When we made the decision to move to the Alpujarra, we chose the property first against the location, as it fit an image we had of living off grid in Spain. But over the past 7 months we have come to find that this location has shown itself to be an outdoor paradise with beach and snow a short drive away from our mountainside cortijo.

We live about 45 minutes drive north of the Costa Granadina. Of this 45 minutes, a third of it is dedicated to navigating the 5 kms of track that sits between our property and the town of Lanjaron. I haven't counted the number of switchbacks we need to drive along but there are heaps. I have this image of us missing a corner one day and heading on a crazy down hill run in Lonnie, our Land Rover, through the Almond and Olive trees akin to James Bonds in a Citroen 2cv in "For Your Eyes Only".

While the coast is not too far away, we also find ourselves about an hour south of the Sierra Nevada ski fields. Who knows, perhaps one day we'll swim in the Mediterranean after breakfast and then hit the slopes after lunch. I guess there is always a maybe.

Back in the mountains, the ski fields are located on the western slopes of the mountain ranges that are home to several 3,000+ metre peaks being Veleta, Alcazaba and the highest mainland peak in Spain and the Iberian Peninsula, Mulhacen at 3,479 metres.

This tale is about me and Mulhacen.

For Christmas I was given a present by AJ of a guided winter ascent of Mulhacen through the local adventure company Spanish Highs. Being in the middle of winter, there was great hopes that the walk would be a winter paradise with snow everywhere. However this year has been a lean one for snow, with the few falls we have had succumbing to the sun's rays on most of the lower reaches of the Sierra Nevada. Interestingly, Sierra Nevada is Spanish for "mountain range covered in snow".

There are 4 ways to get up to the summit, the south, north, east and west. The north has shear rock faces so there is no way I'm doing that, the east which is logistically too far away from home, leaving the southern and western routes. The south is an easy enough Sunday walk (in spring) while the western route is steep and when covered in sheet ice is impassable. Fingers crossed we were doing the western route.

To prepare myself for the ascent, I was lucky enough to squeeze in some winter skills training with Spanish Highs as part of the Nomads walking group that we are members of. This included hiking with crampons and an ice axe and arresting a fall with an ice axe should the need arise. I guess this is more and more likely now that I'm getting more and more grey hair.

The training was a great chance to learn how to save yourself but I think we all just had fun playing in the snow, including those who took out each other when going downhill head first and on their backs.

The most common starting point for the summit is via one of the white walled villages of the Poqueira Valley with trails leading from Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira. The trails mostly follow, if not crisscross, acequias up the valley converging on the Poqueira Refugio that sits at about 2,500 metres on the southern face of Mulhacen.

Along the route up we passed numerous ruins that talk of a time long gone, when many Spanish families used to head to the mountains to tend to their flocks in the summer. Of the ones we passed, only one seemed to be usable or at least habitable.

The Poqueria Refugio is a very welcome sight after a long day on the trail. The stone chalet style digs were built in the early nineties as a place for weary hikers to seek comfort or shelter. For winter weekends in Spain it seems like a very popular place for weekend warriors and seasoned mountain climbers to rest up overnight before heading off for their chosen challenge.

They say it can sleep about 90 in bunk-style accommodation but on the Saturday we stayed over there were perhaps 60 of us enjoying a Vino Caliente and the roaring fire. Not bad for the depths of winter during a pandemic. For just under 50 euros, you get your bunk, a four course dinner which was beyond expectations considering its location, and a buffet breakfast big enough to give you the extra calories to get you up the summit. And yes, they serve churros for breakfast.

Before you jump on the web to book in your next romantic mountain getaway. You might need to consider that there was no hot water as the pipes had frozen. I did hear one brave soul try to cleanse themselves with the ice cold shower but by the sound of their pain and torment they were suffering, they could also have been hacked to pieces by an ice axe.

The upstairs part of the refugio is also where the sleeping quarters are located, take a 4 season sleeping bag and some thermals as its not heated and would have to be the closest I've ever come to sleeping in a walk in fridge. There is also something to be said for humanity when 10 men of various ages bunk together, lets say that there were no partners there to tell us to turn over when snoring or to stop us all from farting the night away.

And no, I don't own pink crocs, we all get issued these when we arrive at the refugio to keep the mud and snow out. But one in, all in.

Day 2 is a tough slog, with just under 1,000 metres in elevation needed to be gained over a couple of kilometres. From the refugio we headed west along a meadering path until we hit a barranco which indicated the start of the uphill grind. This was were we also were we got the chance to use our winter skills lessons by making the most of our crampons and ice axe to get through the snow drifts and ice sheets that dotted the trail up to the western face.

On the western face we puffed, pushed and zigzagged our way up. During this torture I got the chance to experience what I later found out is technically my maximum heart rate of 179 bpm.

Mulhacen summit stats (Click on link)

It was tough and exhausting but a good pace was being set by our guide and as we got higher and higher we overtook several groups that left the refugio before us, but its not a race. After several rest stops in which we took in the chance to suck in some air and rest our legs we finally made it to the summit.  

What goes up, invariable must go down, so when you climb up over 1,300 metres, you need to go down 1,300 metres. Thankfully to make it a little easier we took the southern route down which took us down past what used to be the highest road in Europe and onto a Spanish Civil war era machine gun bunker. This bunker still stands and is a bad weather option for hikers who get stranded on the mountains. They even have a shovel for you to use should the entrance be snowed under.

Its one of those things when you hike a circuit and reach the turnaround point and head back to the starting point. Do you think about getting home and seeing your loved ones and the chores you need to do as part of your normal life.

After getting out into the mountains and pushing your limits just a little, you reflect on the experience as you continue to put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps none of your walking colleagues are talking either, perhaps from exhaustion, or perhaps they are also thinking about the journey and not the destination.

Since moving to the Alpujarra we have had some great opportunities to get into the mountains and enjoy putting one foot in front of the other. Here's to wearing out some hiking boots.

Many thanks to the team at Spanish Highs for getting me there and back