Sunday 19 January 2020

Sierra Nevada: Beas de Granada Ridge Walk

This is the second of the two walks we did when we visited Granada in summer 2019. As with the first one, we got the route details from Trek Sierra Nevada, which is an excellent resource for anyone visiting the national park and its environs. We chose to take a taxi out of the city again so we could start the walk as early as possible: the temperature was forecast to be higher than on the previous walk and, as you can see from the photo above, the exposed ridge offers nothing in the way of shelter.

After a drive of around 30 minutes or so, we were dropped in a square in the middle of Beas de Granada just as the sun was coming up. The streets were quiet, the only person around a cafe owner silently wiping down his outdoor tables. Even the local swallows, perched on washing lines across balconies, were just waking up. The town did look as though it would be worth exploring but we didn't want to delay so we headed straight for the start of the trail: Trek Sierra Nevada does provide a description of how to find your way out of Beas but the GPX file they offer also came in handy for negotiating the streets.

The route we were to follow is an ancient one used by drovers for centuries to take their livestock down into the city from the mountains and valleys above the plain. There was a bit of a walk on a gradually-climbing farm track before we actually arrived on top of the ridge. Looking back, the sun wasn't yet high enough to hit Beas but its rays were just beginning to touch the mountains to the north and east of the town.

After around half a mile, we gained the crest of this line of hills and the Sierra Nevada massif came into view to the south east of us. It was a glorious sight and we were really relieved to be up here on such a clear day. When we'd done our walk out from Monachil it had been quite hazy at times and we wouldn't have got these wonderful long distance views had that been the case today.

The views weren't to be sniffed at on the other side of the ridge either, although perhaps they did pale a little in comparison.

The path occasionally dipped below the ridge again as we followed the trail above a bluff called Raspa de Haza Larga on the map - Raspa means "Scrape", Haza seems to be a (possibly obsolete) term for a portion of agricultural land and Larga means "Long".  When we were finally in a position to view this massive escaprment from further along the route, Scrape of Long Land seemed like a pretty self-explanatory moniker.

Cerro de las Tres Cruces (l) and Alto de las Tres Torres (r).
We were making our way towards our first relatively steep ascent of the day, as the track passes between the summits of two hills - Cerro de las Tres Cruces (Hill of the Three Crosses) and Alto de las Tres Torres (Height of the Three Towers). The former was particularly impressive both from afar and close up, its precipitous slopes drawing the eyes down into a series of ravines that split and snaked off into the valleys far below to the south.

We continued to get great views into the heart of the Sierra Nevada too, where we noticed there were still some patches of snow in sheltered corners of the highest peaks. One of these, when we zoomed in on the photo later, turned out to be the Observatorio de Sierra Nevada on the summit of Loma de Dilar. We could also make out the ski station on Veleta, the second highest mountain in the national park and the third highest in continental Spain.

Patches of snow with the Sierra Nevada Observatory on the left of the middle range of mountains.
The summit of Veleta.
As we climbed, we were lucky enough to spot a pair of Iberian ibex. After watching us for a moment, they made what seemed like an impossible dash down the near vertical rock face and hid (not very successfully) behind some grass on a small ledge.

As we carried on up to the negligible saddle between the two hills, we lost the views into the high mountains but we there was still great scenery to the north to enjoy, including the Darro Viaduct, the tallest structure on the A-92 motorway from Seville to Almería.

Watched closely by another young ibex on the summit above us, we reached the pass and began to descend again around the western flank of Tres Cruces, which shows as Loma de los Piedras (Hill of the Stones) on the map; the loose rocks and dust on this steep section of track were surprisingly slippery and both of us nearly ended up on our backsides a couple of times.

As well as getting better views of peaks on the western edge of the national park, the plain and urban sprawl south of Granada was now visible. It still looked a long way off.

Some of the best scenery, though, was immediately behind us, where we could now see the cliffs of Raspa de Haza Larga and Tres Cruces that we'd been walking above just earlier.

Raspa de Haza Larga
A cave in the cliff face of Cerro de Tres Cruces.
Looking back at Cerro de Tres Cruces and Raspa de Haza Larga.
Inspired by the wobbly videos I'd taken with my phone on the previous hike, I filmed another masterpiece on this walk as well. You might need to take a travel sickness tablet before watching but it gives some idea of what it was like to be standing in this wonderful location. You can find the video here.

At a junction in the tracks below Loma de los Piedras, we took a right turn. The trail meandered in a south-westerly direction from this point, along the crest of an undulating line of hills. It was pretty easy walking with only around 260 feet of ascent over the next three and a half miles. The terraced slopes below us seemed to be farmland, although we weren't sure exactly what they were being used to grow - olives, perhaps. We saw no livestock, just a couple of horses, one of whom took an interest in us as we passed by overhead.

The two largest hills along this section of the ridge had names - Peña de los Agujeros (Rock of the Holes) and Loma de la Peña de los Agujeros (Hill of the Rock of the Holes). As we neared the latter, I spotted what looked like a white summit marker at the top.

Loma de la Peña de los Agujeros with a tiny, white pillar on its summit.
The track actually passed just beneath the summit proper but, thinking I'd found the Spanish equivalent of a trig column, I clambered up through the scrub to investigate. Once there, it turned out to be one of a series of way-markers that were dotted all along the ridge ahead of us. Some of these were on the trail but others were some distance to the side of the track or on ground above it (like this one); we wondered if these little stone pillars marked the path the shepherds had originally followed before the modern version was created?

Looking north east, back in the direction of Beas, from the "fake" trig.
Way-markers on the trail ahead of us.
Although our hike was generally downhill from Beas to the city, there was one last significant bump before we began our final descent (sounds a bit like we were about to land a plane!) and that was the large, flat-topped hill dominating the view in front of us. 

Its summit (on the left in the picture above) is Cerro del Sol (Hill of the Sun) and you can see our path climbing up the hillside on the edge of the trees just below it. The flat area to the right of the summit is called Llanos de la Perdiz (Plain of the Partridge). That steep ascent was a bit of a daunting prospect, coming at the end of the walk and at the point when the day's heat was really beginning to build up.

Fortunately, when we reached the bottom of the dip between the trail and the hillside, there were a couple of stone picnic tables so we decided to stop for some food. We rested here for a bit before the final push up the hill, savouring the views that we'd be leaving behind one we crossed over the hill above us.

Lunch over, we gritted our teeth and began this final ascent. The path was concrete at first but then changed to more of a narrow dirt track and it was around here that we started to meet other walkers and runners, the first people we'd seen since we left Beas. At the top of the hill, we came to an old gate and all the hard work was now behind us.

The broad summit seemed to be used as a recreational area: there were wide tracks through the trees and exercise equipment sunk into the ground at intervals. We passed on the opportunity to have a quick workout though. Following one of these tracks around the south-western edge of the hill, gradually losing elevation as we went, we eventually came to a neatly laid out plantation of trees. 

Just over the crest of the next (very minor) hill, we found ourselves at the visitors' car park for the Alhambra and soon we were walking in the shade of its vast stone walls down into the city, where what felt like very well-earned beer and tapas awaited us in abundance.


The Trek Sierra Nevada page for the walk is here:

Our previous hike in the Sierra Nevada can be found here:


Date: July 2019

Walk length: 16 km (counting the Alhambra as the finish)

Total ascent:  385 metres


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