Approaching the Sierra de Guadarrama from Madrid there is always one sight that takes my breath away. That is the first glimpse of La Maliciosa as you drive towards Navacerrada.
Rising almost 1000 metres directly from the reservoir of Navacerrada, its granite bulk looms over the pretty, alpine village below.
We set off early from La Barranca, there is a chill in the air, yet, for December, the weather is unseasonably mild. Passing through a forest of densely-packed pines we emerge into the startling morning light. The sun sits low in the sky, shining brightly off rocks and rivulets. Jays caw playfully in the trees while the metronomic flow of water rushes underground, below our feet.
Making our way through a labyrinthine field of boulders we reach the bottom of a vast, steep scree slope. 700 metres above us we see the high crest that stretches north to the peak of La Maliciosa. The going is slow; our feet slip below us on the unsteady scree. We remove layers of clothing – it feels like early summer, not early December. As we rest, taking gulps of water, the view behind us stretches for miles until it is lost in a sea of blue haze.
After nearly two hours we reach the high crest. Signalling our arrival, three vultures soar above us and on towards the peak. Patches of snow from the heavy snowfall a few weeks back cling on impossibly in the dark shadows of rocks and gorse.
Twenty minutes later we reach the peak. Huddles of climbers and walkers form a concentric circle, taking in the 360 degree view. Vultures encircle the peak, rising and falling on the mountain thermals, rock thrushes hop and sing below. We take our seats and enjoy the show.
Levels of contamination and pollution in Madrid are at record levels and we all take deep, glorious breaths of the mountain air, storing as much as we can in our lungs before heading back to the thick smog of the city.