Flashback to the last weekend of September, before Madrid was “confined”. Which in reality never happened, unless you count the two weeks of confinement of the working class neighbourhoods (a wicked masterplan conjured by Madrid’s local establishment), and intermittent peripheral confinement imposed by the central Government, when the rest of the city could not leave the area of Madrid Capital (but only on certain days, as a result of pitiful cockfight between the Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Isabel Ayuso, President of Madrid Autonomous Community). More about it here, should anyone be interested. Even in those two weeks, everything in Madrid remained open. This either forced us into some sort of involuntary herd immunity, or – more likely – those in charge have been creative with statistics, which had the German press (probably accustomed to Ms. Merkel being frank with the journalists, poor things) raving for a while about “miracle in Madrid”. The confinement has since been extended to the entire region, so it matters even less. To me at least. I can go hiking in the mountains or on bike rides out of town (and actually if I happen to cross to adjacent regions for a bit, no one seems to check or care). Compared to trips to Carrefour being the highlight of my life for most of the spring, this is heaven.
I am not all that sure about what we were trying to hike that day. I believe it was an attempt of what is known as Integral de la Pedriza (or at least the western part of it), but it was probably always destined to fail. For one thing, you need 12 hours (of daylight, preferably) to complete it, so pick your day carefully. I would think May, first half of June is perfect time, as it guarantees enough light, without spending the day under the scorching sun (there is no shade for a lot the trail). Theoretically, end of September is not a bad time to hike the loop. But, don’t be like us and start early. Also, maybe skip an hour-long breakfast before you even start walking. In our defence, the bar in question had torreznos, and I am as easily corruptible by the smell of fried pork cracklings as I am regarding the supposedly stronger sex (especially the specimen showing clear psychopathic traits). No will power whatsoever. Gluttony deserves the same attention as lust (and lately has been much easier to satisfy, and not because psychopaths are hard to come across).
Cuenca Alta de Manzanares is a beautiful natural park at the foot of Sierra de Guadarrama, and offers hiking options for any level and experience, from children-friendly trails to actual rock climbing.
Starting point: Canto Cochino, or if you are late, Manzanares el Real
How to get there: best way is to drive to Canto Cochino inside the natural park Cuenca Alta de Manzanares. But be aware that the parking closes when full, which is normally before 9.30 am and stays closed until late afternoon. We were of course late and had to park in Manzanares, which means additional 5 km hike to Canto Cochino (and back, eventually), and it is not a particularly pretty walk. It is appealing on a road bike, but only if you for some reason like cycling uphill. If you plan on arriving by public transport, take bus 724 from Madrid Plaza Castilla to Manzanares el Real. There is supposedly a shuttle bus between Manzanares and Canto Cochino, but I would not rely on it too much.
Length and altitude: the entire loop is over 18 km from Canto Cochino, add 10 km from/to Manzanares. Accumulated climb is over 1000m from Canto Cochino.
Difficulty: high, considering the length and the climb, but the trails goes up and down all the time. You don’t need climbing equipment, but be prepared to get on all four many times. It’s not a walk in the woods, you need to be reasonably fit.
What we actually hiked: We started from Canto Cochino, through Cancho de los Muertos, as planned, and continued to climb towards El Carro del Diablo and Collado de la Romera (where we encountered the goats). After that, I suspect we either wandered off the path, or the trail became too scarcely visible. We should have been on the crest of Las Milaneras (that eventually leads to the highest point of the circular hike, Las Torres de la Pedriza), but I suspect we were somewhere parallel to it. We continued climbing for a while, but it was increasingly difficult to proceed at a decent speed, so we jointly decided that there was no shame in abandoning the plan and declaring defeat, also because we would almost certainly come back after dark (and not all of us were carrying a headtorch). We had lunch, I believe somewhere below Tres Cestos, then retraced our steps to the forest just above Collado de la Romera, where we found a trail that eventually crossed PR-M2 (the more popular – and better marked – trail that leads to Las Torres), which then comfortably took us to back to Canto Cochino. An approximative map of what may have happened here. So there, that’s one incumbent New Year’s resolution that I may actually stick to for once: Complete the Integral de la Pedriza in 2021. Easy.
The (semi) wildlife we encountered consisted of vultures and mountain goats. We were too much alive to be of any interest to the vultures, but the goats shown no fear whatsoever. I am perfectly aware that I should not interact with the wildlife, but this one particular goat would not have it. While we were having a photo break, she casually joined to inspect the contents of our unattended backpacks as she was clearly used to backpacks being where the good stuff comes from. She didn’t show any intention of leaving without being bribed to do so, so I shared some raisins with her.
Also, ladies, when it comes to (semi) wild life, certain parts of La Pedriza are very popular with rock climbers, and they are an incredibly fit crowd. Excellent birdwatching conditions on most weekends.
The Gang. We have representatives of USA, Peru, Germany, Spain and Czech Republic:
Bonus video of me trying to reason with a goat. This is not a metaphor of a discussion about politics.