THAT feeling has returned – the yearning that has its roots in the depths of the stomach and rises in a flood of warmth and expectation. All I did was raise my eyes towards the hills and behold streams of grey mist hanging from crags like lines of last week’s washing. And a voice inside said: it’s autumn and it’s time to seek out new places. There are strange scents in the air; you must stir; there are places to explore and unfound paths to tread . . .
So I pull a blue book from a suitcase – Andy Walmsley’s Walking in the Sierra Nevada – and digest every word between its covers. I’ve read it before, and bits of it many times, but now I read it again and trace its routes on a ragged map, because now I am living here – HERE, in the Sierra Nevada – and a more diligent and intimate approach to climbing mountains is required.
It is no longer enough to head for the high peaks, the 3,000m beasts which crowd the skyline between Granada and the coast. There are valleys where few feet tread; gorges and chasms; alpine meadows where flowers dance on spring winds; a network of mule paths and ancient irrigation channels; ruined farmsteads and tumbled mine buildings; airy ridges and expansive forests; and uninterrupted views to the sierras of the north, and, to the south, the distant coast and Rif mountains of Morocco.
I climbed Veleta, the second-highest peak in the Sierra Nevada, back in 2009, and the highest peak, Mulhacen (which is also the highest mountain in mainland Spain), the following year. Both are fantastic and challenging excursions.
But there is more to climbing mountains than visiting a cairn and ticking a name off a list. If this place is to become a home I need to wipe its dust from aching legs; shake its grit from my socks; squint into level rays of a setting sun; feel the sting of thrashing rain and the bite of hail; delve into oblique corners; watch constellations revolve from the darkness of its high meadows and awake in its dawns. I need to do all this and more. Much more.
And it all begins here. Here and now. Cooler winds are blowing. Clouds gather on dark ridges. There is a freshness in the air and the first snows have already fallen on the high peaks.
Time to dig out the boots, give them a good clean, and assemble some gear. Home is where the heights are – and they are all around.
A GUIDE TO THE SIERRA NEVADA
MY first walks in the Sierra Nevada, Spain’s highest mountain range, were based on routes from Andy Walmsley’s guidebook Walking in the Sierra Nevada (Cicerone, second edition 2006). It’s a great book and I can’t recommend it highly enough, and not just because Andy is a Lancashire lad like myself.
Besides the walking and mountain-biking routes, Andy delves in great detail into a range of topics including topography, flora and fauna, climate, access, food and drink, suggested bases and mountain refuges. And, like all good guidebooks, Walking in the Sierra Nevada is an entertaining read.
For anyone contemplating a walking holiday in southern Spain, this book is a must. It is available on Amazon, in print and Kindle versions, here.