News from Sierra Nevada Guides

Latest news from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern Spain

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Training Mountain Leaders in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains

Training Mountain Leaders in Spain’s Sierra Nevada Mountains

Jane scrambling on Veleta 3396m 2nd highest peak in the Sierra Nevada
All International Mountain leaders have to complete a minimum of 2 cpd training days a year, and we are privileged here in the Sierra Nevada to be a provider of such training. Though the course is primarily aimed at qualified International Mountain leaders, it is also suitable for Aspirant IML’s already undertaking training to qualify or qualified British Mountain Leaders considering applying to be accepted on the IML training courses.

Sierra Nevada CPD Event - 3rd to 8th July, 2016

Climb Mainland Spain’s Highest Mountain whilst exploring the Flora and Fauna of the Sierra Nevada National Park.

Mulhacen 3482m from the Caldera Bivi Refuge 3080m
Mulhacen at 3482m is the highest mountain in mainland Spain. Situated in Spain’s largest national park, The Sierra Nevada is surrounded by a natural park. Together they have some wonderful scenery, early summer flowers and fascinating geology. It was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1986, in recognition of its exceptionally diverse plant, bird and animal species. There are over 100 endemic species recorded including 63 different endemic plants.

Alpine Accentor
In addition to the natural history of the area we will be aiming to ascend the four highest mountains in the Sierra Nevada: Mulhacen 3482m, Pico del Veleta 3394m, Alcazaba 3371m and Cerro de Los Machos 3329m. The day we ascend Mulhacen will be enroute to overnight in the Refugio Poqueira. The ascent on this day will be approx 1500m and taking around 4.5 hours.  This will be a good opportunity for aspirants to experience a “fitness test.”

The itinerary will include some easy scrambling and crossing a short exposed section of chain and probably patches of snow. Participants will need to bring suitable slings to safeguard themselves. Aspirants will be equipped and coached by the three qualified IML’s from Sierra Nevada Guides who will be leading this event.

Whilst this event is designed to provide CPD for IML’s it would also provide good experience for Aspirant IML’s and Mountain Leaders considering becoming an IML.

Papaver lapeyrousianum an endemic species

Jane negotiating a section of "fixed gear"
Learning Outcomes
To see how plants adapt to the varying climatic zones as we ascend into the mountains.

To observe the uniqueness of the flora and fauna of the area.

To observe the impact man has made through the ages within the National and Natural Park.

To learn how the National Park Authorities have acted to lessen the impact of man on the environment.

Understand the range of maps available for this area and the difficulties of navigation with maps of less reliability than O.S. maps.

Crossing exposed fixed equipment.

Crossing snow patches (probably).

The ''pitfalls'' of running a guiding company either from the UK or from abroad. Martin Riley of Sierra Nevada Guides is the first British member of the Spanish Mountain Guides Association (AEGM).

Estrella de las Nieves (Star of the Snows) an endemic species with Trumpet Gentians.

The Caldera from Mulhacen
Day 1
Make own way either to Capileira or to Lanjaron (see note on travel or accommodation options).

Day 2
Breakfast in Capileira. We depart the mountain village of Capileira at around 8.30am, driving up to a high road head at Hoya del Portillo 2100m, where we commence our walk up Mulhacen 3482m. Our descent to the Refugio Poqueira 2500m is via the Caldera and the Rio Mulhacen.  Spend night at the Refugio Poqueira.

Day 3
An ascent of Alcazaba 3371m the most remote of the “big 4” is via Siete Lagunas, returning to the Refugio Poqueira.

Day 4
Departing the Refugio, we ascend Pico de los Machos 3329m and down to the University Albergue at Hoya de la Mora 2500m via an interesting easy scramble into the San Juan valley.

Day 5
Taking the National Park bus back up to 3000m we a scramble up Pico del Veleta 3394m and return back to the Refugio Poqueira via a section of fixed chain and back to our starting point at Hoya del Portillo for around 5pm. Spend night in either Capileira or Lanjaron (see accommodation options as before).

Day 6

The Iberian Ibex, common throughout the Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada Guides are not charging for their time running this event.  All the costs below are options and reflect prices locally. The charge we are making for this CPD event covers our travel expenses and hut fees.
£200 per person towards Sierra Nevada Guides.

You pay your own accommodation fees locally.

You will need your own travel, medical and rescue insurance.

"Blue Deeams" Chaenorrhinum glareosum an endemic species
Accommodation Options
For those wanting to keep costs down there is an option of camping at Jane and Mike’s mountain farm situated at 1305m above the spa town of Lanjaron. This is a bit remote and not the sort of place where you can just nip out for a beer! Jane and Mike will provide a BBQ evening meal with plenty of beer and wine along with breakfast on the day of departure. 20 Euro’s per night

For those wanting superior accommodation we recommend a hotel in Capileira (where we will meet for breakfast before heading into the high mountains) or Lanjaron a spa town with plenty of hotels close to our base. You will need to book your own hotel but we can help with this. Allow 50 to 70 Euro’s per night for this option.

Whilst in the mountains we will spend 2 nights at the Refugio Poqueira and 1 night at the University Albergue. Bed, breakfast, evening meal and a packed lunch costs about 55 Euro’s per night. Drinks are extra! Costs at the Refugio Poqueira are approx 10 Euro’s per night lower if you have a UIAA membership (Austrian Alpine Club, etc).

Looking at the north faces of Alcazaba and Mulhacen from near Veleta

The easiest option is flying into Malaga as there are cheap flights there from most U.K. regional airports. 

Car hire is cheap and could be the cheapest option if there was a group of 3 or 4 sharing. From Malaga Airport there is a direct bus to Granada where you can change for Lanjaron and Capileira.

If you choose to stay / camp with us we will meet you / pick you up from Lanjaron.

We are prepared to do airport pick ups for 100 Euro’s per trip but this would need a group of 3 or 4 splitting the cost to be worth while.

You will need adequate medical and rescue insurance.

Contact details:
Michael Hunt and Jane Livingstone


tel:  01433  639  368

This training event is only open to BAIML members and to MTA members who hold ML (Summer) who are considering enrolling to become International Mountain Leaders.

Book a place on this event.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Mountain Weather

With the end of summer we have experienced some dramatic weather. The usual end of season thunder storm struck in mid September causing flooding and mayhem across the region. On the day of the storm I had a large group out and was due to lead them from the hostal at Hoya de la Mora across to the Poqueira Refuge crossing the Sierra Nevada at about 3,000m. As I drove up the mountain in the early morning it was clear that a storm was brewing with thunder and flashes of lightning around the area. The group was the first of two from the Territorial Army reservists out on an adventure training exercise. I met them and after a bit of discussion we decided that we would set off on the trip. So with most of the group wearing full waterproofs we headed out in heavy rain which surprisingly began to ease up as we climbed. By the time we reached the Carahuela refuge, a small bivouac hut below Veleta we were able to take gear off and dry out as the sun began to break through. It wasn’t until I returned home the next day I realised how big the storm had been. Lanjaron had been flooded out and suffered some damage. Other villages however had suffered much worse and further a field the storm had even caused a couple of deaths. At first it seemed strange that we had managed to do any walking at all however I realised that by being at height in the mountains meant that we had in effect been above the worst of the storm. At 3,000m, our highest point of the day there was about 2km of stormy weather between us and the villages below. This was wasn’t the first time this affect has happened to me. Much earlier in the year having left my car above Capileira I was at the Poqueira Refuge with a small group. We woke to a covering of a couple of inches of fresh snow. Even though the snow stopped falling by the time we got back down it was a couple of feet deep, meaning my car was effectively snowed in. Lesson learned. The weather over the coming season dramatically alters the nature of the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges in the area. Over summer, settled conditions mean that you can feel fairly safe going into the high mountains without too much worry. Winter weather conditions can turn fairly benign mountain trips into serious alpine outings where you need to be prepared for extreme conditions. Spanish forecasting has improved in the past few years so before you go out you can get a good idea of what to expect. Personally I use for general forecasts and for the higher peaks. Both are well worth a look.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Crowded mountains

With the heat of summer I have done quite a few trips around Veleta in the past few weeks. This peak is second highest in the Sierra Nevada and with its proximity to the Granada ski village and an area called Hoya de la Mora it is a relatively easy summit to ascend and so is perhaps the most climbed peak in the range. This was brought home to me last week when I arrived at the summit last weekend with a couple of clients. The summit of the mountain is marked by a concrete pillar and on this occasion it was crowded with a group of about fifty walkers. It was almost like getting to the summit of Snowdon. As we lunched the numbers grew as more and more walkers and cyclists arrived at the summit. It does seem that the popularity of walking in the mountains is growing. Other mid week visits have been much quieter affairs with the whole mountain empty of walkers. On those visits it is quite common to come across quite large numbers of Cabra de Montana. In late July for the first time ever I came across a young cabra kid suckling off its mother. I had never seen this before so it was great to see. A week later with a group of friends we watched as a fox circled a group of three or four cabra before they finally decided that enough was enough and they chased the fox off down the mountainside. Cabra do seem to becoming more used to walkers and in some areas particularly will allow you to get quite close before they run off. Descending Mulhacens south ridge in early August I walked within about three meters of a group of four large males who casually watched as I approached before finally getting up and sauntering off. They didn’t seem in the least worried by my presence seemingly accepting the fact that I was there in their territory. Near the Poqueira refuge cabra quite often approach the building even if you are sat out on the terrace. They seem to like licking the side of the building presumably getting essential salts to supplement their diet. Other wildlife sightings in recent trips included a couple of juvenile Golden eagles soaring above us on a trip to Pico de Jerez near Gaudix. Nearer to home we recently spotted a common genet (Genetta genetta) crossing the track below our finca as we drove up from the village one night. These animals are also known as ‘’civit cats’’ and look like a cross between a domestic cat and a large ferret.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Cool summer walking

With low level temperatures hitting the high 30's it is still possible to get some cooler walks in in the main Sierra Nevada range by taking the cable car up the southern side of Veleta. The cable car runs out of the Pradollano ski village which sits at 2,000m above Granada Initially travelling in an enclosed gondola or cable car you arrive at the Borreguiles half way station where you change on to an open chair lift for the final stretch up to 2,9000m. The ride is spectacular in its own right as it carries you over the now dry ski runs. In the past couple of years the lifts have been adapted to accommodate mountain bikes and there are now a number of down hill runs also starting from the end of the chair lifts. The lifts end at a fairly bleak area on the mountain side however a couple of great walks start from here. Most walkers head north east to follow a track uphill to los posiciones de Veleta at 3,000m. From this spot you get one of the best views in the whole of the Sierra Nevada range as you look east across the dramatic north faces of Veleta, Mulhacen and Alcazaba. From here some more confident walkers may venture down into the corall de Veleta though most will continue south along the track to the refugio de carahuela before ascending to the summit. For those who don’t want to climb as much there is also another path which starts from the end of the chair lit. Head south west after leaving the cable car and the walking is equally spectacular if perhaps a little easier. After a few minutes waymarkers bring you to the head of a path which head down through quite rugged terrain to the Embalse de las Yeguas a small man made lake used to supply water for snow machines in the ski season. From here you can head south east to explore the lagunillas de la virgin, small natural tarns where you may well find snow till quite late in the season. Returning to the embalse you can retrace your path up hill or head north west to cross a small coll below the obvious observatory building to then head down to Borreguiles. Even in high summer it will be cooler at these altitudes so it’s worth remembering that you may well need additional clothing and a waterproof jacket. The cable cars do not run when there are high wind speeds and as ever when you are venturing out you need to check the weather forecast before you head out.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Clients, the unknown element.

One of the problems I face with some clients is that I don’t really know their experience in the mountains. If they are here for a few days I do a walk on the first day that gives me some idea of what they can do and how fit they are or not. Clients who come for just one day, usually to do Mulhacen are more of a problem. With little idea of what experience people have it is a bit of a gamble. Once you get to meet people however you do get a chance to get some idea of what to expect. Most claim to have and a long experience of walking in Britain and a few well aimed questions soon confirm this. Others talk of trips to ‘’base camp’’, having done ‘’Kili’’( Kilimanjaro) or the Inca trail. In late June I had a group of three women who where here to do Mulhacen before they then headed off to Granada for a couple of days. We met in the hotel bar on the evening before and in order to get some idea of what to expect I asked about their mountaineering experience. ‘’We’ve done, Ben Nevis, Sca Fell Pike and Snowdon. Mulhacen’s not much higher than those is it?’’ I had a slight panic as I explained that whilst summits in the UK are measured in feet, Mulhacen’s height was shown in meters and as a result was more than three times the height. ‘’Will that make a big difference then?’’ was the response. We did set out the next day on the understanding that we would see how far we got. The summit was in view for most of the walk but we got nowhere near we did however have a great walk in the mountains which at the end of the day is what we went out for. I cant say to much as many years ago at a house show back in the UK I glanced at a map of Andalucia and saw a height of 3482 and presumed it was in feet and thought ‘’OK so these hills will be a bit like the Lakes’’ it was hours later dawned on me that as it was a European map it would be meters. At the other end of the client scale I have had had those who opening lines are ‘’I’m a triathlete and want to bag a few peaks’’ I then end up chasing people up and down the mountains without taking a breather. Not my idea of fun at all.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Sierra Nevada Mountain Camomile - Artemisia granatensis

Sierra Nevada Mountain Camomile

The Mountain Camomile: Artemisia granatensis is found exclusively in the Sierra Nevada in dry grassland on loose rock over 2500m.  It has traditionally been sought after and used as a medicinal plant for stomach complaints, and its reputation was such that large amounts of money were paid to obtain its benefits. Over exploitation has brought this plant to the edge of extinction and there is now a programme within the National Park to increase its population.

The Mountain Camomile: Artemisia granatensis 

Those once common, it now mainly occurs in the more inaccessible areas where the camomile pickers “manzanilleros” were not able to exploit it.

The one we didn't find!!
This week Mike and Jane from Sierra Nevada Guides decided to “have a look” for the plant using someone’s photo from the internet which gave a good idea of its general location.  Whilst descending from Veleta 3396m the 2nd highest summit in the Sierra Nevada they chose a route via the San Juan valley which would bring them under the old observatory. However not actually carrying a copy of the photo they failed miserably.

Two days later making a traverse on Cerro de los Machos 3327m they were rewarded with seeing several plants in two separate locations.

Cold Fleabane - Erigeron frigidus
Generally the alpine flowers in the Sierra Nevada are stunning in June and July. The Sierra Nevada boasts some 86 endemic species of plants and many more endemic species of fauna.

Sierra Nevada Guides are particularly interested in the areas wildlife and are keen to share our knowledge during the walks we lead.

Sierra Nevada Guides are the only qualified British Guides (International Mountain Leaders) operating in the Sierra Nevada.

Sierra Nevada Guides are always happy to help you plan your trip to the Sierra Nevada, even if you do not use a guide (though you will have an easier time if you do!).

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Refugio de Poqueira

Situated at 2,500m on the southern slopes of Mulhacen the ‘’Refugio de Poqueira’’ has in recent years become more and more popular with mountaineers and walkers. Built in the mid nineties to replace the higher Felix Mendez hut the refuge is a well appointed base for activities in the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. With some recent improvements the refuge sleeps up to 84 people in a number of mixed dormitories on its upper floor. Below in a large airy dinning room large three course evening meals are shared out amongst that days guests by friendly and professional guardians. The main objective for most people staying overnight is undoubtedly an ascent of Mulhacen . from the refuge either the south or west ridge routes are easily accessed but it is perhaps the Rio Mulhacen/Caldera/west ridge route which is the better of the two. A technical route under winter conditions when there is steep ice and snow on the upper slopes this route comes into its own once snow clears the main faces of the mountain and it becomes a beautiful walk up an alpine river valley to a steep final ascent. As well as Mulhacen the Sierra Nevada’s two other big summits are available from the refuge. Veleta lies to the west and can be easily reached by following the old mountain road as it traverse the range at around 3,000m. To the east lies Alcazaba , an ascent from the refuge takes in Siete lagunas and involves about 1,300 m of ascent. It is perhaps though the best trip in the range and well worth the effort.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Snowshoeing in The Sierra Nevada

Snowshoeing in The Sierra Nevada

Spain’s Sierra Nevada can be an amazing place for snowshoeing during the winter months. Despite its southerly latitude and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, its altitude can mean cold or very cold, and certainly cold enough for snow!

Snowshoeing Sierra Nevada - The Refugio Poqueira

Most winters there is enough snow to give enough itineraries to keep the snowshoeing enthusiast sufficient days out to fill a weeks itinerary, though at some points each winter it can get a little “lean” and you’ll find yourself carrying your snowshoes over some sections.

Snowshoeing Sierra Nevada - Perfect Snow and Sun!
A highlight is a snowshoe trip up to the Refugio Poqueira where you can spend a night (full hotel service) sitting beside the log fire soaking up the ambience. The snow often sits at around 1800m just above the village of Capileira 1300m.

Day 1.
Parking at a high point it is possible to snowshoe up through the forest to Hoya del Portillo 2150m which provides a good break point for lunch.

Continuing up through the forest towards Mirador Trevelez we then pick up the traversing path that leads gently through forest and then open hillsides to the Refugio Poqueira 2500m.

Day 2.
A couple of short steep climbs lead us to Alto del Chorrillo 2700m where we can pick up the broad ridge that leads back to Puerto Molino 2400m and Hoya del Portillo. Here we can take a different route back through the forest to where we started from.

Sierra Nevada Snowshoeing - Perfect Snow near Alto del Chorrillo 2700m
This snowshoe trip is undoubtedly one of the finest in the Sierra Nevada and not to be missed from any itinerary so long as there is enough snow. The best time for this trip is usually February.

The Sierra Nevada like any mountains in winter can be cold and dangerous. Before setting out ensure that you know the weather forecast is good, be equipped for winter mountaineering and have the right skills including being able to navigate in snowy mountains. If in doubt, hire a qualified guide.

Sierra Nevada Guides are three Qualified British International Mountain Leaders with an intimate knowledge of the Sierra Nevada. 

Sierra Nevada Snowshoeing - When the mist comes in, Make Sure You Can Navigate!
Sierra Nevada Guides can teach you the skills to walk safely or snowshoe in the mountains.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Cabra de Montana

In a recent article in Granadas Ideal newspaper I read of a project based in the Rio Dilar area of the Sierra that was investigating the life cycle of Cabra de Montana, the wild mountain goats often seen across the whole region. Many of you who walk regularly in the area will have seen 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.