We had the alarm set for an earlier start today but we were both so snug in bed (cuddled up with N & J respecively) that we still had a nice lie-in before finally making it up and out and down to breakfast. The forecast had been for worse weather again but it looked perfectly serviceable, white clouds lying in the valley lower down but otherwise looking very good walking weather. We tried to pick a walk from the book. After breakfast, when I brought down a bag of laundry, I asked at reception for some tips for a walk. The English receptionist was very quick to suggest a walk higher up in the valley and she described the route, and I bought a more detailed map of the Alpujarras and Siera Nevada from her. Back in our room we quickly established that this more or less corresponded with walk number 22 in our guidebook, a challenging (“off the scale”) itinerary, first up to a refugio and then on up to the tallest mountain on the Spanish mainland, Mulhacén (3,479 metres), although the full climb of the mountain was not quite in the scope of the walk (but need to check). The receptionist had described it as an easy walk, in high mountain territory, after an initial climb up through pine forest. I spent a bit of time entering the waypoints in the GPS while Ness went to the supermercado in the village to get the ingredients for a picnic. The clouds were close to the town, lying in the valley, but they weren’t enveloping it and there as plenty of sunshine around.
We drove to the start of the walk, which was further on up the valley and hills, first following the potholed tarmac road out of the village as it climbed and snaked its way up and up until it eventually turned into a gravel track which passed through pine forest. We really thought we had got far away from it all, until we came to the small clearing where there was a barrier and guard hut, inside the Sierra Nevada national, and where four or five other cars were parked. We put our walking boots on and shouldered our packs and set off.
It was already around noon but we had plenty of time left for a good walk and the sun was now shining beautifully. Combined with the coolness of the weekly clouds it made for perfect walking conditions. The first part was through lovely pine forest, snaking our way uphill along the narrow path which became steeper further up the hill and also more varied with some other types of trees and plants. It was a delight to walk. Ness did find it quite hard going but we were both looking forward to a nice long flat stretch after this. We continued to climb until the forest thinned out and the hill started to level off … though not entirely! Beneath us, in the valley below, we could see the clouds. Around us was a delicate scent of pines.
Out of the forest and above the clouds, we now followed the path further up the valley. On either side of us the valley was still covered with trees. The path was more level and we could walk more easily with good strides. We passed some bemused cows and I hurried Ness along just as she wanted to stop to catch her breath as I was worried about a bull being around. We had plenty of water with us and drank lots to keep replenishing all the liquid we were losing through sweat. The further and higher we went, the wilder, more open and more mountainous the scenery became. The waypoints were very accurate, down to a few metres. Eventually the territory was much more like Scottish hills, with grasses and similar kinds of flora, and rocks. The long “flat” stretch turned out to still be uphill, though not so dramatically. It was pretty tough going though, and Ness had to battle to keep going. Fortunately her stubborn side won and she kept her spirits from flagging. The surroundings were simply stunning and we were really enjoying this walk.
Earlier we had been passed by two British men who were headed all the way to the Poqueira refugio, which they wanted to reach before the kitchen closed at three o’clock according to their (and our) information. We also decided to try and reach the refugio – so far we had only been aiming for “waypoint 6” but the refugio was not very much further on … we thought. The stretch up to waypoint 6 was the longest and toughest. Although it was only a gradual climb it was very long. Waypoint 6 was the highest point of our walk, at 2,608 metres, only marked by a fork in the path and a post. We took the path down from here, leading to the refugio, still a good two kilometres and we didn’t think we would make it by three o’clock. Also, the long downhill stretch meant we would have to face the steep uphill on the way back! Both our walking sticks did good service. We got to the large refugio around twenty past three. Inside it looked dark and closed at first but then we found the main room, where our two Brits from earlier were sat tucking into pasta. The place was full of atmosphere, a proper mountain refugio. There was a small counter at a door and a woman turned up … and my face must have just lit up when she explained that the kitchen was still open, “after all, I’m here!” Excellent. We both ordered the daily menu, pasta carbonara, but we said no to the hamburguesas, but changed our minds when we saw the delicious bowl of hot stew that came out for the two Brits, and then asked for a portion too. We spent a nice bit of time enjoying our lunch, resting our legs and recovering a bit. On the way here the clouds had been coming and going. Before leaving the refugio we both took a look around the rooms. There were about ten different rooms, each one full of bunk beds stacked close together, rather in the same way as we had seen in pictures and in the concentration camps of Poland. Just try to imagine these rooms full of sweaty socks and walkers! But they were empty at the moment and no-one was staying here.
We set off again at around four o’clock and tackled the climb back up to waypoint 6. Now the clouds had come in and totally enveloped us. From waypoint 6 on it was all downhill, all the way, and a sheer delight to walk. It did feel “level” now! The clouds pulled back from time to time and we had great views over the realy mountains all around us. Most of the time we were in clouds though. We made good progress on the way back, back into the forested section, and we could hear the cowbells lower down in the valley. The final section, through the pine forest, was now in clouds, which created a hushed atmosphere, the “haunted woods”! It was quite a contrast to the sunny weather we had on the way up. We finally got back to the car a bit after seven o’clock, having completed the fifteen kilometre round trip.
We both felt bloody good, knackered and proud of ourselves. It had been exactly the sort of walking I had been hoping we would do here. We drove back to Capileira, the sat nav display showing the twisty winding road ahead of us. At the hotel, after negotiating the final climb up the stairs to our room, we showered and refreshed, and then went out for dinner. We picked a convivial looking place along the main street, with a group of locals huddled at the bar at the back. The menu held promise of tasty local dishes but it wasn’t quite as good as yesterday’s. I had “roast kid” (i.e. goat!) but it came with standard “fries” and nothing else, and Ness had a slightly more successful prensa (shoulder). Then we headed back to our hotel room – last climb of the day – and collapsed in our snug beds. A fantastic day!