Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hiking La Pedriza in the Guadarrama Mountains

Family in front of trail leading to el Yelmo
 On Sunday, we went hiking in the La Pedriza area of the Sierra de Guadarrama.  It's less than 1 hour from Madrid, and an area of rugged granite outcroppings.  Much better reached by driving your own vehicle than the bus - we got a car out from bluemove.es, a local carsharing company, and the day was much easier than the first time we went out on public transit. The park is criss crossed by trails, some of the long distance trails even require scrambling up big granite block - hard work for 5-year-old legs, but beautiful.  For old, not so tall mountains that were scraped bare by glaciers, it's ssurprisinglyrugged.
Mountain Goats - a big male
 We'd seen several groups of mountain goats in the Gredos mountains, which are more remote, but we also saw them this time in Pedriza.  Several times there were lone goats on top of a ridgeline.  When we were near Elefantito (see the photo below), we saw a group that crossed the trail below us.  There were at least 2 males with large, circular horns.  We'd thought we'd seen a mixed group of males, females, and kids in the Gredos, but it was clearly the first time we'd seen males as their shaggy black bellies and large horns are quite distinctive.
View from Elefantito, Madrid skyscrapers 40K away in the background
 The Manzanares River, the small river running through Madrid, starts in La Pedriza and we crossed it at the start and end of the hike.  From the ridgeline, we could look over the plain and see Madrid in the distance.  Amazing view.
At Elefantito
The first part of our hike was up to Elefantito, an aptly named rock formation.  The trails were great, but steep, until we got on the side trail leading up to Elefantito, and couldn't find the cairns.  We've had that problem a lot and had to do some time consuming trailfinding.  Part of the problem in La Pedriza is that it's very heavily traveled and there are lots of little side trails and it's hard for a hiker new to the area to know which one is the main one if it's not blazed or marked.   The big, main, long-distance trails are very well blazed, but we seem to like heading off on smaller trails also and there we run into trailfinding issues.  That is an opportunity for the kids to practice trail finding and making decisions about which trail they think will be better to take.  And we've had lots of opportunities to practice trying to keep our feet dry on wet trails this fall.  Silas has gotten quite good at walking on the rocks and balancing,

From Elefantito, we'd planned to walk up to a pass and then back down to our car on a well-traveled forest road called the Autopista (highway) because it's very accessible.  But it was getting late, and that loop was long, so we decided to take another hiker's advice and cut through a meadow at the base of El Yelmo, the central peak in this part of the park, to make a shorter loop back to the parking lot.  We did that, and then could find nothing, no cairn, no obvious water-logged trail, nothing, to mark the trail down.  Frustrating!  So we backtracked and asked another group of hikers. They were incredibly nice and knowledgeable, and showed us the trail to the upper part of the meadow and where the downward trail started.  That trail had many people on it, and went by the face of el Yelmo with many rock climbers.  On the way down, we went through another mountain meadow that they've used to shoot western movies, and then by another rock face we'd seen over 50 climbers on in the morning.

A full day hike with tons to see, a little bit of getting lost, plenty of scrambling, and great views.  It's amazing to be able to take the kids on all-day hikes now.  Silas was quite tired in the first hour, that had about 400M elevation gain through creek-covered trails, hard going, but once we got into the day, the kids had energy and we had a good time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hiking the Gredos Mountains

Last weekend we went hiking the the Gredos Mountains, in Avila Province about 2 hours west of Madrid.  You're not allowed to camp in any parks in most provinces of Spain, so we'd booked 2 nights in a Refugio, or a mountain hut. The highest peaks of the Gredos are about 2,500 meters, so not so tall but there is skiing there in winter.  We hiked up to Laguna Grande the first day, a 6.5 K hike.  The weather was awesome, the trail was great, and the kids were running around in short sleeves.  We saw 2 mountain goats on a ridge above the parking lot.  The scenery is dry, high, plains, and the upper parts of the mountains are glacially-carved rock.

 A couple hours in and a few hundred meters higher, we started finding patches of snow.  This was good for lots of snow tromping.
 Four hours in, we came to Refugio Elola, on the far side of Laguna Grande, a lake left in the glacial cirque,  This is the trail on the descent to the Refugio - clouds had rolled in but we still had some peeks at the peaks.
 Day 2 we planned a full day, 12 K circular hike, over  ridge, to the next cirque, the up over the ridge and back down to the refugio.  We had some trouble trail finding out from the Refugio and did some scrambling around the lake until we found the trail over the ridge and down into Garganta, the next cirque.  From there, we again had trouble trail finding going up over the next ridge, and at lunch time we'd gotten socked in with snow falling and decided to call it.  We turned back around, and low and behold on the downward trail we could find cairns and had a much easier descent despite the snow.  At the bottom in Garganta, it was again sunny for lunch and we could see the peaks.  I was ruing deciding to back off.  But then we saw a herd of mountain goats.
 They were moving from one rocky outcropping to another, a group of 1 male maybe 2 females and 2 kids. It was amazing. Easy to see, cautious of us, but clearly used to hikers.  This is a photo of the male, behind a kid and one female crossing an outcropping.

After a sunny lunch and goat watching, it was back over the ridge and around the lake to the refugio.  This time we could again find the cairns for the trail going down, so the trail was much better.  But, it started to snow, and then the snow turned into rain, and Silas had had it.  Mike had to carry him a bit, off and on, for the last 90 minute slog out of the slush, hard work for Mike and an unhappy Silas in unpredictable winter weather.  Back at the refugio, everyone changed socks, warmed up, the kids got a  warm Cola Cao (Spanish version of hot chocolate) from the refugio kitchen.
 The next morning, we woke up to several inches of snow outside the refugio,  Here are the kids before starting out the 6.5 K hike back down to the car in the snow.  I didn't get a photo of our bedroom, but there were 24 bunks, 3 vertical rows of 4 beds on each side of the dorm room.  There were several dorm rooms on the second floor and the refugio could hold over 60. Downstairs was the communal room and kitchen -- the dining/communal room was slightly warmed by a wood-pellet stove.  Most supplies were hauled in on donkey-back, though two young men who ran the place had passed us on our way in on Friday and another one appeared sometime on Saturday (the refugio was much fuller on Saturday night than Friday, though still not full).
 Lots of snow with some sun breaks.  Not many views on the way out.
 It was a bit of an upward slog over the ridge because of the weather.  Luckily, on the ridge, there were tons of icicles hanging off rocks and we got a couple of K of kids with energy to check out rocks for icicles to eat,  Yum!  Why were we carrying water?
By the time we got back to the car, most of the snow was gone and Maeve was picking up snow from piles and dumping it in puddles so Silas could throw rocks at it and break up the slush.  Winter weather fun for all!  There were also a few hundred people in inappropriate gear on the last kilometer of trail.  We realized there were 3 groups of people -- folks who wanted to hike and were prepared, and 2 groups of folks who wanted to play in the snow and/or to look for wild mountain goats, none of which were to be seen because of the hordes of people and multiple dogs.  Good end to the adventure.