16 May Sierra Nevada National Park. The south face.
losely watching over the city of Granada (Spain) one of the most important natural enclaves of the Iberian Peninsula can be found: Sierra Nevada.
The Sierra del Sol, as it was known in the Middle Ages, occupies a large area spanning the Granada and Almeria provinces. It has been a biosphere reserve since 1986. Almost 175,000 hectares have been categorized a Natural Park since 1989, and of these, more than 85,000 a National Park since 1998.
Sierra Nevada is a fascinating attraction, not only in winter, when a great mountain range covered by a blanket of snow greets visitors approaching Granada from different parts of the peninsula, but also in summer. Its steep peaks and culmination of strong contrasting landscapes fixate the eyes of those who admire it, eager to get lost among its numerous peaks that tower more than 3,000 meters above sea level.
Between its peaks, mountains and summits stand out Picón de Jérez (3,090 m), Puntal de Vacares (3,136 m), Pico de la Alcazaba (3,371 m), Cerro de los Machos (3,324 m), Pico del Veleta (3,398 m), Cerro del Caballo (3,009 m), and above all, Mulhacen (3,482 m). But there are many more, and of extraordinary beauty: Tozal del Cartujo (3,152 m), Pico del Cuervo (3,150 m), Puntal de 7 Lagunas (3,255 m), Pico Elorrieta (3,180 m), Puntal de la Caldera (3,225 m), Pico de la Atalaya (3,148 m), Puntal de Juego de Bolos (3,022 m)… These and others make Sierra Nevada one of the highest mountain ranges in Western Europe, second only to the Alps.
Observed from the capital or from the coast, the relief of Sierra Nevada is smooth. The mountain gains height slowly, without abruptness. That softness turns into hostility on the north face of Sierra Nevada. Its relief, steep and precipitous, has great geomorphologic interest due to how it was sculpted in the glacial and periglacial periods. U-shaped valleys, glacier cirques that culminate in large peaks and struts, lagoons of water, crystalline in some cases, opaque in others due to their depth, surrounded by green carpets of vegetation that are locally known as “borreguiles”. All this plays with the feelings of those who enter their domain, causing serenity and tranquility at first before suddenly turning into vertigo and a feeling of smallness in front of the Mountain, in capital letters.
Traveling on the north side of the highest peaks of Sierra Nevada is a unique and brutal experience. The hours and positive height gain advance at great speed while distances marked by GPS systems appear to stop before the immensity that opens up before the athlete’s eyes: the north face of Veleta hosts a cirque that commands respect among even the most expert of mountaineers; between Alcazaba and Mulhacen the glacier known as Cañada de Siete Lagunas is impressive; Mosca and Caldera lagoons, located above 3,000 meters, are a source of life for mountain goats that come to drink from its waters, and for “snow stars”, native to Sierra Nevada, violets and poppies.
Losing yourself in these mountains, alone or with a group of friends, is something different and unique that will be etched into your memory forever.