La Pedriza: ode to granite rock, smells of rockrose, mecca of Madrid climbers and hikers and, well…one of the few places I like to call home.
And, let’s face it, close from home it is.
In case you don’t know the place, La Pedriza is an oddity in our Sierra de Guadarrama, perhaps in all the country. It’s a bizarre area full of granite rock formations, rising chaotically here and there, making the viewer imagine all sorts of creatures and objects: bird, crocodile, turtle, helmet, basket….to mention but a few of the names given to its crasgs. Navigating them is a true, addictive pleasure for so many local hikers and mountaineers.
And yet, it’s tough hiking. In my top days of trail running, I used to average 7 km per hour on long days in the Valsaín or Cercedilla trails. In La Pedriza, however, I struggled to achieve 6. The trails are wild and technical, often involving scrambling skills and careful routefinding, even to reach the next blaze or cairn.
Still, I’ve always felt weirdly safe, even solo hiking on weekdays. Granite has just tha reliable grip. And damn it makes for playful hiking!
Play is indeed what we always did there. For a couple of years, my teenage best friends and I would go to La Pedriza every single weekend. First it was hiking and scrambling – we’d go even on rainy days, and run down the slippery trails. But of course we had to try rock climbing, and it sure stuck. Eventually, we climbed all the biggies: El Yelmo south face, El Pájaro, Cueva de la Mora….it was hair-rising, objectively dangerous climbing, but it always felt just like an extra step from our previous hikes, and not like a huge feat.
At the beginning, we’d go with our parents, but soon enough one of us had a drivers’ license and we’d pack our gear in the trunk and blast Bad Religion and NOFX from the car’s sound system. And, sure enough, we’d hike up obscure trails, pick up some water and cowboy camp next to our climbs.
In the last few years, I’ve taken to going on weekday afternoons in the Spring and the Fall. Depending on my fitness level, I’ll walk, run or do both. It’s still liberating to be forced to pay so much attention to the trail and put a stop to other thoughts. And, suddenly, be surprised by the sight of a herd of mountain goats.
It was also fun to see my kids hitting the granite with their mountain club
I don’t fancy La Pedriza on weekends. There is a quota system that limits the number of cars that are allowed on the narrow road to the main trailhead, Cantocochino – implying a very early rise for mountaineers planning from departing from that trailhead. An interesting option, especially in the Winter, is starting from the town of Manzanares El Real (accessible by public transport) where several steep, south facing trails can be used to access the Yelmo area.
The other caveat about La Pedriza is how hot and dry it gets in the Summer. The park is largely south facing, and lacks the gorgeous trees of Cercedilla. More so, the combination of the heat and the rocks just makes it unbearably hot.
I guess that just means that you have to pick your routes, times and seasons. A bit like you’d pick the best playground for kids.