Mulhacén is the highest point in the Sierra Nevada in the south of Spain. It is also the highest mountain on the Iberian peninsula. Mulhacén would also be the highest mountain in Spain were it not for Pico de Teide on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands which surpasses it by 235 metres (650ft). It is also 74 metres (243ft) higher than Pico de Aneto, the highest point in the Pyrenees.
Mulhacén is also the 63rd most prominent mountain in the world, and an ultra prominent mountain.
The Sierra Nevada range was formed from a clash between the African and the Eurasian tectonic plates from 1.8 to 66 million years ago. Although much younger than the Grampians, the topography looks similar to that of the Cairngorms with the summits swelling up above high plateaus and rough bowls carved out of the sides in which laguna often glisten.
Mulhacén has been on the “list” for a while. It is not a technically difficult mountain. Indeed, from late Spring to early Autumn the National Park authorities run a minibus from Capileira to Mirador de Trevelez at an elevation of about 2700m. From there it is at most 3 hours to the summit. This minibus must be pre-booked.
But once the main tourist surge is over and the first snows of winter arrive, that service ceases. So, for me, the nearest point of access (staying as I was near the town of Motril on the Mediterranean coast) was the village of Capileira. From there a public road runs to Hoya del Portillo with the final ¾s of it a gravel road with some steeper inclines. There is a large car park at Hoya del Portillo.
I had hoped for winter conditions on the mountain. The first snows in the Sierra Nevada normally arrive towards the end of October or the beginning of November. However, whilst there had been a covering, in the weeks before my arrival this had largely melted. I ended up having, effectively, summer conditions underfoot but with a decidedly chilly temperature to accompany them.
In anticipation of winter conditions, I had hired a local guide. As things turned out, this was not necessary. But it did give me a lift from Capileira to Hoya del Portillo, a few shortcuts on the way to Mulhacén together with a longer scenic route for the return that I was unlikely to find on my own and a better understanding of the locality, flora, and fauna.
So, I met Dani (my guide for the day) and his boss, José, in Capileira at the agreed 8am. José drove us up to Hoya del Portillo to save me from any potential issue with the car rental company that I was using. Having had to leave our hotel before any breakfast was being served, I gobbled down a banana at the car park and we were on our way at just after 8.30am.
For the first 20 minutes we followed a path up through the forest that skirts this part of the range. A few cows with jangling cowbells were grazing in amongst the trees. Then we emerged into the next eco-system, treeless and with low shrubs and grasses.
We intersected with the road up from Hoya del Portillo and followed it very briefly before taking another off-road path to avoid a longer zigzag that the gravel road took. We met up with the road again and, after a bend around to the east, Dani then took me on a faint path off to the left which rose gently towards Prado Llano (2578m; 8458ft). This point is crowned by a triangulation pillar and does not have much prominence. But it did provide good views of the route we had followed from the forest.
Mulhacén was still 7kms away to the north, its large bulk swelling above the plateau ahead. The jagged eastern side of Pico Valeta showed a pronounced profile further to the west.
The descent off Prado Llano was gentle, as are most of the slopes in this area. A path took us down to the gravel road again. This road was once open to general traffic and passes over the Sierra Nevada to, eventually, Granada. It is still possible to cycle the route but, other than the shuttle bus and Park vehicles, motorized vehicles are prohibited.
We contoured around Alto de Chorrillo and were soon at Mirador de Trevelez where the minibus terminates. Here the gravel road continues straight on before swinging west below the steep slopes of Mulhacén. A fork to the right comprises an obvious path up to the south ridge of Mulhacén. Ahead, a couple of people were sitting on a rock having refreshments. They were later to overtake us.
We took the right fork and hit the broad ridge after about 1.5kms. Here the route became a little steeper but never demanding. We saw plenty more ibexes here. From this direction the main summit is hidden behind a low prominence sub-summit, Mulhacén II. A triangulation pillar adorns this summit too. From here the main summit is just 900m away and 100m above.
Dani and I reached the summit just before 1pm. It had taken us just under 4½ hours from the start. Although there was a cold breeze we found somewhere relatively sheltered to eat and drink, and to look at the views all around.
We had seen the north coast of Morocco early on. Now the coastal mountains there were clear above the marine cloud and some white haze. The 360o views over the humps and hollows of the range were great. Whilst we had just seen one couple on the ascent, there were around 6 or 7 people on the summit when we arrived.
But by the time we had finished eating, they had gone. So, it was time to scramble up to the true high point, some rocks with a triangulation pillar and a shrine built into the rocks.
We had a look down the precipitous, rocky north face.
And then it was time to go.
We descended west, following a path through the scree and rocks down much steeper slopes. This is an obvious alternative route of ascent, albeit likely tedious with moving ground beneath the feet. We were going down to La Caldera, a bite out of the southern slopes of the range, with a refuge (Refugio Vivac de la Caldera) and small lagunas in the bottom.
At the refuge we had a brief rest and a look in to the building itself. It is basic but weathertight. After a 20 minute stop here, it was time for the long trek back to the start point. We rejoined the gravel road and followed this back first to Mirador de Trevelez and then on to the edge of the forest, ignoring any re-ascent of Prado Llano. We were following the sun setting over Africa and did not have time to make the brief detour to Alto del Chorrillo.
We then descended the same way through the forest to the Hoya del Portillo car park where José picked us up.
The round trip was 30kms with over 1300m of ascent in 8 hours, including all stops.
My next blog is about my trip to Türkiye to climb Mount Ararat and two other mountains here.