Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tomies Wood Loop...Perhaps For The Last Time

Today I went with Frank for another gander on the Kerry Mountains. The forecast was rubbish and when I got up at six and heard the rain pelting against the window it would have been so easy to say to hell with this and head back to bed but a date with Francis called so I packed up the waterproofs and caught the train to Killarney. After a short discussion we opted to head for Tomies Wood and climb Tomies mountain and if the wind allowed do a semi-horseshoe back to the end of the wood via Shehy Mt. This was the route I had hoped to do when I last visited this area in December 2015 when, while trying for a hill run I tore the medial ligament in my right knee (which still gives me grief) on another windy day. We donned full metal jacket and left the car at 08.15 and after walking through the farm we entered the shelter of the wood.

Almost immediately we were treated to the sight of a group of perhaps fifteen red deer crossing the roadway up ahead of us, including several stags. Here in the shelter I felt overdressed and stuffy with all the clothes on as despite the wind and rain it was quite mild. I heated up further when after a few kilometres we left the forest road and climbed steeply up and out of the wood into the open bog. Now though we felt the full effects of the wind and rain and I began to be glad of the added layers. The long slog up through the saturated boggy ground was tough and when you combined that with the fact that the wind was in our face it was (as Frank said) akin to walking uphill through soft sand. We stuck at it and eventually reached the summit (735mtrs) at 10.25. Its fair to say it wasn't a spot to linger but I was pleased to find that the wind was manageable. ..just, and we could stick to our original plan and head for Shehy. Horizontal rain and buffering gales made for continued tough progress but eventually we reached the turnoff for Shehy and now the wind was at our back. We progressed rapidly and again didn't delay on the 762mtr summit but dropped quickly down the ridge to the broad spur that turns towards the end of the woods. We were in the cloud all the while and we missed the final turn off the spur and went too far past the woods which meant that, in order to avoid  trying to navigate through  dense Rhododendron we had to contour back through some steep wooded and interesting ground before we were able to reach the forest road again. We enjoyed a bite to eat during a lull in the rain and then walked easily back to the car. We had thoroughly enjoyed the "invigorating" outing in weather that Frank described as relentless.

We were in fine form as we walked back through the farm but I knew something was up when I saw the farmer making a direct line across the paddock towards us. We shared an amicable greeting and he politely enquired about our route and when we had started. He then told us that access was no longer permitted to the wood through his property. I told him that we were genuinely unaware and we apologized for inconveniencing him and we parted on friendly terms. I wouldn't be best known for my diplomacy but there really wouldn't have been any point in argueing and any harsh words might jeopardize any future possible conciliation. It is none the less terribly disappointing to once again encounter such issues and I feel the time is long since past when proper legal access rights should have been established. Having just returned from a hiking trip abroad, the backward attitudes that are tolerated here are all the tougher to stomach. It was a sad development in an otherwise smashing outing.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Winter Week In The Sierra Nevada Mountains Spain

This being such a mild winter and there being nothing in the way of winter conditions available even in Scotland, I turned my attention elsewhere and flew to Malaga in the south of Spain and headed for the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I knew there had been plenty of snow in the area and I had dreams of multi day trips camping very high, basking in warm sun whilst traversing icy snow slopes. Alas it didn't quite work out that way but it was enjoyable none the less.

Wednesday February 8th;
One bonus this time was that I was flying from my local airport, Cork, so I was able to work as normal in the morning before heading in the evening for my flight at 19.45. I got the train to the city and wanted to catch the connecting bus to the airport but there was a long delay with the bus and myself and another guy shared a taxi to the airport. We sorted out the fare between us and we entered the terminal together. Just after I went through the doors I realized that I had left a small bag containing my passport, camera and other valuables in the taxi and I dashed back out but there was no sign of car. Christ damm and bugger..panic, wild looks around etc and I dashed across the drop off zones and headed up across the grass bank and reached the exit road just in time to flag an approaching taxi down and lo and behold it was my guy and I retrieved my bag. Much relief ensued and I returned to the terminal to await my flight. There was a very noisy group heading south for a stag do and they made full use of the one hour delay to the flight to soak up extra drink before take off and lets just say it was something of a relief to exit Malaga airport at midnight, local time. A short walk to the Holiday Inn and I was finally settled in my room by 00.30. I was ready for bed.

Thursday February 9th;
Up at 6am and down for a decent breakfast and I caught a bus into the city centre in good time to catch my bus to Granada, where I planned to get some gas and thus be self sufficient for my wander into the wild. It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed the views of the obviously arid landscape on the two hour trip. Time was also helped to pass by the use of the touch screen media centre on the back of the seat in front that provided internet access...nice. It was a lovely sunny day when I reached Granada and as my next bus connection to my starting point (the mountain village of Niguelas) didn't leave for 90minutes I had lots of time to walk to a Decathlon store and get my supplies. The views of the nearby snow clad peaks of the Sierra Nevadas was great and my anticipation heightened. The 40 minute bus ride to Niguelas passed through some nearby towns and if I could have opened a window it would have been an easy task to pluck an orange from one of the trees that often lined the pavements. The bus stop was actually over a kilometer from the village but I wasn't bothered and it felt great to be starting out on another little adventure. Orchards lined the narrow road that led to the village and it was delightful to see Cherry and Almond trees in blossom this early in the year.
View from the bus station in Granada

After leaving the bus and heading up to Niguelas

The flora is certainly different here abouts
Entering the village

It was 1pm by the time I entered the whitewashed little streets of the village and I paused and enjoyed a bite to eat in a little square by the church where old men sat about and set the problems of the world to right. It was a delightful tableau and a scene that I guess hasn't changed or a long long time. I should perhaps say as well that as the weather forecast wasn't great for the following days and I had decided to follow the GR7 for the first couple of days and reassess my options after that. Lets just say that myself and the GR7 didn't get on 😕. Oh I  found it all right on the edge of the village but I managed to almost immediately lose it again so after much perusal of the map I formulated a new plan. I followed the dirt road that rises gently through the deep valley and follows the river until cresting into a more open valley (Tajo Bernal) from where I could reach the wild high ground below the most westerly 3000mtr peak of the range Cerro del Caballo 3005mtrs. The snow line was up at around 2200 or 2300mtrs and I was hoping to reach that. My my but the bag was heavy and it was also very noticeable just how much stronger the sun was down here. It was a beautiful sunny day and really quite warm. Food for four days , ice axe and crampons plus all the other necessities for a self sufficient trip meant I had around 18 kilos aboard but I made slow but steady progress and eventually I reached the spur called Loma de los Tres Mojones. At around the 1700mtr contour I followed a rough track through some scrubby gorse and when I rounded a bend I suddenly found myself looking a magnificent specimen of a bull complete with a large set of horns just a few meters away. This wasn't the heavy, bred for beef sort found in Ireland but an athletic beast that would probably eventually be found in the ring 😠. To say I got a fright would be an understatement and I have no doubt if he had made any sudden moves I would have shit myself. I just looked away and moved quietly onward until I was well past, just occasionally glancing back to reassure myself he wasn't following me.
Some spectacular ground early doors

Getting higher

Huge and very deep valley

Some caves

First campsite at 2450mtrs
When I once again felt safe I started to realize that I was out of water and there wasn't any to be found. I pressed on and eventually I reached some snow patches where I ate some like ice lollies. I reached a point where the dirt road contours around the head of the valley at the 2100mtr level and here I left it and climbed directly up the crest of the ridge all the while keeping an eye out for a possible camping spot. Things weren't looking too promising at first as flat spots were scarce and what vegetation there was was decidedly spiky in nature. I pushed on until I reached the point at 2450mtrs where the ridge levels off for several hundred meters and thankfully I soon found a spot. It was now gone 17.30 and I'd been on the go for five and a half hours. I was tired and dehydrated. Even though the day had been quite warm it was now reading -1 on my watch and I had no trouble believing it. I set up camp and started boiling snow for some tea. Before long I was warming up nicely in my sleeping bag. Once cozy I came back out to enjoy the superb views and then enjoyed the spectacular sunset. Once darkness had fallen I settled once again into my tent to catch up on some well deserved rest. At least that was the plan but by 9pm I noticed a distinct strengthening of the wind and by 11pm I was beginning to wonder if the tent would be able to withstand the onslaught. When the gusts became even more violent and the tent was being flattened against me I decided to up sticks and head for lower ground. I packed everything up and retraced my steps back to the dirt road and followed it as it contoured at the back of the valley. It was some relief to find a level and sheltered spot before too long and I quickly re-pitched  my tent. It was 01.15 when I re-entered  by sleeping bag but at least now I could get some sleep.

Wonderful sunset

Lights of Granada

Friday February 10th;

I didn't get up until well after 8am and while the wind had abated somewhat the cloud had rolled in and occasional mist blew around. Some horses were grazing nearby when I emerged from the tent. I had hoped to climb Cerro del Caballo today but after dropping down some 300mtrs from my original spot last night I was now faced with nearly 1000mtrs to reach the summit that would have been a days effort in itself. I doubted there would be any pleasure in it in the strong winds and no views to be had so I decided to contour around Pena Caballera and Cuna (two long spurs, of several, that stretch southwards from the big central crest of the massif) and aim for a recreation area at a spot called Puenta Pano. It made for an easy start to the day as for about 10 kilometers things were pretty level before I joined a rough trail that dropped to a small collection of houses in the next valley at a place called Tello. Here a footbridge crossed the Rio Lanjaron and I was able to follow a dirt road that rose and contoured around Lona de Canar (another south reaching spur) and then directly to my campsite (hopefully). I should also say that all of todays route followed the GR240, a route that circles the whole range at a high altitude but wasn't marked on my map 😕. Tello was the lowest point of the route at around 1500mtrs and the rest of the day was spent either just below or just in the cloud at around the 1900 mtr mark. Even though the conditions were less than perfect I was still enjoying myself. I do like the solitude that is to be found and I didn't come across another person all day. It was however much chillier today and the warmth of yesterdays sun was missing. It was easier to appreciate that you were up at a pretty high altitude and, even this far south, you knew it was winter. The trail down to Tello traversed some exposed ground and in one place it had collapsed which made for a few very "delicate" meters but otherwise things were very straightforward.
A misty morning and some visitors

Still lovely when the views appeared

 Finally the rain that had occasionally threatened arrived shortly after 3pm while I was still a few kilometers from the campsite. This quickly turned to wet snow and when I finally reached the chosen spot things were quite damp and the landscape was turning white. I quickly scouted around for a spot for my tent and settled on one of the few level spots to be found which was under a tall stand of pines. I set up my home for the night and after getting my supply of water for the evening I changed out of my damp things and made some tea. It had been a fairly stress free six hour plus day, so it was only 17.30 when I was finished my brew. Too early for dinner and being nice and warm I settled down to doze for a bit. Next thing I knew it was gone 9pm and while I was deciding  whether or not to make dinner I dozed some more. Well let's just say that dinner never came while I caught up on sleep. At least I did until the snow, which had been falling steadily, started to accumulate on the tent walls and press in on the inner. To make matters worse (and I know I should know better) the snow that had been gathering on the canopy above now started to drop in clumps that would occasionally land with considerable force on the tent. My restful first half of the night was long forgotten by the time dawn arrived. At least I hadn't had to move this time.

Saturday February 11th;

Poor old tent looking a bit sorry for itself

High trees meant a long fall for the clumps of snow
Deep snow

Snow had fallen a long way down

 There is a hike that starts from the recreation area that climbs to the peak of Pico del Tajo de los Machos which at 3088mtrs would have made for a very worthy days effort in its own right. Any notions I had of trying for it were immediately dispelled when I emerged from my tent in the morning. Almost a foot of snow had fallen and any rough trails were well and truly hidden under a deep blanket of snow. I decided instead to head for the mountain village of Capileira which is one of the famous "White Villages" of the Alpujarra Mountains (basically the southern side of the Sierra Nevada). I had then thought I might follow again the GR240 whose markers appeared to climb over a spur of Loma del Matanza but I abandoned this idea as, if I came to a section of track like there was above Tello, it would have been super tricky and practically impossible to find or follow under deep snow. I opted instead to follow a dirt road until it reached the crest of the spur at Loma Navarra 1500mtrs before then contouring around into the deep valley that held the three villages of Pampaneire 1008mtrs, Bubion 1300mtrs and finally Capileira at 1436mtrs. After two less than ideal nights camping I got online and found myself a little hotel for the night in Capileira (Hotel Rural Poqueira 2, ver nice👍) which would give me a chance to get my damp stuff nice and dry. Despite the deep snow the going was fairly easy as I was once again going gently downhill and when I reached a point where someone had driven I was able to follow the tyre tracks😁. I even met a couple snow-shoeing up against me and these were the first two people I'd seen since I left Niguelas.

The snow had stopped but the cloud remained but I was enjoying the winterscape I wandered through. This kind of walking along civilized roads makes things pretty simple and being dirt roads it is easier on the body than tarmac. I reached the crest of the spur and turned into the deep valley that held the three villages that I could now see below me. What a delightful sight they made and I was looking forward to seeing what they were like up close. First though I had to get to the base of the valley and cross the Rio Poqueira that cut through it. This proved easier said than done as there was no way-marked trail here and the dirt roads that I had hoped would lead easily to a crossing point petered out at some old farm buildings and I found my myself following a faint overgrown track that ran alongside a water culvert (or irrigation channel) and after much weaving and ducking under branches etc I reached a dead end tantalizingly close to where I wanted to be. Some scrambling down overgrown steep terraced ground saw me eventually reach the road at the hydro station below
Pampaneira. Nothing ever seems to work out quite as simple as I first anticipate😕. I was now once again on the GR7, yea😃 and it followed the road up towards the village above. Just on the outskirts of the village it left the road and climbed directly up towards Bubion some 250mtrs above. I set off but once again I somehow managed to lose the way and ended up having to negotiate the terraced steep ground and try and find my own way. I eventually reached the edge of the village and suddenly there was the trail again. Oh dear.
The "white villages"

In Bubion

Approaching Capileira
I had stopped for a bit to eat on the drag up so I didn't feel too bad as I entered the very quaint, very beautiful little village. It was a semi chaotic jumble of whitewashed boxes, adorned with adorable collections of chimneys, and tumbling lanes that allowed one to peer into a world that seemed from another era. I ambled unhurriedly up through the delightful streetscape and reveled in the feeling that I was really somewhere quite different. Even though it was a Saturday it wasn't too busy and only a few tourist ambled about. Upon reaching the upper edge I didn't bother trying to find or follow the trail to Capileira and merely followed the road for the mile or so until I entered this equally delightful village. I strolled into the centre (it didn't take long) and spotted my hotel and I was soon unburdened and enjoying a wonderful (and very much needed) shower. I spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and exploring the village and its surroundings.In the late afternoon the sun broke through and the white walls were at times blinding in the sunshine. The snow covered high peaks that loomed above the valley also made an appearance. A very nice end to the day.
The high mountains come into view when the weather improves

I don't think a Hummer would be much use here

Capileira is truly lovely
Typical chimneys

Sunday February 12th;

Thanks to the availability of WiFi I had been able to get an updated picture of the weather forecast and I had decided to head up as far as the Refugio Poqueira at just shy of 2500mtrs today and stay in this manned refuge overnight. With a bit of luck I would be able to make an attempt at climbing Mulhacén, (which at 3482mtrs, is the highest peak in mainland Spain) the following day. The snows of Friday night and Saturday morning still lay down to the 1600mtr contour so it promised to be a tough but interesting climb. It was a lovely weather day with little in the way of wind and only light clouds that promised to break up later. The trail starts at the edge of the village and contours easily above the steep valley. After about three kilometers you reach a narrow road that drops down to the curious collection of buildings that I believe were built for workers of the adjacent hydro electric scheme. At its edge there is a strange church like building with a curious painting of a baby on one  inside gable wall. After this point you enter a narrow ravine and after climbing up one steep side you re-emerge into a more open valley complete with grazing cattle. After passing the "farm" the track follows the  cascading Rio Naute and crosses over it several times until eventually at Hoya de Capitan where you cross it for the final time and begin climbing the slopes that lead to the refuge.
Leaving for the refuge
The refuge is way up there somewhere

The hydro scheme and the collection of houses (now disused)

Some male Ibex. There is a good population in the area.

My oh my I was struggling today. I had all my worldly possessions on my back but that didn't really excuse how tough I found the going. I did find that I had to go to the loo several times on the way up💩 so perhaps I had picked up some bug or other but either way it was draining. Progressing through the snow was helped by the fact that several groups were coming down from the refuge and a nice track in the snow had been formed. After passing a ruined refuge above the 2100mtr mark the way was marked with plastic pipes sticking up several feet from the snow and I tried to motivate myself by saying that I would walk (perhaps) to the fourth pole before stopping etc. Well by the time the refuge finally came into sight I was struggling to make it to the next pole before having to stop for a rest. The last of the people going down were getting ready to leave when I entered the warm refuge and it was a great relief to drop the bag and sit by the heater. I hadn't realized just how cold I had gotten until I was trying to change out of my boots etc. The man and woman that run the refuge were really nice and after lightly scolding me for not pre-booking they told me I was the only person staying there that night and I could basically choose whatever spot I liked. Oh but it was nice to changed into dry warm clothes and relax for the evening. They even had phone chargers and excellent WiFi so I was sorted out with entertainment for the night as well. The clouds lifted through the afternoon and for a while things were very pleasant if a little chilly (the outside thermometer hovered at 0) but in the evening the snow once again appeared and as I tried to sleep that night I was aware of a strengthening wind and there was evening a lightning storm for a while. My hopes of climbing high the next day were once again being dashed.
The way way back

The very fine Refugio Poqueira

Monday February 13th;

I had slept really poorly for some reason but I felt fine when I went down stairs in the morning. Peering out into the misty morning at the entrance to the refuge it was immediately clear that going up was out of the question and the bigger issue was how to get down. The already deep snow now was covered in a fresh mantle and it was even difficult to distinguish the entrance area of the refuge from the rest of the landscape. All traces of a trail were well covered so I settled down to wait for an improvement in the weather before making any decision. I hung around, listened to music and read and the weather cleared up beautifully by midday. Speaking to the guardienne she told me that there had been forty people staying over the weekend and nobody had gone for the summit so it seems that even if last nights snow hadn't materialized there wouldn't have been a nice track heading for the top. Ah well. There were 10 people booked in to stay that evening so I had a bite of lunch and set off down in the early afternoon. As expected the going was pretty tough as I wallowed through at times waist deep snow. At least I was going downhill. I managed to avoid too many pitfalls as I went from pole to pole and it was great to see some people heading up towards me further down. It couldn't have worked out much better really and I was able to enjoy a track after the poles ran out. I made it back into a sunny but quiet Capileira around 17.30 and settled into my hotel again for the night.
The weather clears but lots of new snow

A bit of a wallow..tough going

Looking back up


Tuesday February 14th;

It promised to be another fine day and it was clear blue skies all around when I emerged into the sleepy village for my final days hiking. The plan for today was to follow the GR7 from Bubion as it went over the spur of Loma de las Tonadas and then went through the villages of Portugos and Busquistar before the long stretch to Trevelez, which at 1476mtrs is the highest village in mainland Spain. I found the trail easily and followed it to the crest if the ridge. Here at over 1600mtrs I was afforded excellent views back to the high mountains and to the south the Mediterranean was easily seen. I followed the trail down to the sleepy hamlet of Capilerilla where, you guessed it I promptly lost the route 👀. I wasn't really in the mood to be going back and forth trying to re-establish the way so after consulting my map I opted to climb as far as another recreation area almost 300mtrs higher and from there follow a dirt road that promised to contour around and go all the was to Trevelez. The slog up was tough but once on the road it was delightful easy walking for miles. New vistas opened up and far off snow capped massifs came into view as well as the long deep valley through which flowed the Rio Trevelez. Eventually Trevelez itself came into view and it presented a true alpine scene as it nestled at the head of the valley and snowy peaks soaring to over 2500mtrs on either side of it.
An amazing morning with views down to the Mediterranean

Final views back to Capileira

Up at the Recreation Area

The mountains that rise to the east of Trevelez
On the map the GR7 appeared to come very close to the road about five kilometers from the village and after keeping an eye out for it I was delighted to spot it near a farm building. I should perhaps point out that when I say farm building I am not talking about a pristine modern construction but more like a dilapidated rustic low series of sheds with flat stone covered roofs (if intact). I dropped down and followed it but I was quite confused when it actually climbed and joined the road I had been on as it was supposed to drop away and take a more direct line to the village. I also now appeared to have once again been following the GR240 so I just followed the markings and eventually these eventually led me down to the village. As I neared the village the GR7 suddenly made a reappearance😕.
Aren't I pretty

The GR240 followed this road..out of sight the road had been washed away by a sandslip

Entering Trevelez

A glimpse of another era

Entering the upper stretches of Trevelez you are transported back to a bygone ere. This maze of little lanes bore little of the trappings of modern tourism and the colourful blankets guarding the open doorways and washing hanging on overhead balconies only added to the charm. Old men whiled away the time and I even saw a man leading a horse laden with bales as he headed for some place up the mountainside. I was encharmed. I continued on down and entered the more developed middle section but it was still a bit of a maze and I had to resort to using Google Maps to find my hotel (I know..I must be getting soft). I found it easily enough down in the lowest section and settled into my comfortable if basic accommodation six and a half hours after starting out. After a rest I had plenty time to stroll up through the village that is apparently famous for its hams. There certainly was plenty of evidence of this and some production facilities were dotted about and I passed several shops which has dozens and dozens of hams hanging from the ceiling (I hadn't seen one pig on my travels though). I reflected throughout the evening on my trip and while I hadn't managed to climb any of the peaks I still felt some satisfaction about what I had done and it had been great to experience somewhere new. I might try and return sometime and have another try at a high traverse of the massif. Personally I would avoid the summer months as it would be too hot and arid for my tastes but I guess the weather would have to play ball whenever I decide to go. That's the chance you take I guess when visiting the high mountains.

Class. Homm nomm nom

The return home on Wednesday was uneventful if long. A three hour plus bus ride back through the white villages to Granada was followed by another two hour bus ride to Malaga. I took the opportunity to spend over an hour walking around in this big bustling place before heading to the airport and  home.

I think its the largest wheel in Europe that is moveable

Heading home

 Before I return though I really must try to learn a little Spanish.