Winter mountaineering on the knife edge pinnacles of Los Raspones, Sierra Nevada

A report of a superb winter mountaineering route in Spain’s Sierra Nevada along the long alpine ridge of Los Raspones, graded AD, accessible from Capileira. The route is not done often, even by the spanish (we know of only 1 other british party that have done the full ridge traverse in winter), so decided it was high time to go and “take a look”.

The following was sent in by Sierra Nevada “afficionado” and team member, Ian Tupman

“I have done some scrambling and low-grade rock climbing in the past but as a non-climber, I had been uncertain as to whether the Raspones ridge was within my capabilities. On 24th November, I was to find out.

Our group was seven strong with a multi-national flavour and of mixed abilities. We set off late morning on Friday 23rd November from just below the Hoya del Portillo and walked in along the acequia alta, stopping at the Poquiera refuge for our lunch break. From there, we crossed the Rio Mulhacén and traversed around the massive bulk of Loma Pelada to arrive at our camp for the night at the base of the Raspones ridge and next to the Rio Seco.

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By the time we had set up camp there was still an hour of daylight to be had and three of us ascended the Puntal de Terreras Azules (2,804m) via the ridge which forms the southerly extension of the Raspones. With the sun setting to the west and the valleys below filled with cloud, it was one of those ‘never-to-be-forgotten’ moments when we reached the summit cairn. We completed our return to the tents by the light of our head torches and after our meals we turned in for an early night.

Breakfast taken and our preparations made, we set off around 8.30am and climbed to the southern end of the ridge. Two of our party would stay there and photograph our progress with the rest of us proceeding on two ropes. Jens led the first rope with Javier and Filipe behind. Sieto and I followed on the second rope. The weather forecast had been for cloud, with light to moderate winds but we had blue sky and hardly a breeze. The conditions could not have been better.

The initial section is similar in nature to the Cuillin ridge on the Isle of Skye but with noticeably more dubious rock; however, we found sufficient natural protection as we proceeded northwards. In places the exposure is breath-taking with precipitous drops to either side. There was more snow than I had expected but it was generally soft and not very deep so the crampons stayed in the bag for the time being.

The first rope made quick progress ahead of us and it became clear to Sieto and I that we would be holding up the other three if they kept waiting for us. We had almost reached the half-way point but it had taken us the best part of three hours and with harder climbing ahead, we calculated it would have been dark by the time we walked back out to the cars. We discussed how we were both feeling and our options. We had a seemingly escapable gully immediately to our right which would bring us to the base of the east side of the ridge and so we informed the others of our decision and wished them luck as they moved off to gain the highest part of the ridge.

We looked down the gully but, as we couldn’t see the bottom, we weren’t sure whether the rope was long enough to get us onto safe ground. I spotted a rock projecting out of the snow approximately fifteen metres below us which appeared to be a potential anchor point. We put on our crampons and I belayed Sieto from a convenient rock at the top of the gully as he down-climbed to investigate further.

After much prodding and pulling, Sieto declared the rock was good enough for a belay and so, totally committed, I removed the top belay and down-climbed with Sieto protecting me from below. The snow in the gully was soft and varied in depth which made front-pointing slightly awkward at times. With us both safely attached to the lower belay and with more experience than me, Sieto set up the abseil which we both checked. As it turned out, the rope would have reached the bottom of the rocks from the top of the gully but we couldn’t have taken the chance.

From where we were now though, it crossed the steep slope at the base of the gully as well and would get us onto relatively level ground. I descended first and enjoyed the cool air of the gully after being in the sun on the ridge for over three hours. Sacrificing some cord and an old karabiner, Sieto followed and we packed up and headed down into the valley and back along to our camp.

Our two companions were waiting for us and the other three returned shortly after, elated at their achievement. We struck camp and walked out to the cars; a long day but a satisfying one.

In summary, I was initially disappointed that Sieto and I hadn’t completed the traverse. On reflection however, I had been at the upper limit of my comfort zone at times but I had enjoyed the challenge and the experience. The decision we made to bail out was measured and was free of any machismo which can so often lead to trouble in such situations.

Will I go back and complete the traverse? Definitely, but over three days rather than two. This will give more time on the ridge and a relaxing walk out on the third day. Watch this space!”

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Climbing Veleta in the autumn

Tim Salter from Australia went up Veleta a few days ago with our guide Luis. He says………

“We had a great day. It was freezing on the way up (snowing for most of the way) and on top, but the sun came out as we headed down. Luis was fantastic, we went up to and down from the summit on very interesting routes, and after the hike he took me down to his village and we had a great traditional Spanish lunch together, before he dropped me back to Granada. Really excellent day out. I highly recommend Luis to other clients.”

Veleta is very accessible from Granada and the ski area (Hoya de la Mora) and makes for a good day tour. In late autumn until late spring expect snow and ice.

All photos courtesy of Tim Salter

Tim on the summit of Veleta

Cloud forming over the summit of Veleta

At the northern shoulder of the peak with great cloud formations on Alcazaba and Mulhacen behind.

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Still enjoying climbing Mulhacén in a whiteout!

Report from our guide, Jens Foell as he ascends the highest mountain in mainland Spain in poor weather conditions.

The weather forecast was looking pretty bad. Rain, rain, and yet more rain for the whole week. But Xavier Wang had come all the way from Singapore to climb Mulhacen, at 3482m the highest peak in mainland Spain. So we set off regardless, knowing we were in for a battle with the elements, and walked up to the Refugio Poqueira along the Acequia Alta.

And we were lucky that first day, the clouds kept lifting, we had great views of the Sierra Nevada and occasionally we even got to see the sun. But crossing the little side streams feeding the acequia required some effort as days of rain meant lots of water everywhere. We later heard that we had made the right choice by coming this way though. The main path through the Poqueira gorge was flooded in many places. Even some of the bridges were fully under water that day, as we later found out from a pair of Swiss pensioners, the only people, apart from us, who had made it up to the hut in days.

Singapore is 7 hours ahead of Spain. That meant that Xavier’s inner clock hadn’t quite adapted to our time yet. He managed to fall asleep at 8pm and catch a good night’s sleep. That was just as well as he really needed all his strength the next day. Now the weather forecast was spot on: It was wet, visibility was zero, and higher up we encountered strong, wet wind.

Conditions like that can change the normally straightforward ascent of Mulhacen into a tough climb. And I doubt that anyone without local knowledge could even have found their way up with no visibility and all the paths up the Rio Mulhacen were flooded.

Once we had a little rest at the Caldera shelter at just over 3000m (which was very wet inside as the Southern winds had blown the door open), the wind picked up in earnest, pushing the wet air through our gore tex layers. So during the steepest part of the climb we got very quickly soaking wet throughout.

The snowline had retreated up to above 3200m, so we only had to wear crampons for the last half hour. But the summit itself was covered in thick ice so one should certainly never go without at this time of year. We were freezing cold and wet and couldn’t see a thing, but we made the summit in the end.

A great achievement for someone who had left the heat and humidity of Singapore only 2 days earlier!

After returning to the Hut we were joined by a third traveler on the way down. There is a beautiful, white and very fluffy mountain cat called Blanca living at the Poqueira hut. Don’t ask me where she’d met daddy, but Blanca had had kittens and two of them needed a new home. So one of them made the wet walk down the mountain rolled up inside the pocket of my soft shell jacket and now has a new home down in the Alpujarras!

Spanish Highs have now made over 260 ascents of Mulhacén in all weathers, in all seasons. Local experience counts! Contact them if you want to climb the highest mountain in mainland Spain

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Sky to Sea, Mountains to the Mediterranean

What better way to contrast the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada than with a few days at sea? As a mountaineer on a yacht I get that same feeling of wildness and remoteness, of being held in the grasp of natural forces, that I get when I am in the mountains.

We recently met the very amiable Juan Carlos Garcia. He has been a yacht master for many years and combines his love of the sea with his affection for the Sierra de Las Nieves and Sierra Blanca where he also runs walking holidays. We went along with him last week on a hike up La Concha in the Sierra Blanca just inland from Marbella. A great walk, which was followed by a relaxing afternoon on his yacht sailing from Fuengirola to Marbella.

After lunch at a seafront fish restaurant we walked the 4 metres to his boat, parked (berthed?) conveniently just outside the entrance! 5 minutes later we were out in open water. The sea was like a millpond, hardly a ripple. The ugliness of the Costa del Sol is forgotten, as from the sea you can see the wonderful line of mountains just inland. Not only the Sierras Blanca and Las Nieves, but all the way from Malaga to Gibraltar. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset as we pulled into port at Marbella.

Our latest trip was with the Birdwatch Alpujarras team who were out in search of rare seabirds. Now I’m not an expert on our feathered friends but the lure of the sea made it irresistible not to tag along. In contrast to the last time we had strong winds. The power of the sea was incredible. We sped along under sail while the yacht pitched heavily from side to side. Although the skies were partly cloudy this created some wonderful light effects (see gallery photos below). All capped off by one of the reddest sunsets I have ever seen.

Juan Carlos (and his yacht) are available for hire at very reasonable rates for both sailing and walking trips. The closeness to the Sierra Blanca (20 minutes) and the Sierra de las Nieves (30 minutes) mean that very little time is wasted between sea and mountains. It would also be a great way to go from Sky to Sea and combine an ascent of Mulhacén, the highest mountain in mainland Spain with a sail and night at sea before returning home.

I know this sounds crazy but when you return from the mountains this is an incredibly good way to unwind and ease back into “civilisation”!

Some details about Juan Carlos’s options:

  • Berthed on the Costa del Sol only 20 minutes from Malaga airport
  • Fully qualified sailing master
  • Luxury accommodation and facilities
  • Price per night – €20 per night (min 3, max 6 persons)
  • Day cruise – prices as per Spanish Highs normal activity price rates
  • Half day cruise from €40 (4 hours)


Reflections from a boat from Spanish Highs on Vimeo.

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A walk up the peak of La Concha in the Sierra Blanca

Just half an hours drive from the busy Costa del Sol and you are in a different world where some great walking and hiking opportunities exist far above the sparkling waters of the mediterranean. Today we were climbing up La Concha (1243m), which is really an interesting series of lumps on a long rocky ridge far above the sea.

Drive north from Marbella towards Monda and a few kilometres past the town of Ojén there is a turning to the left marked “Refugio Juanar”. This is only 20 minutes drive from the centre of Marbella.

After a 5km drive, on a rough but tarmac road suitable for saloon cars, we parked at the delightful Refugio Juanar. The name “refugio” is a misnomer as its a really nice hotel set in the forest. The way leads initially on forest roads before we took a short detour to visit the Mirador del Corzo with a spectacular view down to the costa and surrounding hills. Then it was on through more pastoral scenery amid olive groves before entering pine forests again.

We were accompanied by our “expert guide”, Juan Carlos. Juan Carlos has been walking these hills for many years and speaks excellent english. He is very knowlegable and enthusiastic about the Sierra Blanca.

It was hot work climbing up through the pine forests on well marked tracks before coming out on the 1000m col and taking a rising traverse on the south side of the main ridgeline. This led back to the crest where we had superb views northwards to the white rocked Sierra de las Nieves. From here the path became more interesting as it rounded a rocky summit (Salto del Lobo) via a spectacularly situated path which led to the Paso del Salto del Lobo (in my spanish serves me correctly this means “Pass of the Wolf Jump” for some reason?

Then it was onto another rising traverse before we arrived at the Mirador de la Concha, a great place for a rest and refreshments. Then came to the best bit of the day… the “Camino del Lobo”. Here the ridge narrows and has lots of small twists and turns. There is some simple scrambling with incredible “birds eye” views in all directions.

To the north the green lush valleys and mountains near Istan contrasting with the sparkling mediterranean sea to the south. The ridge leads to the summit of La Concha where we admired the rock of Gibraltar on the western skyline.

It’s a simple matter to reverse the route but if it hadn’t been so hot we would have tried some circular route. However the welcome coolness of the pine forests and a cold beer at the Refugio de Juanar were calling us!

Total distance covered was 16km with a height gain of 500m.This is a great day walk and well worth it for the spectacular views of mountains and sea. Juan Carlos is one of our “Expert Guides” covering other walking regions of Spain and is contactable through ourselves.


 

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How to gain quick access to the northern Sierra Nevada mountains

If you are looking for a good, quick access route to the northern Sierra Nevada mountains then we suggest you try out the Loma de Papeles route to the superbly situated Refugio Peña Partida. We recently revisited this old favorite as part of a search to see the rare Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture). It is a simple, pleasant walk along a gentle ridgeline with superlative views towards the northern faces of the Sierra Nevada including the big 3, namely Mulhacén, Veleta and Alcazaba.

Approach is via Guejar Sierra, a town just 20 minutes on good road east of Granada city in Andalucia. In winter if snow doesn’t allow you to reach the ridge of Loma de Papeles in the car, we suggest you park as far as you can get up to the ridge and enjoy the extra walk that ensues.

Access to the Refugio Peña Partida

View from Loma de Papeles

This is a 4WD track but could be done in a normal saloon as the track is not too rough. 0.5km east of Güéjar-Sierra turn L on a tarmac road. After a further 2km the road forks. Take the R which drops down and crosses the Rio Maitena (km 3) Once over the river the road, now a wide track zig zags up the Loma de la Cuna de los Cuartos.

At 1930m the ridgeline is reached. There are superlative views of the north faces of Mulhacén, Alcazaba and Veleta at this point. The now level road continues eastwards for 2.5km to a chain across the road. This is as far as you can currently go.

The refuge is a further 5.25km walk eastwards either along the road or more preferably along the ridge crest giving expansive views in both directions (450m, 2hrs). See 1st Wikilog map below.

An alternative approach to the Refugio Peña Partida for those who do not have access to 4WD vehicles is to follow the directions for reaching the Refugio La Cucharacha. Just before arriving at the Cucharacha turn L and follow the track up onto a small plateau. A well marked path goes L gradually rising into the bed of the Rio Vadillo. Crossing the river, the path zig zags steeply up to the refuge (1250m, 5hrs).

The Refugio Peña Partida

Hidden in some rocks just south of the main ridgeline the refuge is a pleasant surprise. It is in good condition, windows and doors intact and is quite clean and tidy inside (N.B please leave this way too).

A good spot to spend the night especially in winter when you can use the hut to exploit the considerable ski touring available in the vicinity. It has space for about 12 to 15 people in 3 small rooms.

Additional walk to the valley of Lavaderos de la Reina

A very easy walk traversing NE from the Peña Partida along the Sulayr GR240 path until it overlooks the beautiful valley of Lavederos de la Reina. This is at it’s best in the spring when hundreds of small rivers, brooks, waterfalls and cascades fill the valley bottom. It is an idyllic spot to while away an hour in the rich grasses. See 2nd Wikilog map below.

We were then in September at the end of a long dry summer but still we had running water close by. From here options exist for longer walks either up the mountains to Picon de Jerez, Puntal de los Cuartos or to Tajos Negros de Cobatillas. Also possible is to extend the walk along the Sulayr GR240 to the Postero Alto refuge above Jerez de Marsquesado.

Video and Wikilog route taken courtesy of Pepe Bedaje

Wikilog 1 – access to the Refugio Peña Partida

Wikilog 2 – access to Lavederos de la Reina

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Sizzling under a hot Tabernas desert sun!

A day walk in the Tabernas Deserts

Sometimes you can get caught out by the weather, normally bad weather. But this time the weather was good, too good! Our day trek in the Tabernas desert badlands of Almeria turned into a very hot walk indeed.

Due to the heat we don’t normally visit the deserts from mid-June to mid-September. But at the beginning of September the fierce heat of the spanish summer had given way to the gentler conditions of early autumn. We were fooled into thinking a walk in the desert would be ok. The day before the walk AEMET, the spanish weather forecaster, announced that temperatures would rise again to 35C in parts of Andalucia.

When we all met up opposite the western studios at Mini Hollywood, we were truly an international outfit consisting of 1 dane, 2 belgians, 1 spanish and 3 brits. Our regular day trek consists of a circular route with a “loop” in the middle taking in some very dramatic and interesting ravines.

The first section is a gentle introduction into the superb scenery that makes up this remarkable landscape. A drop down into the Rambla de Tabernas and we came across twisted, tumbled and torn cliffs. Following the rambla we visited movie locations from the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, “Indiana Jones and the “Last Crusade”, “Lawrence of Arabia” and many more.

Our “loop” was the highlight as it normally is. This has taken a bit of research and exploration over the years to perfect. It involves some steep and loose terrain, but nowhere requiring the use of hands. For those wearing shorts, be prepared for rough tough and very spiky vegetation! At times the narrow ravines are only one person width and the feeling is that of being in a “maze”. Not a place to be in rains. It was very noticeable that there had been a lot of flood and landslide damage.

Coming out from our “loop” back into the Rambla de Tabernas we began to notice the heat. The second half of our walk became more and more uncomfortable. Fortunately there was not a lot of uphill remaining. We came across a salty plateau giving great views in all directions. Then it was a quick retreat out of the inferno to a welcome beer at a local petrol station.

Although I have now been here over 30 times, I never tire of this area. The spectacular Tabernas desert scenery is simply amazing. The area doesn’t lend itself to circular routes and you should be prepared for some tough exploratory lessons! Alternatively, you could join us on one of our desert day tours?

More Photos


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The Paso de los Guias, Sierra Nevada

The Paso de los Guias is a spectacular shortcut path cutting through a rockface in the Sierra Nevada and requiring a good steady head for heights.

Links the Refugio Cariguela south of Veleta to the Paso de los Machos. It provides a quick by pass of the main track, cutting off a substantial zig zag in the old track, saving 15 minutes walking. Starts at a cairn at the first right bend below the Refugio de Cariguela if going west to east. From east to west the start is via a track to the right just after Paso de los Machos.

Although it is simple and only about 20m, there is a chain protecting the whole passage as it is very exposed and in places only a foot wide. A good head for heights is essential. Easier in ascent. A spectacular and enjoyable situation! The video clip below gives a good flavour of the traverse.

In the word of Jerry Moffatt “If you dont let go you cant fall off”!

N.B Seasonal note …. in winter conditions only within the realm of the properly equipped and experienced mountaineer.

Looking down on the exposed section

Paso de los Guias

Paso de los Guias

The route seen from Paso de los Machos

The route seen from Paso de los Machos

Looks wider than it is!

Looks wider than it is!

Looking up to the traverse

Looking up to the traverse

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An unusual route to the top of Alcazaba, third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada

As Alcazaba (the “Fortress”) is nearly surrounded by cliffs most trekkers take the simplest route from the South East. For those with a spirit of adventure and a head for heights there are better routes. We revisited a route last week that makes a quality day’s trekking to the summit of this fine peak.

Early morning Laguna de la Mosca

Early morning Laguna de la Mosca

Alcazaba has been a favorite of ours for many years. Why? Well, it is quiet due to it’s remoteness and also makes a fine viewpoint for much of the main Sierra Nevada peaks.

The usual route is from Siete Lagunas to the SE, either through a small pass or along the line of crags bordering the southern edge of the summit plateau. Even this is not straightforward in mist and good map and compass skills will be required if caught out on the summit plateau in cloud.

Another route goes up a rough scree gully from the uppermost lake of Siete Lagunas and breaks through the crags to the plateau. There is a decent path and it is even marked with a large cairn at the top, assisting the descent.

However we consider the best route for the most adventurous starts from the Laguna de la Mosca to the SW. A path known as the “Grand Vasar” cuts northwards across the NW face of Alcazaca. Above and below are big crags but nowhere is it dangerous. The crest of the “Espolon de Alcazaba” ridge is crossed. This makes a superb summer of winter mountaineering venture.

On the Grand Vasar

On the Grand Vasar

Eventually the main ridge N of Alcazaba is reached. Turn right and go up the ridge until a second Vasar (Vasar de la Cuneta) comes in from the right. Take this until the first gully in met (Corredor/Canuto de Alcazaba).

Climb the gully which is steep and a bit loose. There are a few rock steps encountered, but in general it is simple scrambling. A great way to reach the summit but not recommended as a descent route.

The photo below is in winter but does show the routes illustrated in the text.

alcazaba-nw-face-aspect

alcazaba-nw-face-aspect

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Is this the most scary walking and trekking path in Spain?

We recently came across a little know way through some big cliff scenery in the Sierra Nevada. Not technical, just walking, but in an amazingly exposed situation needing a good head for heights. It’s called the “Veredón Inferior”.

It really is quite strange how there are so few references to this track on the internet. In fact, just one report in spanish giving a vague idea of what to expect was discovered. It had a warning …….. “don’t fall off or you will be dead”.  Well, of course we just had to go and have a look!

Leaving the Hoya de la Mora car park above the Sierra Nevada ski station we traversed into the lower San Juan valley, crossed the river and climbed up the other side making for the ridge of the Tajos de Campanario. Here we watched the wonderful Griffon Vultures playing on the thermals.

This is a ridge we know well as we run ski tours and snowshoeing trips round here in the winters. In fact the ridge gives a fine winter mountaineering route at an easy grade. In the summer it is just glorious walking with the occasional rock step. A hands in pocket stroll with the massive drops down to the Barranco de Guarnón down on the left.

A grassy section of the path

A grassy section of the path

The character changes however after a iron monument on the ridge crest (2hrs). Just beyond a path drops down to the left and crosses the rock face. The exposure starts to build and the yawning drop beckons!

There are some sections just a foot wide and a good head for heights is necessary and care in foot placement. Some of the footsteps are sloping and over steep grass. It is an incredible path and makes one wonder …….. why and who put it there in the first place?

N.B There is no protection. Dont trip up!!!!

After 20 minutes of mind blowing exposure normally reserved for via ferratas one drops down to the floor of the valley. So what can you do then? Well, we had a plan to climb the remote northern peak of Veta Grande but the afternoon sun was burning fiercely (it was 41 deg C in Lanjarón). We headed for the Coral de Veleta instead.

This is an entertaining summer route for those with a suitable head for heights. If the path is wet or partly frozen leave well alone. We managed it with 2 dogs (Tails from the Pack), Emily Burrows from Wild Morocco and Pepe from badaje.com. They wouldn’t describe themselves as “climbers”, or even “scramblers”, but managed perfectly well.

N.B The “Veredón Inferior” described in this article should not be confused with the “Veredón Superior” that leads from the “Posiciones” shoulder of Veleta and leads easily into the upper Coral de Veleta.

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