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Spain - Day 13 : Climbing Pico Veleta, Part 1

The sun was out again in the morning.

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spanish campsite

The campsite with the green grass

The first 30 kilometers of the day were super nice. A light breeze came from the sea, the air smelled salty, and a sweet scent came from the bushes along the road. The temperature was perfect, and the road was 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 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 on 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 a homeless person there as well. We decided to join the first one. This time we bought so much food that 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 found 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 descend 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 incredible. What was less pleasant 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 was 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 we would only pass a handful of small villages from now on. The next day was a Sunday, so we needed a lot of food. All the stores were just closing down. The best tactic in such a case is just to walk in, acting like you don't know what's happening. 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 tiny 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 too expensive for the number 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

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This is where we came from

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The salesman

I had washed my cycling shorts and long-sleeved shirt the day before. 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 bought a lot, including an extra loaf of bread and two spare bottles 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. No signs indicated the Pico Veleta, but there was a walking path toward a mountain hut. That was the largest road going uphill. It was a broken asphalt road. This was the actual start of the climb, although we had already been cycling and climbing for 50 km since leaving the sea. We passed a viewpoint after climbing over the road filled with holes.

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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 then on, we were also in the Sierra Nevada national park. 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 that day. Now we figured 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. The hikers walked for another kilometer and then stopped on the 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 mind getting a fine for wild camping. Still, the penalty would probably be pretty high in a national park, and most 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 allowed under certain circumstances. Before we went to bed, I tried to take a picture with the timer, but as you can see, it was too far of a walk.

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Our campsite

A part of skin just above my ass had turned fire-red. I hoped it wouldn'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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