A report and video from guest writer Ian Tupman about a first time visit to the Refugio Elorrieta in Spains Sierra Nevada mountains.
“This summer, Acción Sierra Nevada intends to undertake significant repairs to the Elorrieta refuge to render parts of it secure and weathertight so that it can be used more by the mountain community here. Having read and heard so much about this place over recent months, I thought it was about time I went to see why it has been singled out for attention.
My original plan was to park at the Ventura trailhead and have a leisurely afternoon walk to the Caballo hut via Cerro del Caballo. The next day I would ascend to, and traverse Tajos Altos and Cartujo, arriving at the Elorrieta refuge in the evening. The following day I would either come back to the Caballo hut via the Verea Cortada or return to the car along the Rio Lanjarón valley via the acequia.
On Tuesday night I learned on the grapevine that a group of thirteen would be heading up to the Caballo hut, arriving at roughly the same time as me. 13+1 is almost double the capacity of the hut. Since I doubted they would be taking bunk beds with them, it was time for a re-think and another look at the map.
I decided to leave early on the Tuesday and I arrived at the Ventura trailhead at 09.30. I gained the south-west ridge north of Mora Alta and continued to the summit of Cerro del Caballo. Although high pressure over recent days had formed a temperature inversion, the views from the summit were stunning. Leaving the summit at 13.00, I skirted the col above the Caballo hut and headed north-east along the undulating ridge. In places, it was necessary to cross small patches of soft snow but nothing that warranted getting the crampons out. By mid-afternoon, though the snow had softened considerably, I was regularly going in up to my knees and above. With a heavy pack, it was hard work but the views down into the Rio Lanjarón valley made up for the discomfort.
Four and a half hours after leaving the summit of Caballo, I reached the Elorrieta refuge. It is in a superb location. At almost 3,200m, it sits near the western end of the main Sierra Nevada ridge at its junction with the Pico del Tajo de Los Machos and Cerrillo Redondo ridge running away to the south. The history of the refuge has been covered elsewhere so I will not go into it here but it is a crying shame that it has been allowed to get into its current state of disrepair. Most of the rooms were loaded with snow which had blown in through the door and window openings. Only the two rooms at the south end could be considered usable and even they had some snow in them. I can see though, that with a lot of commitment, hard work, and of course money, the refuge could have a new lease of life.
I made myself comfortable, had a brew and then sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet before my evening meal and an early night. I had the place all to myself.
I awoke to the sound of the wind and got up to see the dawn breaking behind Mulhacén away to the east. Breakfast taken, I left at 08.45 and descended on the good path into the Rio Lanjarón valley. The previous day I had looked down to the Verea Cortada from the ridge and noticed that it was only visible in a few places. Now, from the opposite side of the valley, I could see that there were some large snow fields covering the path and of more concern was that above the path, there were gulleys loaded with snow just waiting to avalanche. Indeed some of them had already slipped. It was no-go territory and so I stayed on the east side of the valley. Several large and quite steep snow fields had to be crossed and as it was still relatively early in the day, the crampons were put on and my ice axe made ready. Eventually I reached the dam on the river where the acequia draws its water. The river was quite deep and fast flowing from all the snow melt so I scrambled across the dam wall to reach the path on the west side. From there, it was a brisk and easy walk along the acequia to the path which drops down to the ruined Ventura refuge and then down to the car at the trailhead. An hour later I was in Bar Health in Lanjarón enjoying one of Karen’s home-made hamburgers and a cold beer.