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Spain - Day 13 : Climbing Pico Veleta, Part 1

This morning the sun was out again.

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spanish campsite

The campsite with the green grass

The first 30 kilometers of the day were super nice. There was a light breeze coming from the sea, the air smelled salty and there was a sweet scent coming from the bushes along the road. The temperature was perfect and the road flat. We looked out over the misty sea while the sun rose. There were many other cyclists. After a long stretch of road we went into the hills. From the road we could nicely see how all the infrastructure had formed. Below our 80 km/h road lay a narrow decayed road carved through the rocks. It must have been there for hundreds of years. Then there was the road we were one that was probably a few decades old. A hundred meters above us, higher up in the mountains, ran the highway, which was the newest, most level, and filled with bridges and overpasses. After some climbing we reached a nice viewpoint.

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View towards the east

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The blue sea

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View towards the west

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A row of seagulls

After the viewpoint followed some more climbing. There was a traffic jam and quite a few people blowing their horns. Most were probably tourists. One man put up his thumb when we passed him. In Almunecar, a pretty large city, we again came to a large road. It was about dinner time so we searched for a supermarket. There were no benches or calm areas to sit, only in the window stills, but there was already a homeless person sitting there. When we went over to the other side of the road to sit in the shade Bram noticed there was a homeless person there as well. We decided to join the first one. This time we bought some much food we only managed to eat half of it. Two guys and a girl joined us. They weren't homeless but didn't look Spanish either. They told us they had come from Slovakia to find work here. I don't know what type of work they hoped to find here, there was nothing to do outside of the cities. When a touring car arrived they went over, I suppose to ask if they had work. It seemed like they seriously wanted to work, but I am not sure Spain is the right country to seek it.

After Almunecar it was only a short section before we would leave the sea behind and head into Spain's interior. We would climb from sea level all the way to the summit of the Pico Veleta, at 3395 meters the highest road in Europe. We hadn't been able to find much information about it on the internet. We vaguely remembered the climb being around 50 km long, which roughly matched our maps. We also knew the last >10 kilometers would be unpaved. From the summit we would descent over an asphalt road towards the north.


View over Almunecar.

After Salobrena we took a left turn towards Granada. From there we first cycled 15 kilometers gently uphill along a river. Then we needed to cross the river and start the actual climb, or so we thought. The road went up along a large reservoir. The view was great. What was less nice was that after all the climbing we went downhill again. All those kilometers of climbing didn't even count towards the 3400 altimeters of the Pico Veleta.


After 30 kilometers, of which half uphill, we arrived in Orgiva. From there the real climb started. We were only at 400 meters of elevation. We wanted to buy some food and drinks here, as from now on we would only pass a handful of small villages. Tomorrow was Sunday so we needed a lot of food. All the stores were just closing down. The best tactic in such case is to just walk in acting like you don't know what's going on. Bram walked in but the man there stopped him. He asked what we wanted 'aqua'? Yes, we wanted some water. Carrying two liters of water, instead of a mountain of food, we left. 

The good news was that the climb now really started. It wasn't very steep, perhaps 7%. The villages on the map were all very small and not along the road we would be following. For now all we could do was keep on climbing. We arrived at a higher section of the road. There was a man next to a home, selling fresh brambles and red berries. It wouldn't make sense to buy those, we would finish them within a minute and they were way to expensive for the amount of calories. It was a nice spot to take pictures though.

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We were heading in this direction, but wouldn't go into the valley

Spain mountains

This is where we came from

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The salesman

Yesterday I had washed my cycling shorts and long sleeved shirt. They were now underneath my straps to dry. The 'normal' non-cycling trousers I was wearing were sagging down. As a result I had a stretch of skin about 3 cm wide exposed on my back. It is nicely sunburned right now and will hopefully not turn into an ugly tramp stamp.


We had climbed a bit more since Orgiva, now we were at 800 meters. To make the climb not too easy the road went downhill for another few kilometers. By now we had cycled 40 kilometers since leaving the sea behind and were still not very high up. Perhaps the 50 km until the summit started in Orgiva?


Now we were in a touristy town. The baker was still closed as it wasn't five o'clock yet. There was a fountain where we could get some cold water. Half of the town consisted of souvenir stores. They sold large crocheted rugs, for if you got cold on the mountain.


In Bubion, the last hamlet before we left civilization, we found a store. We thought we had bought a lot, with an extra bread and each an extra bottle of water. It was the most we could fit in our panniers, and any extra food also needed to be hauled up the mountain. After Bubion we reached the last few houses. There were no signs indicating the Pico Veleta, but there was a walking path towards a mountain hut. That was the largest road going uphill. It was a broken asphalt road. This was the real start of the climb, although we had already been cycling and climbing for 50 km since leaving the sea. After some more climbing over the road filled with holes we passed a viewpoint.

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View towards the south, we came from this direction.

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View towards the south-west

We cycled on. The road transitioned from a broken asphalt road to a gravel road. In the distance we could see some high peaks, would one of them be the Pico Veleta? The road was pretty steep and waved up against the mountain. It was still hot at 6 o'clock. We rode among the trees. About 15 kilometers after the last village we reached a guarded barrier. There was a map as well. According to the map we were going in the right direction. Now we came on a gravel road with loose stones. From now on we were also in the national park the Sierra Nevada. There were a few hikers. After another hour of climbing we sat down to eat a chocolate bar. We continued. By now we were already above the tree line. The climbing went well. Just passed the trees we found a herd of mountain goats. It wasn't super warm there, on the south side of the mountain.

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The mountain goats

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Bram and the path we were cycling on

In the morning we had thought we would be able to reach the summit today, now we thought it was still 10 or 20 kilometers away. Of course there was no campsite halfway up the mountain. When the sun started to set we pitched our tents. That night it would be cold, at 2630 meters. While we were eating two hikers passed, a man with his daughter. They waived at us. That was the first time we were discovered while wild camping, I think ever. Fortunately they kept on walking. There was no place on the mountain to hide ourselves. The hikers walked for another kilometer and then stopped on top of a hill. It turned out they had stopped because of an approaching jeep that we only noticed when it was 100 meters away. Fortunately it also continued so we could sleep at ease. We wouldn't really mind getting a fine for wild camping (especially because in general it saved us a lot of money on campsites) but in a national park it would probably be pretty high and most of Spaniards don't speak English, so it would take a lot of time to handle everything. On the internet I later found that wild camping in the Sierra Nevada is actually allowed under certain circumstances. Before we went to bed I tried to make a picture with the timer, but as you can see it was too far of a walk.

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Our campsite

Just above my ass a part of skin had turned fire red. Hopefully that won't turn into a scar. At night it was really cold. I put on all the clothes I carried and still couldn't sleep.


The route of day 13.

Distance cycled : 137.51 km 

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