A throwback post to the last warm autumn days before the snow started to fall. Don’t imagine a Siberian winter, although the shut passes in the mountains last weekend may suggest just that. The problem is not the light sprinkle on the peaks of Sierra de Guadarrama, but the car-owning Madrileños who all had the same idea to head to Navacerrada (the only place with sufficient altitude accessible by car) for a snowy Instagram photo shoot (without actually having to walk anywhere further than a few metres from the parking lot), thus causing traffic collapse and chaos on the steep mountain roads. Because guess how many people in this country bother to change tyres for winter?
In late November the weather was still beautiful and the foliage at its brightest, and after my Covid isolation I was keen to be outside as much as possible. Mid-week hikes are the best (although it is slightly surprising that even on a school day there is a fair amount of people out and about). So when my friend Matt called me that he was in town for a day and asked if I fancied a hike (yes, contrary to the popular belief, I do have friends that get in touch about non-sexual inquiries), I came up with the following plan.
Circular de la Sierra de la Cabrera: La Cabrera – Pico de la Miel (1392 m) – PRM 13 trail (the ridge of La Cabrera) – Peña del Águila (1448 m) – Valdemanco – GR 10 trail – La Cabrera.
Starting point: the village of La Cabrera.
How to get there: bus 191 towards Buitrago de Lozoya from Intercambiador Plaza de Castilla bus station, the ride takes just over an huour. If you are driving, you can park anywhere (I think, but then I distinguish between places where I can park and where I am able to park, and those two groups only just overlap), there is a large truck stop by the petrol station just at the end of the village. Alternatively you can park by the cemetery of Valdemanco, but there it doesn’t make much sense for this circular trail, as you will still have to go through La Cabrera. It may be a convenient starting point for other hikes in the area, though. If you start and finish in La Cabrera, there are breakfast, coffee and recovery drink options. There is no café at the cemetery. Understandably so.
Length and climb: 15 km, accumulated climb of about 630 m including Pico de la Miel. You can add as much climb to the hike as you wish by ascending any of the peaks along the ridge. We climbed and had lunch at Peña del Águila, but decided against Cancho Gordo, as we feared we would not get back with the daylight.
Difficulty: low if you stick to the PRM 13, which leads just slightly below the crest. Perfectly doable with small children or decent-sized pets. I would not bring along a Yorkshire terrier or a chihuahua, just on the odd chance the ever-present vultures fancy a non-decaying snack. Moderate difficulty if you throw in the peak(s), which you should.
Description: get off the bus in the village and follow the high street all the way to petrol station. The tarmac road then ends and you start seeing yellow signs that mark the PRM 13 trail. You will see the Pico de la Miel just above/in front of you. The trail starts picking up altitude, but it is by no means a difficult climb. It soon levels out and stays that way for most of the hike. The comfortable path leads just below the crest of La Cabrera and is well marked. If you want to ascend any of the peaks, including Pico de la Miel, you will have to find your own way, which can be a little bit tricky, but nothing dangerous. Maybe evaluate your skills if it’s raining or snowing, you will have to get on all four at times.
The trail will then take you around beautiful boulders and rock formations and you’ll enjoy breath-taking views for the entire duration of the hike. In about an hour and a half (possibly less, I always take ages to take photos), you’ll reach Collado Alfrecho, where the path turns left and you’ll start descending towards the cemetery of Valdemanco, where you cross the GR10 trail (marked red), that will comfortably lead you back to La Cabrera in less than an hour. From this route you’ll be able to admire the dramatic ridge where you’d just been, this time above you. Just before you get back to the village, you’ll pass by the convent of San Antonio, but it was closed at the time of our visit.
Best period for the visit of La Cabrera is spring and autumn, possibly even winter, but I would not attempt the hike in summer, as there is no shade for the entire loop. However, the hike, especially the second half, was just magical in late November with the peaking autumn foliage, rosehips and soft light. There is not much vegetation high in the mountains, but by the time you descend back to the valley, you’ll be able to admire all the hues of yellow and orange of the oaks, beeches and an occasional birch. Wikiloc for your convenience here (note that the linked route has been done clockwise, while we have walked it anticlockwise. I prefer a more difficult climb and easier descend).
Vultures galore: Sierra de la Cabrera (together with La Pedriza) is home to the largest colony of griffon vulture (gyps fulvus) in the Madrid Autonomous Community. Spain itself hosts over 90% of the population of griffon vulture in Europe (between 31 and 37 thousand couples). They are extraordinary creatures. La Cabrera is the perfect habitat for them: the whole massif stands isolated, so the cliffs on which they nest offer views over the plains on either side for miles and miles. When you hike the ridge of La Cabrera, you are constantly surrounded by soaring vultures scouting the terrain for carrion. I’m not sure how many carcasses they can possibly find around there, but it must be a few, given over 420 pairs of vultures live in the area. Maybe there is a high suicide rate among the mountain goats. When you are standing at the top of Pico de la Miel, you are above them. You can sit there for hours and just watch the majestic birds flying a few meters below you.
Kacenka and Matt on the hike and some kindergarden humour. In case you are wondering why on earth would I be attempting a T-rex impression in the middle of nowhere, I believe the conversation topic at that point was that everyone would develop anger management issues if their hands were too short to reach their genitals. Really deep, I know, but completely relatable. Even if the T-rex felt the urge to masturbate, he (or she) could not. Or they’d have to be really creative about it. OK, let’s not go there. Anyway, poor things. Who would not be constantly pissed off? Apart from musing about sexuality of long-extinct species, I am so proud of myself that I am able to produce a to-the-point and non-controversial post. Must be the festive period. Or more likely I have resigned on ranting about the “situation”. Either way. I am certain it’s just a phase that’ll be over before you know it.