Wednesday, 25 April 2018


The Sierra Nevada from Hoya del Portillo
Just back from a week long trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. These mountains are the highest peaks on mainland Spain with many summits gaining that magical 3000m contour. Nestled deep down in the south of the country the area enjoys plenty of clear days and warm sunshine, with snow in winter. Perfect! It's been 11 years since my first visit here, time flies by quickly.
Karen and I based ourselves in the southern part of the area, the Alpujarra. Many of the whitewashed villages here are high up on the hillsides at an altitude of over 1000m. We stayed for most of our visit in Capileira.
Capileira in the Poqueira Valley
The highest villages are over 1400m above sea level and make good bases for walking. Even with a good high altitude start point, the highest peaks are still a very long day out. The highest summit in the Sierra Nevada is Mulachen which is the highest peak on mainland Spain, Mount Teide on Tenerife being the highest. It is obviously a big draw for folk who visit the area, including us! So our first day in the hills we thought we'd take advantage of the glorious weather and head up to the top.
Snow down to 2000m on the long approach to Mulachen
Pico del Tajo de los Machos above the Poqueira Valley
Europe's highest motor road was constructed across these mountains and up until relatively recent years you could still drive from south to north across high ground. Quite unbelievable really. Thankfully the Sierra Nevada is now a National Park and this road is closed to vehicles. It will take some time for nature to reclaim this track, until then it makes for easy walking underfoot for a good deal of the easiest ascent route on Mulachen. Thousands of folk walk this southern approach route every summer. We were amazed to see only a half a dozen people all day.
Valeta from Loma del Tanto
Full snow cover above 2500m
The Sierra Nevada has had a good winter with plenty of snowfall. The temperatures were high this week tough, so the snow very soft once mid morning approached. Thankfully the snow had melted in places so it wasn't all hard work. Some terrific views once we got above the tree line. It's then a long, long way to the top. The very easy angled, broad ridge rises eventually to high ground and we savoured the summit views, reaching the 3479m summit at 5pm.
Looking north from the summit of Mulachen
Views to Valeta (second highest peak) from Mulachen
Alpine Acentor accompanying us to the summit
Spring Crocus above 2400m
It was a long 2000m descent back to Capileira, giving us a good 12 hour day! Most folk who head up Mulachen use the National Park regulated minibus service that gets them up to 2700m, only in summer! It's not the way to walk a mountain, surely?
We had a rest the following day (of course).
Next day a more leisurely and shorter walk of just 8 hours round trip of the Poqueira Valley. The Poquira is the main river that flows down to the south of the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. With a very dry climate this river is by no means big! In fact the upper reaches run dry by early summer with very little rain fall in July and August.
The Poqueira Vally with Mulachen rising above
Plenty of butterflies enjoying the warmth of Spring
Afternoon cloud
Female Ibex high above the Poqueira Valley

It makes a nice circuit to walk up the valley floor as far as the snowline, returning via the higher level route back to Capileira. More folk around today. Plenty of wildlife too. We saw cloud by the afternoon, a little relief from the hot sun.

Trail getting busy
Poqueira Valley
Another leisurely day followed before venturing around to the white washed village of Travelez in the morning. This is reputed to be the highest village in the whole of Spain, at 1476m above sea level. We fancied a day walk up to the Seite de Lagunas, one of the finest views on the south side of the Sierra's. Just by luck our friends Richard and Kiersten (who run Spanish Highs) were travelling to Travelez on the same day. I've known Richard and Kiersten since guiding for them on the Patagonian Icecap Expedition in 2016. This morning they were up before dawn to meet up with Nick. They were supporting Nick with coffees, etc for his mamoth challenge. Nick's Sea to Summit Challenge. Nick had set off from the south coast of Spain at 8pm the night before, aiming to walk all the way to the summit of Mulachen. In under 24hrs. Some challenge! Karen and I walked up with him for an hour or so before letting him stride off under his own pace. If you wish to donate here is the link to Nick's Just giving page. Thanks.
Nick striding out into the snow
Mulachen & La Alcazaba from Seite Lugunas

Walkers descending off La Alcazaba
East face of Mulachen, the Luguna is under a few metres of snow!
Another long walk up to the Seite Lagunas. These 7 lakes are nestled below the impressive steep faces of Mulachen and La Alcazaba. La Alcazaba is the third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada and some regard it has the finest peak. To gain the summits of these big 3000m mountains most folk spend a night high up on the mountain. There are two manned refugios in the Sierra Nevada and quite a few more basic shelters if you don't want to camp out. Our trip was a bit of a softie, hotel based holiday. I remember my first trip here in November. No snow that time of year in 2007. I bivvied in a cave below these summits.
It was a 5 hour ascent up to the Lugunas which lie above 2900m. Karen was hoping to get a swim in the biggest one, Laguna Honderas. Not today unfortunately. Several metres of snow was covering this huge, flat, high area. We enjoyed the fine Alpine scene over lunch before heading back.
Swallow Tail Butterfly

An Ocellated Lizard hiding
We had an easy stroll back through the hills and down to Travelez. Nick had reached the summit in a brilliant time and was due back into Trevelez at 6pm. 22 hours after setting off. Well done to him. If you want to support his charity and give to his fundraiser page he will be delighted.

Our final day in the Sierra Nevada was another leisurely one. We headed to Lanjaron to visit Richard and Kiersten and a short hike in the hills above their home town. Our walk began after a 50 minute 4 wheel drive journey in Richard's vehicle. Lanjaron is low down in the valley at 500m. His expert driving skills on dirt tracks whizzed us up to 1700 metres! Along for the ride were their husky dogs, Arko and Rita. Not only do humans love the snow but so do these guys.
A stroll in the snow for the Huskies
Mirror Orchid
Sombre Orchid
One of the many delights of these mountains are it's fauna and flora. Before we reached the valley again there was time for some flower photography. Lots of orchids out, the best time of year for these. Kiersten knowing the exact locations, just a few minute's walk from her home.
A brilliant week in the snow clad Sierra Nevada. If you haven't been, why not?

Mulachen summit

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