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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Tour of Mulhacen

“The best and most varied multi day trek in Spain’s Sierra Nevada”

Mulhacen is 3482m high and is the highest mountain in mainland Spain and indeed the Iberian Peninsular.  It is situated in The Sierra Nevada National Park near the city of Granada around two hours drive from Malaga.

Early season, the route from Mulhacen's South Ridge to the Refugio Poqueira.

There are several long distance trails passing through or around the Sierra Nevada but none that combine the villages, the highest peaks and pass through the different and varied climatic / wildlife zones in a way that can be enjoyed without camping or bivouacking.

Mulhacen from The Caldera
Our aim with The Tour of Mulhacen is to combine all of the best aspects that make the Sierra Nevada National and Natural Parks a special pace to enjoy into a week long holiday. This includes ascents of the two highest mountains in the Sierra Nevada: Veleta 3396m and Mulhacen 3482m.

The Sierra Nevada is Spain’s largest National Park. It’s uniqueness stems from the large number of endemic species (over 100 with 63 species of endemic plants). During the Tour of Mulhacen we hope you will be able to spend time appreciating the unique and special landscapes that you are passing through.

The Sierra Nevada with its proximity to Granada was part of the old Arab Kingdom of Al Andalus. In fact the name Mulhacén is derived from Muley Hasan, the penultimate Arab king, who legend states is buried on the mountain. The southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada are known as the Alpujarra and are characterised by pretty white villages in the Moorish style. Capileira, where this walk starts and finishes is perhaps the prettiest.

The route is a journey through some high and remote places. In summer the weather is generally good with little rain in June and usually none at all in July and August. September is mainly fine but there are usually a couple of stormy days which can result in snow high up. In any month there can be high winds making the higher parts of the route difficult, also it can be misty with low cloud.

Apart from the (2 days) sections walking along the GR240, there is no signposting to be relied on. Good map reading skills, a compass and knowing how to use them is essential.

The Tour of Mulhacen, near Trevelez.

Day 1           
Capileira to Trevelez.
A route following the GR240 between the two highest villages in mainland Spain.
6 to 7 hours walking with about 800m of ascent.

The endemic, "Star of the Snows"
Capileira 1436m is a very pretty mountain village with lots of bars and hotels. The information centre is situated beside the bus stop almost opposite the Bar Moirama. Here it is possible to buy maps.

The Spanish are not known for their early starts, however for the first two days, starting from a lowly height of around 1400m to 1500m it is advisable to make an early (ish) start to avoid the heat of summer.

Today’s walk follows the GR240 to Trevelez, The first two hours being uphill to Hoya del Portillo 2100m. Fortunately a lot of this climb is in forest that provides shade. Once above Hoya del Portillo the mountainside opens out and we leave the forest. This is a fairly arid hillside but where there is water look out for some spectacular plants. Crossing this hillside in the afternoon regularly give sights of both eagles and vultures circling above.

Trevelez 1476m is the highest village in mainland Spain. As such it is famous and it is also a centre for curing hams in the dry mountain air. Perhaps not so pretty as Capileira but still a very nice picturesque village.

Day 2           
Trevelez to The Postero Alto Refuge.
Ascending the Rio Trevelez to Puerto Trevelez before descending to the Postero Alto Refuge. About 8 hours walking with 1500m of ascent.

Refugio Postero Alto
Today’s walk is probably the hardest day of the Tour of Mulhacen. This is due to reaching the steep slopes of El Horcaio in the heat of the day. However it is a great and varied days walking.

We head out of the village to the north following joining and following the Rio Trevelez. This is a verdant valley, very green, even in the height of summer. As we climb we pass through summer farms where the farmers still use horse to access their high farms.

Once we have scaled the slopes of El Horcaio, the mountain path is more gentle beside a nice mountain stream that we follow to today’s high point of Puerto Trevelez 2800m where we cross the main east / west ridge of the Sierra Nevada and descend down to the Refugio Postero Alto 1880m.

The Refugio PosteroAlto is a unique building sometimes described as “The Hobbit House” with its many adjoining extensions.

Day 3            Postero Alto Refuge to The Pena Partida Refugio (shelter).
An easier day with a chance to pass the spectacular waterfalls of Los Lavaderos de la Reina. About 6 hours walking with about 650m of ascent.

Iberian Ibex, a common sight
Today we will follow the GR240 path past the Lavaderos de la Reina, spectacular waterfalls in the early summer due to the vast amount of  melting snow on the high peaks. A chance to follow some spectacular “acequia’s” which are old water channels originally constructed by the Arabs to share the water around the mountain sides brining more farmland into use.

The Pena PartidaRefuge 2451m is just a stone shelter with a wooden sleeping platform. For this night you will need to carry a sleeping mat, sleeping bag and any spare clothes you need. This is the only night on The Tour without a manned refuge or hotel. If undertaking this trip with Mountain Walking Holidays, there is a certain amount of support available so a meal will be prepared for you!

Day 4           
Pena Partida to The University Albergue at Hoya de la Mora
16.5Km with 1400m of ascent. About 8 hours walking.

The Virgin of the Snows,
Hoya de la Mora
We continue along the GR240 descending to cross the Rio Genil and to a path know as the “Vereda de la Estrella” or “Path of the Stars.”  From here we start our ascent on little used paths to the Valley of San Juan which we cross to the old observatory and to The University Albergue atHoya de La Mora 2500m where we will spend the night in relative comfort.

Day 5           
Hoya de la Mora to the Refugio Poqueira via the high peaks 
of Veleta (3394m) and Mulhacen (3482m).
Not as hard as you might think!  We take the National Park bus 
from the Albergue to 3000m before the ascent of Veleta. 
Between Veleta and Mulhacen it is mainly easy walking apart 
from the final 400m climb. Our descent off Mulhacen is down 
the gentle South Ridge to the Refugio Poqueira. We end the
day with a celebration in the Refugio Poqueira 2500m
16.8Km with around 950m of ascent.

Refugio Poqueira with Veleta 3396m in the background

Day 6            Refugio Poqueira to Capileira
A descent of the delightful Rio Poqueira back to Capileira. 4 to 5 hours.

When to do this route
Enjoying the Summit of Mulhacen 3482m.
This route really needs to be done after the snow has melted making it a safer undertaking. Most years The Tour will be in condition from mid June through until mid October. The Alpine flowers are especially good at the beginning of July.  That said there are some areas of concern:

i.          The Refugio Postero Alto is only open throughout the week in July, August and September. Other months it is only open at weekends.

ii.         Snow often lies across the route near the Carrihuela Refuge (Day 5) until mid July. This re-freezes overnight and can be difficult to cross especially early in the day without crampons.

Accommodation and Campsites
There is plenty of hotel accommodation in both Capileira and Trevelez. In Capileira we have used several Hotels but the cheapest is the Hostal Moirma which we found perfectly adequate. If you need an early breakfast, best buy provisions in and have it in your room as you are unlikely to get anything before 8am. The Bar Meson Poqueira does a good tostada from 7.30am.

In Trevelez The Refugio Alpujarra Alta is good basic accommodation, though there are plenty of hotels.  Both Capileira and Trevelez have mini supermarkets.

A beer at the Refugio Poqueira.
The Refugio Postero Alto and  Refugio Poqueira need to be booked in advance. They provide good wholesome meals, have a bar and limited shop where you can buy basic items such as chocolate and biscuit bars.  The Refugio Poqueira has hot showers available and you can rent a towel.  For both refugio’s you will need a sheet sleeping bag.

The refugio Pena Partida is a basic bothy with table and chairs and a sleeping platform.

The University Albergue at Hoya de la Mora is a very basic hotel. They serve reasonable meals and will make you a packed lunch. If you are intending to use the National Park bus to gain height from here, this can be booked when you make the Alberge booking.

There are Official Campsites at Trevelez and Pitres (20 minutes drive from Capileira).

It is possible to wild camp in the National Park though there are some rules to follow (available either direct from the National Park or in leaflet form in English from the Information Centres). However this route as described does not require “wild camping” in the traditional sense and would be difficult within the rules dictated by the National Park.

Maps and Guidebooks
The Editorial Penibetica 1:40k Map, “Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada, La Alpujarra, Marquesada del Zenete” is perfectly adequate for the route and comes with a guidebook (in English) to the Area. It is available from Stanfords and we recommend that you get it laminated prior to your trip as it is very flimsy.

It is also available from the Information Centre in Capileira and some shops and bars.

Other multi day treks in the Sierra Nevada
There are several other long distance routes that pass by or through the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarra. 

The GR240 is Spain’s longest circular long distance footpath that circumnavigates The Sierra Nevada in 19 stages. The only villages it passes through are Capileira and Trevelez so stocking up with provisions is difficult if doing it in one complete outing.

The GR7 crosses the western edge of the Sierra Nevada near Lanjaron and continues through the Alpujarra.

The “Integral” is a traverse of all the 3000m peaks of the Sierra Nevada, usually from east to west.  There are some variations on the route and most people spend 3 or 4 nights wild camping along the route.

The Tour of Mulhacen as a Supported Trek:

Our sister company, MountainWalking Holidays offer this itinerary as a supported trek.

The route to Mulhacen as seen from the Carrihuela Refuge near Veleta.

Sierra Nevada Guides are the only Qualified British Guides living and working in Spain's Sierra Nevada.

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