Life in the deep freeze

[alert style=”success” close=”false”]We spent an extremely cold November night in a refuge in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Hard to believe that this was in fact southern Spain![/alert]

In the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain we can expect some bad weather in November. This is normally the month when the major snows fall. We had a three day crossing of the mountain range booked for four clients in the last week of the month. Up to then we had “endured” endless days of blue skies and sunshine.

Climbing up to Posiciones near Veleta (3394m)

Climbing up to Posiciones near Veleta (3394m)

Sod’s law then, that we started off, from the Hoya de la Mora on the northern slopes of Veleta above the Sierra Nevada ski area, just as the grey skies turned darker and the mists started to descend.

Fortunately this area is well known to us, as we have been up here in bad weather many times since we arrived in the Sierras in 2002. The lay of the land becomes more familiar with every passing. We slowly ascended through the deserted ski pistes and onto the open slopes above.

Now it became full-on white out conditions with a bitterly cold northerly wind biting and tugging at our clothing. No part of the face or hands could be exposed for long. As we neared the first goad of the high ski road near Los Posiciones on the northern shoulder of Veleta at 3100m, the altitude also begins to take a toll. And this is supposed to be “fun”!

With conditions deteriorating we shuffled along the high ski road. Although being of simple gradient we had knee deep snow drifts to impede our progress. Waterproof jackets and pants began to turn white as the ice stuck to the fabrics.

Refugio Carihuela, Sierra Nevada

Refugio Carihuela, Sierra Nevada

Rounding a corner we arrived at the Collado de Carihuela at nearly 3200m. A few metres above the col stands the Refugio de Carihuela, perched in a magnificent location astride the ridge. But of course, our views that day were just a sea of dark grey mist intermingled with the odd rock poking out from the accumulating snows.

We ran into the relative peace and calm of the refuge. For the initial ten minutes we almost basked in the relative warmth and dryness of the refuge. Gradually though the all encompassing cold began to creep into our bones!

We got the pans out and started to melt snow for water. Well that was the excuse. I suspect the real reason was to warm the iced up finger ends! Soon we had all cookers blasting out condensation into the air, which of course immediately froze back onto our clothing!

Trying to keep warm!

Trying to keep warm!

My god it was cold! Temperatures overnight at Borreguiles (2500m) dropped to -14 degrees centigrade. Up at 3200m it may well have been -16. After a rushed evening meal at 8pm, we did the only sensible thing and got into our sleeping bags, fully clothed. Quick. Somebody pinch me. Surely this isn’t southern Spain?

I have to say that once in the sleeping bag my feet and hands slowly started to come back to life, but I spent a restless night listening to either the howling of the wind outside or the grunts and snores of my fellow compatriots.

I woke prompt at 7am. I could still hear the wind. Were the mountains still under a blanket of grayness? I slowly opened the refuge door and was greeted by the views below. Wow! Everything suddenly became worthwhile. The world had changed from black and white to colour. I had travelled from Kansas to Oz!

Sunrise over Mulhacén

Sunrise over Mulhacén

 

Sea of Clouds over the sea

Sea of Clouds over the sea

 More photos from that day


 

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Love the Sierra Nevada? Come and help restore a mountain refuge!

Finally, we have the authorization from the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada to perform the work that we scheduled for the Refugio de Caballo. The work is to fit a new window and waterproof the roof before the coming winter. We have organised the work to be done on Sunday 4th November 2012. If enough people come along then we shall clean the refuge and it’s surrroundings

For all lovers of the Sierra Nevada. WE NEED YOU!

Date: November 4 2012 (Sunday)
Time: 7 am
Meeting point: Nigüelas car park
Number of people needed: 20 minimum

Personal equipment necessary
Warm clothing and hiking boots, hat, gloves, sticks, waterproof (possibly axe and crampons!). Keep in mind that this work takes place in the high mountains and at this time of year temperatures can be very low.

The window is being built in Miguel Jimenez metal installations. They are in charge of ordering of all necessary logistics and installation.

Visit Accion Sierra Nevada! It is an independent, non political, no profit making platform for the enhancement and preservation of the Mountain Refuges.

Here is a video of the work performed last year.

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Wild night bivouac at the Refugio de Caballo, Sierra Nevada

Our group spent a rather wild 2 days ascending to the Refugio de Caballo with the intent to do some winter mountaineering in the area. In the event, strong winds and severe icing had them beating a retreat for the valley the following day.

Thanks to Ian Tupman, from the Costa Tropical who sent in this report about his night at the hut and how the newly restored hut coped with the extreme conditions. I have passed this onto Acción Sierra Nevada for further restoration projects this coming summer. Thanks Ian!

Below you can see a video from the same expedition that shows the ferocity of the winds to good effect.

REPORT ON THE CONDITION OF REFUGIO DE CABALLO

We arrived on the afternoon of December 16. It was windy over 120 km/hr. The door and window were closed and the interior was clean. During the night the wind increased with strong gusts. The new door is great and it worked perfectly. But there were problems. Within hours there was a layer of water on the floor. I have two suggestions,

Snow was coming through the window. To avoid this, I suggest a similar exterior shutter door construction.

The wind was so strong that the spindrift blew through through the ceiling of the refugio. Inside, you can see that the roof is discolored (black) where water and snow penetrated. I think there are small cracks in the ceiling and advise the application (by brush) of a fine mortar to exterior cracks.

I recognize that you can not do anything until spring but I’ll be willing to assist with the work.

Regards,
Ian Tupman
Technical Architect (retired)

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Tajos Altos, the hidden mountain of the Sierra Nevada

Tajos Altos is a somewhat reclusive mountain. From the west of the Sierras and the vega of Granada it is just a small lump on a long, seemingly flat ridge. From the north and south it is prominent, but often mistaken for Veleta, the Pico del Cartujo or some other more well known peak. But it is in fact a superb mountain in it’s own right.

Depending on which map you use Tajos Altos can be difficult to identify. Sometimes it is just a series of high points on the long ridge running from Pico del Cartujo to the Cerro de Caballo. Sometimes it is marked as a particular point, incorrectly in my opinion! The Tajos Altos I know and love is the prominent “mountain” looking mountain (if you understand what I mean?). From the north and south it is a pyramid. A classic mountain shape. The sort kids draw at school.

Tajos Altos east face dropping down to Laguna de Bolanos

Tajos Altos east face dropping down to Laguna de Bolanos

So where is it? From the Pico del Cartujo heading south you will pass over two smaller lumps before meeting the rise up to what I call “Tajos Altos”. On the Penebetica map series for the Sierra Nevada, this is shown as point 3104m. This is the summit. Not the series of lower points further south that the map shows as “Tajos Altos”, nor any of the smaller inconsequential lumps going north.

It’s relatively gentle slopes dropping down west from the  summit are marked as Los Panderones. Rather boring terrain in summer, but superb country for ski tourers during the winter, if approaching from Fuente Fria above Niguelas.

It is to the east however where the dramatic beauty of this mountain is seen at it’s best. Steep cliffs drop sharply to ledges containing probably the finest mountain lakes in the Sierra Nevada, namely Laguna Cuadrada and Laguna de Bolanos. Tranquil places to stay for a night in the mountains. There is a steep scree slope running east some 100m south of the summit. This can provide access from the summit ridge to the lakes.

Laguna Cuadrada and an idyllic campsite location

Laguna Cuadrada and an idyllic campsite location

An ingenious path, the Verea Cortada cuts across this ledge on it’s way from the Cerro de Caballo to the Laguna de Lanjarón and the Refugio Elorrieta. In fact, some 200m north of Laguna Cuadrada,  there is a short section of path where use of a cable/chain is required to cross a short rock gully.

Below this narrow ledge the cliffs tumble down to the lush green pastures of the upper Rio Lanjarón valley. A real shangri-La, especially in the fierce heat of summer.

Tajos Altos is a real mountain and deserves to be known as such. I for one will be back in the winter to try out some of the winter possibilities on the east face.

If you wish more information on Tajos Altos, access, trails etc please contact me. We run two day crossings of the Sierra Nevada that stay at Laguna Cuadrada overnight. These run throughout the snow free months, namely June to November inclusive.

The prominent peak of Tajos Altos from the Refugio de Caballo

The prominent peak of Tajos Altos from the Refugio de Caballo

 

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An initiative to restore, clean and repair the Refugio de Caballo

The Refugio de Caballo is in a spectacular and majestic setting high above the Lanjaron valley just below the summit of the Cerro de Caballo (3009m). It is used in both summer and winter as a place to spend the night.

More information at Mountain refugios and shelters of the Sierra Nevada

Refugio de Caballo

Refugio de Caballo

During last winter we noticed a deterioration of the refuge. The door had come off it’s hinges and the window areas were worsening and becoming open to the elements. More horrifically, the place was strewn with debris and rubbish left by those “mountain lovers” who had been staying there.

This has prompted a response by local folk from Lanjarón, who are planning to repair and clean up the refuge during this coming summer. We aim to clean all the rubbish and litter away,  repair the door, make the window areas weatherproof and generally give the place a makeover.

If anybody is interested in helping out please contact me on this site or Pepe Badaje on his spanish site. The snow is retreating fast now and we shall be making an initial survey into the requirements in the next couple of weeks and plan to do the work in August.

We do have a Facebook Page so you can show your support.

Photo below of what we discovered during last winter!!!!!

Snow, rubbish, disrepair. This hut needs you!

Snow, rubbish, disrepair. This hut needs you!

 

 

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Unmarked hut located on the Cerro de Caballo

Whilst on a recent trek in the Sierra Nevada up the Cerro de Caballo we came across a Refugio that is unmarked and un-named as far as we can tell. It is not that big, maybe sleeps 3 or 4 persons, but looks weatherproof and a good bivvy site. Worth knowing about.

It is located on the S side of the Cerro de Caballo at about 2840m in the area of the Hoyo del Zorro, just 300m north of the old ruins of the Leprosy refuge. Grid Ref 04608 40962. If wanting to use it in winter, take a shovel!

The photos below show the location below the Caballo and a blow up of the actual refuge.
Location of hut below S face Caballo

Blow up of the hut below Caballo

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