Start and Finish: The Refugio at Juanar
Essential Equipment: Boots, waterproofs, food and water
General Description: This is a high altitude circular walk of about 6 kilometres, starting at around 2,000 feet and taking you to 3,300 feet so be prepared for rapid changes of weather. The different views that open up as you progress, are well worth the effort. This is only 1 of 7 routes that start from the Refugio.
To get to the start: Take the N340 to Marbella.Take exit 185 (La Cañada). Turn left at the roundabout at the end of the exit road, over the bridge and straight on at the roundabout where you would turn right for La Cañada. The Refugio de Juanar is signposted ahead. Drive for 10 kms and then turn left onto a narrow road following the signs for the Refugio. Keep on this road as it winds into the hills until you reach the Refugio. Park on the right on a rough car park just before the hotel car park.
Julie was unfortunately incapacitated this month, no walking for six weeks, so I accepted the challenge from Bob Foad; to get him round one of our walks. This proved a useful exercise. Bob is 50 something, the same as myself, but has never been walking, apart from to the pub and the tobacconists. Bob had himself kitted out at Decathlon; boots, fleece, waterproofs and day sac and, one Tuesday morning, pronounced himself ready. On the Thursday I picked him up at 8.30am. This is an account of our walk.
By 9.30am we were approaching the Refugio. Bob, normally a chatty sort, had been going quieter the farther we penetrated into the hills, probably as he realised that he would be going somewhere 'up there' very soon. I must admit the approach road is pretty spectacular, through a narrow valley with high ridges both sides and the narrow road perched half way up with a goodly drop on the passenger side.
We parked, kitted up and set off back down the road about 600 metres. Bob set a fine pace remarking 'Its fresh up here isn't it?' A path then descends from the road to the normally dry stream bed. It continues across the stream as a well worn path that rises steadily to just left of a prominent rock mound at the point of the ridge, our first objective. I could hear Bob just behind me becoming increasingly breathless so we had a couple of stops to admire the view and I occasionally became engrossed in photographing the plant life. Bob informed me I had chosen to head for a mound of rock that kept moving further away. I took this as a good sign, if he could still talk he was still breathing.
At the point of the ridge the path, again well marked, levels out for a while and bears left up a steep sided valley to a saddle between two peaks. I found that the word level is relative and has two meanings, mine and Bob's. After the 'level' bit the path hair pins up to the saddle. OK I did take a few more photographs of plants and views but Bob was still breathing and most importantly, still upright.
The saddle is an excellent spot for a coffee and buttie stop and not before time according to half this expedition. This is the highest part of the walk. On a clear day you can see east to the Sierra Nevadas and north is a whole range of ridges and peaks one behind the other, hiding the Istan and Genal river valleys. Bob's calves were pulling by this time, I did not want him stiffening up so we moved on.
Straight across the saddle the path immediately starts to follow the contour lines on the right side of a ridge and continues round ridge after ridge, fortunately it follows the same contour line so is fairly flat. Each ridge provides different views as the path bends to the west. Torrecilla, the highest peak in the Sierra de las Nieves, is clearly visible to the north. The Junta de Andalucia have embarked on an ambitious programme of tree planting, replacing native species that have been cut down over the last couple of thousand years. For a way the path follows the line of a new fence erected to protect the young plantation.
Shortly after the fence ends you will notice that the path becomes sandy and then emerges on a beach beneath a small cliff. The mudstone of the cliff was laid down 210 million years ago during the Jurassic period when huge plant eating dinosaurs roamed the earth and the sand is the remains of an old beach. Since then the African continental plate has pushed against the European plate, raising this rock, and all the other mountains around here, some 3,000 feet. Bob took the opportunity to lounge on the beach whilst I had a look (unsuccessfully) for fossilized shells.
Now heading back towards the Refugio the path starts to descend gently to a last ridge from where the view is right across to Malaga and back down the coast to Marbella. From here the path becomes a track that winds steeply down to the Refugio. Bob found that going down was as much a strain on his legs as going up but that is mainly technique, the trick is to loosen the knees and go with the flow rather than try to pull back with every step. Bob commented that we look like a delegation from the Ministry of Funny Walks, but, who cares, we are not likely to meet anybody we know up here. With sense of humour, and breath restored, we arrived back at the car.
The conclusions. This walk is graded as moderate which it is for those used to walking. For beginners it should probably be graded hard. On the other hand, with no experience, Bob thought he was on his last legs when in fact the body is more resilient than he thinks and he probably had a few more miles left in him so I will leave it as a moderate. Bob has now regained his breath and deserves the last word.
I have always found Nick and Julie good company so when Nick mentioned that Julie was resting this month and was unable to do the walk I had no hesitation in volunteering my services. If you ever find yourself in this situation after the odd glass or two of your favourite tipple, as a novice let me give you a few tips.
Do not look for the path that Nick is pointing out for you. Look instead for a barely distinguishable goat track. Do not look back to where you have been; it will give you vertigo. Do not pack your sandwiches in tin foil; when you flop on your back and push your water bottle into the knapsack they will not resemble what you packed. On the upside you will learn so much about the beautiful country we live in from Nick, and see a part of it that very few see. I for one am hooked and if Nick and Julie will have me I will puff and pant my way behind them on several more occasions
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.