Mountain climbing and winter ascents
Mountain climbing and winter ascents
Mountain hiking and climbing form part of the history of the Sierra de Guadarrama and have contributed a great deal to its discovery and popularity. These are sports that have a lot of fans in rising numbers that find in the Guadarrama´s peaks, summits, and crossings the ideal scenery.
The surroundings of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park are considered high Mediterranean mountains and, in winter they can reveal their rough side. The build-up of snow and ice makes alpine climbing possible: climbing into gutters, ascending summits and ice walls, etc. There are many possibilities and the itineraries can be more or less technical, attractive and even dangerous, depending on how the winter is progressing.
Because of its special climatology, orography, orientation, prevailing winds, etc. this mountain range can change, from one week to another or within the same day, from a friendly one into an authentic alpine landscape. Therefore, it is essential not to underestimate it, to know one´s limits, be equipped appropriately (and know how to use the equipment), plan the trip ahead and consider unexpected changes that may occur.
Any summit, chimney, gutter, and waterfall can be climbed in winter if the conditions are adequate. In the Sierra de Guadarrama, some areas are recommended and famous for their uniqueness or accessibility.
When the winters are harsh, with a lot of snow and ice, one of the best places to practice winter mountaineering is the southern side of the La Maliciosa. Its steep slopes and the length of its walls and passageways make it a favourite destination. Apart from the technical difficulties which are specific to this type of activity, the main ones consist of the distance to travel to the base (over 2 ½ hours) and the fact that, due to its southern exposure, the trail is only accessible under ideal weather conditions (snow and coldness). Depending on winter conditions, plenty of routes may be opened in this area.
Lengths for one single trail reach over 300 meters (450 meters in the case of the Peñotillo channel); their tilt goes from 45º to 50º and even 75º, in waterfalls such as:
Central channel and el Peñotillo with waterfalls on the South-West slopes of the Maliciosa with the well-known Y tube.
South and South-East side of la Maliciosa, with best-known itineraries, such as Toñil and Todos and East tubes.
Siete Picos (Seven peaks)
Because of the southern orientation of these slopes, the conditions for winter ascents are not always met; however, even when the winters are rough, certain routes and corridors can still be found. They are not excessively steep, though some of them have a considerable length. These trails are channels in between almost all the peaks, about 200 meters long and steepness of 45º.
Peñas de la Barranca – La Cabrita
Due to its south exposure, this area has few corridors and they only form when winters are harsh; as a result, they are rarely used. About ten corridors may develop, with lengths between 30 and 135 meters, slopes of about 40º-55º and no excessive difficulties, except in the case of insufficient snow, when using a mixed technique and securing both on rock and on ice would be required.
Cuerda de las Buitreras
This area may be one of the less-known ones and because of its low altitude and north-western orientation, whenever the winter is rich in snowfalls, snow and ice accumulate during long periods. The most common way to get there is from the La Barranca or the Alto de las Guarramillas. Up to 10 routes or corridors of short length (between 35 and 120 meters) can form, with pitches that go around 35º, though some short section can surpass 50º.
The North-Eastern slopes of the La Najarra may have some exciting trails, not used too often.
In these parts, around seven trails or corridors can be climbed. Depending on how harsh the winter is, they can present different levels of difficulties because of the existent rocky escarpments. Their lengths go from 70 to 150 meters, with steepness that goes between 30º and 40º.
- It is, by all means, necessary to make use of the technical material and know how to use it. Crampons and ice axes are necessary here since the vented ice is common and a gentle slope can turn into a dangerous trap.
- The snow covers the trails and it is difficult to orient yourself.
- It is not recommended to go all alone. Inform your family, friends and Park staff about your whereabouts. Bring a charged mobile phone with you and in case of accidents, inform the emergency services. (112)
- It is advisable to go to areas that are known or to signalled trails.
- Check the weather forecast before starting your trip.
- Find out about the risk of avalanches, since yearly, when there are storms or the temperatures rise, landslides may occur. Mountainsides can be highly unstable and hikers can cause landslides. After an avalanche, it is advisable to wait for a few days until the snow becomes firm.
- Try not to walk under cornices or walls of ice since rocks or chunks of ice might fall off.
- Walking on ridges and icy hills is dangerous, especially on windy days.
- Avoid climbing when it is foggy or when fog is forecasted since in low visibility landmarks are difficult to find.
- Sudden rises in temperature, especially on sunny days, destabilize the snow cover, the cornices, and the ice patches.
- Avoid drinking alcohol. It produces a false sensation of heat, lowers the body temperature, causes euphoria and makes one lose caution.
- It is very dangerous to climb on ice when the temperature is higher than a degree below zero, or when there are several rope teams on the same ice wall.
- Thermal sensation:
The wind causes a thermal sensation inferior to the real temperature – that is to say, with a temperature of -10ºC and winds of 40 Km/h, the thermal sensation is -30ºC. In less than a minute, body parts exposed to wind can freeze.
It is of vital importance to take this ratio into account as unfortunately, accidents with disastrous results occur.