Winter ascents

Discover the main sectors where you can practice all types of alpine winter ascents.

Escalada en hieloThe surroundings of the National Park are considered as Mediterranean high mountains, where winter time can show its hardest side, accumulating snow and ice that allow all kinds of typically alpine ascents. Climbing channels, ridges, shovels, icy walls, etc. are attractive for mountaineers. Plenty of itineraries that, depending on how winter comes, could be more or less technical, attractive and even dangerous.

This page is only intended to give a brief notice on where the main points in which to practice these modalities are, as well as some basic recommendations for safety and maintenance, since there is a great number of specific publications collecting broadly the trails and ascents.

The conditions of the Sierra de Guadarrama in terms of climatology, orography, orientation, prevailing winds, etc. can turn these friendly mountains range into an authentic alpine landscape, dramatically changing from one week to another or within one single day. It is therefore essential not to underestimate the Guadarrama, to acknowledge our limits, to get the appropriate material (and to know how to use it) and to be prepared for unexpected changes that may happen. Unfortunately, almost every year accidents occur, sometimes with the worst of the consequences, either due to these sport activities vicissitudes or derived from overconfidence or inexperience. Not only is the own integrity of the practitioner put at risk, but also the one of the search and rescue teams. Therefore, the National Park highlights the need of following safety advice and recommendations, planning the session and not underestimate the harshness of winter and Guadarrama.

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Although any ridge, range, channel or cascade is suitable for climbing in winter mountaineering modalities under appropriate conditions; we list below several recommended sections, due to their popularity, their uniqueness or their accessibility.

The Peñalara Massif

The Peñalara is the highest summit of Sierra de Guadarrama (2,429m). Its orientation, structure and winds conditions give this massif the best situation for the practice of winter mountaineering. In its South-East slope, the main circus features: channels, ridges and waterfalls in a very small environment and therefore allow to follow many different trails. Because of South-East exposure, you will often have to use mixed climbing techniques, as the ice and the continuity of the snowpack may be relegated to the shadier areas. The formation of cornices and accumulation of snow and ice in shelves and cascades often causes detachments.

The Peñalara Massif holds hundreds of different trails, some of them close to 300 meters, with slopes between 35º and 75º, and waterfalls of about 90º, grouped in different sectors:

  • Hermana Menor peak from the area of the Zabala refuge.

  • Hermana Mayor peak from the area of the Zabala refuge, or from the surroundings of the Peñalara circus.

  • Zabala wall, with ice cascades and mixed climbing techniques areas

  • Peñalara circus by Central tube and tube of Ceja or by el Trapecio

  • Cascade of the Pared Negra

  • Peñalara peak from los Pájaros trail

  • Peñalara peak (southeast slope) from Los Llanos

  • Peñalara crest - Risco de los Claveles from the surroundings of los Claveles lake.

  • Dos Hermanas crest – Peñalara peak - Risco de los Claveles and los Pájaros

North face of Cabezas de Hierro and Valdemartín

Cabezas de Hierro slopes are probably the areas having best conditions for winter practice, with fewer users, due mainly to the distance that must be travelled to begin ascents (more than an hour and a half walk). Its North – North West orientation keeps the freeze for long periods, forming some important cascades and impressive corridors such as the ones in Los Pulmones area. Several trails exceed 300 meters and their slopes go from 30º to 45º, or 90º in the cascades. In this area you can make your choice between several sections:

  • Valdemartín ridge

  • Valdemartín col

  • Cabeza de Hierro Mayor

  • Cabeza de Hierro Menor

La Maliciosa

La Maliciosa southern side is one of best places to practice winter mountaineering, when winters are hard and they leave important snow and ice and snow packs. Its steep slopes and the length of corridors and walls, make this place a preferred destination. The main difficulties, in addition to the techniques peculiar to this type of activity, consist of the distance to travel until reaching the bottom (more than two and a half hours). Due to its southern exposure, the trail is only suitable under ideal weather and snow conditions.

Many trails can open in this area depending on how winter goes. Lengths reach more than 300 meters for one single trail (450 in the case of the Peñotillo channel) and inclinations go from 45º to 50º, even reaching 75º in some cascades such as:

  • Central channel and el Peñotillo with cascades on the South-West slopes of the Maliciosa and the well-known Y tube.
  • South and South-Eeast side of la Maliciosa, with this section best-known itineraries, such as Toñil and tubes Todos and East.

Siete Picos (Seven Peaks)

Southern orientation of these slopes makes conditions for the winter ascents are not always met, although in severe winters, several routes and corridors can be found.  They do not have excessive inclination, though some of them have a considerable length.

The trails are channels in between almost all the peaks, about 200 meters and with inclinations about 45º.

Peñas de la Barranca - La Cabrita

This area has few corridors which only form when winters are very hard, due to its South exposure. They are therefore rarely frequented.

About 10 corridors could form, which lengths go from 30 to 135 meters and which slopes are about 40º-55º without much complication; but if there is not enough snow, a mixed technique and securing both on rock and on ice would be required.

Cuerda de las Buitreras

This is possibly one of the less-known areas. Having low altitude, its orientation towards the North-West allows the accumulation of snow and ice during a long period, if the winter has been rich in snowfall.

The most common way to get there is from La Barranca or from the Alto de las Guarramillas.

Up to 10 routes or corridors of short length (between 35 and 120 meters) can form, with inclinations about 35º, though some short section can surpass 50º.

La Najarra

The north-eastern slopes of la Najarra may contain some interesting trails not very frequented.

In this zone can be climbed some seven trails or corridors, that, depending on how hard the winter is, can present different levels of difficulties on the existent rocky escarpments. Their lengths go from 70 to 150 meters with inclinations between 30º and 40º.

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The Sierra de Guadarrama can show its hardest face in winter. Snow, ice, fog and wind form a high mountain landscape, which is sometimes misleading. Weather may change abruptly and unexpectedly. Fog or blizzard may appear suddenly. Low temperatures, humidity and wind can cause a very low thermal sensation and a serious risk of freezing. It is therefore essential to follow the basic safety tips, to be well prepared and to know how to deal with unforeseen events that could cause serious problems.

Respect the mountain

We should never underestimate the mountain because we are always at disadvantage. The more technical material helps, but experience and common sense are the best allies. Always be very careful to prevent accidents.

Some advices

  • In high mountain winter, it is essential to use technical equipment and to know how to use it. The crampons and ice-ax are necessary in these areas, since vented ice is very common and a gentle hillside can become a very dangerous trap.

  • Snow covers the trails, making your way more difficult to find.

  • It is not convenient to go alone. et know the area you are going to your family, friends or Park staff. Take with you a charged telephone and in case of accident contact emergency service (112).

  • It is recommended you go to areas you already know or to trails you have travelled before.

  • Look at weather forecast before leaving.

  • Look at the risk of avalanches, as every year landslides and collapses occur because of avalanches. The risk is bigger after storms or when temperatures rises. Slopes can be largely unstable and the passage of a person can cause avalanches. Further to a storm, it is convenient to wait a few days until snow has been steady.

  • Try not to go under ledges or walls of ice because rocks or pieces of ice may come off.

  • To travel icy crests and hills is dangerous, especially when wind blows.

  • Avoid climbing when there is fog or there is fog risk, since you will lose your references.

  • Sudden temperature rises, especially in sunny days, destabilises snowpack, cornices and ice sheets.

  • Do not drink alcohol. It produces a false heat sensation, it makes drop body temperature, it causes euphoria and it makes you lose prudence.

  • It is very dangerous to climb on ice when the temperature is above minus one degrees, or when several groups coincide on the same wall of ice.

Thermal sensation

Sensacion térmicaWind causes a thermal sensation lower than real temperature. That is to say: with a -10ºC temperature and 40 Km/h winds, the thermal sensation is -30ºC. In less than one minute, parts of the body exposed to the wind might get frozen. It is vital then to take into account that ratio, since accidents with fatal consequences regrettably occur.

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