24/10/22 – 30/10/22 223 km
Monday was a godsend, it was the first time I’d had two consecutive day’s rest and I hadn’t realised how much my body needed it. I only left the hotel once, to stock up ready for the next day’s ascent of Mulhacén. It was bliss!
I woke up on Day 55 feeling brand new, it was genuinely the first time since I had started the walk that I felt fresh. I had no aches, no pains and incredibly no blisters! I was ready for the 2,000m ascent. After a quick breakfast in the Hotel Bar, I said my goodbyes and set off towards Siete Lagunas, the more popular of the two paths leading out of Trevélez towards the summit. My pack was fully loaded but I hardly noticed it.
The walk was stunning and I managed to maintain a blistering pace all the way up, stopping only twice along the way to collect and filter water. The signpost at the start said it would take seven hours, I completed the ascent in under five! It was such a contrast from my first successful attempt to climb Mulhacén with Cristina a few years ago when we went up in the sapping heat of July. I actually enjoyed it this time. A feeling that was enhanced by my sense of being at home, I knew where I was, I didn’t look at the map once.
My time at the peak was truly spectacular, although denied views of Africa, I felt like I was where I wanted to be. The weather conditions were fantastic, for October, and I was glad that I had afforded myself a day off the GR 7 to stand as the tallest man on the Iberian Peninsula – 3,482 metres above sea level! However, I couldn’t stay there longer than half an hour as I had no trousers and nothing more than a light jacket to keep the gusts of near gale force wind at bay.
After the peak I made my way down to an open refugio (refuge) where I would spend a cold night at over 3,000m. Thankfully I shared the refuge with a couple of walking groups. The first was made up of two guys from Madrid and the second four young lads from outside of Granada and their three dogs. I was grateful for the company, the atmosphere was jovial, although I can’t say we slept very well!
The Madrileños left in the pitch black, to scale the final 400 metres or so, to take in the sunrise from the peak. What a way to start the day. I, on the other hand, took a different path which followed a river down the valley running parallel to where I had climbed the day before. The views were spectacular and the walk was punctuated by constant sightings of goats. Alas none of which were the coveted Ibex that I had once stumbled across whilst fighting my way through a blizzard with Stewart on Paul. This took place over three years ago during our first (failed) attempt to summit this unpredictable mountain.
After reaching Capileira I then made my way towards Lanjarón, if you have ever had bottled water in a restaurant in Spain you should know where I am talking about! What a day, I’d done over 40km and collapsed into my hotel bed. The next day I would be sleeping rough again. I was heading for Alhama de Granada but there was no way I could reach it in one go. So I set off from Lanjarón and started the first of many brutal climbs. Once I had finally reached the top of the plateau the trail eventually levelled out and I was rewarded with spectacular views back down into the valley.
After about 20 kilometres of flat path I dropped down into the town of Niguelas. The descent was extremely difficult and I fell badly after slipping on the loose stones. My knee was swollen but I had suffered worse and I was not about to stop now. I had a quick lunch stop in the town and then set off for Albuñuelas where I could fill up my water bottles before spending the night in the wild.
It took forever to get to Albuñuelas. It was 33°c when I arrived and I was the only fool on the path! The sun had drained me of my energy and I was struggling to motivate myself to carry on. As I sat in the shade on a bench feeling sorry for myself I was approached by a local resident who just happened to be English, what are the chances!
After a brief chat she invited me back to her house for a coffee where I would get the chance to talk to her husband who had walked extensively in the surrounding area. It was so nice to spend half an hour in the company of interesting and intelligent people.
It took a lot of mental reserve to decline their offer of a place to stay. I regretted it all evening but I am determined not to go soft and I was grateful the next morning when I realised how hard the trail would become. As I completed the final 11 kilometres that day I kept thinking how lucky I was to have been blessed with yet another chance encounter with such lovely people. Gill and Juan, if you are ever in my area I would love to return the favour!
It was getting dark when I arrived at the abandoned campground which was already home to a South African cyclist I’d met earlier in the day. We both claimed a disused refugio each, and after a quick dinner of noodles, I collapsed into my sleeping bag. I slept all through the night.
After a quick coffee the next morning I was off again. The day’s walk started by following a dried river bed along a narrow path cut into the dusty bank. At one point the whole path collapsed underneath me and I fell again landing on the same swollen knee. In 36 years on planet earth I’d never done the splits, now I had done it twice in two days!
The path then wound its way up forest roads before coming out into open farmland that reminded me of the rolling hills of Lincolnshire. After passing a farmhouse I was joined by a giant dog, which I believe was a Pyrenean Mastiff, who proceeded to walk with me for the next hour. It was delightful to have company however I was slightly dubious of his motives and fearful that he could eat me at any point. He was enormous!
The next day, after stocking up in the supermarket, I decided to leave a little later as I would again be sleeping wild. This time in the tent. The start of the day was incredibly boring as I made my way through field after field of recently harvested produce. The volume of rubbish left by the farmworkers was astonishing. If there was value in its collection, this walk would have made me a millionaire.
I finally reached the village of Ventas de Zafarrya (easy for you to say) just after two o’clock. Although I had recently stocked up, I didn’t have enough food for the next two days so it was crucial that I ate something here. The bar was closed, and I had been informed that when it did open, they wouldn’t offer food. I was gutted, but I have learned not to give up and after insisting that they must have something I left with a plate full of Russian salad – free of charge!
I then left the village through a tunnel carved into the mountain and as I walked out the otherside it was like entering another world. The temperature dropped dramatically and the flat plateau of farmland had been replaced by line after line of distant mountain ranges. The views were incredible as the peaks emerged from the inverted clouds. After the morning’s slog I was feeling alive again.
So on I walked, stopping only once to line up at a village well to fill up my bottles. When they heard how far I walked I was placed at the front of the line! I continued until sunset, where after finding an isolated spot, I pitched my tent and fell into another well earned deep sleep. The noises of wild camping still scared me but the thought of death or disturbance had now become secondary to my tiredness!
I awoke early the next morning, with the clocks going back, I was keen to take advantage and broke camp in the dark. I had completed 20km before 11am and was feeling rather chuffed although there was one slight problem. I hadn’t seen the signs for the GR 7 since yesterday. I was following the route using an app on my phone. This had happened many times before and the routes always joined so I wasn’t worried. however this time felt different. I had been separated for too long.
Eventually my worst fears came true. The path terminated in an almighty gate that looked like it was protecting the entrance to Fort Knox. I had no choice but to go back. I was devastated. The kind of devastation where you are temporarily paralysed. The thought of going back was incomprehensible. So I scanned the map for a potential solution that would get me round the problem.
There it was, a tiny access path that would take me back to the main road and allow me to circumnavigate this section. But, there was one small problem, I had to scale a barbed wire fence to get to it. It took me less than a second to make the decision, there was no way I was going back so I lobbed my backpack and poles over and began to climb. It was impossible, I kept getting one foot onto the barbed wire and as I teetered on the top, swaying backwards and forwards I couldn’t get enough momentum to fling myself over.
I was stuck, and to add insult to injury I was also separated from my bag – my life. There must be something I could do, and then I saw it, a rusty old barrel. I delicately placed the barrel in front of the fence, the top and bottom had long since rusted away, and slowly heaved myself onto the top. I gently placed one foot onto the top of the wire. As I balanced on one toe, the fence violently swaying, I closed my eyes and in one quick motion catapulted myself onto the otherside. I had made it and most importantly I hadn’t ripped my shorts!
Half walking, half jogging I followed the trail until I came to a gate. Fantastic, I could climb this one easily and it meant I was out of the fenced in area. Which in Spain means I was away from the rabid dogs. Then something weird happened: the path went right through the middle of a stable. There were horses everywhere. After picking my way through I came to another gate. This time it was unlocked. I made my way through, remembering to put it back on the latch and then something worrying occurred to me. This was the first gate I’d seen in my whole walk that wasn’t locked. Oh bollocks! I was still on someone’s land.
I was committed now so I carried on. Then I saw it, a massive house with an even bigger dog outside. I knew it had seen me. The path went right through the driveway. There was no way I was going near that dog. Fortunately the path switched back on itself, the only issue was that it dropped by about five metres. Without hesitating (or perhaps thinking) I ran across the olive grove and jumped from one tier to another without looking back. I then ran as fast as my legs would take me to the end of the path.
It wasn’t over yet, when I got to the bottom there was one final gate. The biggest of them all. I launched my abag over, followed by the poles and then myself. I was free at last. It was only when I looked back that I realised I had crossed an alarmed threshold which was under constant video surveillance. I may be the first person to be arrested for leaving someone’s property!
Once out I was back on the road in no time. I still had 20km to go until I reached the hotel in Antequera but after that experience it was child’s play. I arrived before it got dark. I was ready for another day off!
After 1,821 kilometres I can finally say that the end of the GR 7 is in sight, I can’t wait to get to Tarifa!
24/10/22 – 30/10/22 223 km