Acero To La Toba
The last leg of the MTB Cazorla Tour is an easy day, (at least compared to the previous day!) starting with a steady, easy gradient on broad caminos, before spilling out on to the karstic tundra of the high planes of the Sierras de Segura then descending on fine single track to La Toba.
The first 10km skirts the forested valley and high cliff walls that birth the Rio Guadalentin, 2,000m peaks with scree slopes disappearing into the pine forest below. An impressive, dynamic vista with the venturi effect of the valleys creating a constant breeze through the pines, and Vultures seeking the comfort of lofting thermals. The way meanders upward to its zenith, where the celebrated Spanish environmentalist Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente is commemorated and one of the largest pines in the park is dedicated to his memory.
From this natural rest stop the camino levels out to take you to the high planes. Treeless and barren somehow the meagre soils manage to sustain lush grasses where hardy cattle graze. The limestone from which the surrounding ranges are formed are constantly being dissolved by the natural acids, fractured by cold and heat; and whittled away by the high winds and dust that can lash these exposed altitudes. This makes the trails boulder strewn with loose gravel and the detritus of millennia of erosion. The constant struggle to pick a line with the smallest rocks and the most grip sends shudders through the arms and legs: thankfully these sections are short lived, and soon return to hard packed earth (so long as it hasnt rained!).
The route takes in the valley of Pinar Negro, a fecund zone between the ridges of Banderillas and Segura, whose rich pastures support domesticated livestock and plenty of wild fauna. A rolling green lane meanders through this peaceful, secluded valley: following the base of the ridge until the line descends to meet the trail granting a stunning panorama across the entirety of the Rio Guadalquivir valley.
After absorbing the moment, the trail heads across the high tundra on rolling terrain to make for the lunch stop at Pontones. This section skirts along the ridge line of the Sierras de Segura, affording tantalising glimpses of the peaks and valleys of the park. A short diversion reveals another “mirador”: the Mirador of Juan Leon perched atop a vertical drop overlooking the entire expanse of the park.
From here its all downhill through pine forest trails to the “Naciemento de Rio Segura” just above Pontones. The birth place of the Segura is not some vague marshland or convoluted set of indiscernible rivulets, oh no… The river bursts forth from the ground out of a deep sink hole, gushing thousands of litres an hour across a shallow field and starting its long journey to the Mediterranean 325km away.
From Pontones the last few kilometres takes in a tasking little climb, but from here, the tour is done. A relaxing pootle across high meadows brings you to the verge of the gorge that the water spewing from the sink hole above Pontones has carved through this landscape: 500m deep. The trail follows a narrow road, but quickly departs to the ancient footpath that winds its way down the walls of this dramatic valley. Gnarly, rock-strewn single track through thick forest and under growth makes this last descent tricky and exhilarating, the last few kilometres of a 350km circuit of Spains greatest national park. Time for a glass of vino and tall tales of daring do.