Sierra Nevada Scrambling – the ridge of Puntal de la Caldera

The west to east traverse of the Puntal de la Caldera gives fine high altitude Sierra Nevada Scrambling opportunities. Here is a route description of how to do it.

N.B This route description applies to summer only. Please wear a helmet as there is plenty of loose rock! No need for a rope unless you have beginners or want to push the grades.

We caught the first chairlift access from Pradollano, ski centre in the Sierra Nevada. Arriving at 2900m at 10:30 we made swift progress on the old road over the Col de Carihuela.

From there we took the short “via ferrata” at Paso de las Guias to save 15 minutes and regain the old road near Paso de los Machos. By the time we reached the start point of the scramble at Loma Pelada we had been walking 1.5 hours.

Now things get interesting. From the start at the summit of Loma Pelada north, the ridge heads eastwards in a convoluted and chaotic way towards the Puntal de la Caldera (3223m).

More photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/spanishhighs/sets/72157646735674365/

The whole ridge is characterized by some solid section of rock on the ridge crests, but as soon as you leave the crest you will encounter a combination of steep ground and loose rock. It is immediately apparent that a huge crag bars the route half way along the ridge. This is the crux section.

The initial going is straightforward. Try to keep to the crest for maximum scrambling. Easy enough, some nice grade 2 sections if you want. There are a couple of moments where the best route onwards is to be bold (both in ascent and descent). A raising of the standard momentarily to grade 3. This is preferable to the avoiding tactic, usually to the right, which is easy but ends up on loose rock.

At the col before the massive crag that bars the way you have two choices.

  1. Follow goat tracks horizontally until the track abuts against the Espolon de Puntal de la Caldera. Follow the ridge up to the summit. This is marked blue on the photo below. This is loose (as is everything hereabouts!), but straightforward. This is the simplest way to the summit but with little scrambling.
  2. From the col before the large crag the best way trends leftwards up a ramp formed by huge boulders (marked red on photo below). This leads to an initial gully which can be climbed rightwards to the ridge crest at grade 3. We kept trending left up rising ground on slabby rock. There were many routes here, all of grade 1/2 standard. The ridge crest was regained and we continued to the summit linking as many of the rock outcrops as we could. Harder options abound if you prefer!
Red - ridge route bypass. Blue - traverse and upper Espolon

Red – ridge route bypass. Blue – traverse and upper Espolon

The descent of the east ridge to the Collado de Ciervo is easy (grade 1). Keep to the ridge crest for maximum enjoyment rather than be tempted to take avoiding action. In front of you rises the impressive north wall of Mulhacén (3482m, highest mountain in western europe outside of the Alps), with Alcazaba to the left. At the col it’s a 10 minute walk to the Refugio de la Caldera and the regular walking tracks.

This is a scramble well worth doing and can be done in a day. From the start of the scrambling (Loma Pelada) to the end at Collado de Ciervo took us 1.5 hours. We took our time, savoring the incredible situations. Please try it out for yourself!

Sierra Nevada Scrambling

Spanish Highs run Scrambling tours/weeks throughout the summer months from May to November inclusive. In winter this route makes for a superb winter mountaineering climb which we include as part of our Alpine Mountaineering Courses.

Spanish Highs – “Inspiring the Adventure” in the Sierra Nevada!

The initial scramble left of the main crag (crux)

The initial scramble left of the main crag (crux)

Slabby section just before regaining the main ridge

Slabby section just before regaining the main ridge

Prow just below the summit

Prow just below the summit

The summit ridge

The summit ridge

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New scrambling routes in the Sierra de Huetor north of Sierra Nevada

Yesterday we continued our development of this quiet area with 3 more scrambling routes in this fascinating mountain area just north of Granada and the Sierra Nevada.

Approach is via Cogollas Vega just off the A92 north of Granada. We have climbed and scrambled on the Peñon de la Mata for some time now and it is our favourite rocky mountain. The summit slopes provide superb situations for confident and capable scramblers.

The new routes we did yesterday consisted of a Grade 2 on the NE face, a simple Grade 1 descent across the SW face followed by completion of the right arm of the western ridge (3S) (we did the left arm in May). This was followed by a new way to the top from the SW (3). All in all, 5 hours of scrambling on excellent rock with long routes (although the descent across the SW face was a bit contrived with some sections of walking). All good fun though!

We had a strong party so, although we had a rope, it was not required. The rock is generally very good and clean although the first route of the day in the NE sector was in shadow and had some greasy rock.

Go and explore or join us on some of our scrambling trips and explorations here. There are other areas to go at in the Sierra de Huetor, but they are few and far between and the routes tend to be loose and scrappy. Our guides are by far the most experienced and knowledgeable about the scrambling in these areas. Let us know if you want some advice about the routes, some ideas or just want a fun day out with us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ruta Angosturas Andalucia Gorge Scramble in Impressive Scenery

Just a kilometre away from the plastic greenhouses and rubbish tips that makes up lower Albuñol in Andalucia, lies the start of a dramatic and entertaining gorge walk cum scramble, leading to the prehistoric settlement called Cueva de Los Murciélagos (literally “Bats’ Cave”). Kiersten, myself, and our dogs, Bruno and Khumbu went to investigate.

In the gorge

In the gorge

Firstly let me give thanks to Carol Byrne (of Further South of Granada fame) who gave us the tip off about the gorge and cave, that led to us leaving our beloved Sierra Nevada and making the hour long journey south to Albuñol. She has a fabulous newly restored house in the hidden village of Murtas, Las Alpujarras, Andalucia for rent. A much nicer place to stay than Albuñol and recommended if you are going to stay near here.

Albuñol is quite frankly, horrible. Admittedly we missed out the town and only travelled down by the wide rambla forming the bed of the valley, but the kilometres of plastic greenhouses and rubbish lying around made it quite a sad journey.

Just at the southern outskirts of the town (heading towards the sea) a lateral valley runs in from the left. Turn left and follow the narrow concrete track alongside and to the left of the rambla. This leads in just over a kilometre to the last house in the valley and the point at which there is a signpost pointing to the obvious V shaped valley to the right, Las Angosturas”.

Now we can leave the detritus of human civilisation behind as we head up the narrowing valley. The walls steepen after ten minutes and one has the feeling that better things are round the corner. And they are.

The scenery is similar to that in the badlands of Tabernas where we have done much past walking.

The sudden appearance of rock across the path signifies the change from rambling to scrambling. From here on in the walking is interspersed with rock scrambling over water worn slippery slabs.

At this point we found out that our Leonberger, Bruno, is not so good on water worn rock slabs. His forward progress was marked by his scrabbling efforts supported by a heavy hand on his backside. He may be a mountain dog, but his 4WD built-in crampons (paws) are more suited to the icy summits of the Sierras than the rock here. Hands pushing his backside eventually did the trick! See short funny movie below

Just after a remarkable chockstone in the bed of the gully and, much earlier than we had thought, we came to a rock wall barring the way. A fragile looking metal ladder up the 4m vertical rock wall indicated the route. Now, as agile as Khumbu, our Siberian Husky is, this was in fact too much even for him.

The metal ladder

The metal ladder

I went on alone at this point. Now I have climbed in the Alps, most years, since 1983. I am used to exposure and ropes. My apprenticeship was in the Lake District, Scotland and Skye. This metal ladder gave me cause for concern. Not only was it swinging about a bit, but the whole thing was held together at the top by an old piece of frayed rope. Was this the missing Mallory and Irvine one? Getting off the step at the end wasn’t so straightforward either.

Looking down from the top of the ladder to the chockstone

Looking down from the top of the ladder to the chockstone

Beyond this the route was delightful with interesting and dramatic scenery evident all along the gully. At times an impass will block the route and it is necessary to find a way leftwards to avoid any difficulties. A second, much easier, 1.5m metal ladder is passed as well.

Diversion point on left walls required here

Diversion point on left walls required here

Then its on to the famous Cueva de Los Murciélagos, returning the same way although I have heard that there are through routes back to the car. Make sure you don’t do it in the rain! I will return and investigate more in the near future.

Information about the cave (via Andalucia.com website)

The Cueva de los Murciélagos (the Cave of the Bats) is a system of caves situated on the edges of the limestone Sierras Subbéticas Natural Park, 4km from the attractive village of Zuheros. Of the 60 caves registered in the park, the most important one is the Cueva de los Murciélagos, internationally renowned for its schematic and unique rock paintings and significant archaeological remains dating from Neolithic times. Although the first recorded references to the cave was in 1868, it wasn’t explored until 1938.

It has spectacular rock formations characteristic of limestone caves, with impressive stalagmites and stalagtites, underground lakes and caverns. It is located in the heart of a 1,000m-high mountain called the Cañada de Malos Vientos. Inside the mountain, the caves extend for 2km, but only 450m of this can be visited. There are a total of 700 steps, which take you 63m below sea level.

Neolithic burial remains discovered in the cave show evidence of human occupation of the caves dating from over 35,000 years ago. Excavations of this site have contributed greatly to the study of the neolithic period, as they have unearthed evidence of this time starting much earlier than previously thought. Through carbon dating, the period can be accurately placed between 4300 BC and 3980 BC. You can find out more about this history, and view some of the finds from the cave, in the archaelogical museum in Zuheros.

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The highest mountains are not necessarily always the best

The highest mountains sometimes fail to live up to their status, whilst some relatively unknown peaks turn out to be lesser in height only. Here in southern Spain’s Alpujarras, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, we have for some years now been enjoying the delights of an fascinating little peak called Giralda.

The peak of Giralda dwarfed by Cerro Caballo

The peak of Giralda dwarfed by Cerro Caballo

I learned my “height is not always the best” lesson in mountain truth on Aconcagua in the 1990’s. Base camp consisted of 500+ tents and no sanitary conditions. As I laboured breathlessly, buttocks clenched, up the biggest scree slope in the world, all around me were magnificent snow and ice clad andean peaks. What on earth was I doing on crowded Aconcagua?

The same can be said for those magnificent Patagonian spires of Cerro Torre and Mount Fitzroy. Hard to believe that these stupendous peaks are lower than the peak of Mulhacen? The same can be said for numerous peaks here in Spain’s Sierra Nevada. Muhacen (3482m) is boring from the south and many finer ascents can be had in solitude and dramatic surrounding. Try Juego de Bolos or Puntal de la Caldera. Trevenque, at 2079m, in the Cumbres Verdes is probably the finest summit of them all!

Scrambling on Giralda

Scrambling on Giralda

We have for some years been visiting the small peak of Giralda (1431m), situated between the villages of Albunuelas and Los Guajares in the range south west of Lanjaron. It is distinctly seen as a flat topped, volcano looking summit when viewed from the Granada to Motril motorway near Padul. But, why is it so good?

Quiet – in tens of visits here I have met nobody.

Maps – forget these. What military maps there are are complex and out of date. Best way is to have a look at Google Earth and try to identify the accesses. Otherwise just get out there and explore the area yourself.

Remote – It maybe only 10km from Lanjaron as the crow flies but you need a 4WD vehicle to access it. By it’s easiest, most direct, route of access it will take 50 minutes if you find the correct way through a series of interesting local tracks in the valley south of Pinos de Valle. By the longer routes from Los Guajares or Albunuelas expect to take one and a half hours.

Good solid rock

Good solid rock

Views – the peak is not attached to any other so great views exist in all directions. NE to the Cerro de Caballo is especially good when the snows of winter lie low down on it’s flanks. W and SW to that complex and interwoven network of forests and dry valleys leading onwards to Otivar and Almunecar.

The Peak – from all sides its lowly summit is only attained by a little handwork. In fact, there is some excellent scrambling to be had here and we have developed numerous lines on it’s rocky sides ranging from easy scrambling to difficult graded rock climbs. It is a great situation for introductory rock climbing and scrambling instruction.

The Rock – Unusually, quite solid and reliable for the most part.

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Scrambling along the magnificent Cavall Bernat ridge, Mallorca

Report and video showing the fun and frolics, scrambling and climbing along the wonderful Cavall Bernat ridge in Mallorca, probably the best high class ridge scramble in the med!

Scrambling along the Cavall Bernat ridge, Mallorca
Uploaded by spanishhighs. – Exotic and entertaining travel videos.

sunrise-cavell-bernat-ridge-mallorca

sunrise-cavell-bernat-ridge-mallorca

The heat of the day necessitated a pre dawn start from Cala San Vicente. We made our way up to the first peak heading north west from the Siller Pass. The cloud cover and light showers began to disperse and the rising sun gave the sky marvellous warm tinges.

From the first peak on the ridge you drop gently and easily down into a shallow valley that leads to the ridge proper. Here is where the fun begins! There is a slight track marked by cairns that twists in and out of the ridgeline generally on the less steep right hand side (SE). The drop to the left is 350m vertical straight down to the sea.

This first section provides generally easy scrambling interspersed with some shorter trickier sections. Harder options always exist for the more adventurous. Things change when you arrive at the base of the double tower. This is the crux and a rope will be required for security by all but the more experienced rock climbers, especially in descent. This is a 40m climb and provides good holds all the way.

southwards-cavell-bernat-ridge-mallorca

The first tower from the window ledge

Thereafter it is a simple walk to the top of the tower. Beyond a small gap there can be some confusion as a cairned track leads down rightwards to by pass the window and second tower. Keep high and you will start to find other cairns showing the correct way. A small exposed drop down to a col signifies the start of the “window” section.

The “Window” is a huge rounded hole in the rock some 2m down from the ridge crest. It is clearly visible from the Boquer valley far below. There is a loose corner to traverse and then a direct climb up to the top of the window ledge on good holds. This is a fantastic and atmospheric spot for lunch!

the-window

the-window

Beyond is the summit of the second tower. The descent of this can be tricky if the route is not known in advance. Rope required for the nervous here, although the actual scrambling grade is not that high. Basically you drop down a series of sloping ledges. Its amazing that such a steep cliff face can have such a relatively easy way down it.

Arriving at the col you could carry on to enjoy the further delights found along the harder sections further along the ridge. If the beers from the bars in Puerto de Pollensa are calling then you can drop off here on stony loose ground to gain the Boquer valley and a simple return to the town.

The double tower from the Boquer Valley

The double tower from the Boquer Valley

The whole ridge is a excellent day outing taking between 6 and 8 hours. You can make the scrambling easier or harder, or even take in more difficult rock climbing options. Certainly not to be missed if you are in the area enjoying the mountains of the Sierra de Tramuntana.

We run regular scrambling and walking week long holidays in Mallorca from October to May inclusive.

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Scrambling and moving together on Trevenque west ridge, Cumbres Verdes

The west ridge of Trevenque in the Cumbres Verdes hills south east of Granada offers some fine scrambling in spectacular surrounding in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. A word of warning though. The incredible amount of rain this winter has left the ridges quite unstable and appropriate protection and precautions must be taken. Good for practising the alpine art of moving together over exposed terrain.

Excellent photos courtesy of Michael Bodiam. More of his photography work can be seen on his website.





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West ridge of the Puntal de la Caldera, Sierra Nevada

The attractive peak of the Puntal de la Caldera (3223m) with the Laguna de la Caldera nestling at it’s feet makes a spectacular setting. Many times in winter during Alpine Winter Skills Training courses we have sat atop it’s narrow summit after ascended via it’s east ridge from the Collado del Ciervo. A fine route, much better and more interesting, in my opinion, than the higher, bulky form of Mulhacen (3482m) to it’s immediate east.

We have longed to complete the full winter traverse, east to west, of the Puntal de la Caldera but lack of time, dodgy snow or bad weather have thwarted efforts so far. This coming winter we intend to do it. As a preliminary to the winter trip, yesterday I did a recce from the west starting from the broad summit of Loma Pelada (3181m).

Let me say first of all that the whole area consists of loose, broken rocks and scree. The main feature of the ridge west of the summit though is a huge intervening cliff with a notch to it’s west. This looks to be the crux.  Andy Walmsley in his guidebook “Walking in the Sierra Nevada” (Cicerone Press) suggests a traverse is made into the notch. over loose and steep ground and suggests that care should be taken here. Too right! I spent the best part of an hour trying this before getting fed up and ending up sliding, falling and stumbling my way downward to the main path linking Loma Pelada to the Refugio de la Caldera. Back up to the Loma Pelada col. Start again!

The second effort had me staying as close to the summit ridge as possible. This involved weaving in and out of rock barriers sometimes on the north and sometimes on the south side. Some exposure is felt but the main problem comes with loose rock all over the place. There is a short steep step which may require the security of a rope for the less experienced. There are some great nooks and crannies around here to sit awhile and admire the tremendous views northwards and down to Laguna la Larga.

Eventually the “notch” is reached and the crux is met. A pleasant surprise. Move round to the left and there are some sloping ledges easily scrambled up until the crest is reached above the obstacle. There looks to be some more “entertaining” options available for the more adventurous too.

The crest leads easily to the summit and a descent down the well known east ridge was made to the Col del Ciervo. An interesting summer excursion but spoilt by poor rock. In winter’s icy grip with the ridge well endowed with snow and ice, well that’s a different matter altogether? Can’t wait!

More photos of the ridge here:

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Close to Nature Scrambling alongside the Rio Verde, Otivar

pale-form-booted-eagleI always enjoy a trip to Otivar. The drive from Padul towards Almunecar is always full of interest and contrasts. This time we spent some time with Birdwatch Alpujarras in the forests above Albunuelas. Loads of Bee Eaters sat on high wires frustrating our feeble attempts at photography. The highlight was a massive example of a short toed eagle which we managed to grab a decent enough photo.
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The drive continues over into the southern side of the range and the vistas change. Here is more arid and wild scenery filled with detached, crumbling granite pillars with the Rio Verde below, backed by the sprawling peak of Navachica. Great views especially early or late in the day.
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We dropped down to the town of Otivar and proceeded on foot down to the bottom of the barranco to meet the Rio Verde. There is a sort of path alongside the river but it is wild and overgrown. This means diversions into the river bed itself. It is a sort of masochistic fun this, scrambling up and over boulders. Of course getting wet is not a problem here in August. The high heat and humidity meant occasional falls into the river were quite welcoming.
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Wildlife can be seen close to hand too. We managed to capture a Viperine, water loving snake on camera, as we weaved in and out of the water.  Eventually we left the river bed and headed uphill to eventually contour back to the town of Otivar for welcoming beers. A fun and different day out!
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More Photos can be seen at the slideshow below.
Day or Multi-Day Tours in Otivar and the Sierra de Almijara

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New trail between Alcazaba and Vacares saves much time and re ascent

Last summer some local spaniards developed a new walking trail between Alcazaba and the Puntal de El Goteron and Puntal de Vacares ridge. The old route meant a long diversion round the Loma de la Alcazaba involving much time and height loss (600m). With the passing of the winter snows the route is now open again.

This new path does’t exist in any english or spanish guidebook publications to date. Last Friday we walked the route for the first time (to my knowledge, the first ingleses to do so?). Leaving Alcazaba head down into the Meseta de las Borregas, the shallow valley SE of the summit. Make for the lowest point of the valley, marked by patches of green shrub. Just before the lowest point at the cliff edge you will meet a red marker (plastic circle tied to a rock)  and also a cairn. This indicates the start of the descent route.

Initial descent route through the upper crags of Alcazaba (taken in winter)
Initial descent route through the upper crags of Alcazaba

Initially trend rightwards then back left. Then follow a sloping rake going down rightwards. This whole area has loose scree and rocks and some care should be taken as there are drops below. Do not let this put you off as, surprisingly, there is little exposure. At the end of the sloping rake there is a short section of easy scrambling that takes you below the higher crags and onto safe ground.

The next section is not particularly pleasant. A few cairns mark the way which leads steeply down some 100m and then trends left to follow a horizontal trail between cliffs. The trail keeps level so if the track is faint or lost just keep traversing at the same height. Eventually a corner is reached and the final slopes leading to the base of the Puntal de El Goteron can be seen.

The final section between the cliffs and scree slopes
The final section between the cliffs and scree slopes

The character of the route changes here as we follow a good path between overhanging rock above and vertical cliffs below. Exposure is minimal though. Within 5 minutes you are back onto a rising scree traverse that leads to the main Sierra Nevada ridgeline.

This is a welcome addition to the trekking routes in the high Sierra Nevada, saving about 300m of re ascent and much time (we reckoned about 1.5hrs).

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Summer walking in the high Sierra Nevada "Los Tres Miles"

Chiz Dakin has recently returned to the UK after a extended visit to Andalucia and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We have known the delights of the Sierra Nevada for many years now but what did Chiz think of it?

Below we reproduce comments from her excellent travel writing site “Travels With My Camera”. Chiz is an award winning professional photographer. Her website  www.peakimages.co.uk has some of her excellent travel and mountain photos for you to enjoy.

She also claims that she has discovered a unique “fox deterrent” formula for spreading around the tent entrance, replacing the old “shout or throw your boot at it” one!

She intends to produce a full report on her “Los Tres Miles” experiences when she returns from her latest adventure in the Alps.

Chiz’s views on the Sierra Nevada

“It was wonderful!

The mountains are awesome, everything from easy trails to full-on ridge scrambling (or harder!).

You may think that the slowly disintegrating road linking the two highest summits mean this area ™s an easy day trippers stroll – just at high altitude – but don ™t be fooled. Yes, there are some easy trails, but there is also some serious full-on wilderness scrambling and lots in between! (The road used to be the highest in Europe, but was closed in early 1990 ™s when the area became a national park, and now (mostly) makes a good off-road cycling trail.)

The best map of the region is the Editorial Penbetica – available in many tourist locations from information offices to campsites to souvenir shops. But be warned, Spanish maps aren ™t up to OS standard, and this can can lead to an œepic if you don ™t understand the differences! The biggest difference is that areas that we ™d assume are open moorland if looking at a UK Ordnance Survey map, are quite likely to have crags, cliffs or major impassable ravines – they ™re just not shown! Often also there are more paths than the map shows, but there ™s a few that are marked which really don ™t exist – some of the terrain is just far too steep and crumbly! (If the rock was stable enough, there ™s a path marked off Alcazabar which would be a good – and hard – climb, but that particular œpath is sadly little more than a very steep craggy choss heap!)

The snow this year has been fantastic over the winter – so there ™s still large amounts in small pockets on the alta montagna (the 3000m peaks). Mostly this is fine without crampons and ice axe (its fairly slushy on top) but there are some parts where its quite dangerous – the route over what I now know is locally called œScary Ridge! is certainly decidely dangerous at the moment. This is one of the paths that ™s œnot really a path – certainly not for pure walkers, as it requires a good degree of scrambling. Its current problem is that snow cover obscures where the route crosses the ridge line, and failing to follow the correct route can lead to head-first slides at speed down 45degree snow slopes – and that ™s really not recommeded!”

And of the main summit traverse (Los Tres Miles) she says……….

“The highlight of the trip was 5 days walking œLos Tres Miles with Mike from Spanish Highs.   We set off from Lanjaron in the SE of the region, and walked across several of the 3000m peaks (they have so many that some don ™t even have names!). The route roughly followed the main ridge line El Caballo (the horse rider), Veleta, Mulhacen and Alcazabar (the œbig three), Laguna de Vacares (but said œBaccareth) and out via Picon de Jerez, to Jerez in the NE of the region. Only about 60km in total, but the distance is far from a good guide to the toughness of the route! Sometimes 1km can take hours – if the terrain ™s interestingly rough! Make sure that your boots are really comfortable before setting out!

The route shouldn ™t be considered a pure ridge walk covering every 3000m peak – that ™s an impossibility as some of the ridge is not remotely a walk and some of the outliers would add days to the trip. But consider it along the lines of the Haute Route in Switzerland, and you soon see its a fantastic and highly challenging expedition, into often surprisingly remote and rugged terrain.

Temperatures varied from freezing overnight at the first camp to 37C in the Lanjaron and Jerez valleys at the start and end (fortunately a lift was available for the start and end to reach roughly 2000m altitude, so the walking never became unbearably hot!), and water came from all sources – from pure Lanjaron spring water from the tap – and source – to snow melt!

And the scrambling was awesome, despite the full packs (5 days food and a day ™s water weights a lot!!) – grade 2-3 in places, depending what route you took – we took the one that looked most fun, but easier options were available.

The thieving fox of Siete Laguna was also foiled (ask Richard for my unique lightweight formula for deterring it!), though Mike was unconvinced as it we only saw it on one occaision. Regardless it ™s far more timid than many reports make out – a good shout sends it packing straight away!

The scenery was also awesome – watch out for photography courses/holidays in the region coming soon, and my own images on the Peak Images website in due course.”

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