Planning a weeks mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada mountains

What to think about when planning your self guided winter mountaineering trip to the Sierra Nevada in Spain. A multitude of factors have to be considered. We recently assisted a group led by David Spreadborough in enjoying a somewhat mixed weather week in these mountains. How did they go on?

The following article was originally posted by David on his interesting site at Thanks to him for allowing us to reproduce below. The article gives important hints and information to consider when planning a winter trip here. Also links to resources used. You will also find a great video of the trip below

“Well then, where do I start?

The big challenge in organizing this year’s winter expedition was finding somewhere that lived up to the evolved aspirations of people joining one of our adventures. I have always tried to find somewhere new, somewhere interesting and perhaps, a little off the beaten track. This would be my 8th trip over 9 years and for a multitude of reasons, it couldn’t be a biggy! That meant that Europe had to contain our target. It was to some surprise then, that during my hours of web research, I learnt that the highest mountain in Spain was NOT in the Pyrenees, but hidden away down south in the Sierra Nevada.

Mulhacen, at 3483m, and covered in snow during the winter was to become a real gem.

Finding information on routes, conditions and gear was initially a little tricky. There really is not a lot in English for the area but in the main, the guys down at Spanish Highs have documented all of their built up knowledge and collected all the best material. I also looked in the usual places for some general info. All links below:

So, after announcing the trip for March 2011 and getting a team of 6, it was time to figure out the logistics.

Easyjet was used to get us there – Liverpool to Malaga

I wanted 2 hire cars to give us a bit of flexibility if people came down from the mountains early for any reason. After a bit of browsing, Malagacar came up with a pretty good deal.

We needed somewhere to stay on the first night and also upon our return to the foothills. It was here that Richard at Spanish highs sorted us out with a hotel in Lanjaron. The Hotel Central turned out to be ideal.

Our Morocco trip to Toubkal in 2009 taught me that we always needed a contingency plan for a delayed walk out. For this purpose I also booked a night in Malaga as a just in case. It would also serve as a nice last evening in Spain.

Although, 30mins walk from the old town, the Hotel Las Vegas was cheap and fit for purpose. (Although all reviews on miserable staff can be confirmed!)

The final Itinerary turned out to be:

Tuesday – Fly to Malaga, pick up hire cars and drive to Lanjaron. Night in hotel

Wednesday – Drive to Capiliera and then walk into Mountains. Night at Poqueira Refuge.

Thursday – Mountain day

Friday – Mountain day

Saturday – Mountain day

Sunday – Mountain day

Monday – Walk out and drive back to Lanjaron. Night in hotel.

Tuesday – Drive to Malaga, night in hotel.

Wednesday – Relax and then evening flight home to UK.

As can be seen from some of the links mentioned earlier, there is huge scope for routes of all kinds and also some overnighting in higher mountain shelters. I booked for 5 nights at the Poqueira but planned for 2 nights up in the mountains. For this reason we decided to take full climbing and bivvy gear. Easyjet luggage allowances are a little tight but each pair had a sports bag, extra to the one piece of hold luggage each. This meant the hold luggage was pretty light, being just filled with the usual winter clothing, and the heavy sports bags (which can go up to 32kg) were filled with all the climbing and bivvy gear.

Gear Notes:

Each pair took a lightweight alpine rope and half a rack of gear containing a selection of nuts, 4 x ice screws of various lengths, an ice hook, a warthog and a few misc. items.

For bivvying –Each pair had lightweight stove, kettle etc…Gas was purchased through Richard at Spanish Highs.

Each rucksack, for our walk up to the Poqueira, was approx 20kg.

Hire Cars.

Malagacar turned out to be just outside the airport but they pick you up and drive the 2 minutes round the corner in a minibus. We had a Renault Kangoo and a Seat Ibiza. 3 in each car and the Renault fitted 4 peoples gear while the Ibiza fitted 2.

They don’t advertise this (because it’s a con!)but they fill the car up to half a tank and then charge you for that amount upon collecting the cars – its more than what you would pay at the forecourt! You can then bring the car back empty. For all our trips we needed to put in another half a thankful per car.

Malaga to Lanjaron.

One we had picked the cars up, it was time for a spot of lunch and a few bits from a supermarket.

Near to the airport there are loads of places and also a Decathlon superstore for those needing extra gear!

We stopped off at the Plaza Mayor, which has a supermarket and a restaurant mall area.

The drive to Lanjaron took around 1h 45mins. I did start to get a little worried at one point as you stay near to the coast for most of the way and wondered when we would start to see some mountains. This highlights the fact that it was cloudy upon our arrival and the weather did not look good.

Lanjaron is a quiet little town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and appears to be less touristy than some of the others higher up. Once we had located the hotel and parked the cars up in the secure underground car park, it was time to sort kit and head off to a local bar to meet Richard from Spanish Highs and discuss weather, routes and options for the days ahead. I also rang the hut to confirm our arrival and get current ground conditions for the walk in.

What can I say about Bar Flower in Lanjaron, other than that we could have quite happily stayed in there for a very long time!!! (and on our return after being up the Mountain – we did!)

Richard and Kiersten gave us great info on what to expect up in the mountains and also about where to park up prior to the walk in.

The walk up The Poqueira Gorge

The drive from Lanjaron to Capileira is unrelenting and all passengers felt ill. It only looks a short distance on the map but takes nearly an hour. After Capileira, there are two sharp bends. At the second one, a smaller road (I say the  word ‘road’, but mean track!) leads up to the Poqueira Electrical station. This is at a height of 1550m and we managed to park up no problems. If it is busy you just have to park further back along the road.

The weather was typical Scottish winter….but we were in Southern Spain! It was pissing it down with the freezing level at around 2100m and the hut at 2500m.

The Gorge though turned out to be a fantastic place – shame I had my head down for most of it.

Four and a half hours later we arrived at the hut. Damp, but nothing too dramatic.

Poqueira Refuge

A great hut which can sleep over 80 people. Although anymore than 30 and it must be a nightmare. We were lucky (or not) but for most of our time there it was just us…..because no one was stupid enough to come up probably!

You will need to present your passport upon arrival and you will be allocated a bed. Our group was all in a room for 8 and you will be given a key for a locker. If it’s busy – do not leave stuff around – the rooms are not locked and I nearly left a pair of trekking trousers lighter after another resident took a liking to them!

Its cold (if you are there in the winter). A good sleeping bag and a good jacket (down or Primaloft). There is no hot water and the bathroom is only just above freezing point – prepare to smell for a few days!

The food is great. Breakfasts are plentiful with a selection of bread, toast, cakes, biscuits, jam, honey, spreads etc…Evening meals start with soup, then a pasta dish. Followed by a meat and vegetable dish, then a dessert!

Mountain Day 1

The guardians at the hut know the weather better than anyone. When the posted forecast read that snow would be falling PM that day and our guardian agreed, we settled on having 4 hours of clear air before the front moved in. The guardians actually post Internet forecasts every evening. They are long range (5 day) predictions but we soon learnt that it’s only the first 24hrs that’s reliable. The weather changes so quickly and dramatically that it’s nigh on impossible to forecast ahead in the mountains.

The plan was to get up high and learn the area, what the snow conditions were like, and generally become comfortable with our unknown surroundings. The 24hrs of fresh snow was our main concern and for this reason we chose a small ridge behind and to the left of the hut. The steep snow slop directly behind was loaded with fresh powder and needed time to settle before it was deemed safe.

Picking a line up, through the rocks and avoiding waist deep snow was a laborious task but as the ridge slowly bent round to the right, we reached a high point of approx. 3000m.

The little trip upwards had given us a lot of visual confidence in the area and it was exactly for this reason that a quick descent was then chosen.

The weather had been brewing up all morning but in a matter of minutes the valley was engulfed in cloud. It was moving up like a tidal wave and if we had been caught out, finding our way back to the hut may have been an epic. A quick bearing was taken as the hut disappeared in the cloud. Within seconds we were in a white out but luckily only 200m from safety.

Note: Due to the amount of snow, it has been acknowledged that a lot of prominent rock features have been transformed. It is definitely NOT the place to start learning about micro navigation or having to dig an emergency snow hole (we did carry a shovel everywhere). I would not recommend venturing out unless you know the area very well. On our descent, we ended up in true whiteout. No visual reference at all, just a blinding white.

Mountain Day 2

Storm – all day! Wind, Snow, Whiteout…….

The term ‘death on a stick’ was mentioned once or twice and, when told we were staying in the hut, the guardian’s reply was, “probably a good idea”.

Take a book with you to the hut! – Just in case.

Mountain Day 3

We have learnt over the years that timing and planning go hand in hand. Although our plans had involved climbing routes, in particular the North Face of Mulhacen, we now had to scrap that and time our summit for a clear sky.

The forecasts had been analyzed and we felt our best chance would be an early morning ascent after a night in the high Caldera Hut. Due to ground conditions, we had no idea on how long it would take us to get up the valley to Caldera, as we did not have snowshoes or skis. Adding to the problem was that, upon waking, it was still snowing! The Sierra Nevada weather surprised us once again though and, within half an hour, the clouds broke up and the sun came out.

Approx. 20 Spanish climbers left in snowshoes and luckily they had chosen to go via the Caldera hut. We could hang back, let them break trail and compact the snow a little, before walking up behind them.

The slow walk up to the Caldera hut, at 3100m, was absolutely glorious. Great weather and stunning surroundings. It was just a shame that I had to preserve camera power for summit video – I could have filmed the whole thing. Due to the snow depth we had given ourselves 4 hours to reach the hut but ended up doing it in under 3! In good conditions of hard neve, it could probably be done in 2.

Just the top of the hut was visible, meaning that there must have been a good 10ft of snow! The door to the hut is a barn door, split style, and this had been partly dug out already. We dug out all the new fresh snow and made our way inside. The snow had filled the door opening, which required snow steps being cut inside the hut! The hut is pretty good with wooded bunks at the end and a big table to one side. Once the stoves were on the go and our kit sorted it was time to air some of our clothes and watch the Spanish team ascend the west ridge.

Our afternoon in the sun was short lived as the clouds moved in again and shrouded the entire area. It was also worrying that the wind had increased. Most of the Spanish teams who had raced up the mountain were unlucky and had to make do with a cloudy summit and no view.

I climbed into my warm sleeping bag as the light was fading and hoped that the forecast would be correct and we would wake to a cloudless sky.

Notes: It was around -5 in the hut that night but the cold wooden bunks make it feel worse. A good sleeping mat and bag is essential. My sleeping mat was only ¾ length and as a result I could feel the cold at my feet. Placing my jacket under the bag solved that!

Water will freeze in the hut overnight – keep it wrapped up inside your rucksack and it should stay fluid! The water in my kettle froze during the night.

Keep your camera battery in your sleeping bag overnight.

Spanish Chorizo is easy to chop up and throw into dehydrated meals. It adds a load more calories as well as flavour.

Mountain Day 4

Had we timed it right? Should we have gone up yesterday afternoon like the Spanish teams. Had we blown it and missed our chance. I spent the entire night checking the barometric trend on my watch. At around 11pm it started to rise and rise. The icon changed from cloud to sun…..but then at 3am it started to drop. I couldn’t sleep and kept wondering what was happening outside. At 5am, Phil left the warmth of his sleeping bag and ventured outside to answer the early morning call of nature. “Not a cloud in the sky” he stated, climbing back into the hut. That was what we wanted.

As conditions were favorable we planned to go up the Western ridge and then down the South. For that reason we couldn’t leave anything behind to be picked up later. After a quick hot breakfast (Dehydrated Berries in Custard – lovely!), we packed up and went out into the early morning air. Bitterly cold, but utterly fantastic.

The route up sticks on the steep western flank above the North face. It gets steeper as you get higher and due to the snow conditions we slowly zigzagged upwards. Unbelievably, we did not feel the need for crampons. The snow was just soft enough to easily place steps. (Looking back, crampons may have been a good idea. A slide down that face would hurt!)

I crested the main summit ridge and the sun hit my face. The only problem though was that I was also now in the full force of the wind. My god was it cold. It wasn’t a massively strong wind but I can’t remember being in a colder one!

With a full 360 degree panorama we reached the summit and reveled in the fact that we had timed it right (for once!)

It wasn’t a place to hang around, although I did find time to take a good look down the North Face. I will return to do that route, it looks fantastic.

The exposed broad ridgeline that connects the main to the south summit had been stripped of any soft snow by the fierce wind. This enabled a quick crossing in order to get out of the icy blast. We dropped down the South ridge and, as soon as we could see the Poqueira Hut way below us, we left the main ridge and dropped directly down the steep slopes. These were the slopes we had stayed clear of 2 days before. This time though they were solid, thanks to the sun of the previous afternoon and the freezing cold night. We arrived back at the hut shortly before 10am. Having left the Caldera just before 7am meant that we had dropped nearly 1000m in less than an hour! If I had had skis on….well, it would have been fast!

Within an hour of being back at the hut, the clouds rolled in again, and stayed in all afternoon. The few hours we were out and the brief spell we were on the top was the only clear break in the weather all week.

The walk out

To give you an idea on hut costs. It worked out to be 170 Euros each.

Four nights half board, wine with meals and a large amount of bottled water, tea, coffee and Hot Chocolate. Considering the location, that’s not bad.

To get current costs, the link to the hut site is at the top with all the info pages.

We walked out of the cloud after dropping a few hundred metres and the clear weather enabled us to really appreciate to wonderful Poqueira Gorge. As we arrived back at the car, the clouds had darkened and rain began to fall….just for a change!

After a lunch in a café in Capiliera and enduring the hour-long road trip back to Lanjaron our arrival back at the Hotel meant a well-earned hot shower.

By 3pm we headed off out for a beer and tapas, ending up again in Bar Flower with Richard, Kiersten and James. A brilliant night!

Now that I know the times, distances etc, for future trips I will not have a last night in Malaga. The last night will be in Lanjaron.

Spare day

As we had a spare day, we drove out of Lanjaron and into Granada. A very nice City with a lot of history and overlooked by the huge Palace of Alhambra. We spent a good few hours wandering the centre and it’s well worth a visit if you have the time.

After a 2-hour drive we arrived at the hotel in Malaga. The sun had come out for our arrival by the sea and it was a lovely 30minute walk along the coast into the old town.

Most of Malaga appears to be a concrete mess of cheap apartments and hotels but the old town was a pleasant surprise.  Another great evening spent eating, drinking and listening to the street musicians. We cheated and got a taxi back to the hotel. Four Euros!

Prior to our evening flight we spent the last day up in hills above Malaga, away from the hustle and bustle. Sitting in the sun, we chatted about the trip and all agreed that we have to return. A return trip will be 7 days instead of 8 and will probably have two possible objectives:

  1. Good snow conditions – North face of Mulhacen and gully routes up to ridges.
  2. Bad snow conditions – 3 day traverse of high peaks.

My Last thought…..

What makes a successful trip? I believe it’s having the correct mix of place, people and experience. We had it all, and the people we met made it all the more memorable.

Until the next time,



A mountaineering traverse of the Raspones ridge in the Sierra Nevada

A recent report on a rare mountaineering traverse of the Raspones de Rio Seco in Spains Sierra Nevada by Gary Brown and his friends of the “Geezers of Croydon” MC. No idea if any Brit/Irish has done this before. Maybe a first British/Irish winter ascent?

The Geezers on the ridge crest

The Geezers on the ridge crest

“We reached the crest of the ridge around the 2767m mark, just before the start of the rocky peaks, within 90 minutes of leaving the Poqueira Hut. In the interest of moving quickly we decided to proceed unroped, which was easy at first and mainly on snow, traversing the ridge avoiding the crests of some of the lower initial rock sections. Soon though we came upon the first awkward section, a rocky step down and across a gap with a steep drop on either side.

Then, from this point on, we enjoyed almost continuous scrambling on good featured rock although very loose in places, with the odd patch of snow. Because of the recent heavy snow fall we came across a mix of deep powder in places, a dusting of powder over loose rock in others and even some patches of excellent névé. The first major peak, we thought, appeared to be a considerable obstacle but as we neared it, and gained more height, found it to be an interesting mix of rock but mainly snow and ice all the way to the top. We reached the summit of this having been climbing for five hours so stopped for a snack.

Airy ridges

Airy ridges

We pressed on to the next large peak, all on interesting ground, both rock and snow, with the only obstacles being large gaps where abseils had to be set up as we couldn’t exactly determine the terrain because of the heavy snow covering. Although it looked like the ridge reached an end after the next lesser summit, we felt the logical conclusion was at a point where we found a little col, at grid reference 30S 046887 4100587, between a rock wall and a gendarme.

In reality we could have easily down climbed, or even walked down facing out, but did not do so as again we couldn’t determine the true scale or angle of the snow slope because of the flat light. Instead we made what was our seventh abseil of the day, running out the full 60m to the rope ends. We were back at the Poqueira Hut almost exactly two hours from the bottom of that slope.

The day had taken exactly twelve hours, from the hut and back again. We felt that the nearest comparison we could draw would be the Cosmiques Ridge, which is now graded II AD 4a, but we felt that because the Raspones Ridge offered considerably more uninterrupted, interesting climbing it should be given a slightly harder grade.

Therefore, we settled for AD+ overall but nothing harder that 4a on rock. It should be said though that because of the nature of the light on that day, the drop down either side appeared considerably greater when looking down rather than up from the valley basin and that illusion would certainly add to any perceived difficulty. So, a second ascent would certainly be ideal in determining an accurate grade.”

With thanks to Gary Brown (and Barry, Colin and Dave) of the “Geezers of Croydon” MC…………..More photos from them below

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So what have we achieved in the Sierra Nevada so far this winter?

The first half of winter brings with it mainly difficult mountains conditions. High winds, low temperatures and deep snows become the norm. In 2010 we didn’t manage to ascend Mulhacen until late February, such was the ferocity and consistency of the bad weather. But, how have we fared this year?

Ski Touring Loma de San Juan

Ski Touring Loma de San Juan

The winter so far hasn’t been anything like as bad as the past one. Sure, we have had good snowfalls, but have had periods of settled weather in between. In these situations providing one accesses correctly the avalanche dangers and chooses your route wisely, then good mountain days can be had. Ascents of all the major peaks, excepting Alcazaba, have been achieved often by some interesting and new (for us) routes.

We have completed many days winter skills mountaineering and alpine instruction courses. There is always a call to climb Mulhacen and we have delivered on many occasions.  Ski touring weeks have been completed often in difficult snow conditions. On some poor days up high we have managed some interesting scrambling and rock climbing instead.

Highlights I think have been…………………..
Crossing Puntal de la Caldera and Tajos de la Virgen
Ski descents from Mulhacen
Ski Touring Veleta and San Juan
Finding new areas to enjoy winter mountaineering

Jens Foell

Jens Foell

Now a word about our guides and helpers. We are lucky to have some outstanding individuals working for us. They have shown great professionalism this winter is their decision making, often in difficult circumstances.

Most of the tougher stuff has fallen to Jens Foell, who has had some outstanding guiding days. We have also been ably assisted at times with the capable David Thomas, the experience of Jane Fields and the enthusiasm of mountaineering apprentice James Jackson.

Behind the guiding effort Kiersten Rowland and James Jackson have provided much needed admin backup.

Thanks to all for their help and efforts! Me? I’ve done my bit, especially on the instructional and ski touring stuff, but seem to have been office boy for much of the winter!

Now for the second half of the winter. This is the most fun, especially for an “oldie” like me! Sunnier. Warmer. Bivouacking comes more into play, enabling us a wider scope and opportunity. I am looking forward to long ski touring days on the Cerro de Caballo, Tajos de los Machos and the Tajos de Cartujo. Long mountaineering routes on the Raspones ridges and gullies and Snowshoeing in the forests of the Alpujarras.

All this is to come. Can’t wait.


Experiencing all the seasons in one week of winter mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada

Beth and Stephen from Leeds came to the Sierra Nevada with a clear idea of what they wanted to do: winter climbing and mountaineering. However, just after they arrived we met for a drink in Lanjaron: the sun was shining and it was 26C. Up in the mountains that meant the snow was melting fast, whilst the more sheltered North faces were still inaccessible to the high avalanche risk. So our first day climbing was spent in T-shirts rather than belay jackets as we went rock climbing instead.

Report from Jens Foell
All photos courtesy of Stephen and Bethany Lovell

On the Tajos de la Virgen ridge

On the Tajos de la Virgen ridge

As the weather forecast promised a marked drop in temperatures we went up to the Poqueira hut the next day. The night in the hut wasn’t that cold but as we approached the Caldera refuge the next morning a cold wind provided a chill of somewhere around -10C.

We climbed the beautiful ridge to the Puntal de Caldera, but with Stephen and Beth being experienced clients we also did some top roping on the North face and carried on past the summit; there a sudden drop of the ridge calls for slightly more demanding climbing. During the crux section on the Northern face we had strong, freezing-cold winds blasting icy snow in our faces! And just after coming off the ridge the clouds came in and we walked back to the hut in a total white-out.

North face of Puntal de la Caldera

North face of Puntal de la Caldera

After returning to Lanjaron the same day, followed by a rest day, temperatures had steadily dropped further (-16 above 3000m, according to the forecasts) so conditions were right for the next trip: we started with a morning of top-rope protected ice climbing at the Cascada de los Militares near the ski station and then went up to the Carihuela refuge, at 3200m the highest place to stay in the Sierra.

A massive cornice is currently blocking access from the Eastern side (i.e. from the Poqueira hut or Mulhacen), its edge being located just 5m from the front door of the refuge. But our objective lay to the South: crossing over the Sierra via the exposed Tajos de la Virgin ridge, a route that depending on conditions can be anything from an easy scramble to a Grade 3 winter climb.

Refugio Cebollar

Refugio Cebollar

We did find a lot of snow and ice on the ridge so both crux sections had to be overcome by fully protected, pitched climbing. Nobody had come this way since the last snow falls almost 2 weeks before, except for one creature: a big mountain cat’s paw prints lead the way (Lynx?), all the way along the ridge, with tiny yellow marks marking it’s territory every 100-200m.

Ice climbing Cascadas de los Militares

Ice climbing Cascadas de los Militares

We were lucky with the weather. The morning had been mostly clear but in the afternoon the clouds came in. And although we’d spent a whole hour digging out the door of the Elorietta refuge we decided to continue along the ridge to the Pico del Tajo de los Machos and down to the Cebollar hut. That decision was less motivated by the incoming weather as by Beth’s feeling that the Elorietta, a former TB hospital and very dark and abandoned looking inside, had an ‘eerie’ feeling to it. And although this made the day a long one as we had to continue with our big packs, arriving at the Cebollar in yet another white out, it turned out to be a wise decision indeed.

The next morning not only the weather deteriorated further (strong snow falls and low visibility) but also Stephen’s health: he woke up with sciatica induced pains, his mobility impaired. So instead of doing some fun climbing on the Las Alegas peak we now had to worry about how to get us and all the gear safely down to Puente Palo.

And thanks to a group effort involving Kiersten and Andy from the Spanish Highs back up team we made it down allright: we just about managed to drive down to Lanjaron before the track became totally blocked by all the new snow. On arrival in town it even snowed there, not a common occurrence at 700m in March. And compare that to the hot, sunny weather a week earlier- in the Sierra Nevada you really can have 4 seasons packed into 1 week!

In the Alpujarras forests above Puente Palo

In the Alpujarras forests above Puente Palo


Ice Climbing possibilities in Spain’s Sierra Nevada

If you like me thought the Sierra Nevada too devoid of water to provide much good ice climbing, then you will be pleasantly surprised. A new book by Antonio Jose Herrera and edited by Nevandasis S.L outlines locations throughout the Sierra Nevada that ice climbing can reliably be performed.

We have often climbed at the Cascada de los Milatares at the Hoya de la Mora above the ski centre, but had no idea that so many other locations were possible. The new guidebook is a welcome addition. It has very good colour photos and descriptions (although all in spanish) and describes access and climbs well. See photos below and on our Photo Gallery section

Ice Climbing Book Sierra NevadaThe areas it includes are:
Cascadas del Alhori
Cascada de los Milatares
Chorreras del Molinillo
Cascadas de Aguas Verdes
Cascadas del Guarnon
Cascadas del Valdecasillas
Cascadas del Goteron

The book can be bought from Deportes Nomadas at Durcal (online also) or online from other spanish retailers. 191 pages. €20. Recommended. Buy the book and go exploring!

We shall be trying some of these out in the next few months and shall report further. In the meantime, if you are looking for alternative spanish holidays 2011 then maybe try the ice climbing here?



Surviving Patagonia 2010

A report from Kiersten Rowland about her harrowing experiences on the Patagonian Icecap in November 2010. Not exactly a sparkling advertisement for joining us back there in 2012!

Two taxis arrive to take us to the trailhead at Rio Electrico. From the trailhead we walk a few hours through a forest to our camp at Los Troncos. You have to pay a small fee as you pass over private land, but on the plus side there is a small cabin where its your last chance to get food and drink. We did treat ourselves to one last bottle of wine, but I could not pursuade the others to one last pizza!

The next day we move on to camp at La Playita (the beach). Here we stay put tent bound for 4 days due to rain, snow, rain and high winds. One night we even get flooded, we wake to find the floor of the tent like a water bed, immediate action is taken by digging channels around the tents to drain the water from around our tents. There are a handful of other teams stuck in the same position as us waiting for a weather window.

Heading up the Marconi Glacier in good weather

Heading up the Marconi Glacier in good weather

Finally on day 5 that weather window arrives. We have a late set off because it was still raining at 9am but the skies turn blue. We pack up and head off up the valley towards the Marconi Glacier, allowing the other teams to get ahead of us. Summer in Patagonia = wind, but this years weather was more unsettled than in previous years. To get to the Marconi Glacier you have to cross horrible moraine and carrying a backpack as heavy as ours, being as small as me and with the wind battering you, you WILL fall. I did on numerous occasions, luckily never seriously hurting myself, but the strength it saps from you is incredible.

Onto the glacier we go, up towards the serac barrier. This is a dangerous section because the seracs are almost continually falling down, but usually you can avoid most of it. Also this section is heavily crevassed, but this year most were snowed in and safe.

Me above the seracs, Marconi Glacier

Me above the seracs, Marconi Glacier

We rope up and head up the steep section to the icecap. We are walking straight into the wind which slows our progress even further. Whilst taking a short break 3 rope teams of 2 Argentinian guides come racing past us, thanking Richard for breaking trail for them. They have light sacks on and are moving fast on a training mission with radios. Then all hell breaks out. What feels like hurricane force winds hit us face on, any tracks left by the other 3 ropes vanish in seconds. We only manage to move a few steps at a time before we have to dig ice axes and walking poles into the snow and brace ourselves for the next gust which tries to rip us off the planet.

We have to keep going, we are beyond the point of no return and safety lies ahead of us not behind us. Non of us have ever experienced anything like the 36 hours that that we lived through. Words cannot describe what the 4 of us went through and a special bond will be with us forever, our team became one and only the 4 of us can talk about it. No matter how we try to speak to others, unless you have been through something similar you can not and will not understand. The hours pass and we seem to be getting no where, thats a white out for you, daylight is running out, our energy is running out and we need to make camp. We spend the night in Chile!

Icefield camp

Icefield camp

With just a little daylight left we start to dig down into the snow and build snow walls to protect our tents from the ferocious winds. One little bit of luck. The winds abated enough to enable our tents to be put up in relative ease. Nobody ate that night, too exhausted to think about food, its all we can do to drink. The wind returned at full force sounding like a train coming at you. The snow is being picked up and dumped on our tents. I wake and find that we had been virtually buried, thankfully our tents have 2 entrances and I manage to crawl out of a tiny hole at one end to go start digging the tent out. Every hour after that I have to dig us out. Richard is so physically exhausted after breaking trail most of the day and mentally exhausted after navigating us through the white out (his navigational skills are exceptional) he is unable to do much but support.

Paso Marconi at sunset in a brief lull

Paso Marconi at sunset in a brief lull

When daylight arrives again and we take stock of our situation, which is no better than yesterday. We make the decision to retreat. We have no other choice. So now the wind is on our backs which presents different challenges. At one point all 4 of us are picked up and thrown onto the ground. We eventually make it safely down to the Marconi Glacier, still getting battered by the wind and back over the moraine to La Playita camp. We are greeted by a group who apparently had been 2 hours behind us yesterday, spent an awful night below the seracs and retreated back to the camp the same day as us. The Argentine guides were so happy to see us, they said they had been concerned for us. Nice to know someone was watching out for us without us knowing. We must look in a bad way because lumps of cheese and meat started turning up at our tents for us to eat. People can be so kind, a small gesture like a lump of fresh cheese is like heaven.

Crashed out at los Troncos

Crashed out at los Troncos

The next day, guess what, the weather is good, the other group head up to try their luck again and we pack up our rucksacks and make for El Charlten via the cabin at Los Troncos where we have a well deserved beer and pizza. You can now arrange for the hut to take your rucksacks to the trail head for a small price, so we happily hand them over and have an almost pleasurable stroll out to the trailhead. We meet our rucksacks and the man who had driven them out by quad bike and trailer. He then drives to an estancia to phone for a taxi to come pick us up. After half an hour we can see a trail of dust approaching and our taxi pulls up and drives us back to the warm and welcoming Hotel Confin Patagonico in El Chalten.

Having had time to recover, physically and emotionally, we realised how lucky we had been in making the correct decisions at the right time and bonding so well as a team, any weak link and there could be a different story. A group who we passed were not so lucky and eventually got caught out by this years unusual Patagonian summer weather. You can read more about that here.

They say time is a healer. After many “never again’s” in Patagonia, just a few weeks later I’m beginning to look forward to the next challenging visit there!

Read more from Kiersten Rowland


Good mountaineering conditions in Canuto de Veleta

Even this early in the winter season, good conditions exist in the Sierra Nevada’s Canuto de Veleta for this entertaining, classic mountaineering route.

Reports suggest that the entry into the Coral from Los Posiciones is quite straightforward, with no great cornice difficulty, although one should keep vigilant as there is very steep ground below as one traverses on powder snow into the main part of the coral.

The Canuto rising up to the left of Veleta summit

The Canuto rising up to the left of Veleta summit (from Posiciones)

The traverse into the Canuto itself is on 55 degree slopes alternating between hard and powder snow.

The canuto rises at 55 deg consistently to the col. It consists of good snows alternating with sections of ice crusted surfaces with powder below. The final rise from the col up the Fidel Fierro rock climb (diff/v.diff) climb is clean and straightforward.

Note. The Sierra Nevada is not a well known winter climbing and mountaineering destination, but it deserves better publicity. The routes are wild and at times remote. Few other humans are seen and snow and ice is guaranteed for at least 5 months of the year. The climbing has a certain exploratory feel to it.  It makes an ideal Last Minute Holiday destination, being only 2 hours from Malaga airport. A long weekend visit arriving and approaching the huts Friday, leaving Sunday, with two full days mountaineering, is possible.

More information can be gained through our Online Winter Mountaineering Guidebook. We have a Sierra Nevada Support Service for climbers and mountaineers that can help with transport, accommodation, gas and snow and route advice.

Otherwise, you could always join one of our frequent winter skills courses or alpine introduction courses that run throughout the winter season.


Walking and scrambling routes across the NW face of Alcazaba

The upper way is called the There are some ingenious ways across the steep north west flank of Alcazaba in Spain’s Sierra Nevada. Rough and narrow tracks cross steep ground but provide rapid ways between the north side of Alcazaba and Laguna de la Mosca at the foot of Mulhacens north face. This saves the long detour east round the eastern buttresses of Alcazaba and Mulhacen via Siete Lagunas.

The photo below is taken in winter but the snow outlines better the summer routes to follow from the Puntal de Goteron across the face.



The upper track across is called the Vasar de la Cuneta. The lower track is the Gran Vasar del Alcazaba.

The gully leading from the Vasar de la Cuneta to the summit of the mountain is called the Cuneta de Alcazaba. This is a steep and loose stone filled gully. Maybe makes a better ascent in winter when the slope is stabilised somewhat.

The ridge leading down to the right from the summit of Alcazaba is the Espolon de Alcazaba, a fine winter mountaineering route and also a high class scramble in summer (sections of V.diff rock 3+).


Sierra Nevada Mountain Access Points

Access Locations:

(1) Hoya de la Mora (2500m). Follow the ski road from Granada to the ski town. Follow the signs left for œVeleta above the town and reach a car park at the road end. Good quick access for Veleta, Los Machos and Catujo sectors. Cariguela hut is 3hrs from here.

(2) Cortijuela (1700m). Follow the road through La Zubia towards the Cumbres Verdes. Continue on past Fuente del Hervidero to the Cortijuela. Good for access to Dilar and Cartujo sectors.

(3) Fuente Fria (Dehesa de Durcal) (2150m). Follow the rough track above Niguelas going up the gorge. Keep going until the Cortijos de Echevaria are reached. Continue traversing NE on poor track until the road end at Fuente Fria. 4WD only. Good for Caballo and Cartujo access from the west.

(4) Ventura trailhead (2100m). Follow the track up the side of El Frenazo restaurant in Lanjaron. Signs lead in 45 mins to the Ventura trailhead. 15 mins to ruined Ventura hut. 3hrs to hut at Laguna de Caballo. At times 4WD necessary.

(5) Puente Palo (1750m). Above the village of Ca±ar and accessible from either Orgiva or Lanjaron (40 mins). Rough track but 4WD not necessary. Start point for Tajos de los Machos. 2 hours to Cebollar hut from here. Elorrieta is 5 hours and 1500m ascent!

(6) Casa Forestal La Pluca (2225m). East side of Las Alegas above the western flank of the Poqueira Gorge. Access from Soportujar (30 mins) on rough track. High access to Tajos de los Machos and Elorrieta hut (4hrs).

(7) Centro Electrico Cebadilla (1500m). Main sheltered route to Poqueira Hut in winter if snow low down. Just a 15 min drive above Capileira. Hut is 3 hours from here.

(8 ) Hoya de Portillo (2150m). A rough track above Capileira leads in 25 mins to the road end at a barrier by a ranger station. 4WD not normally necessary. Track upwards through the forest leads either to the Poqueira hut (3hrs) or the south ridge of Mulhacen. 2.5hrs to the Poqueira Hut. 5 hours to the Cariguela hut.

(9) Trevelez (1600m). The town is good for access to Alcazaba via Siete Lagunas (2900m).

(10) Jerez de Marsquesado. Normally start or end point for Los Tres Miles full ridge traverse. Long unrelenting ascent is necessary from here!

(11) Verada de Estrella. Via the town of Guejar Sierra. Follow the road through the town and via a series of road tunnels either side of the Genil river. Finally you arrive at the road end when there is ample car space available. Access the N and NW sides of Mulhacen, Alcazaba, Puntal de la Caldera from here. Also the Lanchar ridge can be started from here. 2hrs to the Cueva Secreta bivouac site.

View Sierra Nevada, Spain. Access Points in a larger map


Mountaineering north side of Veleta, Sierra Nevada video

If you ever needed convincing of the winter mountaineering potential here in Spain’s Sierra Nevada, then you should take a look at this atmospheric video.

Shot recently, there is good footage of the abseil descent into the Coral de Veleta, climbing on the near vertical north wall, an ascent up the Corredor del Veleta. and a descent through the deserted ski pistes towards sunset. Well put together with good music.

c o r d a d a s from lokofilms on Vimeo.

Winter Mountaineering and Alpine Introduction courses, Sierra Nevada
Support for self guided mountaineering groups

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