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.

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