Aragon HISS – October 2013

Autumn 2013: The Sistema Iberico – Aragón

The ‘Sistema Iberico’ is the range on mountains that runs roughly north-south  right across Spain between Madrid and Zaragossa. Unlike the Pyrenees these mountains are very ancient so they tend to be well eroded; like the highlands of Scotland there are no ‘Alpine’ landscapes, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who claims that the Scottish mountains lack grandeur! Furthermore, the Sistema Iberica is much larger than the highlands, being some 500 kms (310 miles) in length and having six peaks of over 2,000 metres, the highest being Moncayo 2,313 metres (7,588 feet). This ‘gentle’ profile makes these high mountains much more accessible to trail riding than the Pyrenees, indeed the summit of Javalambre, (2,020 metres) the fourth highest mountain in the system has four distinct trails to the top* – all of which are in the HISS itinerary, naturally. (* OK, there’s a ski resort and various observatories up here too, so road bikers can get there as well with a bit of effort over the last few hundred metres ! )

The mountain chain is far from homogenous, however, and has many distinct landscapes and ecosystems and some more than spectacular geology, the two combining to memorable scenery at almost every turn. The trails, like in all HISS events, are suitable for all levels of skills and machines, the terrain here being well drained and stable – torrential rain and winter blizzards allowing – and include many long distance runs of over 30 kilomtres.

The Sierra de Albarracín is home to pristine forest - it's also full of cave paintings!
The Sierra de Albarracín is home to pristine forest – it’s also full of cave paintings!

As before I’ve selected the trails that form itineraries around distinct mountain ranges, in this case four: the Sierra de Albarracín, the Montes Universales, the Sierra de Javalambre and the Maestrazgo ranges. The first two ranges are adjascent to the base camp whiles the latter are on the eastern section; separated from the centre by the city of Teruel and the valley of its river, the Turia, which exits to the sea at Valencia. But it is possible to cross this ‘barrier’ almost exclusively on trails whilst the main and secondary roads in the whole region are amongst the best I’ve ever come across in Spain!

Looking over the Montes Universales from one of several summits that are rideable on the HISS trails
Looking over the Montes Universales from one of several summits that are rideable on the HISS trails

Similar to the Pyrenees HISS it is possible to ride a ‘circumnavigation’, in this case on roads as opposed to trails, whilst both roads and trails radiate out from the base camp at Albarracín. See my Google map for some clarification. The Teruel HISS covers a much more extensive range than the Pyrenees and when I first planned this I had bigger bikes in mind. But now that I’ve done about half of the detailed survey – and owned and ridden a smaller bike! – I’m reassured that these trails and roads are ideal for any Adventure Bike Rider!

Not forgetting some of the best road riding in Spain!
Not forgetting some of the best road riding in Spain!

The base in Albarracín a real gem – one of numerous towns, technically a city but it’s hardly more than a village, that claims to be the most beautiful in Spain but in this case I think it’s literally true! There’s a degree of tourism based on this but it’s in no way a tourist trap, rather there is plenty of infrastructure, bars, restaurants, etc. and the campsite is one of my favorites, perhaps in my top five best campsites in Spain list, which is a compliment indeed! We will have a whole section of the site to ourselves – delimited by the terrain so we have to be very careful with our use of space – including our own sumptuous toilet/shower bloc. There is a good bar/restaurant that does fixed price menus in the evenings as well as the usual pizzas, grills, etc. Furthermore, there is an enclosed barbecue which is build inside a little stone building. We have to share this but it’s a valuable resource in case of bad weather.

October is a lovely month here with usually settled, sunny weather. But the area is very high, Albarracín is at 1,200 metres, so it can be cold at night. I’ve picked this week carefully for various reasons: the second half of September is often unsettled but October is normally all right – naturally there’s no guarantee of this! – the ferries are cheaper * and the summer is officially over, so there’s little chance of trails being arbitrarily closed due to fire risk – not that in times of severe drought whole regions can be off limits but generally prohibited trails are clearly signposted. (* the area is actually closer to Bilbao and Santander than the Pyrenees HISS site. My Michelin route planner allows four and a half hours ride from the Pyrenean border crossing at the Portalet pass – which compares well with two hours to the Pyrenees HISS from the French border at the Val d’Aran. It’s also closer to the coastal resort areas in Valencia and Alicante and very close to routes to and from Morocco, which some HISS veterans did along the way!

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