Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sierra Nevada

Sierra Nevada, the snow-capped mountains

30th day, Saturday, 23 oct

Only Silviu would know how much I waited for this. I dreamed of it. And I did it. Well, all four of us did it: I, Anca, Jose and Oana conquered the Veleta peak of Sierra Nevada.

I got up at 6am and decided on what clothes to wear: I settled for three sweaters, my famous white knit hat that resembles a condom (hand-knit by my grandma) and my ubiquitous boots. Jose was ringing the door bell at 7am sharp, but of course he had to wait for a quarter of hour. He brought two packs of water, "crazy amounts of food" cooked by him and by his mother, a huge sack of socks and professional boots for the girls. I also brought my frontal lantern given to me as a parting present from my friends at work.

At 7:15am, while the full moon was still up on the sky surrounded by a orange-ish halo, we got in the car and off we went.

It's really easy to get to the Sierra Nevada ski resort in Pradollano (that's where we were headed for) by car and I'm sure there are touristic buses too. We just drove for an hour and a bit on A395 highway. When it got very windy, all three of us got sick and Jose had to stop for us to take some fresh air. I bet he thought "Girls...".

We arrived in Pradollano or Solynieve ("Sun and snow") at 8:30am. It was really cold in the morning and the resort was empty. I have to admit, it looks like a very very expensive place - you have a perfect highway at 2000m high and tons of posh hotels. @Jose: "It looks like a small Swiss town".

We went to the Information Point hoping we could grab maps, but it would open at 9.30am, so we didn't waste time anymore and left. What kind of Information Point is that, that is open only between 9:30am and 13:30pm, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only?

Jose parked the car in a free parking place located at 2200m high (near the "albergues universitarios") (we went a bit higher on the highway once we got out of Pradollano). We got equipped, took  8l of water (we barely drank 2l so we just carried it for nothing) and distributed the food. Jose even brought socks for us as mentioned earlier, and even though some were huge for our feet, they were very, very welcome. Moreover, Anca received Jose's old pair of boots and Oana, the boots of Jose's mother. All of us had 4-5 pairs of socks. At 9:30 we started going up.

You could do it the wise, easy and long way: walk on the street until below Veleta (you would have to walk 40-50 minutes more from where the street ends). It is very windy, but it is vital to get your body accustomed to the change of air pressure - it gets lower the higher you go. A memorable edifice a the beginning of the hike was La Virgen de las Nieves - which, by the way, we were very happy to see on our descent.

We did it the stupid, but fast and interesting way: we cut the street and went straight up, over the rocks. Once or twice, Jose stretched his foot muscles but it was nothing compared to what Anca went through later. We joked a lot on the way, we talked a lot in Spanish and he would correct us a lot, but this is how we learn stuff, and saw many professional cyclers.

This is a perfect place for mountain biking, except the persons we saw all had track and cyclo-cross bicycles and were all over 30 years old. Gosh, I would like to look like them at 40...I even saw old ladies on track bicycles, very fit and fully equipped.

We actually hiked up alongside with the ski track and the telesilla line (chairlift). When we got at the end of it, at the last big building that hosted the telesilla line, we had already arrived at the end of the highway and below Veleta. Therefore, we sat for a while and ate!

Jose brought indeed a lot of food, but not only was it delicious, it was stuff I never ate before:
- humus (crema de garbanzos con aceite de sesamo) - a sort of delicious spreading for bread
- curry - pollo con garbanzos y cebolla - chicken with garbanzos and onion
- mantecados: these are Spanish sweets that are usually eaten at Christmas - con almendras (almonds), con aceite de oliva (olive oil), con canela (cinnamon) y con ajonjoli (a type of sesame I think) - they are very fatty and crumbly but delicious nonetheless
- pollo con hierbas provenzales (albahaca, orégano, tomillo, romero, ajedrea y mejorana) - a French recipe of chicken meat boiled/cooked with all sorts of spices such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, marjoram - take or leave a few of them types
- pan con higos - higos secos, almendras, cafe y chocolate - a sort of salami made from figs, almonds, coffee, chocolate...and a lot of good stuff - we had to thank Jose's mom for that
- tortilla, the Andaluz type (without meat): with potatoes, onion and egg - courtesy of Jose's mom also
- green salad, sandwiches and chocolate

We ate well and went for the top: we got there in about 40-50 minutes I think and the feeling was overpowering: la cima Veleta, altitud: 3396m.

Covered with snow, and surrounded by fog so thick that I bet you wouldn't see your fingers if it were winter. Sierra means "range of mountains" and Nevada is the past participle for "nevar" = to snow. That is why Sierra Nevada = "the snow capped range of mountains" is a very important goal for los senderistos (hikers, people that like to make treks in the mountains): it's mostly sunny because of the southern position and also snowy, because of the altitude.

We didn't have sunny weather, but if we did, we could have seen from one part the city of Granada and all Andalucia, and from the other part - the sea, and Africa with Sahara desert. That would have been great but I am really grateful that I managed to reach Veleta!

Sierra Nevada's highest peaks are Mulhacen (3478m), Veleta (3396-3398m the measurements vary) and Alcazaba (3371m). We were planning to start on the path for Mulhacen after Veleta but that was a bit to much for us and we left it for another trip. Mulhacen is much tougher, whereas Veleta is much more accesible. Its ridge on the left is cut in an angle of 90, I would recognise it in any picture now.

At Veleta's right you could see, covered with snow the angry looking "Tajos de la Virgen" - "tajos" being steep, vertical, inaccessible ridges - "El cartujo" y "El caballo". A beautiful mixture of black and white, lines and fangs.

In the left of Veleta, there is "La Atalaya" and "El Mulhacén", peaks.  Jose told us that hikers would usually reach Veleta, then come down to "el refugio del Veleta" - a big lodge-like building that stands as a refuge, at the foot of Veleta, located in the division between Veleta and "Los tajos de la Virgen". They would camp there for a night, and the following day, they would go for Mulhacén. This is a very good suggestion for what my hiking group should be doing in the future, along with myself, naturally.

We took pictures for a while, meditated, feasted our eyes and after a half of hour we began descending. The fog got very dense, we could only see 20m ahead, but fortunately there wasn't any rain or wind, just the fog. Anca started feeling bad and we were very worried, but she hung on luckily. Jose used the GPS only once or twice, to make sure that we cut the street properly on our way down, salvaging from certain death another group of aproximately 10 people following us like geese. The rapid descent was stupid because we soon felt the effect of altitud sickness. Bear with me for a small excerpt of wiki:

"Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), altitude illness, hypobaropathy, or soroche, is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans, caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet). It presents as a collection of nonspecific symptoms, acquired at high altitude or in low air pressure, resembling a case of <<flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover>>"

    * Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
    * Fatigue or weakness
    * Dizziness or light-headedness
    * Insomnia
    * Pins and needles
    * Shortness of breath upon exertion
    * Nosebleed
    * Persistent rapid pulse
    * Drowsiness
    * General malaise
    * Peripheral edema (swelling of hands, feet, and face).
    * Diarrhea

I certainly had the first and the last.

The general malaise befell all four of us when we went for a hot cup of something in a pub in Pradollano. We tasted chocolate con churros that was quite cheap (3.40 Euros) compared to everything else in other restaurants there. A coffee would cost only 1.70Euros.

On the way back to Granada, Jose had to stop the car 3 times because we were either very sick, or needed a pause from all the curves of the road. I bet he thought: "Girls..."

Back at home, we watched all the pictures and the movies (yes, there are movies, too) and laughed a lot, but I went to bed ASAP and fell asleep at 10pm. I got up after 11h of healty sleep, proud that I didn't puke and that I conquered Veleta.

I hope with all my heart that I would come back here for Mulhacén.

1 comment:

  1. It was indeed a day of great fun and achievement for us little humans... well the girls are shorter than me, so I may have to vary the adjective :P. A day when we faced Gaia and she was merciful enough to let us live through that without tossing a snow storm or two. A day when we were one with nature :D.
    I don't know if it was this feeling of acomplishment or being high on the lack of oxigen, but I was exultant and happiest :D.

    There were 13Km had we followed the road, around 6-7 if my instinct doesn't fail me as we cut through, but we went up 1100m, sometimes with 50º slopes, full of loose stones of slate (this is why you, Irina, wouldn't agree with me when I said the stone was blackboard, I've searched the right word now, but in spain we call Pizarra to both... thus my confusion, sorry for being so stubborn XD).

    I got my thigh muscles pulled a couple of times... My stupid brain got into alarm mode thinking they were about to tear apart and I had to stop the girls (and make them suffer the cold) to stretch and massage the muscles to get my brain calm and my muscles relaxed...

    It is something I would repeat anyday, in fact the next day after 11 hours sleep I was willing to go to Mulhacén, you know it! Sharing the path and the effort with you was great fun and a great bonus!

    Should you decide for Sierra Nevada and going up the mighty Mulhacén, you can count me in if that pleases you and your group! I'd be honoured!

    To finish this comment, I HAVE to say THANK YOU VERY MUCH for such great day, they are most scarce around here, in the land where most of the youngsters only drink and get drugged!