CERRO del Trevenque is a dwarf among giants. It does not feature largely in the history of mountaineering. It probably doesn’t even warrant a footnote. But it is a mountain gem that shines like a badly-cut diamond above the red roofs of one of Europe’s most ancient cities.
Trevenque could be accurately though unfairly described as one of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada – Spain’s highest mountain range and Europe’s second highest outside the Alps. But it possesses more character than the humping great leviathans that loom behind its shoulder and block the morning sun.
Trevenque is 2,079 metres (6,820ft) of spiky Mediterranean scrub, wild lavender, crumbly stone, crunchy sand, twisting paths, rocky ridges and airy towers. It gazes down upon a bewildering labyrinth of narrow valleys that reach towards Granada. It is one of many pleasures in a land that uplifts the soul. Let me tell you about Mary, Joseph, a little black donkey and Trevenque on Christmas Eve . . .
IT’S that cold dark hour before the sun rises. The motorway between Motril and Granada is quiet as I head north over the pass of Suspiro del Moro. I can see snow on the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada away to the east and street lights glimmering in villages. Apparently the churches in this area used to be floodlit at Christmas – but now they turn off the lights and give the money they save to the poor.
On the outskirts of Granada I turn down a sliproad into a strange landscape of business parks, orchards, trading estates and fields of broad beans. Then into La Zubia, a town that has its roots in fertile plain but streets that climb with the mountains, clinging to the shins of the Sierra Nevada as they rise towards the snow. Beyond La Zubia the tarmac roads give way to dirt tracks and piny forests. As I reach a bumpy parking area at Collado Sevilla, the sun lifts itself above a ridge and floods the land. Suddenly it’s Christmas Eve.
Trevenque. There it is above the trees, a thoroughly impressive pyramid of grey rock against the white snow of the high sierra. I’m following Andy Walmsley’s Walking the Sierra Nevada, a Cicerone publication and no-frills guide I’ve used several times over the years. My map is the 1:40,000 Sierra Nevada by Editorial Penibetica, which is also no-frills and has had its seams reinforced at least twice with liberal applications of sticky tape. One day it will fall to pieces and I’ll be chasing bits across blustery mountain tops.
From the parking area there are three routes to the top of Trevenque. The first is a stony path along the crest of Cuerda del Trevenque, the undulating main west-east ridge; the second is an abandoned and deeply-rutted dirt-road that winds beneath the ridge and ends abruptly several hundred metres beneath the summit; the third is a waymarked path that meanders between the two. All converge before the final and incredibly steep scramble to the summit.
I choose the first option because this is Walmsley’s preferred route, but about halfway along the ridge I decide it undulates a little too excessively for comfort in the warming morning and switch to the dirt track. This is much longer but easier on the knees. And it saves enough breath to whistle carols.
The final pull to the top is a killer. I stand at the end of the dirt road, staring up at a towering wall of bright rock. Walmsley says to “aim for the obvious green slope in the middle of the face”. This apparently “leads easily to a gap in the shattered crest of the south-east ridge”.
I can’t fault these instructions except for the word “easily”. It’s a steep slog up crumbly rock. But a good path winds its way in sharp zigzags into what appears from below to be a pretty inhospitable place. Once on the south-east ridge, a short and delightful scramble leads over jumbled boulders to the summit.
Spain is an enchanting country in which to walk because of the unexpected. Walmsley says of Trevenque: “A long red and white pole with a red flag is sometimes found crowning the top, but sometimes it is absent.” There is no pole today, but on the metal tube that holds the pole someone has created a tiny nativity scene with a plastic Mary, Joseph and little black donkey.
So I sit there in the sunshine, in this not-so-bleak Spanish midwinter, gazing in awe at the snowy peaks of Veleta, Tozal del Cartujo and Cerro del Caballo many hundreds of metres above me, and down upon the magnificent serrated ridges of the surrounding foothills to the distant smudge that is Granada. And in the peace and solitude, as small birds flit among grey boulders and warm winds sigh from the piny forests, I wonder why the little baby Jesus isn’t included in the nativity scene.
Will some unknown person make the arduous ascent tomorrow morning with a little plastic baby Jesus? Should I return bearing a plastic lamb or some plastic frankincense, and perhaps some Brussels sprouts and parsnips as a gesture of peace and international goodwill? There’s only one way to find out.
AS it happens I didn’t return on Christmas Day. The weather was foul, with low cloud shrouding the mountains and 40mm of rain falling, much of this settling as snow on the Sierra Nevada. Also, our hosts in Orgiva invited us round for a splendid Christmas dinner. But remaining unshaken, I have every faith that a plastic Angel Gabriel and heavenly host descended from on high, and a little plastic baby Jesus was laid in a manger.
What I can tell you, and the importance of this cannot be overstated – especially for those contemplating spending Christmas in Spain – is that Spanish farmers have responded to the pleas of wandering Britons and are now producing sprouts and parsnips. Didn’t see a Terry’s chocolate orange or a bottle of Mackeson anywhere, mind.
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