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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

25 th October 2011 El Rosal to El Toril

Cold on El Toril

For a while Mike has been talking about doing a walk greater than 26.3 km, this was his previous personal best achieved on an earlier walk , I have kept hoping his silly idea would go away, and leave us just to potter away on our mission to conquer Sulayr. Last week he said he had found a part of section 14 from El Rosal to El Toril that we still needed to do finish, and with a return journey of 28 km it would fulfill his ambition. Not wanting to disappoint the lad we put it down for  this weeks challenge. This was not going to be a Micky Mouse walk, it would sort the men from the boys.
The weather has suddenly changed from beautiful Autumn days to wet and unpredictable, but luckily the forecast for our Tuesday walk in the mountains was for sunshine. Once again it was a long 140km drive to the start of the walk, necessitating another 7 am start. We left Rene’s car in Granada and, driving in convoy with Marks trusty little Renault following on behind us, we headed for our start above the village of Huéneja.
We had tried to do a section of this walk on the 3rd of May, but the weather was wet when we arrived so we only managed a short section from La Rosal to Piedra Negra. So our starting point this week should have been La Rosal but I had a better plan. We would park about 3 km short of La Rosal then, without packs, we would have a rapid walk on a level forest road there and back to the car,after that loading up with the packs we would  continue on with the next 22 km. The sun was shining as we set off, and whilst not hot it was a pleasant temperature for walking. Or it was until you were walking in the shade when the temperature fell to just above freezing, and then you remembered why you always carried a pack with hat, gloves and a warm jacket in it. The only option was to walk faster, arriving back at the car we discovered we had done 9km.
Now with full packs we set off again, but we let Plym go first to have a few moments on her own. When we were given the all clear to proceed there was no sign of her on the path, she had got herself lost and had only gone 25 metres.
The track headed up hill for a half hour, at the top we stopped for a bite to eat, by now the weather was changing again and the clouds were closing in on us, but the path was well marked and we felt it safe to proceed. For a large part the route is along a forest road. This is until you come to the end of it and it falls over a precipice. No signs, no barrier, no rocks, just a shear drop.
At this point the path takes to the forest again along a delightful meandering path. Our destination was El Toril, but the last time we were here, on the 24th May, there was a bit of confusion as to exactly where it was. Normally at the start of each tramo there is a sign board giving you directions. On this section the board is about 2 km short of the actual point, there must have been a logical reason for this but it escapes me. So we went back to a point we knew we had been to before, this was after Rene was caught making a cross on the road and claiming she put it there last time.
We had a quick lunch but, with the weather continuing to deteriorate, we were soon heading back the way we had come. One thing that has consistently caused a ruckus within the group has been the Pine Marten. Graham first claimed to have seen not one but two back on section 9 to Fuente del Espino. All I said at the time was that we needed a verifiable sighting for me to write it up into our erstwhile journal. All he produced in his defence was Mike who thought he had seen a fox with short legs, given the state of Mike’s eyes it could well have been just that. In this case both Kees and myself saw a short legged, large, cat sized animal with a yellowish tinge to it’s bib climbing a Pine tree, it was not a bloody squirrel as Graham suggested. This was a genuine Pine Marten.
The way back was once again along our outbound route and this time it was mostly a very easy downhill stroll. We celebrated the 26.3 km mark by drawing a line across the road and cheering Mike as he crossed it. We still had just short of 4 km to go to get back to the car so not only did he exceed his record, he smashed it. I have told him anymore records that he wants to break he is on is own.
The weather kept fine all day but at times it was a little chilly and we did need the warm clothing we had with us.
We drove back into Huéneja and eventually found a bar that served delicious tapas. so we will have to call again when we return to this end of the Sierra’s. The only problem was getting out of the Publeo. After driving up and down various blind alleyways made for donkeys we had to switch the Tomtom on to get us out, we had lost Mark somewhere whilst we were doing one of the many multipoint turns, we thought it best if we left him to find his own way home. Unfortunately for Rene when she got back to her car, she had been issued with a €100 fine for parking on a bit of waste land down at AKI. With all the stupid parking that goes on around Granada this just does not make any sense.
For the record it appears that the walk was too much for Graham to handle and he is now on the sick with a bad foot, he is claiming we walked too fast for him.
The walkers Mike, Kees, Rene, Plym, Graham, Mark, and myself.

Distance walked on route today, 14.8 km. Total distance today 29.6 km. Height climbed today 719 metres. Total distance walked on the Sulayr path 208.5 km. Distance left to do 91.5 km. Total height climbed 16,035 metres. Total distance walked 470.6 km.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

11 October 2011 Postero Alto to Peñon del Herrero

Saved from certain death by the Lone Ranger

This week we headed back to the Refugio Postero Alto ( the Hobbit house we had last been to on the 18th July). This time we were walking East on section 16 towards Las Chorreras.
Once again with a long distance to travel we left at 7 am, but with Rene back from her holiday and Plym recovered from last week we needed two cars, Marks friend Kevin also wanted to come with us so we arranged to meet them in Granada and then proceeded to drive to Jérez del Marquesado. The last time we had driven up to the Refugio it was a rough old road but they had just been out with the grader. The road is now in good condition if a little dusty, poor Mark following on behind had no idea where he was going, he was in a dust cloud the whole way.
The path starts by following a fire break before heading in an easterly direction along the edge of the forest. It crosses a number of barrancos, each one becoming steeper the further we travelled.
We stopped at the top of Cerro de los Muertos, I know it was a climb but it was not that bad, for a bite to eat, before what we thought would be an easy down hill section to our destination. It was while we were relaxing and enjoying the views that we noticed that the way markings for our intended path had been marked with a cross and with new markings leading across the hillside. Not knowing any better we decided to follow the new route, well, it was not really a route, just a series of red and white markings scattered over the hillside in a haphazard fashion. What was worrying was that you could see our intended track far below, in the distance, but with no obvious way of getting there. Graham thought it best we continue along the new route. Just when things were looking pretty hopeless and that the “hill of the dead” would claim some more victims, in true Hollywood style “The Loan Ranger on his faithful horse Silver” came racing over the hillside, this guy must have been a stunt man in the old Spaghetti movies, filmed just down the road, he and his horse were fearless . All that was missing was his six shooter, Tonto and a posse of Indians. Fearing the worst we re-grouped into a protective circle and put the women at the front to protect us. Skidding to a halt in front of us he told us our route was mal and that we faced a certain death if we continued, he said that vandals had come in the middle of the night a while back and painted these signs all over the hill.
We had two choices, we could either return and pick up the proper path or he could guide us to a acequia which we could follow and get back to our path. So following his lead we headed off after him as he guided us safely across the hillside to the acequia, which we then followed for a couple of kilometres and rejoined our track. It was now only a short walk to Penón del Herrero which was our destination for the day.
After a quick lunch we started back the way we had come but at the junction with the acequia we followed the correct waymarked path down and into the barranco of the Rio Publeo. The guide book mentions that impressive boulders threaten to come rolling down the hillside into the barranco and indeed this is what looks to have happened a while back and hence the unofficial diversion, it is a pity that the signs are still there even though the correct route is now  restored. Climbing back to the summit of Cerro de los Muertos we stopped for a quick refreshment break, poor Kees had all his brownie points removed by Graham for having raced off to the summit whilst the rest of us struggled up the hill. We could see our destination of Postero Alto only 3 km away in a straight line but with all the barrancos obstructing the route we still had 7 km to go. Arriving back and disappointingly finding the refugio closed we headed off to find a bar in Jérez de Marquesado, the only one we knew of was also closed, so we had to wait until Guadix for our cooling beer.
It was a good walk and while the diversion could have led to a tricky situation our Cowboy made it a great day out.
The walkers Mike, Kees, Rene, Plym, Graham, Mark, Kevin and myself.

Distance walked on route today, 11.2 km. Total distance today 22.5 km. Height climbed today 906 metres. Total distance walked on the Sulayr path 193.7 km. Distance left to do 106.3 km. Total height climbed 15,316 metres. Total distance walked 441 km.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

4 October 2011 Section 18 Rio Vadillo

A short break after the steep climb

Our mission this week was to do a short section of tramo 18 that is difficult to get at, we have twice made attempts at it and failed. The first time was on the 31st of May when we were beaten by a chain across the road, and by the time we had walked the 6km to the start of the walk the prospect of another 18 km and a 600 metre climb was too daunting.The second time was on the 25th August when the sun was at its hottest, we did manage a short 2km 350 metre climb of the section. Can I just say we did not spend all day on the hills just walking 2km. I know the wives think we are using the walk as an excuse to get out of their way and that we spend all day in the bar, in reality we are just trying make sure that at least one group of walkers have managed to complete the full 300 km. We feel very honoured, it is like the whole thing was created just for us.
What we needed to do was a 4.2km section along the Rio Vadillo, from below Peña Partida to the refugio El Calvario. The other part of the walk down the “Vereda de la Estrella” we have done many times, it is the classic walk of Granada, even David Cameron (British PM 2010-2015) did it this year.
We had a late 8 am start and picked Mark up in Gúéjar Sierra and then continued to the start of the walk at San Juan in the Maitena gorge. We substituted Rene this week for Plym who was desperate to get into the high mountains after spending the summer in Devon. The weather forecast was not too promising and I had issued a wet weather gear notice the day before. In true Plym style she turned up with her jacket tied around her waist and 2 Bananas in her pocket. For the first hour the route is very easy along the Estrella path high above the Rio Genil. The track was used for access to the various mines that existed up until the civil war. After this things start to toughen up, the path heads down hill, crosses the river and for the next hour climbs up the Cuesta de los Presidiarios to the Calvario refugio. This is not one of the big manned ones, but it does have bunks and it is dry if you are caught out in a storm. At this point the path splits, one track continuing as a high level route that eventually rejoins the Estrella path and the other our route to Peña Partida. This is the section we had come to do, it is an important junction in the path but as always when you need a marker there is nothing. After a short but very steep section we left the Rio Genil valley behind us and headed for the Rio Vadillo. The path was easy as it headed for our destination in a forest at the far end of the valley. Graham was on point duty and can usually be relied upon to navigate the route, I was second and just following the leader. Third was Kees who put all his recent training into good practice when he spotted a marker sign and path our leader had missed, if Kees continues the good work he may graduate to his “Path finder badge grade 2”, Graham was sent to the back.
All that was left to do now was link up with the path we had done in August which was somewhere in the forest. Mike was convinced that it was somewhere near the beginning and had slowed down in preparation for his well deserved lunch. Unfortunately the junction was still a little distance away, some may question the word “little” as I understand there was a growing mutiny taking place at the rear. Normally we look for somewhere either comfy or with a view for our lunch stop but today, after climbing 1068 metres, we just slumped by the side of the path when we reached our destination and greedily tucked into our sandwiches, even Plym looked on enviously whilst eating her banana.
With storm clouds gathering over Veleta we decided it was high time we hi-tailed it back down the hill, Mike is not too keen on spending a night in a refugio.
Once again we had no option but to return back along our outbound route, the only problem was some of the sections were quite steep and the knees can take quite a pounding, we are not known as the “Lecrin Valley Limpers” for nothing. Plym suffered the most this week and by the time we got back to the car she was hobbling quite badly but assured us that with a good sleep her knees would return to normal.
We stopped off in Gúéjar Sierra for a well deserved beer before our journey back to the valley. In the end the impending storm did not develop and we did not need our rain gear, another excellent day out in the hills.
The walkers Mike, Kees, Plym, Graham, Mark and myself.

Distance walked on route today, 4.2 km. Total distance today 23.2 km. Height climbed today 1185 metres. Total distance walked on the Sulayr path 182.5 km. Distance left to do 117.5 km. Total height climbed 14,410 metres. Total distance walked 418.5 km.