Although this is southern Spain the Sierra Nevada should never be underestimated. We supported Australians Ryan and Emma as they did a self guided 5 day trip in the Sierra Nevada, intending starting at Guejar Sierra, crossing Mulhacén and dropping down to the Alpujarras. They sent us in this interesting report of their experiences. As [...]
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The Sierra Nevada
We visit all the major peaks and areas of the Sierra Nevada regularly including, Mulhacen, Alcazaba, Veleta, Caballo, Cartujo, Caldera and Los Tres Miles
We try to write up as many of our trips into the summer and winter Sierra Nevada as we can.
Mountain and snow condition reports, gear reviews, videos, web tech stuff and travel news
Year round varied activities
Mountaineering, Trekking, Hiking, Rock Climbing, Scrambling, Ski Touring and Snowshoeing are all covered during our busy year.
Southern Patagonian Icecap 2011
An expedition encircling the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre massifs on the icecap in perfect weather conditions. Starting at El Chalten and going via Rio Electrico, La Playita, Glacier Marconi, Paso Marconi, Cirque de los Altares and coming off at the Paso del Viento and down the Tunel valley.
Although this is southern Spain the Sierra Nevada should never be underestimated. We supported Australians Ryan and Emma as they did a self guided 5 day trip in the Sierra Nevada, intending starting at Guejar Sierra, crossing Mulhacén and dropping down to the Alpujarras. They sent us in this interesting report of their experiences. As Ryan states …
The experience was big, but the mountain was bigger!
“I hadn’t really left after a sixteen hour day-walk around Guejar Sierra’s (GS) extended into darkness of the short autumn days. Hardship, altitude nausea and unimaginable vistas of the main ridge had given me a feel for the mountain underfoot and a carrot of a beautiful ascent via the northern spur of GS heading up Picón de Jerez. Having a long-time trekking companion visit from the rather topographically-challenged landscape of Australia, we began talking about treks one day looking across towards the ‘Blue Mountains’ (El Escorial) from the pampered suburbs of Las Rozas, Madrid. We didn’t really decide in the end, it was a fait accompli, with Emma visiting anyways, my unhealthy addiction for study of vast Earth’s topography by Google Maps, and above all my lifelong addiction to hardship in the wild. Sierra’s are the meanest mountains in Spain after all.
We decided, rather autocratically [sorry Em] for entry via the northern GS spur (Loma de Maitena), with ambitions to cross over to Lanjarón via Mulhacén and the rest in 5-6 days. We organised gear, accounted for altitude and didn’t worry about the weather too much, it was summer in Spain after all – it should be bloody hot.
Following an impossibly winding road our bus reached GS by 1.30 pm. As we began to hike towards the Rio Maitena food was on Em’s mind. We finally began our 2-day ascent at 3.30 pm in glorious sunshine after a protein fix of the local A… dish. We started modestly following the acequia along the northern face of Loma de Maitena taking in the views along the Maitena valley. After an inevitable scramble up the foothills we began to ascend steeply through decadent cherry-almond orchards buoyed by our first footsteps, but slightly weighed down by the 20-something load.
The mixed oak forest (robur-petrea) gave us a subtle calming aroma and something slowly began to stir inside as we crested the lower reaches at 1700 m, already beyond highs the vast Australia has to offer. The main ridge towered above us, snow capped peaks and shadows dancing beneath the clouds; an amiable grandeur slightly dishonest about the ferociousness within. We camped shortly after in a protected knoll sitting below a fire lookout, although our planned destination was further along by several k’s, already experiencing my first twinge of altitude giddiness at 1900.
Discussing our shortfall we decided to go hell for leather, aiming at 3000+, after my innocuous assessment of the northern ascent up Picón de Jerez. Starting late (10.30 am) we danced among the 4WD’s taking the highs of Loma de Maitena; Em internally voicing regret about our physicality, whereas I began to feel happy as the ancient rock-walls of the acequia ran dry. We refilled at a subterranean duct around the saddle of Papeles, and I lingered by the water momentarily escaping the sun, becoming daunted, rather suddenly as the innocuous turned into something else; my neck shifting through degrees to follow a bearing towards the highline. After vigilantly ignoring the day-walkers hut (Refugio Piedra Partida) we began the true ascent.
Altitude was playing a mean hand at 2500, so I decided to skirt across Loma de los Cuartos. I consider us lucky to have battled the long northern spur purely because of the sight of the Basin de las Hoyas – only through a full ascent did it dawn on me that we were standing by a Source; the raging torrents of Rio Maitena (eventually short circuited by an ominously picturesque Dam de Canales) fed annually by a slow long trickle escaping deep winter ice. Forged by a ring of 3000+ mountains, marking the northernmost point of the main ridge, the basin was a sight to behold. I was washed over by an emotion in those backwaters that left one of those imprints of bodily memory, not easily forgotten.
We climbed through the clouds into Source territory and energetically I altered, fleeing consciousness during our 13th hour on the trail. We rose steeply towards Los Cervatillos through mist and mind and behold the clouds shifted, and we entered the heavens, or so it seemed. A blanket of clouds lay before us, pierced by Mojón Alto, low angle sunshine yielding grand mountains all pinks and greys. Collectively we threw ourselves to the top, and reached the snowline by dusk, collapsing on crampons and descending steeply towards welcome ponds as the mist came in over Lagunas Juntillas.
After climbing a steep snow hill out of the Lagunas, we both had only vague recollections of Day 3 due to cold temperatures overnight, altitude hangover, tough weather and sore feet. We I can offer from my patchy memory is some items advising residents of flat, sun-burnt countries hiking in the Sierras for the first time:
- Choose wisely when purchasing a tent and carry a tarpaulin: Models such as Denali ‘Kakadu’ probably indicate they are not suited to subzero temperatures, frozen ground and unseasonal, driving arctic winds
- Trust your compass: The shifting topography of the Sierra’s in fragmented light and nothingness is misleading even for experienced navigators
- Do not attempt to climb steep, shifting ice walls to avoid going the long way around
We camped on a dry patch of ground near the sound of running water and ate quickly as snow began to fall and gain momentum.
Clouds began to shift after the deep fog of early morning and we decide to leave our ‘Isla’ de Lagunas, optimistic about a first interview with northern Mulhacén. We both feel tuned this morning and the deepening black cloud-bands yielding their first rain-showers up the Rio Juntillas did not discourage us. Washing at the de las Calderetas refreshed my mind and there and then the wilds take a piece of me, and I take a piece of her. After a voracious argument about a safety issue on the steep, muddy descent beneath Alcazaba; the invisible cliff reveals its essence to Em alone and we each take our own route exploring a south-facing moonscape during a hairy climb up the back of Alcazaba. The first plateau reveals a stark contrast of whites and blacks at this hour, intersected by a timeless waterfall from the highs. We skirt along the Tajos spotting a clan of juvenile bucks as the visibility drops to nothing with a cold mist. Here and there we spot fragments of Alcazaba, although no sign of Mulhacén.
Climbing into a headwind we reach a sea of nothingness; white upon white before us. Swallowing fear I take lead into acid territory, only the crunch of crampons imparting a measure of reality – photos mistake us for veteran snowgoers – this was indeed a foreign land we were no more at home than the disoriented insects in this ephemeral snowline of a series of false Spanish springs. When the rock knolls disappear we enter insane white-out, staying close together with fear rising. A trust in compass wavers when my right arm suddenly drops half-a-metre down invisible slopes. For a tense hour we climb steeply on a mindless white landscape shifting west towards a hypothetical southern shoulder of Loma de la Alcazaba. Then [Land Ahoy!] the disorganized boulders reveal themselves directly.
We scrambled slowly into the afternoon along the endless shoulder on a sharpened north-west strike, the terrain below taking on altitude only imaginable through vertigo and breathlessness. Reaching the northern face and still no Mulhacén, we settle for lunch in a shifting breeze as I take question time on safety, Em says rather nonchalantly: “We can give it a crack if you want”, whereas I begin to right off the interview feeling preemptively fired. Just then, the peak of Mulhacén is momentarily revealed, and we sit in paralysis, breathless beyond the effects of altitude. I will remember that sight for long days to come, the northern spur poking through the clouds like a dinosaur’s backbone, rising impossibly towards the highs. Unanimously we decide to abort, having no sight of a ridge beneath us, and faced with riding a dinosaur in another hailstorm; a thought of not going home for supper far outweighed a lingering vigilance. Another day.
Turning back along the shoulder, the rather ubiquitous cairns gave us a lead down to the Siete Lagunas [perhaps a very large and visible cairn worthy of note is located just east of the Puntal de la Cornisa]. Thereafter the intensity yielded and we crunched towards supper at Laguna Hordera across the plains, as the storms on Mulhacén gathered force in the dusk. Snow fell on our makeshift rock-shelter as we dined luxuriously on our last night – overlooking vertical clouds in the Trevélez valley – pondering the extremity of these lands. Then there was a fox, and a tug-of-war, but that’s another story.
Sitting in the bus, following the very cheerful conversation of locals, I reflected on the raw and inhospitable power of ice, hail, wind and snow of the Sierra Nevada wilds; an essential service for mankind as only through the wilds does pure creation occur, not God-speak, far from it; Andalucian’s obtain their water from the annual retreat of these glaciers. And this year water it is, the price of Liquid Gold must be falling in Lanjarón.”
During April 2013, members of the Spanish Highs team joined a Berghaus sponsored expedition led Berghaus athlete, Julia Pickering, attempting to make the first ski and snowboard climb and descent of the highest active volcano in Kamchatka, Klyutchevskoy Sopka (4750m). Richard Hartley and Kiersten Rowland of Spanish Highs, Sierra Nevada were invited to join this Berghaus [...]
Mulhacen is a technically straightforward peak but high altitude (3482m) and bad weather sometimes catch people out. The fact that is the highest mountain in mainland Spain provides a big attraction. There have been accidents though especially in the changeable seasons of spring and autumn. If in doubt a mountain guide should always be taken, especially when [...]
Join us on one of our winter skills mountaineering courses in the high, snow sure Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. Learn ice axe, crampon, winter belaying and alpine skills in a superb mountain environment. We have been running these winter skills mountaineering courses here in Spain for over 12 years. In that time we have [...]
In April 2013, Richard Hartley and Kiersten Rowland of Spanish Highs Mountain Guides are to join a team led by British snowboarder/mountaineer Julia Pickering attempting to become the first people to climb and snowboard down the largest active volcano in the Northern Hemisphere, Kamchatka in far eastern Russia. The team’s main sponsor is outdoor clothing and [...]
Nothing beats ski touring up and down a mountain (skijoring) with man’s best friend, in my case our husky, named “Khumbu”! Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains offer many opportunities for backcountry skiing with or without our four legged friends. The mountain side above Puente Palo looked bare. The thaw had devastated the snowpack. But we know [...]
Snow affected access tracks meant we only had a thin ribbon of snow in the gully to ascend and descend the mountain but it turned out to be a superb ski tour in wild and quiet surroundings in a little known area of the Sierra Nevada. Not sure it has ever been skied before either? [...]
It sounded good on paper. Approach using skis, climb some simple gullies and then ski out again. But a blocked road meant a longer ski in. Combined with the additional weight for mountaineering kit gave a very long hard day in the Sierra Nevada. We are always on the look out to do something different. After [...]
Take a remote refuge with superlative mountain views, a few good friends, tasty food, a wee dram (or two) and a reason to celebrate and you have the makings of a birthday to remember. Last week we tried it out in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain. Our friend David Thomas wanted a 50th birthday [...]