Penyagolosa is the second highest mountain in the Valencia Community. This emblematic mountain, in Castellón province, stands out due to its isolated nature. It is easily recognisable due to one side having a clear slope whilst the other side is much steeper. It was the steep side, that was our route for the day. Why walk up a mountain when you can scramble?
The day started with the long drive to Vistabella, which is about 1200m above sea level. The road up was long and windy and whilst Vistabella is a pretty town, the beautiful views that the name implies were hidden by clouds. The fog and early morning chill did not cloud our spirits though. The first amusements of the day were when the car boot refused to close and then Dmitry surprised us all with delicious dinosaur biscuits.
Fuelled by dinosaurs, we drove the short distance up to San Joan de Penyagolosa monastery to start our hike. The first part of our trail was on a wide gravel road through the trees. We soon turned on to a smaller trail following the rather ominous signs to Barranc Oscur (dark ravine). Here the trail became single track only and we soon entered into deep forest. It was a beautiful walk, with occasional glimpses of the view through gaps in the trees. The rather horror movie sounding name lead to a rather unnerving conversation about who would be the murderer in a group of hikers. *cough Dmitry cough*.
There were a few steep parts in Barranc Oscur but nothing too difficult. At the end of the valley we came out into a beautiful spring meadow with plenty of wildflowers. It was a stark contrast to the forest and this diversity of trails is one of the things that makes the route so worthwhile. Now that the clouds had cleared and the sun had come out, we could see Penyagolosa clearly.
We continued through more open fields heading closer to the ascent until we got to the most fun part, the scramble! The eastern side of Penyagolosa is a rock face and whilst it requires no technical climbing equipment, it does require steady footing, good grip and a head for heights! Dmitry also promised us that there were some bars at the top which convinced a few members of the group that the climb was worth it.
The first part of the climb was over larger boulders and then we got to the a narrow chasm. There were a lot of loose rocks here so we had to be mindful of both our grip and the person below us. It was a great challenge and it only got better! There is a part of the route where there are two options. The easier scramble the avoided the chasm or a narrow chimney full of loose stones. Naturally, I choose the most difficult way and climbed up through the chasm. This required some weird positions but it was awesome. Both routes re-join at some chains. Using the chains it was a short climb up to the summit of Penyagolosa.
The views from the summit were spectacular, however the fast moving clouds soon obscured them. At the top there is a small shrine to Saint Joan and, just as Dmitry had promised, there were bars. However, these bars were attached to the windows of the wardens hut rather than drinking establishments. We enjoyed lunch at the summit and soon became enveloped in cloud, or eaten by clouds because that’s a fun mental image.
After lunch we took a different route down. I’m not kidding when I tell you that there were mountain goats in our path! Although we took care not to disturb them, they weren’t bothered by our presence. The route zig-zagged down mainly on a loose rocky trail. We stopped at some more bars, this time attached to the window of a small refuge.
Past the refuge, the trail soon changed as we entered the Pegunta ravine. We followed a beautiful stream down through a forest. The location of which looked like something out of a fantasy film. We stopped at a font where we noted that one of the trees had become almost overwhelmed by other trees. Then it was a short walk back to the monastery which we approached from above this time. We had a quick explore of the buildings and did some yoga, before returning to Vistabella for a well earned drink.
The Penyagolosa Scramble is a fantastic route for adventurous souls. If you are used to scrambling, literally climbing the mountain is a lot of fun and in my personal opinion the best way up. There were forests, meadows, rocks and even a monastery at the end. We all agreed the the beauty and diversity of the route made this an excellent day.
Photo credits to Lene, Dmitry, Johanna and me!