In the past week we have been helping to restore the Refugio de Caballo, at nearly 3000m in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, Spain. Very hard work, but it has allowed us to give something back to the mountains that have given us so much over the years.
The refuge is in a superb situation below the 3009m summit of the Cerro de Caballo, above the Alpujarras town of Lanjarón, and adjacent to the lake of the same name. In the winter it is snowed up wonderland, except for the state of the refuge that is!
The refuge has steadily been getting worse. In March we saw a photo of the refuge full of snow and litter (see below). With the passage of time and the poor, despicable treatment by those who call themselves “mountain lovers”, it was in a poor state. The door was torn off and the window had gone to be replaced by stones and plastic bags. The floor was uneven and worst of all, there was garbage all over the place. No excuses for leaving litter I’m afraid! It was time for some action.
We set up a Facebook Page “Iniciativa para la restauración de los refugios del Caballo y del Elorrieta” to publicise the problem. Pepe Badaje and myself made an initial visit at the beginning of August 2011. I know nothing about construction but Pepe is indeed a master! We needed to clean, paint, and put on a door and window. The problem though, would the transportation of materials from 2150m at the Ventura trailhead to the refuge at 2850m.
A mule was the obvious answer, but being of simple means the cost of hiring a mule would be too much. Client, Andy Bissaker then came to the rescue with an unbelievable offer of paying for the mule! In these difficult times for all, the assistance from unexpected sources is indeed inspiring.
At 6am on August 20th 2011, together with Pepe Badaje, Jesús Labajo Yuste of Campo Base and muleteers, Toni and Jonni (not forgetting Pepito the mule!), we met at the Ventura trailhead above Lanjarón. We accessed the Rio Lanjarón via the Acequia Alta above the Ventura refugio. Getting a mule along parts of the old acequia was trying at times and took a long time. Once in the river valley we climbed up to the refuge and arrived there by 1pm.
Then it was down to work. Jesus and myself cleaned litter and stones from the building whilst Pepe started on the window. By the end of the day the hut was clean, the ancient wooden replacement window in place and the door frame cemented in. All the accumulated litter was taken back down to Lanjarón which we reached at 8pm, after a 5am start.
Next day was another incredible 7 hour round trip commute to work! Toni, Jonni and Pepito had slept at the Ventura trailhead. They still had another carry of paint and cement to perform. This time we accessed the refuge via the southern ridge. Some pathless terrain, but better for Pepito than the acequia of the previous day. Kiersten Rowland came along to assist with the painting.
The interior painting went well and the window was completed, but there were some problems with the door frame. It moved! Pepe used his ingenuity and managed to strengthen the frame using counter pressure. Not perfect, but the best we could do given the circumstances. We retired back downhill for the night.
We had a day of rest before we ventured uphill again on the Thursday. The most important task was to ensure the door was ok. In addition we had to clear the front and back of the refuge of stones and create a doorstep. We left cleaning materials in the refuge and a spade hung up outside to clear the snow away. When we departed the refuge looked great. But will the door last? Personally, I think not. I think a return trip just may be required. Vamos a Ver!
On our descent down the mountain we were full of contentment. Fulfilled and happy in the knowledge that we had helped to restore an historic and important mountain refuge. It seemed that we were rewarded when we had a fly past from four magnificent Griffon Vultures. Even the Cabra Monteses had no fear of us. Magical times that will live long in the memory. Thank you amigos.
Special thanks to Pepe, Kiersten, Jesús, Toni, Jonni and Andy (also Pepito our wonderful mule). Bonded forever in a common cause.
Also thanks to the Parque Nacional for overlooking our indiscretions and lack of respect for permissions. And for seeing sense!
The plaque we left hanging up says it all…..
“With the humble effort of a mule, 2 drovers and 4 mountaineers. If all who use the refuge care and respect it. Keep it, the lake and the environment clean. Take our garbage and leave the window and door locked when we leave. We will continue to have shelter for many years to come”
Says it all really!
Links to more photos of the work. Please continue to support this initiative which we believe will not and should not stop here! The Parque Nacional have asked us to help with the Refugio del Elorrieta which is also in a bad condition. All help is needed as this would be a much bigger project.