160 – Winter, finally

Winter is finally here. This is a rare on-time post, because I happened to be out in the mountains last weekend. It doesn’t mean I am not behind with this blog’s content, but while posting photographs from summer when it’s freezing and dark outside may seem nostalgic, publishing snowy pictures 5 months later would be – well, more nostalgic, as I absolutely hate it when the temperatures hit high thirties and it is too hot to do anything. It had snowed in the Sierra recently, although nothing as spectacular as last year, when Madrid ended up paralysed for weeks. Yet. 

Majalasna from Carretera de la Republica, Cercedilla, Spain

According to this article, the snowstorm Filomena had been predicted by certain Jorge Rey, a boy from Burgos, in August 2020, using some ancient method of weather forecasting developed by shepherds in the mountains of northern Spain, supposedly dating back thousands of years ago. It’s called Cabañuelas, and it’s based on observing the weather in August (or in January in Latin America), where particular days supposedly correspond to particular months in the following year. The same young man predicted rain, cold and generally foul weather for most of January ’22, culminating with strong snowfall on low altitudes on the 24th, but so far it has been sunny and 15°C, so let’s see. At least up in the mountains the weather has been appropriate to the season, so after several weeks of working from home, I took a train to Cercedilla to stretch my legs. 

Puerto de la Fuenfría (1.794 m) loop

Starting point: Cercedilla train station if you arrive by public transport. Las Dehesas parking lot if you’re driving. 

How to get there: C8 Cercanias commuter trainline from all major stations in the capital, or there are two bus lines from Moncloa. The bus is a little faster. Then you’ll have to walk to Las Dehesas. Make sure to be there early in the day. The walk from the village to Las Dehesas is about 4 km and takes 45 minutes. There are two options, either Camino Puricelli on the left hand side of the road, or Camino del Agua on the right hand side. Either will work. I prefer the Puricelli option on the way up, because it starts right at the station and leads you straight to the Puente del Descalzo, where it blends with several other trails. On the way down I prefer taking the Camino del Agua, because it crosses with the path that descends from the mountains and makes for a faster return to Cercedilla, without needing to go back to Las Dehesas. 

Length and climb: around 18 km / 600 m accumulated climb

Difficulty: easy to intermediate. BUT, please bring adequate gear. Last year, the day after Filomena, I was amazed how many people in Madrid own full winter gear, as Granvía and any other street or park with the slightest incline turned into a skiing slope. Would you please, please consider bringing some of that gear with you when you go to the mountains? Proper gloves, proper shoes, for God’s sake, count as suitable equipment. Converse or sneakers do not (not even in summer, let alone with 40 cm of snow). Special equipment is not necessary, unless you want to tackle the peaks. The paths were walked-through and comfortable (actually more comfortable than in summer, when you have to watch your step on the loose stones), so my normal all year hiking boots were perfect, but I’d advise to use the hiking poles and crampons on the descends, especially early in the morning, when the trails are icy. I chose this particular walk without ascending on the ridge, precisely because I didn’t want to carry too much stuff, but I’d consider snowshoes if I intended to climb further up or if it had snowed a lot on the previous night. I mean, use common sense. Charge your phone. Bring food, water, a thermos with hot tea, maybe an extra layer and an extra pair of dry socks, just in case. Spare the converse for a pub crawl. At least you can wash them easily after you’ve thrown up all over them. 

Description: as I said, it is a pretty straightforward walk. I didn’t want to do anything extreme, because I wasn’t sure what the weather was going to be like up there, and I had seen days when it was spring in Madrid and blizzard in the mountains, so I made sure there was a safe and easy way back, in case of necessity. Camino Puricelli starts right at the train station. You don’t even have to leave the building. Follow the railroad tracks for about 100 m, and you will find some stairs on your right hand side. Climb them and follow the trail (marked blue, later red when it joins Calle Alta) for about 4 km, until you reach the hospital La Fuenfría (a 100 years old former sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases, in the 1950s one of the most prestigious in Europe, now a public hospital – which itself is a rare sight around here). Follow the paved road and turn left on the crossing, then keep right. I know I sound like a tom tom, but this shortcut will avoid you 2 km extra on tarmac. The paved road ends at the Majavilán parking, where you can chose between several trails to climb up to the mountains. My plan was Calzada Borbónica (marked white), which is part of Camino de Santiago, so you can follow the St. James’s shell signs, too. The trail ascends along the stream Arroyo de la Fuenfría up to the pass Puerto de la Fuenfría (1.794 m), the highest point of the hike. From here turn right on the Carretera de la República, a wide flat dirt road usually used by MTB cyclists and follow it for 4 km to Mirador de los Poetas. The road then gently descends all the way back to Las Dehesas (this was the intended escape option had the weather been foul), but as the ice on the trails was manageable with caution, I took a steeper shortcut on the Senda de los Miradores (marked yellow). After about 45 minutes of descend, this path crosses with Camino del Agua (marked light blue), which will take you back to Cercedilla village.

To sum it up: Puricelli (blue/red) – Calzada Borbónica (white) – Puerto de la Fuenfría – Carretera de la República – Mirador de los Poetas (yellow) – Camino del Agua (light blue). Easy. Besides, the trails have been recently remarked, so you’d really need to put in a considerable effort to get lost in the Sierra. The new hiking map of Cercedilla can be consulted on this link, you can combine the trails any way you like. One more thing: often you’ll find horses freely roaming around the lower trails. Don’t worry, they’re friendly. I think people feed them, so they will be interested in the contents of your backpack. 

That said, I really really hope the young man from Burgos is right and there will be another crippling snow storm in Madrid. So far it doesn’t look that way, but he still has a week left. Just to enjoy the Spaniards queuing in front of empty shops and blaming the weather on Pedro Sanchez’s (communist, obviously) government. I mean, to command wind and rain was one of the aspirations of the communist party in my country in the 50s, but I doubt the labour leader is aware of that. Mind you, even if the government was right-wing, the weather would still somehow be fault of the socialists. Whatever your political stance may be, and regardless you attribute weather-controlling powers to certain parties, we can all agree that snow is a great medium to make art. Meet Richard, January 6th 2021. If you click on the link, consider yourself warned, you’ll be meeting Richard at your own peril. 

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