Sometimes chance plays a part in opening up a new mountain experience. A fully booked Poqueira hut gave our party the chance of an alpine start followed by a glorious sunrise as they summited Mulhacen, at 3482m, the highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada, Spain.
It started out as a routine 2 day ascent of Mulhacen. An approach via the acequia alta due to the fact that the Poqueira Gorge track, the normal route to the hut, had been wiped away by winter landslides. Still, it only took 3.5 hours and has the benefit of having some 500m less ascent than the normal route.
Arriving at the Poqueira hut our group realised that our normal booking arrangements had been lost in translation and the hut was full to the brim. No available beds. With the offer of a floor on bench to sleep on as an alternative it was decided, after the usual excellent food, to make a night ascent instead.
Gearing up outside the Poqueira hut, Sierra Nevada
Starting before 2am can be a cold and unpleasant experience but as soon as you get moving there is nothing quite like moving through the night accompanied by the crunch of crampons on the ice. Of course, the snow is usually better too, therefore the going slightly easier.
Excellent time was made up the frozen Rio Mulhacen. The first few shafts of sunrise appeared on the upper part of the west flank. Arriving at the summit in the dark is a beautiful and somewhat eerie experience. Not to be missed!
Sunrise after a night ascent of Mulhacen
And of course there is nobody else around. Who else in their right minds would do this? To look down on the twinkling lights of the awakening coast. To see the hills of Morocco outlined across the Mediterranean sea. To see the constantly changing colours of sunrise affect the snow covered mountainsides.
Changing light hits the upper slopes of Tajos de los Machos
And, to know, as the dawn, approaches, that you will heading back down as the rest are tucking into their breakfasts. An experience not many will have had.
Photos courtesy of Maika Nicholson. Blog report at http://maika2010.blogspot.com/2010/03/11413-feet.html
Beautiful sunrise on the descent of Mulhacen