11 October 2013
Reading time: 4 mins
Back in May 2012 I walked the ridge from Cerro del Caballo to Tozal del Cartujo, crossed over to the Refugio Elorrieta for the night and then returned to the Ventura trailhead the next day via the Río Lanjarón valley. I had stood on the Tozal del Cartujo admiring its impressive ridge stretching away to the north-west. A few months later, I read an account by a group of Spanish mountaineers of their traverse of the ridge and I knew it just had to be done.
Fast-forward to October this year and I saw that Spanish Highs were running their Scrambling Mega Tour in the Sierra Nevada which was to include the Cartujo ridge. It was an opportunity not to be missed and I joined up with them at the Refugio Carihuela at the end of their third day in the mountains. After an evening meal and a spectacular sunset, we settled down for the night. The next morning brought an equally spectacular sunrise, clear skies and no wind – perfect conditions for what we had in mind. We left the hut at just after 09.00 and took the steep path down to Las Lagunillas. The ground between the lakes and the base of Cartujo’s ridge is undulating and rough, being covered in part by glacial moraines which have to be crossed. I remember thinking that this would not be a good place to be in bad weather as there are no defining features and good navigational skills would be essential.
We arrived at the north-west end of the ridge soon after 11.00. The first section is a straightforward uphill walk over broken ground and upon reaching the first rock step we donned our harnesses and helmets. Felipe, our guide, offered the rope but neither of us took it, preferring to pit our skills and nerve against what nature had to offer. For me it was the right decision and gave me the freedom of movement to fully enjoy the experience. Felipe led the way taking us across some superb airy sections on good rock. The various ‘technical’ sections are linked by broader, easier stages which provide brief opportunities for resting body and mind.
After roughly an hour and a half, we reached the crux of the ascent – a 20m abseil onto a steep slab followed by an exposed traverse to the base of a chimney. Apparently, this section can be by-passed but we relished the prospect and Felipe assured us that a rather dodgy-looking rock was sound as he set up the belay around it. I clipped in and made the relatively easy abseil onto the slab below and then down the edge of the slab to a flatter area of rock before unclipping. To make room for the other two, I carefully traversed the slab along a large crack. There is no room for error here and it brought to mind the slabs on the A’Chir ridge or the Dubh’s slabs on the Cuillin for those that know them.
With all three of us safely at the base of the chimney, Felipe tied in and led the way with me belaying him from below. The afternoon cloud had arrived, shrouding us in mist which gave an eerie dimension to the rest of the ascent. I am no rock climber but I managed to ‘muscle’ my way up the chimney by jamming my back against one side and my feet against the other. Apart from the abseil, this was the only section of the route where we roped up.
We emerged from the chimney onto another bouldery scramble after which the going eases as it reaches the broadening ridge to the summit. The actual summit, the tozal, is just that, large rocks piled on top of each other and is marked by a piece of rock inscribed with its height, 3,151m. We took a short break to pack away our gear and admire the changing view down the Río Lanjarón valley with Cerro del Caballo and Tajos Altos drifting in and out of cloud. Leaving the summit, we returned to Las Lagunillas where we had stashed the gear that we didn’t need for the ascent. From there it was an hour’s gentle walk across the bare ski pistes to the Hoya de la Mora where I had left the car. Another hour and we were back in Lanjarón enjoying cold beers and tapas at the end of a full and very enjoyable day.
Ian Tupman October 2013