Against a backdrop of adverse mountain snow conditions we had headed upwards. But what turned out was a day full of surprises as we enjoyed the mountaineering and winter potential of the Sierra Nevada.
We had headed up under a hot sun from Puente Palo, bound for the ruined hut at Cebollar. A stiff 800m ascent under a hot sun and ridiculous temperatures for February. Snow conditions were poor, soft and avalanche prone. With me were companions Sieto and David. Most main snow faces were fully charged with snow waiting to fall and Sieto wanted training for his Denali climb. But, where on earth could I find some safe 50 degree ice to fix ropes and imitate the west buttress headwall of Denali?
After a tranquil bivouac in the ruined Cebollar hut we awoke to find the snow hard and icy. The first surprise came as the overnight lows of -1 had just done their job and hardened the snow up nicely. We headed up the easy angled slopes of Las Alegas practicing various crampon techniques along the way. Although not complete there are some interesting lines of simple mixed climbing here that can be made harder or easier to suit.
We fixed rope down a suitably steep incline and Sieto practiced his jumaring skills with and without 50l pack. Then we found some sections where he could utilise 2 axes and front point his way up. When all around us the snow was melting in the heat, our west facing slopes and gullies remained in shadow. All in all a very satisfactory morning on perfect neve snow/ice.
As we made our way back down towards the Cebollar hut we enjoyed half an hour practicing our ice axe braking skills. Again the sun had not yet had a major impact. A brief stop at the hut for refreshments and then it was time to head down.
Next surprise was that the snow was sufficiently hard to not warrant the use of snowshoes. Instead of the traverse we opted for a direct route down to the Rio Chico. Very direct. Apart from a few steps we enjoyed some perfect glissading conditions that brought us to the Rio Chico in under 15 minutes, a drop of some 300m!
In the Rio Chico itself we met soft unstable snows. Snow bridges over the river were in a state of collapse and great care was required to remain dry. We crossed the Rio and headed back on a traverse line towards the Puente Palo forest. Snowshoes had to be removed on some steep traversing slopes and we had some frustrating moments in deep snows.
By 5pm we had met our waiting transport and were returning for a welcoming beer back in Lanjaron. We had enjoyed fine winter mountain trekking, mountaineering and snowshoeing in wonderful mountain scenery. Not another soul was met in the two day trip.