It had been – what – 20 years since I had hiked in Gredos for the last time? And this is a mountain range two hours drive from home; the mountain range that most mountaineers in central Spain swear by.
Meh. My logic: for closeness I’d rather hit Guadarrama, my home mountains. And, if I hit the road, it’s in the Pyrenees where I wanna be. Plus, you know what? Gredos is barren and basically treeless and I’m not into that.
That was my grim picture of things. Unfair, for sure, but the one that has prevailed for half of my time on planet earth.
Well, turns out I had the occasion to revisit the massif early on this Summer. Unfortunately I couldn’t squeeze a third trip to Riaño between work commitments, but still craved for solitude, long hikes in the B-side of mountaineering. So I researched West Gredos – that’s hikes around Barco de Avila, a pleasant town that I had the chance to visit some years ago. The next step was to book inexpensive accommodation, which I did, and finally hit the road.
This shit looks enticing, I thought as I surveyed the plethora of gps tracks on wikiloc.es. I wondered – is this the beginning of an unexpected new love? My new Riaño?
I got there in the afternoon, eager to do some trail running – perhaps better called speed hiking, with my terrible shape as of late. I decided to discover the Garganta de los Caballeros, from the small hamlet of Navalguijo. There was also a campsite I wanted to check out at Navalonguilla, but I’d leave that for the way back.
The walk led me past a small forested dirt track to an open valley and, eventually, a waterfall called Chorrera del Lanchón. On the way back, I tripped on a small rock in easy terrain and wiped out painfully.
But the big hike was meant to be the following day. After reviewing lots of maps and GPS tracks, I decided to head to Central del Chorro, for an exploration of several peaks and tarns in the Westermost Sierra de Bejar. As I took the last detour, I was warned by road workers that access to the trailhead was closed owing to roadworks. Oh well.
Plan B: A long hike from Puerto de Tornavacas (1275) to the summit of Castilfrío (2307), perhaps even farther. I packed a few litres of water, as I knew there was no guarantee of a water source along the way. Luckily, the temperature was quite cool for a day in mid July.
The walk was pleasant enough, with early views on Valle de Jerte, in Extremadura. But the highlight, after the very long gradual uphill on the ridgeline, was the first view of Laguna del Barco, about a hundred meters below me. On the way, I only encountered a team of two ladies, who warned me that my initial plan of summiting La Covacha, the highest peak in Western Gredos, was a tad too ambitious given what time it was.
I climbed to the shoulder of Castilfrío but, before reaching its summit, decided to continue along the craggy ridgeline leading to La Covacha. This stretch had a truly alpine atmosphere, with great views of the Laguna del Barco and the smaller Laguna Cuadrada.
I stopped to take it all in. A climber’s paradise, I thought. Rock topped by rock topped by rock. Little woodland in view. No soothing colors for the eye.
I submitted Castilfrío and headed back. I knew the walk would be long, so played two hiking podcasts and replayed my recently put together selection of Iron Maiden hits. Somehow – the Maiden’s epic stories seem to blend in especially well with this barren terrain.
Back at the car, I reflected. What an objectively great hike, really – the effort, the views, the solitude. And yet, I wondered why I had felt so emotionally detached, so spiritually disengaged. I was heading home after a day and a half with no second thoughts about it, almost shaking the dust off my trail runners.
Funny how my heart leaped with joy when I saw the afternoon sun shining on my beloved Cercedilla mountains from the Northern terminus of Guadarrama tunnel!