The start of it

For a long time, whilst out walking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we have come across footpath signs to Sulayr but we were never able to connect the signs to any known path, they always seemed to point to somewhere high in the Sierra Nevada. Then in August 2009 whilst on the Mulhacen mountain bus Paco, the guide, explained that it was a 300 km circular path running around the Sierra Nevada National park.
Slowly my interest in this walk was aroused, but it always looked like it would be a ambition never undertaken. The path runs around the Sierras at about 2000 meters, and the thought of taking our poor little Renault Kangoo up all those access tracks to the start of a new section of the walk filled me with dread, it was our only car.
In 2011 the chance came to buy another car, and the thought of walking the Sulayr path gained momentum. What was needed were some good buddies to share the experience. My wife has always classed the “The A Team” of the Lecrin Valley Limpers as something out of “The Last of the Summer Wine”. A group of old men who go out in to the mountains for the day and come home raggy arsed, tired and dirty. After careful consultation with fellow team members who jumped at the chance of expeditions into the high Sierras I decided to buy a small 4X4.
This is the story as it unfolds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

21st June 2011 Section 9 to the Mirador

After last weeks exertions, voted the hardest walk so far, we decided that this week we would choose an easy section, or in Grahams words a “Micky mouse walk”. With the mercury continuing to raise we had an early start as we headed up the Alpujarra for Laroles and the  Puerta Ragua road.
With Rene setting off for the UK her seat in the car was sublet to Dr Mike. We had been looking forward to Mike joining us on a few walks, no longer would birds be little brown jobbies, we would have the definitive sub species name and a complete resume of its habits.
The plan was to complete section 9 and walk to the Mirador, the point we had got to in this section a few weeks ago. The Sulayr path crosses the Ragua road and so access is very easy in a normal car, what is difficult is actually finding the path because it is poorly signed and overgrown.
The path is only 8 km to the Mirador, and starts by climbing up through a pine forest eventually coming out on the forest road that skirts around the edge of the Sierra Nevada National park. With no obvious alternative way back we would be walking the route in both directions.
Last week I mentioned that I could not agree with Mike’s and Cees’s discovery of finding an Acequia (small canal) flowing uphill, it defied the laws of nature. My views going against their combined wisdom were met with derision and it looked like the whole episode might blow up into another Pine Marten scandal. As we were walking up a gently raising forest road section we noticed that there was a small stream flowing alongside it, this was also flowing up hill. Unable to believe this phenomena we marked the position and promised to scientifically investigate it on the way back.
We arrived at the Mirrador in just over 2 hours and, whilst there was not a lot of climbing, it was a respectable pace in the heat and there were numerous stops to admire the fauna and flora.  With a plan in place to resolve the mystery of the up hill stream we set off to investigate. Approaching from the opposite direction, what had appeared to be an up hill section was now a downhill section on a uphill path, simple an optical illusion, to confirm this we took GPS readings at both ends which confirmed a fall of a metre along the length of the water flow. The boys from Lecrin, and this was first time we did not have a girl with us, have proved that the Alpujarran legend that the moors had invented a way to make water flow up hill is a myth. I feel sure other great scientific oddities will be solved as we continue our journey.
We found a delightful shady spot with picnic tables for lunch and then continued back to the car, one of our options for the walk was that after reaching the car we would continue on for another couple of Kilometers to finish section 9 but storm clouds were building and by the time we arrived back it was thundering, no one seemed keen to continue the walk and we decided a glass of beer might be the better option.
It was at this point that Kees announced that he had lost his glasses. We have known Kees for some time now and have come to accept some misfortune will occur at sometime during the day. We ascertained that if he had indeed lost them it would have been within the last 2km. With the clouds now black, the thunder getting more intense and heavy rain only a few minutes away, we all agreed he should go back and look for them, we would wait for him in the car. After searching the car and rucksack one final time his glasses were discovered in Rays sac, another case of a Kees calamity. With that we set of for Laroles and the bar and some tasty tapas. Another enjoyable day out.    
The walkers Mike, Kees, Ray, Dr Mike, and myself.
Distance walked on route today, 8.2 km. Total distance today 16.4 km. Height climbed today 228 metres. Total distance walked on the Sulayr path 116.9 km. Distance left to do 184.1 km. Total height climbed 8370 metres. Total distance walked 257.2 km.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

17th June 2011 Section 6 Capilerira to Treveléz

Our walk this week took us to Capaileria to walk the complete section 6 to Treveléz. With a bit of careful planning we had worked out that we had sufficient time, if we left Capileira by 9am, to do the 17.5 km route to Treveléz, have a beer, and catch the bus back to Capileira. This is the only section of the walk so far that we have been able to walk like this and use the bus to get back. It would make a nice change to be able to do a complete section in one day and not have to return the same way. It was also one of the few sections where a 4X4 was not needed so it was an open invitation to anyone, needless to say it was the usual crazy gang who turned up.
We made good time to Capileria in the morning rush hour, one car overtook us at Beznar and I don’t think we saw another. We arrived in time for a pit stop and coffee before the start of the walk.
For the first km the route follows the road up from Capileira before heading off up hill on two steep sections to cut out the long zig zags of the road. The path then sets off at a gentle climb across country, well in some places it was gentle but a lot of it was in shade and we did manage a good pace.
Passing through a forested section that the Medio Ambiente were thinning we noticed a lone hiker in front. This was going to be a first, someone else was on our route, we would be able to share experiences, if Graham had been with us, we might even have able to bond with her. Sadly, as we gained on her, she dashed off and started hugging a tree. I have heard about these people and seen them on TV, so we thought it best if we just gave her a quick nod of the head and leave her in peace.
The path continues upwards, coming out on the road again at Hoya del Portillo, this is as far as the general public can drive up the lower slopes of Mulhacen. We continued up the road a couple of kms, attaining a maximum altitude of 2243 metres, before picking up the path heading back down to Trevelez.
We were making good time, and that beer at the end of the walk was already starting to taste good. The path twists and turns as it slowly makes its way towards Trevelez, eventually meeting up with the GR7.
There are only two buses back from Trevelez in the afternoon and we planned to catch the first one at 4pm. With 4.5 km left to travel we estimated that we should arrive at 3.10, that cool beer was sure  going to taste nice. Five minutes later and disaster set in, our intended route to Treveléz was closed and a diversion had been set in place, what should have been a high speed level track was replaced with a steep 150 metre drop into a barranco at the bottom of which was a fast flowing river.
What had impressed us on this section was the number of new bridges that had been installed, even across tiny streams we could have jumped over. What did we get to cross the fast flowing river? 4 logs tied together with a bit of wire, a real test for Mike and Cees.
The problem with loosing 150 metres going down into a barranco is that generally you have to climb out up the other side, and this was no exception. In the morning, when we were fresh, our 700 metre climb was relatively easy, at 2.30 in the afternoon, and with temperatures in the low thirties it was a different matter. To make matters worse the diversion had slowed us down, and our estimated bar time was down to a few minutes.
Regaining our route our pace increased and we soon made it into the upper barrio of Treveléz and the end of the path, it was now 3.50 and the cool beer was a distant memory, what was more important was the 4 pm bus. The bus stop was at least a 15 minute walk away. Passing through the middle barrio we noticed someone waiting at another bus stop, after an in depth discussion we ascertained that the bus also stopped here, 30 seconds later the bus appeared and we were safely on our way back to Capileira, we could not have timed that if we had tried. The only thing missing was the cold beer, but there are bars in Capileira.
There are a lot of stories in the Alpujarras that the moors, when they were constructing their acequia ( small irrigation canals), had found a way of overcoming gravity, and were able to make water flow uphill. Kees, who is Dutch, claims to have witnessed this phenomena in the past whilst out on our expeditions. We came across one of these nature defying acequia today, personally I thought the water was going down hill, but I did promise to review it after a few beers. Sadly I have to report, even with my beer goggles on, I did not witness water flowing up hill. Our scientific journal of our travels around the Sierra Nevada remains true and believable.

This was the last walk for Rene for a while as she is off “woofing” in the UK, we don’t ask what her duties will be.
An excellent day out and, after the beer, the hard uphill sections just magically disappeared.
The walkers Mike, Kees, Rene, Ray, and myself.
Distance walked on route today, 20.5 km. Total distance today 20.5 km. Height climbed today 1038 metres. Total distance walked on the Sulayr path 108.7 km. Distance left to do 192.3 km. Total height climbed 8142 metres. Total distance walked 240.8 km.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 10th 2011 Section 1 to La Cortijuela

Our plan this week was to do the second part of section 1 from the Rio Monachil to La Cortijuela, which is up by the Botanical gardens behind Cumbres Verde. We needed two cars again this week because there were six of us. I thought we might be able to get both cars to the start of the walk but, when we came to the off road bit, it was obvious Mike’s car would not be happy on the rough track, so we left it by the side of the road and all six piled into the Suzuki. Arriving at what we thought was the start of the walk we could not find any way markers or signs, and the track crossed the river which we did not fancy doing because there wasn't a bridge. A quick consultation with the Tomtom showed that we were 2km short of our destination so following her directions we set off up a road marked “No Entry”, we thought if we were going to be stopped for having 6 in the car, we might as well go the whole hog. Another 5 minutes in the car and no sign of the Guardia we came to the correct starting point. We were soon kitted up and off on what promised to be a great days walking.
After 20 metres we came to a halt the, same river that had stopped us in our tracks a few minutes before needed crossing and without a bridge it meant it was going to be wet feet again. I am getting quite an affinity to the Rio Monachil as last time I came across it I fell in from a great height. With no alternative we took our boots off and rolled up the trousers and made the crossing. At this time of year with a lot of snow still to melt on the Sierras the water was cool! The track is well graded and follows the Rio Monachil as it climbs up through an oak forest towards Pradollano. Eventually the track turns into a path as it climbs steeply in the direction of La Cortijuela, what had been a pleasant green wooded valley suddenly became covered in wild flowers, it was like one gigantic garden. No wonder the Botanical gardens are sighted in this area, it is wonderful.
We had to drop about 200 metres down through another forest to reach the information centre at La Cortijuela where we met a very nice young lady who explained the various flora and fauna of the area.We also met two young women who were doing research on the indigenous animals in this area, what a nice cushy job they had. We put them to good use and asked them to take our photo. Now you would think when you are having your photo taken there is only one place in which to look, five of us managed this easily, the Dutch guy didn’t.
It was now well past lunch time but we had to retrace our steps back up the 200 metres we had happily come down a few minutes previously, and it is never a good idea to walk up hill after a meal, so up the hill we went, stopping off at the top in very pleasant surroundings for our well deserved meal.
After lunch we continued on the same route back to the car, the hillsides were not conducive to finding an alternative route. Arriving back at the river crossing it was now nice and refreshing to take the boots off and wade across the river again. I am happy to report that this time I, and indeed everyone, managed to get across without falling in.
We drove back to the main road on a different route but we had to drop Cees and Rene off at the pub when we reached the Carretera de la Sierra Nevada, whilst we went to recover Mikes car. We had an excellent walk and we will have to repeat it again in the spring time next year. The Sulayr path is turning into a great adventure with each new sector eagerly anticipated. This was the last walk for Graham for a while as he is returning to the UK for the summer. No doubt there will be an end to the drought in the UK and we will have another nice long hot summer.
The walkers Mike, Kees, Rene, Graham, Ray, and myself.
Distance walked on route today, 9 km. Total distance today 18.1 km. Height climbed today 793 metres. Total distance walked on the Sulayr path 88.2 km. Distance left to do 212.8 km. Total height climbed 7105 metres. Total distance walked 220.3 km.  

Friday, June 3, 2011

31 May Section 18 Peña Patida ?

We had big hopes for our walk this week, it is described in the book as being the most spectacular and attractive section of the walk and I did not want Graham to miss out on this bit of it when he returns to the UK next week to draw his first pension down at the Post Office. We planned to do Section 18 from Peña Partida down to the Refugio Vivac El Calvario.  It seemed a shame that Rene would miss out after having endured our previous days out, but we had a full team of boys this week. The biggest obstacle for more than 5 people doing the walk is suitable vehicles to get to up to the Sulayr path, generally it needs something with good ground clearance. As we were passing through Gúéjar Sierra we thought it was a good idea to issue an invitation to Mark to join us on one of our adventures, and he does have a car that can get up the campo tracks. This would also allow Rene to come along as the token girl and to keep us under control. So with 2 cars we made our way to Marks house where we exchanged vehicles and set off again, with the Tomtom set on our final destination. On other occasions, when we have used it, it has done a superb job of finding the route, but in Gúéjar I suspect that due to the steep sided valley she missed the turning (notice now it is SHE missed the turning) fortunately Mark knew the route so we followed him instead. The road up to Peña Partida is about 20km long and climbs some 1200 metres along the way. The higher we climbed the more spectacular the views became, at times it felt you could touch all the surrounding 3000 metre mountains. Some 6km short of our destination our progress came to an abrupt halt, a substantial chain was strung across the road, this gave us no option but to park up and walk.
We had originally planned to walk about 15 km with a steep 600 metre climb on the way back, so adding another 12km and 400 metres of ascent was really going to push the walk to the limit. We followed the road and soon arrived at the refugio at Peña Partida and we were surprised to find another group of walkers already there, it was a bigger surprise to find that they were English and that they were planning to go up onto the 3000 metre ridge. By now the clear weather, that we had set off with, was starting to cloud over a bit, so we decided to abandon our planned route, on section 18 and do a shorter walk on section 17. Unfortunately, we had not brought the map showing the path for section 17 and the route out of the Refugio was not way marked, but there was a very good path heading in approximately the right direction, the only problem was it was going up and we should have been going down, but with no other obvious route we set off to follow the path, it did not really matter where we went. We were above the snow line and the views were stunning, we had Veleta, Mulhacen and Alcazaba at our finger tips.
Arriving at a point above the valley of the Lavaderos de la Reina, and with our path continuing to climb, we decided to drop down and investigate this very popular area. The Sulayr path crosses this valley and we hoped we could find a trace of it. With the clouds starting to roll in and finding no sign of the path we decided to make our way back to the Refugio for lunch. Having abandoned our plans to knock some miles off our walk we started to make our way back to the cars, this is when we discovered an unmarked path, following it for about 100 metres we came across 2 Sulayr marker posts, I will have to write to Enreke about this one. Returning to our homeward track we found a new path that skirted along the top of the Estrella gorge and gave us superb views all the way back to the cars. We were not really entitled to a celebratory beer after our walk this week, so we went round to Marks, for a cup of tea instead. All was not lost, we did walk a section of our route. Yes I know spending a full day walking and actually managing to knock off 100 metres is not what us mountain men are used to, but at least we can look forward to doing this section again in the future. A good day out, a fantastic area.
The walkers Mike, Kees, Rene, Graham, Ray, Mark and myself.
Distance walked on route today, 0.1 km. Total distance today 15.7 km. Height climbed today 512 metres. Total distance walked on the Sulayr path 79.2 km. Distance left to do 220.8 km. Total height climbed 6312 metres. Total distance walked 202.2 km.