News from Sierra Nevada Guides

Latest news from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern Spain

Friday, 9 November 2012

Flowers of Spain's Sierra Nevada Mountains

Flowers of the Sierra Nevada

Although I’m no expert on flowers, my work as a guide in Spain’s Sierra Nevada brings me close to nature.  The flowers of the Sierra Nevada are amazingly diverse as the National and Natural parks span a wide altitude difference with climatic zones from Mediterranean to Alpine.  Also different parts of the Sierra have different geology that also adds to the diverse spread of species.

Trumpet Gentian (Gentiana acaulis) with Plantago Nivalis - The Star of the Snows
Sierra Nevada Violet, Viola Crassiuscula 
There are many species and sub-species that are endemic to the Sierra Nevada, including:
Chaenorrhinum Glareosum     Blue Dreams                                     
Erigeron Frigidus                    Cold Fleabane                        
Artemisia Granatensis             Mountain Camomile                        
Arenaria Nevadensis
Viola Crassiuscula                  The Sierra Nevada Violet                                   
Saxifrage Nevadensis
Pinguicula Nevadensis            Thin Spurred Butterwort
Gentiana Boryi
Gentiana Sierrae
Plantago Nivalis                      The Star of the Snows

Additionally there are many species common to other areas too.
hormathophylla spinosa known locally as "rascaculos"

I have two favourite areas for spotting plants:

Gentiana Sierae, endemic to the borreguiles
The “borreguiles” which are areas of wet pastures besides streams and small lakes  at around 2700m to 3000m (typically Siete Lagunas).

Here you will find various gentians and the amazing Star of the Snows which is a woolly plantain.

Ranunculus acetosellifolius, endemic to the Sierra Nevada
The high boulder and scree fields at around 3000m to 3400m (typically Alcazaba)

This is where you will find Blue Dreams, The Sierra Nevada Violet and the Cold Fleabane.

Thin Spurred Butterwort, Pinguicula Nevadensis endemic

There is no doubt that the best time to come and see the alpine flowers is early July.  This is when the snow has mostly melted and there is plenty of moisture coupled with the warm long days. There are some nice spots accessible from the Poqueira Refuge, the Rio Seco, Rio Mulhacen and Siete Laguna’s.  The Rio Mulhacen and Siete Laguna’s are possible as a day trip using the National Park bus from Capileira. (details from Sierra Nevada Guides website).

St Bruno's Lilly, Paradisia liliastrum (not endemic) 
If you are venturing into the high mountains to see the stunning wild flowers, remember that these are serious mountains. It is likely that there will still be snow patches to cross in July and as in all mountain environments the weather can prove problematic with frequent high (cold) winds, mist and the occasional storm.

Three Peaks Challenge – in The Sierra Nevada

Three Peaks Challenge – in The Sierra Nevada

Following on from the success of earlier challenges, Mountain House is now offering fund raising groups the opportunity of an even bigger and better Three Peaks Challenge.  The Sierra Nevada boasts the highest mountain in mainland Spain, Mulhacen 3482m which together with Alcazaba 3371m and Veleta 3394m provides the perfect format for a Three Peaks Challenge.
Charity Challenge on the Summit of Mulhacen, Sierra Nevada Spain
Success on the summit of Mulhacen
There are various ways of undertaking this, a fit team could undertake the challenge spending just 2 nights in Spain, arriving on an early flight day 1 and departing on a late flight day 3. However to ensure complete success, detailed below is a possible itinerary for fit challengers. For a more leisurely approach you can add a second night at the Poqueira Refuge before tackling Mulhacen and Alcazaba.

Day 1. 
We meet you at Malaga Airport and take you to Hoya de la Mora where you spend the night at the University Albergue 2500m above sea leval.

Day 2.
Mulhacen, from Veletta, Sierra Nevada Mountains Spain
Mulhacen and Alcazaba from Velet
Departing at 8am on the National Park bus to “Posiciones del Veleta” at 3000m we now begin The Three Peaks Challenge.  It is about an hour to the summit of Veleta and a further 40 minutes in descent to the Carihuela Refuge 3200m.

From Carihuela to the Caldera Refuge 3020m although only 6Km along an old dirt track road will take 2.5 hours.  The effects of altitude and sun will prevent most people from completing this section particularly fast.

A hard hour of ascent from The Caldera will see you on top of Mulhacen.

Descent from Mulhacen to Siete Laguna’s (2800m) is a punishing hour where if your boots are too small your toes will hurt!
Mulhacen from Alcazaba
If you are “fresh” then the circuit from Siete Laguna’s to Alcazaba and back normally takes three hours.  However at this stage of the challenge it is likely to take 4 hours.

Starting to slow even more our way out from Siete Laguna’s to the Poqueira Refuge 2500m where we spend the night will take around 3 hours.

In total 12 to 14 hours.  A long hard day completing your Three Peaks Challenge.

Day 3.
We leave the hut around 9.30am and walk out to the road head (3 hours) where transport awaits to take us to the Spa town of Lanjaron where we enjoy the chance to recover!

Day 4.
We return you to Malaga Airport for your flight home.

Why choose Mountain House?
There are several good reasons to choose Mountain House to support your challenge.

Mountain House operate in Spain as “Sierra Nevada Guides” who are the only company of qualified British International Mountain Leaders operating in the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarra. 

Mountain House has the appropriate liability insurance for taking people into the mountains.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sierra Nevadas mountain goats

Last week I went with a few friends and again climbed Travenque a superb mountain east of Granada. After a steep ascent the final few meters offer a short scramble to a truly dramatic summit. The view east to Valetta, Caballo and the ski resort is one of the best in the range.

As often happens during a trip in these mountains during the walk we spotted a small herd of ‘’cabra de montana’’. Many of you will have seen herds of these ‘’mountain goats’’, normally running away into the distance. For those who haven’t these truly wild animals are about the size of a fallow deer, they are a tan colour with darker shoulders and haunches with the larger older animals having a pair large sweeping horns. Well suited to the mountain terrain where they are generally found they have short muscular legs and large soft hooves which are perfect for gripping steep rock faces. Generally browsers they live in areas of mixed scrub and broken ground in the lower mountains but I have seen them at 3,000m near the Caldera refuge on Mulhacen, on the edge of Lanjaron and also on the coast near Cerro Gordo. Often the only sign you have that they are in the area are large amounts of droppings on summits though you will often hear a sharp high pitched call as outlying individuals warn a larger group that you are approaching.

The groups you see will either be made up of females with their young or males. The two groups do not generally mix apart from the breeding season in autumn. This is also the time when males fight for dominance of a herd with head butting contests.

My first sighting of ‘’cabra’’ was about 10 years ago whilst descending the south ridge of Mulhacen. Needless to say seeing one of these animals for the first time was quite a shock particularly as it was quite a large male with a fantastic pair of horns. I have become accustomed to looking out for them but even so it’s often not until they move that I spot them as they are well camouflaged and blend into the backgrounds remarkably well.

Whilst often called mountain goats these animals are actually a type of Ibex, Capra pyrenacia . At one time there were a total of four subspecies. One, a Portugese subspecies, died out in 1892. Shockingly the other, Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica, became extinct on the 6th January 2000. A remarkably specific date. However this was when the last known specimen of a subspecies peculiar to the Pyrenees died. A frightening example of how easily we can loose unique animals. The two remaining subspecies however seem to be doing well and at the moment at least appear to be growing in numbers with an estimated population across the Iberian Peninsula of about 50,000.

Next time you’re out in the mountains take time out to try to spot these remarkable animals.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Wilderness First Aid

Wilderness First Aid Course

Martin as a casualty
This week, Martin, Jane and Mike from Sierra Nevada Guides attended their refresher 1st Aid course. Because of the nature of our work where rescue is problematic and ambulances can’t just be summoned, a “wilderness” first aid course was decided on. The course not only concentrated on first aid but also how to support casualties for several days. The course run by Nicola Pickering of High Peak First Aid in the Peak District lasted for two days and was assessed throughout. There were many practical scenarios held outside using realistic casualties made up with all sorts of fake blood and injuries.

A "realistic" injury to treat

At this point we should highlight that Sierra Nevada Guides have never had any clients who have either needed rescue or medical treatment.  However the possession of up to date first aid knowledge is something we take very seriously. Over the past few years there have been changes in good first aid practice and a range of better wound dressings and other equipment available on the market.

As International Mountain Leaders, we are not allowed to operate without a current first aid qualification. Additionally we have to keep our skills up to date by attending further certified (CPD) training which is monitored by our Association, The British Association of International Mountain Leaders (BAIML) every 3 years. We also need to demonstrate valid insurance on an annual basis.