Or how to steer a huskie on a lead through a forest.
The train from Barcelona to Granada was not the best experience. The sleeping berths had sold out by the time I was booking, as had the day train, so sitting up overnight it was. I chatted with the Korean girl next to me who was on a trip from her base in Germany. The ride was smooth by comparison, but especially to the train through France. I’d noticed how wide the gauge was and wondered if that was part of the difference. At a stop late in the night a new passenger asked which way the train was going and the answer was the opposite to what I thought! Was the ride really that smooth that I couldn’t tell or did we change direction? Had we been stopped so long to switch engines over? I wasn’t sure. At long last the lights were turned out after midnight, people stopped their intermittent chatter and phones stopped ringing.
We arrived a good ten minutes early in Granada, and the lack of announcements left the Korean girl and I unsure whether this was Granada, but it was. I’d planned on getting breakfast before catching the bus up to Lanjaron where I had booked a day excursion from for snowshoeing. It was still dark and I was getting used to European hours, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be finding anywhere other than the station cafeteria to eat. So I splashed out on a very reasonable taxi ride to make sure I got the next bus. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t the express bus, I got to see a bit more of the scenery and towns on the way.
The sun rose over the snow on top of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Cloud tails of snow falling dropped straight down until near the highest peaks where it blew in giant streaks. The houses were interesting styles, mostly terracotta coloured or white. Trees dripping with oranges and occasionally lemons stood out more than the small groves of olives. A heartier variety of prickly pear grew here, jewelled with sweet red fruit. The bus wound round hills carved up by humans and water. The GPS on my phone said we were nearing Lanjarón. The bus pulled over for a moment at a stop and continued on before I could get out of my seat. All the earlier stops were longer! We were still going through town so I perched near the front to see what happened. I jumped off when someone at a roadside bus stop waved the bus over, and found my way to the hotel.
Apparently there are 14 hotels in Lanjarón, and they all close for the winter. As do the restaurants. One hotel was grudgingly talked into opening for me by Richard from Spanish Highs who I had organised the snowshoeing through, but for food I made do with a tomato pulp tostada made especially for the vegetarian, and various odds and ends from the little supermarkets. I wandered around town for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I felt like I was actually on a holiday, not just travelling. I was startled by a big park full of assorted gum trees. Exploring it further took me down below the town and towards a ruined castle. This turned out to be one of the main sights of Lanjarón, and had a good view of the town and the sharp mountains around. Goats with bells tinkled below. The other thing to see is the drinking fountains. I saw them but didn’t understand until later. The water runs out of them in constant stream. It’s the chlorinated tap water though, not the spring water the town is apparently famous for.
In the morning I met up with my showshoeing guides Kierstan and Pepe for the hour or so drive up to the snow. Half an hour along, after gradually driving up the mountain we turned off on to a dirt road to really go up, apparently we weren’t in the hills yet! There was no traffic until we hit an oncoming herd of goats maybe mixed with sheep. The woman shepherding them was not inclined to smile. Ahead and across the steep deep valley was the highest peak in Spain. Not a day trip! The snow wasn’t as far down the mountains as usual for this time of year, and was patchy where it was. It certainly wasn’t as cold as I expected. It had been a warm dry winter.
We pulled over once there was too much snow on the road for the car. Crampons with jagged trap-like teeth under them were adjusted to the smallest setting to fit my boots, but we didn’t end up using them. A pair of snowshoes fitted more readily. A broad flat piece of plastic ran around the edge to increase the surface area on the snow, buckles ran over the top of my boots. They didn’t stay attached to my bag for long after we set out, the snow lying consistently enough on the road to use them after we got around the first corner. Walking in them was strange at first, a bit like wearing flippers on land. Then I was told to just walk normally in them, and that helped.
The road took us through a pine forest to a locked refuge hut. The key was available from the lower village on the other side of the valley. Khumbu, the Siberian husky out with us for the day, tugged on his lead at every smell among the pine trees. The snowshoes had been loud on the icy snow on the road, from the hut on they were quieter on the deeper, better snow. Careful on the traverse across a steep little slope in a gully. Up we went, picking our way where there was enough snow cover. There was better coverage by the time we got up into the open. Up still. A short lesson on an example of avalanche snow. A five centimetre thick wind hardened slab on top of loose marble snow beneath. Nothing to worry about here with the slope not steep enough for an avalanche and the trees just below.
We zigzagged up the hill to a patch of rocks for a short lunch. A few clouds and a cold wind. Then up and across the face we’d just covered. The wind had carved elegant blades in the snow. A golden eagle sat above on the exposed rocks that blocked our view of the peak. After a little while I became aware of how high we had come, and an edge with the land dropping away at some unseen angle a little way below me. I found this unsettling, and was quietly a little glad when it was time to turn back. Going down was like learning again from the start. Straight down was easier, a limited sliding on the looser snow, almost a moment of skiing here and there. I was tired for the last bit back along the road and happy to see the car.
Driving back down the hill, I learnt that the three villages on the other side were known as the three white villages. The long straight line of the irrigation channel from the snow down to them was visible from our side of the valley for most of the day. In the summer they draw Spanish tourists, I guess on day trips from Lanjarón. Back there ourselves, we stopped at a bar for a drink before I caught the bus back down to Granada for my next stop.