How a lower peak of the Sierra Nevada is perhaps not getting the hype that it deserves.
It was early December and yet dawn portended a glorious day ahead: not a cloud in sight. The mercury showed a mere 13 Celsius and joy seemed to hover on the air. I had left the village belatedly, having driven to Barranco de San Juan and back to check on the trekkers. The lucky ones were setting out into the wild, trailing the track lining Vereda de la Estrella. My ‘business’ that day was in the opposite direction, and I headed along the edge of the shimmering river, thence where not so long ago a tram line ran, the fantasy of a well- heeled local duque, dreaming of carrying granadinos from their city to the foot of the ski slopes.
I joined the highway and soon took an exit to then cross the quiet little town of Zubia, quickly left behind to presently drive between swathes of dense forest, all the way to a parking area. Finally walking. Satchel on my back, water, pistachios and a sandwich well stowed, the track carried me to the local arenales ( sandpits), so typical of the region. But what was everybody doing here ?! It felt awkward to have all these throngs of people walking up and down everywhere, when merely 5 months ago, we had hardly crossed anybody. But then back then it was a smoldering August and it wasn’t a Sunday, which today was. Secretly, I have to admit, I was hoping to meet as few persons as possible ( I always do, when I trek ). Well, DON’T HIKE ON SUNDAYS !, an imaginary voice seemed to summon me. Having stopped next to a board, several trails ran parallel. I opted for the one that looked less treaded. Here and there, stains of snow were peeking out in the shade of the pine trees.
A couple were picnicking by the path and further away a bull trod carelessly. Where was its master ? I didn’t wonder much as on walking past it, maybe too close, it suddenly jerked his bulgy head my way and puffed out a tremendous whiff , forcing me to scurry past some trunks and double checking I wasn’t wearing anything red-ish that morning. The first steep slope conquered, I took refuge under an oak tree to down some water and take in the panorama. The surrounding crests stood out against the slate soil, like huge skeletons made of snow. Now the peak was quite obvious in the distance, most of its 2100 meters of altitude and 700 meters of ascent still to be conquered.
The wind was picking up here. Gravity was taking a toll and from place to place, a bit of scrambling had to do. The last bit was proving the hardest, now that the walk was on the north side where sunshine didn’t reach this time of day and pools of ice saddled the stairs dug into stone. Once the peak conquered, I reclined against the rock and ate my sandwich while clumps of people, even families with children plodded past. We were in December and with the sun declining shortly, I decided to forego the Jardin Botanico and the loop and instead return more or less on the same track or at least in the same direction…
But the track soon disappeared… bell chimes now could be heard in the distance. A carpet made of acorn shucks covered the ground. I decided to follow south up on the crest and later came upon profound gorges. What river glimmered on the bottom ? Further away, a family of cabras montesas with their offsprings scouted past me. The canyon was drawing me in, yet I could not make out any track in either direction and the bramble patches rose hard and stung even harder. I turned right, away from the gorges and back towards my departure point and through a thicket of forest. A sandy draw dug through and out of it. I was now back at the arenales. I turned a corner and a child asked me: ‘Did you not see the three falcons ? ‘. ‘No, just one, I replied’. He must have been no older than 10, and I left him behind, still scouting in the atmosphere for more looping birds.
The sun hadn’t much left before setting, a cold wind was rising and although it was merely 5 PM I remembered December could bite.
Even so, there were gorges and rivers to be uncovered next time, perhaps in spring…
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