Peñalara is the tallest peak in the Guadarrama mountain range of Guadarrama, a subsection of Spain's larger Sistema Central range that extends along an east-west axis near the center of the Iberian peninsula. The emblematic Peñalara sits on the border of the Spanish provinces of Madrid and Segovia, and rises to 7,965 feet above sea level, a favorite of climbers and hikers. During the winter months, it offers treacherous routes that are complicated by snow and ice storms. Such challenges are but an appetizing sauce for experienced alpine climbers, for whom vertiginous rocky routes are but their daily bread.
Peñalara was already familiar to best friends, Eduardo del Blanco Adán and Carlos Lorenzo who came from their home in Toledo to climb the peak again. Despite their experience, the peak would exact a high cost on February 9. It was over the weekend that the pair became disoriented during a gelid snowstorm. When Del Blanco and Lorenzo were unable to descend the peak during the storm, they dug a trench in the snow as a makeshift shelter. Realizing that Lorenzo’s life was in danger, Del Blanco (27) covered his friend’s body with his own in an effort to prevent hypothermia. According to Carlos del Blanco, Eduardo’s grieving father, “They were trapped, so the boys made a trench in the snow to get out of the storm. It was there that Eduardo put himself on top of his friend. With his clothing, he tried to protect him from the cold and snow. He thought he was better equipped than him, but in the end he was dead.”
The two mountaineers had considerable previous experience, according to Carlos Del Blanco. Besides having already climbed Peñalara (which consists of twin summits called ‘Dos Hermanas’ connected by a ridge), in 2013 the pair climbed snowy Mont Blanc near the border shared by France and Italy. Capped with a glacier, Mont Blanc is one of Europe's most dangerous peaks. “The mountains were their passion, but I told them it was treacherous,” recalled the weeping father. According to official sources, the two men were experienced and well-equipped but had ignored weather reports that predicted heavy snowfall, low temperatures, and avalanches.
Emergency services in the province of Madrid received a distress call from the climbers at 6:30 PM local time on February 9. Their cellphone was quickly losing power. The snow and ice practically covered the two mountaineers huddled on the slope of Peñalara. A high-altitude rescue team, along with Civil Guards and Red Cross volunteers sprung into action. But it was not until 5:50 AM on February 10 that Del Blanco and Lorenzo were finally found. Del Blanco was dead, but Lorenzo was conscious and showed only minor symptoms of hypothermia. Lorenzo was able to descend the mountain on foot until reaching the car he and Del Blanco had left at their starting point at Cotos.
Del Blanco’s body was recovered at approximately 7 AM on February 9 and was taken by helicopter to the base of Peñalara. Because of adverse weather conditions, and temperatures dropping below freezing, rescue and recovery efforts were severely hampered. Lorenzo remains hospitalized and is recuperating satisfactorily.
Del Blanco’s Facebook page revealed his keen interest in alpine climbing. On Facebook, he wrote about his previous encounter with Peñalara on January 6. “The wind is fiercely lashing but it is nothing compared to what is waiting for me on the top of this massif: the mountain receives me in all its fury and as though it doesn’t want me there…but I answer with a smile…as though I want to see you angry. Soon we’ll be on the down slope, thanks to my friend Garmin (a GPS device), while little by little the weather is clearing up, the wind doesn’t batter my cheeks, and we are returning to the real world. I already miss you. See you again soon.”
(Ed. note: This article corrects an earlier version)