Ladrillar firefighters go up the valley with running shoes that they barely put out in summer. Because that provoked fire has united the neighbors who felt the flames. Las Hurdes, drawn by Luis Buñuel in his documentary from the 1930s (land without bread) as an uncivilized place, they resist everything. Also his wildest mountain race, his vertical kilometer, which has repeated the same route despite the fact that the leafy grove has given way to the desolation of the ashes. Because to the north of Cáceres there is no surrender nor are principles negotiated. And Conchi needs a reason to prepare the pot of chickpeas that she happily guards at the finish line.
The philosophy of a vertical kilometer is to seek the maximum unevenness in the shortest distance. Óscar Campos, head of the Territorio Hurdes club, in charge of the organization, wanted to find the current route of 1,015 positive meters in just 3.5 kilometers, from the Ladrillar natural pool to Mingorro, the Hurdian ceiling with 1,627 meters. “It is not the result of chance. We have made ten editions and we have thought about it a lot. The first did not reach 1,000 meters in six kilometers. Thanks to the paths that the goats open and to the fact that there is a lot of low scrub where you can walk, we made it”. The prize was to host the Spanish championship of the discipline in 2022.
And the layout, against all odds, survived the fire. “Nobody gave a penny because something could be done here in years.” The club organized a tribute to the firefighters and the population of the valley. “Stay one day, do the tour together and have a meal together. We didn’t know what we were going to find, but we took the hope that it was possible”. The first third of the climb is bleak, a devastated pine forest that looks like a desert, but the verticality is still there, although the footfall is more expensive. The quarries in the upper part endured –so hostile that not even fire wants them–, as well as the area of frills: the humidity protected the small holm oaks, short shrubs and strawberry trees. “It was a rush.”
So the test continued on the calendar. The cleaning work served to remove the trees, so there are no obstacles to this extreme verticality. Because the vegetation sometimes hides the dimension of the wall that the runner tries to overcome at the expense of his lower back, defeated forwards, with his hands leveraging his knees to forget that the average slope is 30%. The 88 entrants headed out in groups of five for a time trial format that stops the clock at the top. The descent runs along a more friendly route of six kilometres; yes, after crossing the first two by a stone ridge with traces of snow and ice. Guillermo Muñoz (41m54s) and Verónica Sánchez (54m44s) were the fastest.
The great challenge of a vertical kilometer like this is assistance. In the tribute, a firefighter suffered a lot. “She got some brutal cramps near the top. We had to raise him because going down was much worse. It is that there is no other option, you have to get to the escape point and get the cars up”. While in other verticals there is access by road to the top, in Las Hurdes you have to move the scarce supplies with porters, who go up the descent. “We can’t carry much because people get cold up there and the liquid can freeze.” At Mingorro, a blue mat was waiting to measure time and two volunteers with water, isotonic and jelly beans. A simple support to reach the Grajera pass, two kilometers away, where vehicles do arrive.
A few months before the fire, firefighters already saved lives there. Las Hurdes welcomed the Spanish championship with its maximum hostility: hail at the top and dense fog on the descent that hid the route, marked by ribbons. The result was twenty cases of hypothermia, almost one in ten participants. The descent, a procedure in this discipline, was not a fight against the clock, but against the body. The drama was such that the firefighters went up to the hill and lit a bonfire.
“It is not allowed, but it was a moment of survival,” Campos emphasizes as he organizes fifty medals and trophies that carry the soul of the land, made by a carpenter and a blacksmith from Caminomorisco. After crossing the finish line, an essential requirement to verify that all the runners have returned from the mountain, the aroma of chickpeas arrives. Not only for those who wear the number, but for the companions who have frozen waiting. In Ladrillar no one goes without food because there is always a volunteer to serve, smiles that are fireproof.
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