News from Sierra Nevada Guides

Latest news from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern Spain

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Winter Mountain Skills with Sierra Nevada Guides

Winter Mountain Skills with Sierra Nevada Guides

There has been plenty of snow this year in the Sierra Nevada so we have not had to travel far to find good venues for winter skills training.  We have even enjoyed being  snowed in at our mountain house with clients staying so it was a case of putting on snowshoes and snowshoeing from the front door!

Martin Coaching Sally how to use Snowshoes
The Sierra Nevada is in fact a good venue for winter skills training and can be described as being like Cairngorm with altitude.  Strong winds and cold being a problem for those being caught unawares. Like all winter mountaineering, good navigation skills are called for along with a knowledge of weather and snow conditions. Unlike Scotland though, the Spanish maps are not so good, especially as they do not show the many rocky outcrops that it would be so easy to walk over in poor visibility for the unsuspecting novice or person on a first visit.

Approaching the Poqueira Refuge in poor conditions
Last week Sierra Nevada Guides had some clients wanting to learn winter mountaineering skills so we headed off up to the Poqueira Refuge 2500m on snow shoes from near Hoya del Portillo. This is not a difficult walk in normal conditions, taking around two hours in summer.  However with strong winds blowing snow across our faces and with deep snow and poor visibility it took us almost five hours using snow shoes the whole way. Navigation was difficult and needed discipline to know where we were at all times. A good learning experience for our clients and valuable practice.   About 2Km before reaching the hut we had to cross a steep snow gully and icy hill side. This provided an ideal venue for showing how an ice axe works and steps are cut.  However the snow shoes were more than adequate for the slopes and we were soon at the Refuge.

We were the only people staying in the Refuge that night and the guardian seeing us approach had the fire lit and was waiting with hot drinks.  In fact we were treated like royalty!
Leaving the Poqueira Refuge on a perfect morning

Snowshoeing up to the ridge in perfect snow conditions
The following day started with bright sunshine though there was a strong northerly wind.  We decided to take an exposed ridge as our return route but as we were heading south, had the wind on our backs. Once on the ridge, the bright sunshine gave way to thick mist.  Seeing the mist approach and wanting to make things easy I gave a demonstration of how to put a grid reference into a GPS (a 13 figure grid reference on the Spanish Map!) and get the GPS to lead us along the ridge to Puerto Molino and the start of a good broad path.

Following the ridge back to Puerto Molino

On reaching Hoya del Portillo we found that the snow was melting at 2100m so we took off our snow shoes walking the last 1Km along the dirt track road. Beer was found in the village of Capaleira to celebrate a great trip!

Mike, Jane and Martin who run Sierra Nevada Guides are all qualified International Mountain Leaders and the only British qualified guides working in Spain's Sierra Nevada. 

There is much useful information about Spain's Sierra Nevada on the Sierra Nevada Guides website.

Winter Hill Skills Training

Winter Hill Skills Training

Sierra Nevada Guides run a range of hill skills and navigation training throughout the year.  For the past two weeks we have been enjoying (?) some snowy conditions which give a different slant to walking and navigating in the hills.

The group practising some "re-location" techniques

Yesterdays “Intermediate” Navigation Course went ahead albeit with an altered itinerary. Just walking in deep snow takes substantially more effort which is compounded when walking off path and through steep terrain.  There was further heavy snowfall through the night before the course and only half the students booked on managed to attend.

One of the good points about a day led by two qualified International Mountain Leaders in the snow was the quality of instruction and the range of topics covered.  Not only was the day about navigation but discussions ensued about snow, avalanche equipment for winter conditions and a range of other related topics.

 Because the day didn’t cover all the topics we have normally hoped to on our standard intermediate course, we’ve offered everyone the opportunity to book back on to another Intermediate Navigation Course once the snow melts!

Some comments about the course have come in already:
Dear Mike and Jane,
Many thanks for an excellent day today. I enjoyed the day, learnt a lot with a very affable group and the scenery was excellent – can’t ask for more really!
Best wishes

Hi Jane and Mike
Just to say thanks again for a great day out yesterday - suffice to say I slept well last night! I will probably try and join the course again sometimes soon in non-Winter conditions, but I did feel like I learned plenty yesterday. Look forward to seeing you in March.
Best wishes...

Sierra Nevada Guides are all qualified International Mountain Leaders and provide guiding and training in: mountain walking, navigation,  hill skills, scrambling and snowshoeing. In addition we can provide rock climbing tuition on single pitch rock climbs.