‘Hiking’ is not one of my hobbies. To be honest, I have rarely hiked anywhere if the upshot of it hasn’t involved me being able to turn around, strap myself to a snowboard and hurl myself back down from whence I came. I’ve been up Machu Picchu and – wait for it – Ben Nevis before, and both climbs were thoroughly enjoyable and memorable to say the least, but neither experience left any irrevocable longing to partake in the practice on a regular basis.
I’m not so sure of that anymore.
Last Saturday, I was invited by a group of friends to join them for a day’s hiking in the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain range. The chosen trail was the long, gravelly and rugged route up to the peak of Monte Trevenque – known to locals as ‘El rey’ (ooh er), followed by a walk through the cascading terrains of Las Cahorros in Monachil if time permitted it. Other than passing through on my way to the ski resort, I’d never been to Monachil nor any of its surrounding areas before. It was a no-brainer.
Next morning, we left Granada aboard the 181 bus and arrived in Monachil at around 11am. We were supposed to meet several others and our guide for the day but in typical Spanish Sunday style, things had gotten off to a slow start. A quick snooze, one revitalising glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and about an hour and a half later, and we were finally piling into the back of a Citroen hatchback so that we could be taken to the starting point of the 10km round hike.
The route starts near Fuente del Hervidero, a traditional country fare restaurant situated on the edge of the Sierra Nevada national park, though most walkers generally begin at the car park a km or so further up the road. This, sensibly, is what we did, though not before stopping to fill several plastic 2L bottles at the restaurant’s fresh mountain water reserve – an importance that cannot be underestimated given the entirely exposed locale of the mountainous domain.
We set off in zipped up sweaters under a cloudy sky, though only a matter of minutes had passed before the sun broke through and the layers were being stuffed back into rucksacks. For at least an hour, the terrain maintained a very steady incline, which zigzagged its way around the sandy wastelands, offering splendid views of the lower-lying Las Arenales along the way.
Our guide, Wayne – an outgoing, brawny and Manchester bred fella (ey up!) – was already a friend of ours, and had offered to take us out for a very agreeable fee. He was a living and breathing brochure for the Sierra Nevada – full of facts and answers to any questions we posed to him. I only wish he had told me about the callous and spiky-natured plant life along the trail before I accidentally grabbed a handful of one in order to stop myself from falling. I’m still plucking splinters out of my fingers from that almost a week later.
Further along we stopped beneath a cluster of jagged rock-forms perched on top of a sandy mound. We raced to the tip of the highest one where we mucked about pretending to be apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey for a bit, and then stopped being silly and carried on.
Eventually, the route began to steepen, and before we knew it, the gravel was slipping away from beneath our boots (or in my case a pair of hole-ridden converse). The peak loomed in front of us, yet still seemed miles away. Some climbers on their way back down bid us a cheerful ‘hola’, while others warned of the ridge’s sharp increase in steepness towards the top. Honesty is good.
“Take small steps and tread with the soles of your feet!” yelled Wayne from behind me.
Small steps, soles of feet, small steps, soles of feet. Keeeep it steady…
Miraculously, each of us made it to the summit without slipping. Dare I say we were beginning to feel like seasoned pros.
There we stood at 2079m overlooking the entire Sierra Nevada national park. It was magnificent. Below us the rolling rises and arid plateaus stretched out to the shimmering haze of Granada on the horizon, and up in the distance between various other mountain ranges, we could even see the ski resort’s La Laguna chairlift where some of us had been exactly a week before.
We were in no hurry to begin the descent, so we took our time snacking, gazing, exploring and even napping in some cases. Wayne pointed out a couple of tiny manger displays at the highest point, which had been assembled by a visiting Catholic group on a recent trip. A pair of Ibex that showed up minutes later proved far more interesting to watch. Surprisingly, neither seemed particularly bothered that we were just a few feet away from them, though they did get a bit iffy when my friend attempted to close in for a closer look.
Eventually, we got moving again, treading even more carefully than before. The descent is a lot more dangerous, and takes its toll on your legs. If you’re very surefooted and half mad then like Wayne and aforementioned friend you might prefer to jump and skid your way down (the gravelly section). Personally, I was content to continue with the ‘small steps, soles of feet’ approach. I prefer not to tempt fate.
Just as the gradient eased off we moved into La Rambla, a dusty, dried up river valley with very little vegetation. Sooner or later, this developed into a small pass that led us back to the route where we had originally started. Before long, we were chomping on giant olives and sipping ice-cold tubos back at the restaurant. Annoyingly, the kitchen had already closed – even though there appeared to be various other groups returning from lengthy walks, all equally as famished. Why I ask? Why!?
It was late by the time we arrived at Los Cahorros, a sprawling, waterfall abounding area just twenty or so minutes from the town of Monachil. Our group size had reduced to four, including Wayne, and rather predictably there was nobody else around at 7pm. We had the whole place to ourselves.
It was lots of fun; from scrambling under or around protruding rocks that blocked our path to scampering beneath gushing waterfalls and along wobbly rope bridges, our tired legs – unbelievably – still had some energy left in them. At one point we passed a bikini top that had been nailed to a rock hanging over the stream. According to Wayne, its previous owner had climbed from underneath the overhang and up the front side, simply to prove that she had managed such a feat by flaunting the colourful garment for all to see. We were suitably impressed, though apparently not enough for me to remember to take a photo of it. Doh!
The day finished with yet more beer and generous portions of carne en salsa at one of Wayne’s favourite local bars. We all agreed that it was undoubtedly the best carne and salsa any of us had ever had, ever.
Whether you’re into hiking or not, The Cuerda del Trevenque and Los Cahorros are two gems well worth investigating, though the former is considered to be one of the more difficult routes throughout the park, so maybe start smaller if you’re not match fit so to speak. The best time to visit is in late spring, after all the snow has disappeared and before the heat becomes insufferable.
I found this blog that has a lot of useful information for anybody keen to learn more. I know I’ll be using it a fair bit from now on anyway…
Have you been hiking in the Sierra Nevada? Where else is worth going to? Any suggestions most welcome!