|An easy start|
The day started in bright sunshine, I was making a nice early start from La Plataforma (1748m) N40.27557 W5.23211 on an obvious, well maintained and clearly waymarked trail PR AV-17 alongside the Rio de Prado before winding up the hillside.
After a while the maintenance is less obvious and the deepening snowcover was hiding all but the most obvious waymarks. Way up on the side of Los Barreones there is a small seating area and the Fuente de Cavedros (2136m) N40.27106 W5.25857. The ‘fuente’ turned out to be nothing more than a small pipe sticking out of the wall, with running water. The path goes up over the ridge and drops again to a noticeboard (2157m) N40.26783 W5.26784 where there is a good first proper view of the Circo de Gredos, including the Pico de Almanzor. Then there is a steady height loss as the path traverses down to a stream crossing (2028m) N40.26160 W5.26859 and a view of the Laguna Grande.
The path continues to drop down to the laguna, which is frozen but not sufficiently to be trusted to walk across. So I had to pick my way through the untrodden snow at the water’s edge initially to a footbridge and then to the Refugio Elola 1942m N40.25050 W5.27976. The refugio was cerrado, although there is an unlocked winter room with bunks and blankets.
Unfortunately the bright sunshine of the morning start was not holding on. Clouds were beginning to form behind the Circo. Furthermore, there was no real sign of any paths towards the summit. So I made my own way up to Portilla Bermeja (2422m) N40.24346 W5.29583 a mere 450m away from the summit. However, what a 450m this turned out to be. The cloud had by now reduced visibility to a few metres, the updraft winds blew strongly and picked up a certain amount of stinging spindrift, the terrain is already difficult never mind icy old snow covered in new snow and I could tell that I was at a height where the drop in barometric pressure begins to take effect. I had to backtrack several times as I met obstacles and find an ‘easier’ way and even then there several occasions when I was outside my comfort zone. Mercifully, the rock climb at the very top was actually made marginally easier by the presence of snow. Nevertheless, it was touch and go – and that is exactly what I did, I touched the summit of Pico de Almanzor (Ultra 2592m P1690) with my hand and went – and I had to do it all again back to the Portilla Bermeja. On the way I slipped on a steep slope and for the first time ever had to do an ice-brake in earnest – and, was I pleased that it worked?
The drop down to the refugio was relatively easy, although it was the ‘wrong kind of snow’ for glissading and sliding. I debated with myself about stopping overnight and decided that I had enough daylight hours to get back. There were moments as I slogged my way back up towards Los Barreones that I wished I had made the alternative decision.
22.36km, 2214m ascent.
Overnight at La Plataforma.