News from Sierra Nevada Guides

Latest news from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern Spain

Monday, 29 October 2012

Walking in the Sierra Nevada

Walking in the Sierra Nevada

Spain’s Sierra Nevada is a great destination for mountain walking on account of it’s settled (summer) weather and non technical mountains that don’t require the use of alpine techniques and climbing equipment.  All of the main peaks can be reached by competent mountain walkers. The high peaks start to become accessible from the end of June when the snow melts through until October.  Even in the height of the Spanish summer it is relatively cool above 2500m and you can expect temps of 15 to 20 degrees on the summits if it is not too windy.

Although there are some 26 named peaks over 3000m, there is one especially nice peak, Trevenque 2079m that should not be missed off anyone’s itinerary. Trevenque is a shapely mountain, sometimes referred to as the Matterhorn of the Sierra’s.  Although it may be too hot to climb from mid July until the end of August because of its lower altitude, never the less it proves to be a good warm-up or acclimatisation for its higher neighbours.

Mulhacen Summit
Most people visiting the area want to tick off Mulhacen 3482m which is the highest mountain in mainland Spain. In summer this is a fairly straight forward peak, especially if catching one of the National Park busses from either Capileira to the south or Hoya da la Mora to the west. Details of these busses can be found on the Sierra Nevada Guides website.  Possibly the best circuit is to book the bus from Capileira but drive up to and catch the bus as it passes “the barrier” at Hoya del Portillo. The bus takes you to Mirador Trevelez 2680m from where it is a 2 hour walk up Mulhacen’s south ridge to the summit. Descend the west ridge  to the Caldera Refuge getting views of Mulhacen’s north face, then follow the valley down to the Poqueira Refuge where you can buy a beer before setting off again to Hoya del Portillo.  Approx 7 hours from getting off the bus at Mirador Trevelez.

Flowers at Siete Lagunas, Gentians and "Star of the Snows"
The big 3 of the Sierra Nevada are Mulhacen 3482m, Veleta 3394m and Alcazaba 3371m. Of these the most difficult but most rewarding day is to ascend Alcazaba. The easiest way to get to Alcazaba is to take the bus up from Capileira to Mirador Trevelez.  Follow the path as for Mulhacen to where a path heads off towards Siete Lagunas at approx 3000m (not obvious). From Siete Lagunas it is possible to make a circuit on Alcazaba, ascending a ridge towards Penon del Globo but traversing northwards at around 3150m towards Meseta de las Borregas and onto a ridge that ascends Alcazaba from the south east. Descent to the top of the Siete Lagunas by an improbable path through cliffs and screes and wander down past all 7 lagoons, especially nice with the abundant alpine flowers. From Laguna Hondera follow the same route back to Miradoor Trevelez.  7.5 hours. It is possible to ascend to Siete Laguna’s from the village of Trevelz 1475m but this is a very long day.

Ascending the ridge to Cerro del Caballo
A personal favourite of ours is the Cerro del 
Caballo 3005m. This is Europe’s most westerly 3000m peak. Although there are several ways of ascending Caballo, our favourite circuit is from the Ventura road head about an hours drive up a rough dirt track from Lanjaron or Lecrin. From the parking spot at the end of the road take the obvious path the leads up to the old ruined Ventura Refuge (20 minutes). Continue up the path for a short distance, it now heads up steeply to cross and acequia channel and continues in gentle ascent crossing 2 streams to the start of a pine forest. Follow the fire break upwards at the side of the forest to its high point and take a diagonal line up to the ridge above you. The ridge is followed more or less to the summit of Caballo. From the summit you can peer down to the north east and see the Caballo Refuge beside a laguna. In descent head north west to a col above the refuge and follow scree (some times snow in early summer) and descend to the refuge. From the Refuge a faint path heads down hill, north east past a lagoon. We normally take a line north eastwards down to the Rio Lanjaron by a prominent waterfall before picking up a path that heads south west along the rio for approx 3 Kms to a dam. Leave the Rio to the right (west side of the dam) ascending for 50m before descending to pick up the acequia which is followed back towards Ventura. 7 hrs.

Caballo from the Upper Rio Lanjaron
Like all mountain areas, the Sierra Nevada can be serious and has claimed several lives in recent years (four of them British). The above descriptions are intended as an outline and you will need to be competent, especially at navigation to undertake them.  In summer, the most likely hazard you’ll face is intense sun, dehydration and a little breathlessness due to the altitude.  However there have been several occasions in summer when we have retreated due to high winds. Keep an eye on the weather too.  It is not unknown for afternoon storms to build up around the higher peaks.

There is plenty of information about the area (maps, weather, places to stay, etc.) on the Sierra Nevada Guides website and we are always happy to advise you on routes and conditions.

If in doubt about your ability or you would like a skills refresher, hire a qualified guide from Sierra Nevada Guides.

Walking in The Alpujarra

Walking in the Alpujarras

Having walked extensively throughout the U.K., Europe and in Morocco, I can honestly say that walking in Spain’s Alpujarra is up there with the best! To just say that there are pretty villages and scenic valleys would not do the area justice.

Busquistar and the Taha Gorge
The walking often begins from one of the many whitewashed villages first established by the Berber’s of North Africa when Spain was ruled by Arab kings. The architecture of these villages being identical to the villages of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Flat roofs and distinct decorative chimneys make an amazing sight when wandering down the steep narrow streets of the villages that often seem to cling to the hillside.

Paths take you through cultivated terraces often with almonds and olives down into rocky valleys with rivers flowing (although some are dry in the summer months). The paths are often lined with wild flowers during the spring and early summer and occasionally with wild tomato hedges and mulberries later in the year.  As you walk along it is not uncommon to pass the local goatherd walking his goats foraging for food and browsing the bushes either side of the path. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to remember this really is the 21st Centaury!

Iberian Ibex "Cabra de Monte"
Keep an eye out for the wildlife as you walk. Eagles and vultures are common but there may well be decorative hoopoes and bee-eaters as well as a host of other birds.  You will hear scuttling noises revealing that a gecko is getting out of your way or you might just happen upon one! Cabra de Monte (Iberian Ibex) is common in the more remote parts of the valleys.

A unique feature of the area are the acequia’s, water channels that transport water from the steams and distribute it to the hill farms around the hillsides. Although it was the Romans who first introduced them to this area, the present system of acequia’s date back to the time when the Arabs ruled Spain. Most of the acequia’s have narrow paths running beside them which make for great walking and the presence of water attracts many wild flowers.  Some acequia’s are lined with ancient chestnut trees.

Walking beside an Acequia
It is possible to walk in the Alpujarra throughout the year with the exception of the summer months. The Alpujarra gets very hot in summer and too hot for most people to enjoy walking.  In July and August it is possible to walk high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains where the temperatures are cool, 15 to 25 degrees depending on height and wind strength.  Walking in the winter months in the Alpujarra is usually o.k. and if the sun is out you might even be wearing shorts and tee shirt in February! If staying in one of the higher villages it is not uncommon for 2 or 3 days snow a couple of times each winter.

We are based near Lanjaron which is a good for access to the whole Sierra Nevada Mountain range.  If I was looking for a base in the Alpujarra for a walking holiday I would consider one of the especially pretty villages of Capileira, Bubion or Pampaneira. A lot of walkers stay in Capileira and there is usually some kindred spirit to strike up conversation with in a bar.  There is also the National Park Information office here. 

A car is useful in this area though using public transport is possible as there is reasonable public transport. Details of the bus company and time table in English can be found on the Sierra Nevada Guides website.

Alpujarran Chimneys
The area’s popularity has been increased by Chris Stewarts book, Driving over Lemons which paints an honest picture of what it’s like living in the area. A good read in its own right but you may enjoy your visit more after reading this.

There are some suggestions as to suitable walks on the Sierra Nevada Guides website with free downloads, these confine themselves to the western Alpujarra, Lecrin Valley and western Sierra Nevada. A useful walking book is Holiday Walks in the Alpujarra by Jeremy Rabjohns. Maps can be bought in the U.K. from Stanford’s and we recommend Sierra Nevada, La Alpujarra 1:40 000. Maps are flimsy and you might like to cover them in sticky back plastic before leaving the U.K.

Sierra Nevada Guides are the only company of qualified British Guides based in the area.  We are happy to advise you on route choice or guide you on a more challenging itinerary.
Spring in the Alpujarra

Monday, 15 October 2012

GR240 The Sendero Sulayr

GR 240
The Sendero Sulayr or The “Mountain of the Sun” long distance path.

The Sendero Sulayr is Spain’s longest circular long distance path. This 300 Km long path makes a circuit of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and if completing the whole circuit has an ascent of 9800m! Although being a circuit it doesn’t matter where you start, its official start is from the National Park Information Centre at El Dornajo on the road from Granada towards the Sierra Nevada ski resort.  The path is mainly at heights of between 1800m and 2200m though occasionally higher (up to 2460m) and lower.

The Sierra Nevada was Spain’s first national park and is its largest.  The highest mountain in mainland Spain, Mulhacen 3482m is here as is Cerro del Caballo 3005m being Europe’s most westerly 3000m peak. Given the right conditions it is perfectly possible to include these two mountains in your Sulayr itinerary and is worth considering.

The regional Government of Andalucia (The Junta de Andalucia) and the Sierra Nevada National Park authority opened this path in 2007. Officially it has 19 stages, starting and ending at El Dornajo though the stages seem to end in arbitary places in the middle of nowhere! It is possible to combine some of the stages so as to complete the circuit in 15 days, especially if you are supported and not having to carry heavy packs. Because the route only passes through 2 villages, carrying and / or obtaining food is a problem, so for most people, detours will have to be made and the walk unsupported it is likely to take around 21 days making it a huge undertaking. Fortunately Sierra Nevada Guides operate a support service so with travel to and from the U.K. the route is possible in 17 days.

Guidebooks and Maps for The Sendero Sulayr – GR40
Trevenque, day2
Editorial Penibetica have produced a guidebook to the route “Sendero Sulayr” in English, which is available from Stanfords at £29.95.  This guide contains all the maps and information you require for completing the route.  It doesn’t map enough to allow you to ascend either Caballo or Mulhacen.  Caballo can be included as a variation to day 3, though if wishing to include Mulhacen, you will need an additional day.  Think also about including a rest day or two into your itinerary, especially if doing it unsupported.  You can use rest days to get down to villages for supplies of food. (remember most shops in Spain do not open on Sundays and that there are lots of “local” bank holidays).

                        Distance            Height Gain            Time
Stage 1            14.7 Km            850m                      3hrs  50mins

Stage 2            19.4 Km            1042m                    5hrs  30mins

Stage 3            14.5 Km            10m                        4hrs  30mins

Stage 4            8.7 Km              330m                      3 hours

Stage 5            10.5 Km            298m                        4 hours

Stage 6            17.4 Km            916m                        5 hrs  15mins

Stage 7            24.9 Km            974m                        7 hours

Stage 8            16.5 Km            344m                        5hrs  30mins

Stage 9            20.6 Km            325m                        5hrs  45mins

Stage 10            15.2 Km          535m                        5hrs  30mins

Stage 11            20.7 Km          932m                        7hrs  30mins

Stage 12            16.9 Km          188m                        5 hours

Stage 13            11.2 Km          716m                        4 hours

Stage 14            19.2 Km          467m                        5hrs  30mins

Stage 15            10.2 Km          141m                        3hrs  30mins

Stage 16            21.4 Km           566m                        7 hours

Stage 17            16 Km              664m                        5hrs  15mins

Stage 18            14.5 Km            90m                         5 hours

Stage 19            7.1 Km              438m                       2hrs  30mins

When to do The Sendero Sulayr – GR40
Picking Cherries near Trevelez
Because parts of this route are at an altitude where snow lies during the winter, then the only months that are completely free of snow are likely to be May to October. That said, it is perfectly possible to do the route some years in April and November / early December (it all depends on the amount of snow which has fallen over the winter months).  Forget August, it is too hot!

Because you will need to stay at the Postero Alto Refuge, which is open only at weekends or every day from 1st July to 15th September, then July is the obvious choice unless you can plan to arrive at a weekend! Otherwise you'll have to camp outside.

Accommodation on The Sendero Sulayr – GR40
The Sulayr is not a walk with regular accommodation, mountain huts or campsites. To do the walk unsupported you will have to be prepared to wild camp and “rough it” though a tarp would be sufficient in most cases. Even with support, there are at least 2 nights where due to remoteness you would have to stay in Refuges, 1 staffed (at weekends) the other just a stone shelter.  Careful planning is the key to this walk.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Climbing Mulhacen in Autumn and Early Winter

Summer has now departed in the Sierra Nevada and the first snows of autumn have already fallen.  Snow in September and October rarely stays very long, often melting overnight. This short article is intended to give some pointers about how to tackle Mulhacen in normal Autumn conditions i.e. before there is a build up of permanent snow on the west ridge and face.

Mulhacen Summit
The normal way to tackle Mulhacen in a day is by catching the National Park bus from Capileira up past the “barrier” at Hoya del Portillo and up to Mirrador Trevelez 2800m. This bus usually ceases to run in October (check with the information office in Capileira for the latest bus schedule), but it is possible to drive up to the road head at Hoya del Portillo.  If the road up to Hoya is blocked by snow, then don’t contemplate climbing Mulhacen in a day.

Mulhacen in a day from Hoya del Portillo
4 to 5 hours in ascent from 2100m to 3482m.

Before any ascent of Mulhacen you should ascertain the actual conditions on the mountain and look at the weather forecast. The hut guardian of the Poqueira Refuge posts weekly updates as to conditions on the mountain throughout the winter months.

Take note of the wind strength as high winds can make progress slow and even lead to having to retreat.

From Hoya del Portillo, take a path that leads from behind the guards hut, up through the forest to join the firebreak just beneath the viewpoint of Puerto Molino.

At Puerto Molino looking towards Mulhacen
From Puerto Molino to Mirador Trevelez, the nicest way is to take the small path leading up to the ridge passing the minor summit of Prado Llano 2577m, eventually joining the dirt track road prior to reaching Mirrador Trevelez (where the summer bus stops). Alternatively you may follow the dirt track road from Puerto Molino.

Continue along the dirt track road for a further 600m until you reach a junction. Left leads towards the Poqueira Refuge. Here we leave the dirt track road which continues to the Caldera Refuge and take a path on the right which leads up the south ridge of Mulhacen.

As you ascend you are looking at the lower summit of Mulhacen 3361m with a trig point on top.  The actual summit is around 20 minutes beyond.

If there is snow lying, the safest descent is by returning back down the south ridge.

If there is no snow then the path down the west face to near the Caldera is an option.  This leads back to the dirt track road which can be followed back towards Mirrador Trevelez.

 Never underestimate Mulhacen. Just because it is a “walk” in summer conditions, in deteriorating weather, snow and ice, navigation can be difficult and the going underfoot treacherous.  Always go properly equipped for the conditions. Remember the days are getting shorter and take a torch. If you are uncertain, contact us and discuss the possibility of hiring a qualified International Mountain Leader.