Describes an overnight camp on the summit of Spain’s highest mountain, Mulhacén, with a spectacular sunset and sunrise

An overnight camp on the summit of Spain’s highest mountain, Mulhacén (3482m), in which the most spectacular sunset and sunrise were observed.

A report from Richard Hartley of Spanish Highs, Sierra Nevada

I quite like going “against the grain”. Ascending a mountain when everybody else is coming down (or descending a mountain before anybody else is going up for that matter!) just feels right. Excitement, knowing that you are going to experience a unique  feeling of isolation, rarely felt by others.

We set off mid afternoon from the Hoya del Portillo. Not our favourite way to ascend Mulhacén, but the quickest given that we all had rather large packs due to a collective dream that beer, wine and fiesta on the summit camp would be most beneficial. Our two dogs came along so that meant dog food and extra water supplies. In addition I carried skis and ski boots as I was aiming to ski the east face of the mountain the following morning (thats another story, I’m afraid).

On the way up Mulhacen
On the way up Mulhacen

As we ascended in the hot afternoon sun a few groups of T-shirt and short clad hikers gave me strange looks as they glanced at the skis and boots. They just had to take a look around to see that large parts of the Sierra Nevada were still in winter mode. But, it was hard work and the pace was slow. We arrived at the summit at 9pm and quickly started looking for a suitable camping spot. This we found a short way to the NE, overlooking the upper part of Siete Lagunas, where rocks gave some protection from the winds.

The late afternoon cast the long shadow of the mountain far over to the east towards Almeria
The late afternoon cast the long shadow of the mountain far over to the east towards Almeria

We had just dug and levelled out our bed space when the sky started to fill with lots of colour. Ascending the short distance to the ridge we could see the sun quickly dropping down over the Vega de Granada. I’ve seen plenty of sunsets. Lanjarón, where I live, has it’s fair share of beautiful skies. I have to say though that what followed beat any I have ever experienced. The photos below will tell the tale far better than I can describe the scene.

Sunset from Mulhacen
Sunset from Mulhacen
Sunrise starting away to the east
Sunrise starting away to the east
Sunrise from Mulhacen
Sunrise from Mulhacen

After a brief meal we settled down to spent a comfortable night, considering we were at 3500m. Temperatures were about freezing and winds were light. All that was required was a good ground insulating mat, 4 season sleeping bag and down jacket. Oh, and a sense of humour!

Yes, we did have a few beers and the odd swig of wine, but to be honest the situation, camaraderie and isolation took precedence. Next time I will leave the litre carton of wine behind.

A rather cold bivouac
A rather cold bivouac

At 6am the dull glow out to the north east started growing into a bright orange line. We started taking bets on where the sun would first appear. It soon became obvious as a brighter patch of the horizon appeared. Again, I shall let the photos below do the talking.

Ok now we go down for breakfast!
Ok now we go down for breakfast!
The sun's first glimpse
The sun's first glimpse
Sunrise on Mulhacen
Sunrise on Mulhacen

Amazed by the sights we had seen and warmed by the bright morning sunlight we ate breakfast and sat around (in actual fact we were waiting for the snow to soften so I could descend the east face which was sheet ice at that time). A few other hardy souls too had made it from the Refugio de Caldera to the summit to witness the sunrise.

This is a trip well worth doing. Few people were seen on this normally busy summer tourist peak. The idea of “going against the grain” really does work. Under normal circumstances you could leave the summit at 9am and be comfortably back down at the Hoya del Portillo by 12:30 in time for beer o’clock!

N.B Spanish Highs run summit bivouacs in addition to night ascents throughout the summer months.