European Summit Challenge
Spain - Mulhacén (3479m)


Monday 27th September 1999, seven am, having spent a restless night tossing and turning in the guest house bed, I decided it was good as time as any to get up and make ready for the day ahead. I was slightly apprehensive, the dangers of hiking alone in unknown mountainous country were not lost on me. The Lonely Planet guide to Trekking in Spain, whilst encouraging one to explore the mountains, had done it's best to sow the seeds of doubt. Yesterday, when I had arrived in Capileria (1436 m) by bus from Granada, I had explored the locality, looking for the paths the guide described in it's tour of Las Alpujarras. I had been unable to find them nor those few indicated on the map. I had gone to bed that night unsure of my route; should I make the trek to Travélez, supposedly the highest village in Spain, and make my ascent from there, following a dubious route along trails, acequia (water channels), and compass bearings, or make my ascent of Mulhacén directly from Capileria, from where one could follow forest's edge and jeep track to around 2700 metres, then pick up a smaller hiker's path to the summit? I chose the latter, I did not want to get lost.
The white washed village of Capileira nestled on the slopes of Les Alpujarras.

At eight am, when I stepped out from the guest house, it was still dark. The village children ran down to the water tap and bus tuning point to catch their ride to school, in the narrow street the bus finished it's precision manoeuvre and trundled out of sight, it was quiet, and no one  was  about.    I could  have  departed

then, but I treasured my honour, the bill for the night's bed had not been settled, and besides, they still had my passport. The landlord took his time in attending to me as he strolled about the empty bar and restaurant switching on lights, cappuccino machine, and all assortments of items at completely opposite ends of the premises so that he had to zigzag back and forth. Words of encouragement were out of the question for he spoke not a word of English. I ordered my bill and an orange juice with the minimum of words with the maximum dose of Spanish accent I could muster. I downed the drink, paid quickly, and passport safely stowed away, made my way back out into the streets.
The road wound it's way out of the village and up to the crest of a ridge where it continued, as a rocky track, to zigzag up until reaching a small forest hut at around 2400 metres. I did my best to avoid this section of highway, choosing instead a number of paths that in the first instance formed a tour of the neighbouring hillside, then later the boundary of a coniferous forest that reached up to the aforementioned hut. The ascent was strenuous, though nothing in the least technically difficult, my only burden the twenty kilo sack on my back. I carried with me enough food for four full days (though I intended only three), a change of clothes, sleeping bag, and cook set, but no tent or sleeping mat as I intended to make use of the mountain huts described in my guide. I was even hoping that the stove and food would be unnecessary, and that my meals would instead be cooked by hut wardens; meaty stews pasta and cakes, not the dehydrated soya that I carried.
I rested regularly, sipping my water, nibbling at my food, thankful that though the sun shone, it was not painfully hot. At 1,950 metres the sound of running water caught my attention, I filled up from the  acequia  and   drunk   my  fill   before

continuing on. By the time I reached the bunker like forest hut at 2400 metres, clouds had began to form over the summit of Mulhacén and it's neighbouring peeks, I knew I should not be seeing it again. The trek from the hut along the jeep track to the point where it veered from the ridge, was long and drawn out. At the place my map indicated the walker's path to the summit, still seven kilometres further, stood a sign, I cannot read Spanish, but it was obvious from the few words that shared a common heritage, that the path was closed, closed in order that environment reclaim the scar caused by a thousand trampling feet. Thoughtful of the environment, I followed the jeep track a further two hundred metres before turning to my right and making a bid for the summit ridge in order to regain the path further along it's course. In the patchy cloud I passed a total of three walkers, a pair and a solo walker , all on their descent, all with day sacks. I stopped and spoke with the latter for half a minute, having discerned an American accent in his greeting. He had walked up from a mountain hut that morning, failed to summit the mountain due to a pulled ligament, and was now on his way down. He moved on before saying more, yet succeeded in raising my hopes of a manned mountain hut where I could purchase a cooked meal and possibly a beer or glass of wine to accompany it. I struggled on, thirsty now, having drunk all my water, hungry, yet unable focus on the benefits of chocolate, high calories, instant energy boost, great taste. But that is where the chocolate thing went wrong. On the plane from England it must have frozen in the cargo hold, during the previous day's journey by bus, it must have melted, only to solidify again today. It tasted bland, almost powdery, every lump that I swallowed was forced down, and now I had no appetite.