News from Sierra Nevada Guides

Latest news from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern Spain

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A Guide to Climbing Mulhacen

A Guide to Climbing Mulhacen

Mulhacen is the highest mountain in mainland Spain (3479m or 3482m depending on which map you are using!). It is not a “technical” mountain in good summer conditions.  There are paths ascending the mountain from three sides: south, east and west that allow Mulhacen to be climbed in a day.  From the north it is not really possible to climb Mulhacen without a night out wild camping.  The north face is the domain of climbers and scramblers. This guide is about the non technical ways up the mountain for walkers.

Mulhacen from Carihuela
The effects of altitude, wind, sun and dehydration are the most likely hazards you’ll face in summer conditions.  That said, like any high mountain area, the Sierra Nevada is likely to attract low cloud with the possibility of electric storms, especially in the afternoons.

To tackle Mulhacen safely you should be an experienced mountain walker able to navigate safely and make sound judgments about the conditions underfoot, the weather and about those you are with.  If in doubt hire a qualified guide from Sierra Nevada Guides.

This brief guide will outline ways up Mulhacen that are possible in a day including:
1            From the south – Hoya del Portillo via Capileira.
2            From the West – Hoya de la Mora (Granada side).
3            A Circuit from the Poqueira Refuge.
4            From the east – Trevelez.
5.            A Circuit to The Poqueira Refuge from Hoya del Portillo.
On the summit of Mulhacen
1.            From the South
Most people visiting the area for a walking holiday choose to stay in the Alpujarra where there are villages full of character and an abundance of documented walks. The village of Capileira (1400m asl) has a National Park Information Centre and from here it is possible to book a bus in summer months up to Mirador Trevelez (2700m asl) where a lot of people start their ascent of Mulhacen’s South Ridge. It is possible to reach the summit this way in under 2 hours from leaving the bus. It is important to book the bus in advance.  This can be done either by calling into the information centre or by telephoning them. Details of the information centre and how to book are on the Sierra Nevada Guides website. 

Paths on Mulhacen, Mirador de Trevelez is at the bottom of this map.

Personally we prefer a little more exercise than this and drive up the road above Capileira, initially on tarmac that degenerates to “potholes” before becoming a smooth dirt track through the forest to Hoya del Portillo at 2100m. From here a path leads up through the forest to “Puerto Molino” with its interpretation boards and fine glimpses of the mountains. From Puerto Molino there is a path leading up onto a ridge, which you can follow to rejoin the dirt track followed by the bus about 1Km before Mirador Trevelez. To ascend Mulhacen this way takes around 4 hours and you earn your beer!
Mulhacen's West Ridge from the Caldera Refuge
Although it is possible to descend the same way, if you allow time it is good to make a circuit. Descending the West Ridge to the Caldera Refuge (40 minutes) allows you to get a good glimpse of the North Face. From the Caldera Refuge the old road leads back Mirador Trevelez. Another possibility from the Caldera Refuge (and you’ll need 4 hours) is to take the path down to the Poqueira Refuge where you can buy a beer before taking the path (initially up hill) back to Hoya del Portillo.
The route from Hoya del Portillo to Mirador Trevelez.

We sometimes get a single ticket and ride up on the bus from Hoya del Portillo to Mirador Trevelez then complete a circuit back to Hoya via the Poqueira Refuge. The best circuit on the mountain.

2.            Mulhacen from the west (Granada)

Useful if you are staying in Granada or its suburbs. It is possible to drive on tarmac up to Hoya de la Mora, 2500m asl. Here there is another National Park information centre in the University Albergue. The National Park operate a bus service from here in the summer months up to Posiciones del Veleta 3100m. From here it is a 3 hour walk along the old road to the Caldera Refuge then a further hour up to the summit of Mulhacen. This is usually a linear, there and back option though if you have been “dropped off” at Hoya de la Mora you might be able to arrange a pick up at Capileira or Trevelez. If making the descent to Trevelez (5 hours), visit Siete Lagunas if you have time, especially in late June or early July when the alpine flowers there will be at their best.

The paths to Mulhacen from Hoya da Mora and Los Posiciones del Veleta.
 It is quite normal for late snow to obscure the track just east of the Carihuela Refuge until mid July.  This will involve crossing a short steep section of snow.

It is important to book the bus in advance.  This can be done either by calling into the information centre or by telephoning them. Details of the information centre and how to book are on the Sierra Nevada Guides website.

3.            Mulhacen from The Poqueira Refuge
The best circuit on Mulhacen from the Poqueira Refuge is to ascend the Rio Mulhacen up to the Caldera Refuge; Mulhacen’s West Ridge with views over the North Face and then return via Mulhacen’s South Ridge. 6 to 7 hours allowing plenty of time for stops.

A Circuit of Mulhacen from The Poqueira Refuge.
The Poqueira Refuge accommodates around 80 people in dormitories of varying sizes on “alpine” bunks. It provides bed, breakfast, evening meal and packed lunches.  It has a small shop and serves drinks including alcohol too. It is essential to book in advance. Contact details for the hut can be found on the Sierra Nevada Guides website

 The route is fairly obvious and marked with cairns though there are possible variations in the Rio Mulhacen and late snow may obscure some of the paths.

From the hut a path heads initially west and descends down to the Rio Mulhacen.
After a short distance ascending on the east bank I normally cross to the west bank and follow paths that lead to the Caldera Refuge.  (It is possible to keep more or less to the river and take a path up Mulhacen’s west flank before reaching the Caldera. By taking this option you’ll miss the opportunity to view across the north face.)

From the Caldera head up paths that lead to the col on the west ridge overlooking the north face before taking a line back to join the other path.  It takes around an hour to reach the summit from the Caldera.

In descent there is an obvious path heading south to the lower summit of Mulhacen II. Here leave the line of the old road and take smaller more direct paths down the south ridge to eventually reach the old road from Capileira to Caldera.  Just before you reach this point you’ll notice a Red and Yellow stripped pole, which indicates the position of an emergency shelter.
The Emergency Shelter, an old military look out post
Down at the old dirt track road near Alto del Chorrillo there is a signpost down a track heading north west to The Poqueira Refuge. Although it is possible to follow the track all the way, at the first bend there is a small path that leads more directly via an obvious large cairn. A great day out.

4.            Mulhacen from the East (Trevelez)
Trevelez, 1476m asl may be the highest village in Spain but unlike the other options there is no transport to gain height. There are two options that allow for making this a circuit. Ascending Mulhacen via Siete Lagunas and the East Ridge, then descending Mulhacen’s South Ridge to Mirador Trevelez and back to Trevelez. This is a long hard day and in the heat of summer it is advisable to set out early as the lower sections get very hot.   7 hours and a climb 2000m in ascent.  Allow 5 hours for the descent.
A circuit of Mulhacen from Trevelez

5.            A Circuit to the Poqueira Refuge from Hoya del Portillo.
To reach the road head at Hoya del Portillo, follow the road through Capileira and continue without deviation until you can go no further.  This is initially a tarmac surface, which becomes dirt track, but is generally passable throughout the year for most vehicles.  Alternately book a place on the National Park Interpretation Service bus from Capileira, which runs most weekends between April and October, and mid-week during the summer months.
Puerto Molino
The road head is ‘guarded’ by the National Park who have a hut on the edge of the car park.  At the side of the hut is a path which takes you uphill through the pine trees to a fire-break.  Follow this emerging after approximately 30 minutes (as the forest thins, don’t be tempted onto the fire break too soon, as this is much harder walking).  Where the path emerges you will see a sign to the Refugio Poqueira – 2 hours and Puerto Molina.  Puerto Molina is the outcrop of rocks which can be seen at the top of the firebreak; amongst these are a National Park interpretation boards and a viewpoint detailing the various mountains in the National Park and even beyond to Africa, which can be seen from here on a clear day.

Our way on is to follow the signs to the refuge; cross the firebreak and descend slightly towards more trees.  At the edge of the trees, follow the track rightwards and enjoy the views on to both the refuge and mountains beyond.  The route is marked by occasional wooden signs.

At a junction of tracks, bear right uphill, soon leaving the broader track to follow a path rising gradually leftwards.

Eventually the Poqueira Refuge can be seen in the distance beneath.  A track comes into view leading to a farm and the hut.  Another obvious and waymarked path forks left, and leads downhill to join the track.  This is the way on to the refuge.
The Poqueira Refuge
If for any reason you want to cut the walk short, stay on the level path which shortly leads to a higher point on the track.  Turn right here and head uphill steeply for a short distance to a junction.  Turn right here and follow the dirt track road back to Puerto Molina (1 hour) then descend to the path through the forest re-tracing your steps back to the car park  (3.5 hours in total).

Following the track to the Poqueira Refuge, we cross a stream and start an uphill section towards the farm.  Fork right just before the farm and a short pull over a col leads to the refuge.

The return journey
Standing on the steps at the front of the Refuge, our way leads downhill.  A faint path passes the hut’s septic tank, from where a better path and large cairn can now be seen.  This is our route.  We descend following many zig zags, down towards the Cortijo de Las Tomas.  The Cotijo can be seen for quite a distance before it is reached. 
200m befoe the Cortijo, we reach the acequia Alta.  Here turn left and follow the water channel for just over 5 km.  If the acequia is dry, then walking is quite straight forward, as you can either walk in the bed of the acequia alternatively follow the more exposed path alongside the water.  This is particularly enjoyable in spring and early summer, when the water is flowing and flowers cover the ground around the watercourse, but at other times the views down the rio Poqueira more than make up for the lack of water. 

If the water is flowing, and you are a bit uncertain about the sometimes exposed path along it’s bank, it is possible to proceed to the Cortijo de Las Tomas and take the undulating path leftwards, signed ‘sendero acequias’ as far as the Cortijo Corrales de Pitres, where the path almost meets the acequia.

Just about 3km along the acequia, a track crosses and the acequia goes through some pipes.  After this it passes the Cortijo Corrales de Pitres (see above).  A futher 2 km on along the acequia, another track crosses, and the water is piped again.

From the cortijo, continue along the path.  After approximately 10 minutes there is a short stiff climb up to cross a ridge.  After crossing the ridge, it is necessary to ascend the easiest line back to the acequia.  Follow the acequia to where it is piped under a track.  Continue along the line of the acequia until it crosses the dirt track road from Capileira to Hoya del Portillo.  Turn left and Hoya is reached in about 1Km.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

International Mountain Leaders in Spain's Sierra Nevada

International Mountain Leaders in Spain's Sierra Nevada

It’s great being able to work as an International Mountain Leader, meeting like minded people and using our local knowledge of the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarra to ensure that they enjoy the very best walks in the safest possible way.

Martin enjoying being the patient on a Wilderness 1st aid course

However there’s more to being an International Mountain Leader than holding a qualification. Once qualified we can only practice if we are in possession of a valid “wilderness” 1st aid certificate, have appropriate insurance cover and undertake a minimum of 2 days additional training each year known as Continuous Professional Development (CPD). And that’s in addition to getting the qualification in the first place!

In the last year we have attended 4 days of CPD at both Plas y Brenin the National Mountaineering Centre and whilst attending the BAIML annual conference in Fort William. Subjects have included: Geology, Glaciation, The Mountain Environment, Ecology and Assessing People in the Mountains.
(BAIML = The British Association of International Mountain Leaders).

"Refresher" ropework training organised by BAIML

The purpose of CPD is both to demonstrate that we are keeping our skills current and also to expand our knowledge to share with clients in the mountains. It’s these “soft skills” that give an added extra to the experience of hiring a qualified guide.

Sierra Nevada guides have also been involved in organising and delivering CPD training for both BAIML members and the Mountain Leader Training Association (MTA).

Night Navigation Training for BAIML organised by Sierra Nevada Guides
To become an IML through the British scheme, you first need to hold a British Mountain Leader qualification. Then with substantial experience in the larger mountains of the alps and further afield you can apply to join the IML scheme. This involves: a summer training course in Wales with a speed navigation test; a summer assessment in the alps that includes a fitness test; a winter training course in the alps; and finally a winter assessment in either the alps or Pyrenees.

It’s quite a long and expensive route to become a qualified IML, which is a qualification recognised throughout Europe (including Spain). 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Monachil Gorge, Sierra Nevada

The Monachil Gorge is a deservedly popular short walk close to Granada. Reputed to have been used in one of the Indiana Jones movies the gorge is a spectacular cleft through high cliffs. Our route uses suspension bridges to cross the stream running through the gorge and a narrow ‘path’ which is followed with the aid of well placed steel staples fixed into the rock. It sounds scary but it is in fact easy enough if you have a reasonable agility and a head for heights. To get to the start follow signs from the Sierra Nevada motorway east of Granada to Monachil. As you enter the village you follow the one way system and take the first left over the river. Turn right and after about 400m re cross the river, signed, Camino de la Umbria. Turn left to follow a narrow tarmac road uphill for about 1km then left onto a track where a map gives details of the area. Follow the track for about 1km to park at its end near a building used as a mini hydro electric plant. There are other routes to the start of the gorge itself however this one prepares you by taking in three smaller suspension bridges before you reach the main event. The walk starts up a flight of steps to the right of the building and is a well trodden fenced path, after about 10 minutes you reach the first small bridge, if you can’t manage this then turn back. Once you have crossed all the smaller bridges the path goes up a level to a ruin where you turn right to reach the main 30m bridge which spans the gorge. After this the path narrows as you follow a narrow concrete path about a metre above the stream. A description would not do the route justice so just go and enjoy it. After about an hour you emerge from the end of the gorge and having passed the final sting in the tail you reach a field ideal for picnics and recovering. There is a bridge here back across the river however our return route continues upstream for about 2km to a second bridge below a number of finger posts. Cross here and follow the path as it climbs the north side of the valley passing through a very rudimentary field gate at an outcrop of rock. The path levels then drops to meet a track just below an acequia. Ignore the finger posts and go directly across the track to rejoin the path as it contours along the valley side passing below a farm. The path gives you great views down into the gorge and the route you have just done. After a final mirador the path drops to two threshing circles. Once you reach them turn left back into the gorge, at the ruin passed earlier turn right back down to the path we followed at the start of the walk. 8km, 3-4 hours, no water en route.

Maroma 2068m

Whilst still waiting for the snow to arrive I took advantage of the good weather to do a mountain that has been on my list for a long time. La Maroma ( The Rope) is the large limestone mountain that lies NE of Velez Malaga. At a 2,068m it offers a great open ridge walk with views down to and across the med. to the south or back toward the Sierra Nevada and other ranges inland. There are a number of popular ascent routes up this mountain. Two come up from the from the western end above Lake Vineula however the route which is easiest to access form Lanjaron is the one from La Robledal (the oak grove) which lies to the North East of the range itself. El Robladal , is an area of mixed forest with native oaks and pine, there is a camp site here and picnic areas. Higher up the route are yew trees which are quite rare with young specimens being protected by fencing on the upper slopes of the mountain. The car park at El Robladal can be accessed from Alhama de Granada or from Arenas de Rey both routes requiring some driving along tracks. The ascent route itself is well way marked and starts easily enough as it follows forest tracks to eventually revert to a small path through the tress as the more serious ascent begins. The route eventually emerges form the forest and climbs more broken ground which leads to a very pleasant and rocky traversing section below the final slopes at a area called Salto de Caballo ( horseman’s leap). Once through this rocky traverse the route opens up as you crest the ridge to get views south to the coast. Here a very steep path comes up from the countryside above Sedella just to join our route. There is then a a quite exposed section with a steep drop to our left as the route crosses a narrow spine of rock at Cortados de Maroma. From here cairns mark the final ascent across an open expanse of limestone blocks. The summit marker is an obvious 3m high stone spire with rungs up the front to allow you to get even higher. I must say from where I sat and had lunch I’m sure it isn’t actually on the highest point which seemed to me to be at the eastern end of the ridge. The summit was quite crowded when I got there with walkers coming up from both ends of the ridge. A full traverse of the mountain seems feasible if you can arrange cars for pick ups and would make a good walk into a great one as unfortunately I had to return the way I came.