Moncayo: a classic, non-Pyrenean peak in Northern Spain

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San Miguel which belongs to the Moncayo massif, is the tallest peak in the Iberian System mountain range. This lesser known range is 50 kilometers more extensive then the highly famed Pyrenees and absolutely worth visiting. Moncayo which stands at 2,314 meters tall, shoots up from flat terrain just on the border between Aragón and Castilla y León.

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Moncayo soaking up the early morning rays
There are many other worthwhile hikes in the Iberian System, notably Pico del Rayo, which I can see from my office and my porch.

From Moncayo, on clear days you have the most gorgeous views of the Pyrenees range extending from Navarra to Cataluña. Some say you can even see the Bay of Biscay (Mar Cantábrico) and the Mediterranean Sea if you’re lucky or have hawk-eyes or a really great imagination.

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We couldn’t see the Pyrenees from Moncayo, but the Saturday morning haze didn’t ruin all of the views!
The hike can have various starting points, the most common departing from “Santuario de la Virgen de Moncayo,” a sanctuary located about 12 km from Tarazona. This is the shortest route, with the least amount of elevation gain than the other options.

For us, the trip to the sanctuary is a 2 hour drive from the pueblo so we opted for the lesser trafficked route which departs from Cueva de Ágreda village (only an hour drive from Calatayud), adding on 300 meters of elevation gain and about 2 kilometers of total round-trip distance.

This particular option is not a Sunday stroll, be warned. Two of our friends joined us for the early  morning hike and not everyone in the group had an easy time getting their asses up to the top. We completed the up and back journey in about 4 hours, with a few quick stops along the way and a leisurely picnic atop the summit.

12 kilometers + 1000 meters of cumulative elevation gain: not a bad way to kick off the weekend.

This route is absolutely stunning. You’ll head straight up the well-marked GR path through a ravine, and for a greater part of the trek, you’ll be swooned by the sweet trickle of creek just to the right of you.

We started out before the only bar in Cueva de Ágreda even opened so we were without coffee but on the flip side got to listen to all the birds in the gully wake up and sing their morning tunes. Pure magic.

The last leg of the ascent is a battle with loose, rocky ground and then everything evens out and it’s literally a stroll onto the summit.

The summit is expansive, which is great because on beautiful Fall days such as this one, you’ll be sharing it with many other hikers.

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No matter how strong the sun, there’s always a cool, cold or freezing breeze at the top. However, you’re in luck. There are spaces meant for bivouacs but work great for shelter from the wind while you chow down on your picnic.

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Tummies full, all the selfies taken, it’s time for the descent. And the good news is that it’s a breeze. Once off the summit, we shed all of our layers and enjoyed the last warm summer sunshine tickling our skin. As we started down the mountain, numerous other hikers were just arriving. This is a very popular hike for all mountaineers alike, not only locals.

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There is a natural spring with drinkable water about a 1/3 of the way down from the top. We only learned this because of a convenient sign that indicated so. The next day there was a trail race on this very same route and there were all sorts of markers and indications. Without this helpful info we would have never known. Thank you village of Cueva de Ágreda!

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Happy Fall to all, bless these bodies that let us fulfill our adventure dreams!

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