Trip Start Feb 04, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Spain  , Andalusia,
Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's 5.45am when I get up. That's very early in the UK, but in Spain it's the middle of the night. But I think it's necessary if I'm to leave myself sufficient time to do Mulhacen, which looks like being an extremely long day.

Mulhacen is the highest mountain on mainland Spain at 3479m above sea level. In the country as a whole, only Teide, on Tenerife, is higher. It's also a bulky mountain with long ridges stretching away from the summit in various directions, making it a long distance from any motorable road.

To be honest, I'm not really sure I can do this. I didn't make it in June with the Frigiliana Group, partly because of the heat and distance, and partly because they were going too bloody fast for me! And after the fitter ones in the Group had been to the top, many of them looked knackered! Hence the early start - get some distance done while it's still quite cool early on, and leave plenty of time for a slow ascent, that's the idea.

Even the drive to the car park at Hoya del Portillo (2160m) is quite difficult. After Orgiva, the road to Capileira is steep and twisting with some big drops in places. I've driven it quite a few times in daylight, when it's ok, but never before in the dark. Spanish roads don't have the same standards of white lines that I'm used to and cats eyes are unknown on a road like this. So it's quite a relief when it begins to get light as I arrive in Capileira at 8.00am. But from here, the 11 km to Hoya del Portillo are on an unsurfaced track - and quite steep too, as the road climbs an additional 700m or so in that distance. But the Fiat Panda seems to take it in its stride - it's a better performer than I'd thought!

The track does continue beyond Hoya del Portillo, but ordinary members of the public like me can't use it. There's a locked barrier across it to make sure you go no further, and even at 8.30am it's manned. It would be interesting to know if someone is on duty all night here.

So from here, it's walking all the way. At this height and time it's very cool at first. For the first half hour I actually have to put a fleece on - for the first time since arriving in Spain three weeks ago! I'm already familiar with this section of the walk from my previous visit, but the scenery looks more attractive in the early morning light.

After an hour or so, I'm just thinking that the track is still wide enough to allow two buses to pass, when there's the noise of an engine behind me and a bus appears! I'm not completely surprised by this as I'd heard something about a walkers' bus service, without knowing any of the details of times and places. There are about a dozen people on board and I'm tempted to stick my hand out to take the easy way to reduce the massive distance still in front of me, but I manage to resist. Bear it mind for a future occasion if I don't get to the top this time!

By 10.30am, I'm approaching Alto del Chorrillo (2700m) which is where I gave up the last attempt. This is obviously where the bus has dropped its passengers, and I can see them disappearing in various directions - several of them striding up the path to Mulhacen. Remarkably, there's a couple still hanging around the bus stop. They don't look like contenders for Mulhacen - he's carrying a large camera case and a very full supermarket bag, while she's wearing a shiny bright red PVC mac (on a day with not a cloud in the sky and no rain predicted for the next week!). Obviously came up here for a picnic or something - I just hope they can find the route to the Poqueira Refuge, as there isn't a lot else to do round here! I ask them if the bus is coming back; yes, they say, at 5.00pm. I guess that's an insurance policy for me.

From here, there's a choice of routes. One path goes more or less straight up to the summit via a ridge called the Loma de Mulhacen. Alternatively, the track, now in a somewhat reduced condition, continues on a more gentle gradient to the west of the summit and there should be a steep path branching off it further on, which provides another route to the top. I decide to go for the Loma route, as it doesn't look either steep or difficult.

It proves to be a good choice as I get to make steady progress. The day is completely cloudless, but there's a cool breeze so it isn't too hot. Perfect conditions really. And best of all, I don't seem to be suffering any effects of altitude, which is good considering I've slept at sea level and am now approaching 3000m. The view behind is widening out. It's a very clear day and I can see the white buildings of Salobrena perched on their rock by the coast. To the south east, the flat country around Motril is a mass of plastic sheeting, used to improve crop production.

The going gets stonier and the path becomes harder to follow. But there's quite a few cairns around, so it's not hard to get back to the path when I wander off it. Looking back, the rocks are shimmering almost white in the bright sunlight. There's quite a bit of wildlife round here - choughs, redstarts, black beetles and orange butterflies - plus one ibex which is quite close when I first see it, but which has wandered off by the time I've got my camera out of the rucksack - as usual!

Eventually a trig point appears on the near horizon. But fortunately I've read enough about this route to recognise it for the imposter it is. It's not the top, but a craggy minor summit known as Mulhacen II - there's still another kilometre and another 120m ascent to go.

But soon after, the real summit comes into sight and by 1.15pm, I'm there. There are about 10 other people on the top; some of them must have come from the bus, but not all, I think. Apart from me and some Spanish people, there are a couple of Germans and an Israeli, so it's quite an international mix. There's a little scramble onto the highest rock on which the trig point stands - with an enormous drop below on the north-west side.

The view is enormous too. Southwards to the coast and westwards to Veleta, I've already been looking at on the way up. But now the caldera between Mulhacen and Veleta - remains of ancient volcanic activity - is revealed, with a turquoise lake in the centre of it. Northwards, the nearby peak of Alcazaba is the main feature, but there's all sorts of other mountain ranges in the distance, a few of which I've already visited, but many of which I haven't a clue about. To the north west is the city of Granada. Eastwards, I can see the lower (and remoter) ridges of the Sierra Nevada. And to the south west, I can see the mountains near my home in Frigiliana, just visible over Veleta's south ridge - Cielo, Navachica, Lucero and Maroma are all plainly visible. It's an astonishing panorama and there's a real dilemma over which way I should be facing while I'm eating lunch - a lunch which includes several visits by a group of summit sparrows, all of whom seem to know what a sandwich is!

I spend over half an hour on top, before starting down the steep Caldera Path, towards Veleta. This is quite easy going down, but would have been a real struggle coming up - as I'm informed by a group of Spanish people I pass going the other way. After over 400m of descent, this path intersects with the remains of the track (no longer motorable) from Chorrillo Alto. There's a basic refuge hut nearby, on the edge of the caldera. From here, it's an easy, but very long, tramp along the track back to Chorrillo - but the scenery is still something special, with views down into the Poqueira Valley and upwards to the cliffs of Mulhacen.

I'm amazed to find that I'm back at Chorrillo Alto not long after 3.30pm - this has gone far better than I ever thought possible this morning! There are already a few people resting in the nearby rocks, waiting for that 5.00pm bus, but there's no question now of me joining them. It gives me a superior feeling to walk past and show them I'm doing this the "hard way" without assistance from public transport. I'm not all that far away from Hoya del Portillo when I pass the bus going up - and just as it would be leaving on the return downward journey, I've reached my car. A mere eight and a half hours after starting! Just 27km and 1320m ascent.

It's been a perfect day out. Hopefully I'll be doing it again next year ......
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Emma on

Sounds terrific-well done.

rachelkw on

Wow! Glad you made it!

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