Written by

Alvaro Serrano


Álvaro Serrano

Navacerrada is one of the highest mountain passes in central Spain, at 1,858 m above sea level. It’s located in Sierra de Guadarrama, a mountain range that forms the main section of Sistema Central, the vast mountain system that occupies the center of the Iberian Peninsula. Due to its famous ski resort, including lots of winter sports schools, Navacerrada is one of the most popular winter destinations for tourists in central Spain.

The skiing facilities in Navacerrada are pretty impressive for central Spain, offering a total of 14 trails of all difficulty levels, 3 chairlifts and 5 T-bar lifts. In total, there are over 10 km of trails available for skiing.

But skiing is only one of the many winter activities on offer in and around Navacerrada. The beautiful pine forests that cover the mountain range offer an ideal landscape for hiking, so it’s no surprise there’s a constant stream of intrepid hikers who take on the mountain on the weekends all year long, come rain or come shine.

Winter hiking is a wonderfully energizing activity. It’s easier than most people would have you believe, and since there are several gear rental companies operating in Navacerrada, you don’t need to buy any expensive gear just to enjoy a spare weekend on the mountain. All it takes is the right spirit and the willingness to rise before the Sun on a Sunday morning. Not entirely pleasant, granted, but like all good things in life, the experience is well worth the effort.

Last Sunday I went hiking along one of the most popular trails in the range: starting from Navacerrada and hiking across the pine forest, crossing Alto del Telégrafo, where an old telegraph antenna used to be, and then continuing on through the pine forest again and up to Somontano, the highest peak of a neighboring range called Siete Picos, at 2,138 m above sea level. All in all, the trail is about 8 km long, and it took us approximately 4 hours to complete.

If you want to drive to Navacerrada during winter, you should aim to get there before 8 AM in order to avoid having to wait an eternity for a parking spot. We got picked up by our guide at 7:30 AM in Madrid and got to the base of the mountain pass at about 8:15 AM. Unfortunately, by then the road was already impressively crowded. This is being an unusually warm winter, and there hasn’t been much snow to speak of until just a few weeks ago, which has made people all the more eager to seize every opportunity to visit the mountain while the snow lasts.

Once we managed to park the car — after a good 30 minutes of queuing up for a spot — we headed over to the gear rental agency and got all set up. Some people brought all the equipment they needed from home, but I needed to rent a pair of snow boots and a pair of trousers. Luckily, our school supplied the snowshoes, so we didn’t need to rent those.

Snowshoes, by the way, work like magic: by increasing the area you step on, they distribute your weight more evenly across the surface, allowing you to walk on top of virgin snow without sinking all the way to your waist. They also provide a surprising level of comfort and maneuverability, and they have the side effect of making you feel as awesome as Legolas passing through Caradhras, all graceful and effortless while the rest of the Fellowship miserably battled the elements. OK, that might have been a little too geeky for some, but just bear with me. The point is, you get to walk on the snow, as opposed to through the snow, and it makes all the difference in the world. Trust me.

Once we were all properly geared up, we started our own micro adventure, facing the first challenge of the day: the ascent to Alto del Telégrafo, which took us about an hour to complete. This is a very demanding part of the trail, second only to the final ascent to Somontano. Once we reached the top, we made a quick break to catch our breath and grab a bite, and we marched on through the gorgeous pine forest.

There’s probably no other landscape that can match a vast, snowy pine forest in sheer beauty. This was by far the most enjoyable part of the hike, and everyone in our group started bonding and getting to know each other, as our spirits were lifted by nature. Even in an overcast day, there’s much to love and appreciate out there in the wild.

As we approached the final ascent and fatigue started to creep in, we made another short break and ate some more. At this point it was essential to keep ourselves energized, while being careful not to overeat, because that would have made things a lot worse. Once replenished, we started our uphill battle, stopping every few minutes to let everyone regroup and make sure no one was left behind.

After about another hour or so, we finally reached the top of Somontano, and then everyone started cheering and taking pictures. Unfortunately, visibility was extremely poor due to the clouds, so I didn’t have a chance to use my telephoto lens to capture some images of the valley from above. Luckily, the clouds started clearing a few minutes later, and I did manage to capture a few cool landscape shots on our way back.

Like many outdoor sports, hiking downhill is a lot more fun than going up, but it’s over much too soon. It only took us about 30 min to walk all the way back down from Somontano, and once we were down our guide had a nice surprise for us: a bottle of hot cocoa he had been carrying in his pack all day, together with some slices of delicious chocolate cake for everyone. Right there and then, I seriously couldn’t remember feeling so happy about food in my entire life.

With our tummies full of delicious cocoa and cake, the final 30 min walk back to the starting point went by in the blink of an eye. There was just one final hurdle: towards the end of the hike, we needed to cross one of the ski trails that go down the mountain, and this presented some difficulty, as we needed to be super careful not to cause any accidents with the skiers.

Once we were safely through, I managed to snap a few pics of the skiers, with the gorgeous mountain range in the horizon. It was a fitting end to a wonderful day, when 9 strangers grew closer as we faced the elements together, and experienced the beauty and power of nature in its purest form.

Gear Used