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MORAN: Intense hiking in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains

The author is pictured at the peak of the Lujar Mountain with the highest mountains in Spain in the background
February 01, 2017 - 12:07 PM

 


OPINION


Today I hiked a vertical mile up a mountain in the south of Spain. Because of the nine-hour time difference, I went up and down while British Columbians were asleep.

One of the main reasons I have been touring around Spain all winter is to stay in good physical shape for the upcoming growing season where I will forage herbs and mushrooms across southern B.C. I doubt I will do any hikes bigger than the one I did today. Reaching the peak felt like I also reached the peak of achieving a personal goal.

The Sierra Nevada mountain range includes the highest mountain on Continental Spain, the Mulhacén. Mulhacén has a peak of 3,400 meters. On the far eastern end of these mountains lies the city and province of Almeria. On the western end is the city and province of Granada. I will be exploring the city of Granada for a week starting Friday. This will complete my tour of the mountainous south, from the vast Almerian desert valley to the eucalyptus forests and narrow gorges of Granada.

The peak of the Mulhacén in the distance visible from the desert of Almeria.
The peak of the Mulhacén in the distance visible from the desert of Almeria.

The mountain range is heavily subdivided and each set of peaks is named after the nearest village. Today I was climbing the Lujar across the valley from the Mulhacén in the Los Alpujarras valley, which holds my current host city of Órgiva. From the peak of the Lujar mountain (named after the small village on its south slope) a person can see the tallest peaks in Spain, and then turn around and look out at the Mediterranean Sea and Africa.

The tall cap of the Mulhacén was the centerpiece of a distant and hazy view from the desert in Almeria, and I have done a nearly complete loop to explore near its base. This mountain is made particularly accessible because there are three famous ancient 'white villages' on its slopes. The white villages are Pampaneira at the bottom, Bubion in the middle, and Capileira at the top. The bottom of Pampaneira is at 1,000 meters in elevation, while the top of Capileira is at 1,400 meters. The villages are each a kilometer apart if you can find the medieval trails connecting them. These villages make an excellent starting point for an excursion to the surrounding peaks. In the recent past the Spanish government shutdown the road crossing the mountains, making this area the closest you can get by car. It is such a treat to return from a mountain hike and have a selection of cafes and restaurants available. It sure beats hot dogs and chocolate bars on the Coquihalla.

The white villages of Granada visible across the valley below the snow line.
The white villages of Granada visible across the valley below the snow line.

For the perfect round trip in this part of Spain, start on the west end of the mountains in the city of Granada or the east end in Almeria, and do a loop around the north and south sides of the Sierra Nevada mountains, stopping at as many villages as possible along the way. Cycling, rock-climbing, hiking, or just cruising around, it's all good here. Don't come in July or August, it is too hot and the tour companies don't run.

I have had my fill of the country life for now and next week I will be checking in from the city of Granada. Granada has a reputation for flamenco, the most visited attraction in Spain (Alhambra), and high quality tapas. The tapas is free with drinks, so there may be a slight bias. I have had a wonderful journey, but I have a feeling the best is yet to come.


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