. For a day or two anyhow. Don’t you think?

The South face of Peñalara looking sweet. A kind of mirage.. two days later it was all browngraygreen again.

The South face of Peñalara looking sweet. A kind of mirage.. two days later it was all browngraygreen again.

North facing slopes fared best, conserving a meager layer of old hard-frozen snow and looking very esthetic – and less ephemeral – with the new stuff on top..

North face of Cabezas de Hierro, late afternoon, late January.

North face of Cabezas de Hierro, late afternoon, late January.

..and even offering fleeting moments of ‘powder’ ski. Wow! I began to fantasize that i was in Canada for a few minutes..

Powder chute, North face of Cabezas de Hierro.

Powder chute, North face of Cabezas de Hierro.

..and then just below this point – where i stopped to look back up and whip out my phone – i began to bang into rocks all over the place. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. No, this is Guadarrama. Definitely not Canada in January.

In these very last days of the month, as is the pattern over the last decade, things seemed to change. A storm finally washed in from the West bringing a reasonable snowfall, 10-12cm here in town (1200m) and 30-40cm at 1800-2000m. The follow-up looks set to continue to be humid, though rain and ‘pissing mist’ – niebla meona – now threaten. Oh well, that’s Guadarrama. Take it as it comes.

Lots of snow doesn’t always mean tons of wonderful goodness. Look at the central region of Italy where they’ve had 3 to 4 meters in the high Apennines..and the misfortune that has befallen as a result. Some of us can be thankful for our lives, wouldn’t you agree?

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Enhanced reality

Whole lotta snow, no?

Whole lotta snow, no?

The other day, i was up the mountains with my son checking out the new snow. There wasn’t a lot of it. In fact there wasn’t even enough to skin comfortably..let alone ski. So we sought out a sheltered area – just behind the Casa del Parque in Cotos – where there was a little more accumulation – maybe as much as 12-15cm – on grass..and we took advantage of the remains of somebody’s igloo to build a small kicker. We then proceeded to have lots of fun jumping off the ramp for a couple of hours, filling in the landing area after every jump or two to avoid coming down directly on the grass. In the above image it even looks like there was snow, right?!

Stark reality. Not really a lot of snow, is there?

Stark reality. Not really a lot of snow, is there?

In the second photo you get a more real picture of that day’s reality. A lot of what we see in ‘media’ is on the same plane as the first shot. It does not correspond to visual reality, either because the picture is manipulated or enhanced to make things look betterbrightermorecolourfulmorebrilliantmorereal or whatever (could just as easily be darkerstarkermoresinister etc) or more fundamentally because the photograph just never really captures the reality as perceived by those present. We see the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave.

Or you might argue that this is where true art steps in..to transmit by an indirect or alternative route something akin to the total experience lived by those present.

The truth is that despite the rather drab snowcover we really had a good time that day.

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Late November snow surprise!

Dashing thru the snow?

Dashing thru the snow?

After the superdry Summer we had this year, October and November have thankfully been more normal in precipitations. With the drop in temperatures towards the end of November we even got a certain amount of snow. Nothing like the Alps or Pyrenees, where there has been record snowfall for November in some places, but up to 30-40cm fell in the mountains of Guadarrama..which is not bad at all if you compare to some recent years.

This is how i like to see Cotos in November.

This is how i like to see Cotos in November.

Of course people had their skis out barely had the first flakes settled on the floor. But the 10-15cm deposited on the ground at 1800-1900m didn’t exactly make for great skiing. In fact even much higher up on South and East facing slopes there wasn’t a lot of snow. The SouthEast winds driving the precipitation – known in the Peninsula as gota fria – left greater accumulations on North and West facing terrain, which is not very typical locally. Anyway my son got his boards out and had his first day of ‘skinning’ (walking uphill with climbing skins attached to the base of your ski).

Skinning at seven!

Skinning at seven!

Unfortunately, as so often in Guadarrama, this early snow was followed up by days of mild temps, pissing mist..and this last Sunday (04 Dec) a downpour of very liquid precip right up to the tops of the mountains.

Take it as it comes, i guess!

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Natural disaster

Monsters stalk the surface of our planet. And i’m not talking about Jurassic theropods or hungry polar bears or Gothic vampires..or even 21st century serial killers. Sometimes we tend to look upon horror figures of the past century like Stalin, Hitler, Franco – and the millions who did their bidding and collaborated with them – as if they were historical anomalies, egregious excrescences of an abnormal century, maybe even the result of some weird conjunction of planets. But there wasn’t really anything so exceptional about these monsters of the recent past..other than maybe their unprecedented access to technology that facilitated mass communication..and mass murder. We have even more technology now. And, in the present century, what reason is there to expect that we will not have monsters comparable to those mentioned above?

Even though to some who live afar it might seem almost comical, the accession of a pussy-grabbing thug to one of the most powerful offices on Earth in the early 21st century is no laughing matter. Apart from the casual brutality that may be perpetrated on the residents of the country in question and the natural environment of that country, and immediate destructive resonances that will ripple globally outward, as a result of this electoral choice by a little over 18% of the country’s population, there will be more general, global, planetary consequences. With such a buffoon wielding power – an individual almost entirely devoid of principles and totally immune to any kind of scientific fact – we can only expect the worst in terms of what will happen with human abuse of our planet. This is nothing less than a global disaster..just at the moment when humans seemed to be catching on to the need for action to preserve something of the beauty and diversity of our world. And just at the moment when there is alarming evidence that we are possibly close to tipping points from which there will be no return. Close to the edge..and now this.

If you have children, and you are concerned for their future..maybe it’s time to get your sword out. (Even if you don’t have children?)

Here’s one way to wield your weapon: 350.org.

 

PS: please forgive my above insult to the centuries old and quite honorable profession of buffoon.

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Dark time of the year?

After a week of Autumnal weather with abundant precipitation, the sun reigns once more in Spanish skies. Just when the long Summer of 2016 seemed to have definitively finished.. it’s back! 24ºC in Cercedilla today and i had to deploy the awning on my balcony once more so that my son could play outside without being blasted by our local star. It reminded me of this butterfly who seemed to be seeking relief from the sun one day back in July.

Parnassius Apollo

Parnassius Apollo, Puerto de los Neveros, 24 July 2016.

At the high point of Summer hundreds of Apollos flutter around the high mountain pass of Puerto de los Neveros, at about 2100m, to the NorthEast of Peñalara. It’s quite a spectacle, and it only happens here..i think i have never seen an Apollo anywhere else in the Guadarrama. Despite the wondrous abundance of these butterflies at this spot, they are hard to photograph..they just don’t sit still, on the move all the time. I gave up after more than half an hour of trying. We were moving away from the area of maximum concentration when we came upon this one, immobile on the ground – immobilised by accident or brush with a predator i imagine – it seemed to be seeking the shade, the little shelter from the sun afforded by the wiry subalpine grass. So I took my chance.

Searching for shelter from the sun at the end of July seems fair enough, but seeking the shade at the end of October? With the sun beating down anew these days it’s hard to get into the spirit of Halloween.. An Samhain, the Celtic seasonal celebration of the coming Dark time of the year, the advent of Winter. Minimum temps are quite low however, around 5ºC, and we have a forecast of a drop to zero within four or five days with some rain and snow on high. Yeah, as far as i’m concerned, bring on the dark, wintry half of the year!

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Valsaín – traversing the great valley

Looking down and across the great forested valley of Valsaín from the Peñalara side.

Looking down and across the great forested valley of Valsaín from the Peñalara side.

What is the most beautiful valley of Guadarrama? I love my local Fuenfría Valley like no other. The Rascafría or Lozoya Valley is the vastest, longest, deepest of the Sierra’s valleys. Not long ago i wrote of the delights of the less-travelled but no less great Río Moros Valley. So now it’s the turn of Valsaín, a valley second to none..and quite distinct from the other high valleys of Guadarrama in its amplitude. Whereas most valleys tend to narrow towards a high point at the head of the valley, Valsaín does exactly the opposite spreading out at the head to a breadth of some 10km (almost exactly 9km as the crow flies from Puerto de Cotos to Puerto de Fuenfría). Think of it as something like a hammerhead shark. The lower valley where it opens out towards the town of La Granja – and Segovia in the distance and the plains of Old Castile – would be the shark’s tail. The middle valley – the shark’s body – is relatively narrow. The upper valley forms a wide basin with Puerto de Navacerrada in the center – the shark’s mouth – and with Cotos and Fuenfría – the shark’s eyes – on either side.

The forestry track leading down to Valsaín from Cotos.

The forestry track leading down to Valsaín from Cotos.

Last weekend we set out to cross this upper valley starting down from Puerto de Cotos, following the GR10 trail. After a section of forestry track we took the narrow road that runs around the upper valley, leaving the GR for a stretch.

On the road..

On the road..

Now i know that walking on an asphalted surface might not be everybody’s idea of hiking in the mountains, but this forestry road really is a very special road. We soon left the road for a trail that took us down to the valley drainage, where the La Cantina bridge crosses the Eresma river.

Getting down towards the bottom of the valley, the mountains rising above all around.

Getting down towards the bottom of the valley, the mountains rising above all around.

Having crossed the river it was now time to ascend in the direction of Puerto de Fuenfría, once more following the GR10. And once more following the forestry road, and now for several kilometers. Nature lovers might frown here and say ‘hey man, what’s with all the asphalt?’..but you really have to see this road, dare i say feel this road, in order to get it. The photos will give you an idea, but they are nothing like the experience.

On the road again..

On the road again..

My feet pound multiple kilometers of artificial surface every week, concrete, asphalt, paving tiles, pavestones, whatever..and i am the last person to want more of that when i get out into the forests and mountains. But this road is different. To begin with, it’s absolutely closed to traffic, so it’s very rare to see a motorised vehicle on it. Next, as you can see in the photos, a lot of the time you don’t actually tread the asphalt..there’s a practically continuous layer of pine needles on the road. And where do all those pine needles come from..?

..surrounded by the wild pines of Valsaín..

..surrounded by the wild pines of Valsaín..

..from the wild pines of Valsaín, that surround you and shelter you at all times. At times they stand over you aloof, at times they almost seem to caress you. The ferns that often cover the forest floor add to this sense of closeness, clothing us in floral lavishness. The relationship between the forest and the road is one of intimacy. I’m not sure if a road can ever be a delightful thing, but if there is such a thing as a delightful road..then, this is it. And should you be lucky enough to get it with the right light, it’s truly magical. Like something out of a fairy story, or maybe like the yellow brick road..

Still on the road..

Still on the road..

It goes on gently ascending for quite a bit, but you don’t want it to end. Of course it does, kilometers later..and all too soon? When the asphalted road tops out, it’s still pretty cool..you can choose between the forestry track for the last stretch to Fuenfría or take the historic Bourbon/Roman Way. They run almost parallel until just before the pass where they come together again, and they both pass close to the famous ruins of Casarás on the way. And finally at Fuenfría, el Puerto de Fuenfría, we said goodbye..with just a hint of sadness, to the magnificent valley of Valsaín.

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Late Summer and Winter Nostalgia is hitting

WP_20160322_11_10_43_Pro (2)The Summer scorches on, the sun beats down day after day..local temps have been relatively normal (that means hot, mean temps from late June thru August around 21-22ºC, many days maxing at 28-30ºC) but it has been extremely dry. A few dry storms, hardly a decent rain-shower all Summer..so apart from the odd couple of days where temps have dropped slightly there has been little respite from the sun, and the sensation is that of months of consistent heat. And even if local temps are normal, we all know that AGW marches on. So forgive me for wallowing in a little Winter  nostalgia.

The above photo is probably among the best, if not the best, that i took this last Winter..and certainly the best that i have not published. It had snowed heavily from the previous evening and there was well over a foot of fresh that morning. The weather was very closed in earlier but it began to open up as the day wore on. It seemed like a perfect moment – with perfect snow – as we ascended..mid-morning. As so often though, all was not as it seemed. Temps were high and the snow went transfo quickly, even on North-facing slopes. By midday it was poudre lourde/heavy pow and, while still good to ski, not quite the dream that the morning had promised.

And it was the 22nd of March..officially Spring!

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