Today we got up bright and early to meet Marco, our guide Paco, and 3 other UNH students at the bus stop down town. While we were walking, Pepe Ferrer, one of our teachers and coordinators, drove by a beeped at us to get in for a ride (really normal, we hang out with him cause hes great haha). It turned out that Marco had asked him to drive us to the trail head because from where the bus would have taken us it would have been another hour just to get to the trail (considering we were planning on a 9 hour hike to begin with 2 more hours didn't seem to pleasant). So he drove us about 45 minutes outside of Granada to a place called Güéjar Sierra and dropped us off at the trail head. It was pretty chilly when we started walking but as the slopes got a little steeper and our hearts were working a little harder to keep us moving it warmed up pretty quickly. Something that might help you understand the layout of our hike is that there are not a lot trees, so its not like hiking in New England where you pick one mountain and climb through trees blindly. We hiked through a valley of several mountains until we reached the base of the largest continental mountain in Spain called Mulhacen (at 3478m or 11,411ft), crossed the valley and came back from the other side on a bunch of different mountains. It was a lot of varied walking from going up to down, slopes to climbing cliff sides, and a few flat stretches in between. That's the beauty of hiking in Spain, every five minutes of walking changes the climate and the scenery so that you feel like your in a new place, and since its spring there were so many flowers!!
There were a few small information signs along the way as little educational markers about old abandoned houses or mines. We stumbled across one of the pyrite (fools gold) mines and right at the opening of the old rocky tunnel was an entire skeleton. There were a few shocked screams and yells until that shock faded at the new shock of our guide waltzing into the cave. As obedient and curious Spanish students, we followed Paco into the depths of the drab darkness of the rock and hoped for the best. I had of course packed my little flashlight which meant that I was rightly prepared but also that I had to go first... I asked all of the appropriate questions such as: Isn't this unsafe since mines are known for collapsing? --no, this ones too old. (Obviously, that made sense?) and why are there so many skeletons, did something bring them here to eat them? --its a possibility. How do you know something doesn't live in here? --I don't. Yep, that's Paco, such a charmer. So needless to say we were all a little on edge and wary of what might be hiding around the corner, or really in front of our faces since the pitch blackness made it difficult to see even your own feet. There were 4 or 5 more almost complete skeletons scattered throughout the puddles in the darkness and we tried our best to avoid them. We think that they were goats or cows, or things like that but still have no idea of why there were so concentrated in the tunnel. The last section of the mine was a giant rock that had not been axed away and it was like lemon squeeze all over again with backpacks and wet rock until we hit a dead end. After a few minutes of talking and claustrophobia we turned around and raced our way out of the emptiness that surrounded us. It was quite the adventure and I'm glad we did it, mostly because it was a good story and to top it all off, there were poisonous plants all around the outside of the entrance that a few unlucky people rubbed up against. They suffered a mild burning for the next hour or so where they had been in contact so it wasn't anything too serious.
So we continued to hike along until we reached a part where the river widened and we crossed the bridge and stopped for lunch. Ironically there was another weird animal bone just sitting on the river's edge, but they seemed to populate the ground randomly so we stopped being surprised by them. Lunch was a wonderfully packed sandwich by our family of cheese and butter, wonderful... we packed our own snacks though and enjoyed the scenery around us. We climbed on up and down until we reached our half way point at the base of the Mulhacen mountain covered in snow, where two of the mountainous rivers met and merged into one. The plan was to make it here and cross the bridge over to the other side, scale the mountain, find the trail, and walk back on that side of the valley. Easy enough right? Well, turns out the bridge was broken or just non existent so we tried our best to find a way to cross the two rivers with no luck. When we all convened in the same place again, Paco was taking off his hiking shoes and rolling up his pants. We all let loose a few curses and nervous laughs, knowing that yes, he was completely serious and we were going to have to cross the river without a bridge. So we packed up our shoes and put anything valuable in whatever plastic bags we had (luckily I brought ziplocks) and prepared to step into the inclement waters. The curses that escaped us before were nothing compared to the yells and cries that we let out when the water closed in around our legs. It was about mid-thigh level and we made our way painfully across slippery rocks with sporadic gasps and pleas to make it to the other side without falling. There were no casualties except for the feeling in our legs which came back after a 15 minute period of jumping up and down and stomping on the ground endlessly. A small crowd of people had gathered on the other side from where we had crossed, staring at us curiously and wondering how we made it across. A little later when we were climbing up the mountain side (literally climbing, it was so steep) we stopped to look back and saw others trying to cross the same way we did. Every time we needed a breather we would stop and watch to see if the river was going to pull anyone down, but as far as we could tell, the river couldn't claim a victory that day.
We scaled the mountain for a while longer until it started to slope a little less and we could walk along more comfortably and enjoy the views of the Sierra Nevadas and the valley in front of us. We stopped for another snack at one of the refuge houses called "la cucaracha" which as many of you know means cockroach, luckily it has that name because of the shape of the shack, not because it inhabits the vile little creatures :) it did have a giant fluffy dog inside though who was very happy to sit and play with us for a while until we continued on the last leg of our journey. The downhill part was dreadful. Paco refused to take the normal path which zig zagged downwards in a less than comfortable slope and instead made paths in the dust that went straight down. My feet and my knees were screaming at me to stop but we kept going until there was no possible way to go straight. The rest of the down hill was not so bad because they were harshly cut paths out of rock with no way to make crude painful shortcuts. However, we did hit a little dilemma on this track too. We were just walking along and then we smelled something that was not so pleasant. As we were talking about what that oh so familiar smell could be it got worse as we walked onward. Caitlin and I were babbling on about the possibilities when Casey shrieked ten feet in front of us and we all halted immediately. It was a giant rotting pig. Just laying in the middle of the narrow path. We hid our faces in our shirts, held our breath, and climbed around the revolting mess that was sprawled in front of us. The good news it that the smell went away almost immediately after we turned the corner. The rest of the hike was pretty relaxing, only a few steep spots that really made your legs burn and the rest was pretty flat or slightly downhill until we hit the parking lot.
We sat down at a restaurant to relax for a little while and we played with the cats while the guys talked. After sitting for more than 10 minutes though we all began to stiffen and the soreness had already set in. We were exhausted and because we only had one car to take us all back in, Casey sat in back and the rest of us piled into the little seat. We were all so tired that the closeness was almost comforting and we all started to fall asleep. Once home we made our own dinner pretty early and went to bed before it was even dark out.
Today (Sunday) I am incredibly sore, walking seems impossible, I don't even want to talk about what it takes to get out of my top bunk, but it was all very worth it!!
|The beginning of our journey|
|miner's cave, skeleton and all|
|The freezing river we walked through|
|These flowers were all over the place|
|don't pretend you didn't see this one coming...|