Tajo Almendrón in the Tejeda Natural Park is so named because of its distinctive almond shape.

It forms part of a north-south ridge and is much visited, being on a popular walking route behind the town of Nerja. I walked this route in January 2015 and impressive as the Almendrón is, I was more intrigued by its little brother, Almendrillo. From the path I thought I could see a stone cairn on the summit and there appeared to be three possible routes of ascent: the first via the north ridge, the second via the much steeper east ridge and the third via the precarious-looking south ridge. Whichever route was taken, it would require a rope of at least two people and more than a little nerve.

From October to June the El Pinarillo track from the Cueva de Nerja is open and yesterday, Felipe Nieto and I drove almost as far as the Fuente de Esparto before turning right and then up to the barrier where we parked the car. Continuing up the track , we turned onto the cairned path which eventually brought us to the stand of pines on La Camatocha from where we assessed the south ridge. Not only is it steep and very exposed on both sides, but much of the rock appeared loose and rotten. We quickly decided it was a non-starter and continued round to the east side. The east ridge was equally un-appealing and it was the north ridge that caught our attention. A relatively straightforward scramble would take us onto the main ridge and along a natural line to the summit. We donned our helmets and harnesses and started climbing.

The initial scramble
The initial scramble

Arriving at the ridgeline we were immediately struck by the narrowness of the ridge, the variable quality of the rock and the incredible exposure on the west side - a vertical drop of over 800m into the Chillar valley. It was time to rope up. Felipe led, placing as much protection as the rock would allow.

Felipe leads along the airy ridge
Felipe leads along the airy ridge

Progress was slow as every hand and foot hold had to be checked for soundness. Several lumps of rock came away in our hands and they were carefully discarded on the east side. We reached our first belay and secured ourselves to a solid spike of rock. From there the ridge rose sharply up to what appeared to be a pile of loose rock with no way around it. It looked impossible but Felipe grittily led on and managed to get some protection into cracks in the face. Gently and carefully he hauled himself over the top and declared that it looked a lot worse than it actually was. Encouraged by his words I followed and it was a relief to reach the relative security of the next belay.

A belay stance with a view
A belay stance with a view

There was more room here and the final pitch to the summit looked inviting - a wide, vertical crack to jam up and several horizontal ones to place gear in.

The Final Pitch
The Final Pitch

Felipe scampered up the rock and after the previous two pitches I could also relax and joined him on the top. Prior internet searches had revealed no references to previous ascents and so it was a complete surprise to find a spit and a maillon fixed to a large rock on the summit.

The view south from the summit
The view south from the summit
Looking north to Almendrón with Navachica to the right
Looking north to Almendrón with Navachica to the right

We rested and ate lunch. The air quality was excellent and our efforts were rewarded with stunning views in all directions. It had taken us two hours to walk in to the climb and an hour and a half to top out. It was time to head down.

On the first abseil
On the first abseil

The prospect of reversing the route appealed to neither of us and we opted to abseil to the last belay using the anchors on the summit. From there we sacrificed an old sling to the cause and our fifty metre rope got us down onto less steep but rocky slope at the base of the peak. A group of passing walkers must have been amused at our appalling impersonations of mountain goats as we gingerly made our way down over the steep and loose ground.

Ascent (red) and abseil (green)
Ascent (red) and abseil (green)

An hour later and we were back at the car. The bar at the entrance to the Cueva de Nerja provided much-needed refreshment and we congratulated ourselves on our achievement.

The Little Almond had indeed been ‘A hard nut to crack’.

Ian Tupman April 2016 NB. Almendrillo is referred to as La Puerta on some maps