I was determined to get to the Sierra Nevada with my girlfriend, Julia, before she departed Spain for Canada. With two days of holiday left, I booked off the last two weekdays and worked overtime to finish early on the Wednesday, which with the weekend gave us four full days to play with. We found bus routes and booked a night’s accommodation in Capileira, a stunning pueblo blanco situated on the southern slopes of the Sierra at 1400m. We bought tickets for the Sierra Nevada Translation Service
shuttle bus up to the Mirador de Trevelez, which at 2700m would give us quick access to the high peaks. We would then spend the next few nights camping and sleeping in unmanned refuges while using the days (I planned) to ascend the three highest peaks, and some subsidiaries (since we were there).
El Camino a Capileira
I cut work earlier and headed for the bus stop back to Malaga to pick up Julia. Over the proceeding seven hours we would take two buses, changing at Granada, and travel the winding mountain roads through the Alpajurras. Motion sickness sufferers will not appreciate this route.
We checked into our one star rural hostel, several ratings down from my last stay in the village (thanks to parents) and where amazed for what we’d paid for: a large on suite room, breakfast included, friendly management and an idiosyncratic ambience.
Ascent of Mulhacén
Thursday morning, bright and warm by the time we’d had breakfast. Our shuttle bus left at 11am, so a leisurely start to the weekend, giving us plenty of time to hydrate properly and buy the water for the next two days- eight litres in total.
The bus filled with day hikers, and ours were the only oversized bags, and an amusing and interesting man with a smooth Castilian accent spoke about the natural park as we climbed up the highest road in Europe.
By 12pm we’d reached the mirador, a gravel turning point used by the shuttle bus and scrambled out of the bus. The track way stretched north along the ridge, heading below Mulhacén, which stood in the distance some eight hundred metres above us. We walked for a few minutes and stopped for lunch, letting the other groups pass. As it happened the majority of people turned away from the mountain and headed back down into the Poquiera valley.
When we started walking the few people in front of us had already been lost from view, and I was happy to enjoy the sense of space. This was Julia’s first time at this altitude and I was keeping a watchful eye just to be safe. A weekend in the Sierra de las Nieves had prepared us well, although we still had to reshuffle the packs, and somehow all the water ended up with me.
As we strolled upwards I debated the plans I’d formed. Originally I’d intended to go down to the Caldera Refuge, which was on the ridge west of the summit. Instead I now suggested we head down to the Cañada, ‘glen’, de las 7 Lagunas, to give us access to Alcazaba, switching the days around. Fortunately I was chief navigator.
The path was easy going but the monotony was broken both by the wide views across the range and the numerous sightings of Ibex, which took much less interest in us than we did of them.
We reached the secondary summit (3362m) at 3pm and it took us half an hour to reach the final summit. Hundreds of butterflies circled the warm rocks and flew across the northern drop, which fell five hundred metres. We were joined by a group of cyclists who had scrambled up in riding shoes (a difficult task) and we watched, to my envy, as a couple scrambled up the north face.
On the descent we followed the ridge line that would lead us to a small scree field above the glen that fellow SPer Jon Climber had pointed out in January. From there we would be able to climb down to the largest of the seven lakes. Our descent was relaxed and it wasn’t until 6.30pm that we reached our campsite.
Views down to the largest lake.
One of the two who had climbed the north face (as well as the north face of Alcazaba that day) had suggested a good spot to set the tent, which had access to a spring. Unfortunately, we weren’t authorised to camp but were relying on not getting caught. As it happens there was one other individual already there, and were I wanted to put the tent. We didn’t exchange any words. We ate a simple meal of bread and jam and crawled into our sleeping bags (or liner in my case) at 8pm. At 2900m we were in for some interesting dreams.
Ascent of Alcazaba
Peñon de Globo (right peak) from above one of the 7 lakes.
I had discovered from my ascent of Alcazaba back in January that the valley was a funnel for the north winds coming over the col between Mulhacén and Alcazaba. Our tent was battered throughout the night. Neither of us slept, and to compound the problem an ill timed stomach bug kept forcing my poor companion out the tent every half hour. She would return frozen from the wind. The only consolation was the clear view of the Milky Way.
Somehow in the early hours sleep had caught me, but at 6am, my phone came to life with an alarm so irritating it guaranteed we’d get up. I unzipped the tent, immediately exposed to the wind and snapped a couple of shots of the early morning. It was far too early and cold for a walk though.
An hour later I awoke for the second time. Next to me, Julia stirred and announced she was too unwell to go anywhere. We discussed our options, from descending to the nearest village, probably Trevelez, or to taking a rest day. We agreed on the later, and while Julia elected to sleep I packed a light sack and headed off for Alcazaba.
I’d left the remaining 4 litres of bottled water with Julia at the tent, not wanting to add a possible cocktail of micro organisms to an already upset stomach. I wasn’t worried about the water for myself, but to be sure I’d brought along purification tablets.
I marched across the boulder fields from the lake and climbed the Lomo Culo de Perro
, ‘Dog ‘s rump Hill’ and on reaching its crest turned north, directly into the strong cold winds. I was soon traversing the southern side of Peñon de Globo (3287m) and enjoying the protection from the winds. This side resembled a giant slag heap, and other than lichen it looked entirely barren. I lacked the beauty of form I relished when it was covered in snow. I was surprised when I heard the bells of goats, but those creatures can live almost anywhere.
South views of Alcazaba.
When Alcazaba came into view I saw how rocky and barren the bowl between it and the Peñon was. I decided to cross it and take the south-east ridge to the summit, as I’d done last time. It was also considerably easier going (I’m dubious to attribute a faster ascent to fitness) in the summer and I reached the summit at 9am. A few pictures later and after a handful of dried fruit I headed west along the northern ridge to Puntal de la Cornisa (3313m), the first sub. on a horseshoe. The winds were powerful but pushing back downwards so I scrambled upwards regardless to get a good clear view of Mulhacén’s north face. I stayed long enough on the top to get my photo and headed back down. Now I turned onto the southern ridge and headed across to Peñon de Globo to complete the horseshoe. As I hit its summit I gained wide views of the glen below me.
The Swarming Sheep
I made it down into the glen before 11am and as I walked across the cañada I watched a large herd of sheep following the same zigzagging trail coming down off of the ridge that we’d descended the day before. Ahead of me, the ground dropped and the boulder field blocked my view. I continued along the rocky uneven earth and by the time I had regained a higher vantage the sheep where much closer to the tent.
I stopped and took some pictures, hoping for an interesting composition. When I’d finished snapping away the first sheep had already passed the tent. I watched and heard the first animated calls.
‘Baaaaaaa!’ The scouts exclaimed excitedly.
‘Baaaaa?’ The heard chorused.
‘BAAAAAAAAAA!’ Came the confirmation. Shit.
Stashing my camera I bolted towards the swarming sheep.
‘Hey’ I yelled at the burgeoning number of sheep surrounding the tent.
‘Heyyyy!’ there was no movement from the tent.
Hoping across bog and streams, I reached the herd, reluctant to leave there findings. ‘Get out of here you stupid sheep’. As one, the mass of white tentatively backed away from the tent and the crazy mass of flailing metal poles and human limbs. ‘Go On!’
A small voice came from the tent, ‘It’s ok, actually I thought it was quite funny’. Oh.
Deflated, and somewhat self-conscious of my audience (the only other person around was packing up fifty metres away), I took a step towards the sheep. They took one step back.
‘They’re eating your sick’, I said.
‘Yeah, I thought they might’.
The sheep stepped forward again, more had joined them. I suddenly realised I was outnumbered by about one to two hundred. Had anyone ever been mauled to death by sheep? I made another series of swings with my poles but the sheep were unimpressed.
I advanced, prepared for battle and from their midst sprang a young white male, a champion. We faced off, eye to eye, without a glimmer of understanding between us. The sheep stalled, unsurprisingly. Then I whipped out my camera and took a couple more shots.
Chagrined by the loss of a meal, the herd established a perimeter keeping my under watch and then proceeded to ignore me as they moved up the valley.
Laughing at my silly situation, I collapsed by the tent.
‘There were bugs in tent’, came the voice from the tent, ‘and the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen’. Apparently I’d already missed an epic.
Relaxed in the Cañada
Julia was feeling slightly better and we spent the rest of that day relaxing. At midday we headed to the waterfalls immediately below the glen. In the afternoon I headed off to see some of the other lakes. I found three before hunger overpowered my commitment to the seven. We ate another simple meal of bread and jam and in the evening light watched three Ibex moving around.
We’d decided that without a perfect recovery from Julia’s bug we’d go down a day early- forgoing an attempt of Valeta. Instead we’d have to be up early to hike back down into Capileira, which was fifteen kilometres away across several ridges and far down the valley.
Waterfall below the Cañada de las Siete Lagunas.
Descent to Capileira
Ibex running across the Cañada de las Siete Lagunas
At 7am we crawled out into the fresh air and proceeded to fight the wind as we struggled to strike the tent. We re-climbed the ridge and began a traverse to the southern ascent ridge for Mulhacén. Fortunately Julia was feeling better, although weak from lack of food, but coping well.
When we reached the path which led back up to the summit I made a stupid error and began an unnecessary scramble down a scree field (although it was fun) down to the road. I was headed to the Poquiera refuge but I’d got our location out of context and we were still too far above it. It was no real problem though and we followed the road south past the Mirador.
Further down we cross the ridge into the Poquiera valley, two hundred metres above the aqueducts I’d followed before. We joined another track way and headed down. By this time it was midday and very hot. The map (I know I shouldn’t blame it) did not mark the crisscross of track ways accurately and once more I became topographically disorientated. We soon found ourselves an unmistakable twisting track way, not far from our original route. We backtracked towards one of the aqueducts and after I attempted to lead us over some cliffs we rejoined the original route. After a long rest in the shaded pine forest we walked the last two kilometres down to the village. Exhaustion then took over.
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