Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Los Tres Picos: Charity Trek in Spain

A few weeks ago, I finally embarked on the trip I have been jabbering on about all year: an absolutely incredible 3 day trek up 3 of Spain's highest mountains! All in aid of the EY Foundation, the trek was both mentally and physically testing, but equally rewarding and all for such a great cause.

Arriving in Malaga Airport, ours being the first flight to arrive, my auntie Tricia and I awaited the arrival of the remainder of the group. There was around 27 of us on the trip, from all across the UK. Once we'd all spotted each other - look out for big backpacks, EY Foundation t-shirts and multi-coloured buffs - we started the 1.5 hour bus trip up into the mountains. Everyone chatted away on the bus, reconvening with people they'd met on training walks and introducing to new faces. The route took us out of the busy city on the motorway, to rural mountainous towns with stunning views. As we all tried to snap quick photos out the bus windows, the guides told us to save our batteries: the views will be even better tomorrow, our first day of trekking.

We disembarked in the small spa town of Lanjaron. It's a very traditional-looking town, lined with dainty for white houses and apartments. It is popular with elder Spanish tourists, for the clean, pure water that rolls off the mountains and spouts out of fountains randomly placed in the streets, free for drinking. Wooden chairs line outside of shops and hotels, encouraging locals and tourists alike to sit outside and have a conversation with their neighbours. Finding a couple of neighbours chatting away at 2am sitting in chairs across the street from each other would not be an unknown sight. We were staying in Hotel Espańa for most of the trip. A very quaint, old hotel, it was basic and comfortable, but also elegant and very Spanish!

That evening, after a briefing from out Spanish Highs guides about altitude, what gear to take, the terrain we should expect etc, we had a filling dinner and an early night, ready to tackle Veleta in the morning.

The first day of trekking, looking back, was most definitely the easiest of the three days. The guides at Spanish Highs liked to ease us in! The walk itself varied in terrain, but the main battle that day was the altitude. Being the first day at about 2,000 meters, the lack of oxygen was a hindrance for even the most fit of trekkers. The ascent began in small steep sections, that the guides took us up at a very slow pace to allow acclimatisation. Further up, the altitude became less of a battle and the gradient was continuously at a semi-steep incline until lunch. Our lunch stop was around 40 minutes from the summit, where we enjoyed sandwiches whilst looking out at not only the summit we were heading for, but also the two mountains we had to look forward to over the next two days. This was probably one of my favourite views of the trip, and excited me for the coming days! After lunch, the gradient increased even more so and the last part was initially quite steep, but with an easy flatter section to finish off next to the summit. The peak had gorgeous panoramic views from the summit with spine-tingling cliff drops off of the farthest side. We stopped for a snack and photo-ops before heading down. The walk down was again fairly varied and easy, though the steep angle we were declining at times was a surprise on the knees for some trekkers who hadn't had much mountain-descent experiences. We stopped off at our first lagoon too: a huge man made pool of water, purpose built for aiding the mountain towns with their water supply. The water runs to the lagoon down small streams from higher ground, and it was a great opportunity to fill up our water bottles and camel banks! We followed empty ski slopes from there onward back towards the bus. That night was spent back at our hotel, for another evening meal at a restaurant and recouping for the next day.

Day 2 we were not only summiting Spains highest mainland mountain, Mulhacen, but we had to do so whilst carrying our overnight necessities and gear for day 3, as we would be staying at a mountain lodge that night. This was a huge test of my Osprey backpack which worked out extremely well! Mulhacen's terrain wasn't too bad, but it was a fairly steep ascent, and the heat was relentless. I struggled to not guzzle all of my water during the ascent. This was the day we split into two separate groups too, a slower and a faster group, so everyone could go at their own pace. The summit was buzzing with trekkers from across the globe, many for fundraising causes, many of whom were welcomed banter on the summit. The descent began extremely steep and over uneven ground. But the struggle to keep balance whilst descending was rewarded with a lagoon-area full of green grass, running water to drink and a wee mountain goat buddy too. After the lagoon, we followed the river down-stream, scrambling down the edge on its rocks, until we reached the mountain refuge, Refugio Poqueira. This hostel is a fairly compact place, based right in amongst all the mountains. There were twenty of us in a room, mixed gender, sleeping side by side. With shared showers and very little space, I think I speak for us all when I say it was an experience, and it was one that let us get to know our fellow trekkers more, to say the least!  A filling meal and a group meeting overlooking the sunset, and we were off to sleep.

After a not-as-bad-as-I-thought-it-would-be sleep in the hostel (I had ear plugs, clever me!), we had an early start to set off for the final summit, Alcazaba. The ascent itself was only 4 hours, fairly similar to the previous days. We began at an easy, slow incline, with a couple of random off-road steeper inclines,  before reaching a lagoon, Siete Lagunas. Everyone had the option to head back to the refuge at this point if they were too knackered but everyone agreed they wanted to carry on and tackle the summit. The next couple of hours were not only steep, but consisted of extremely difficult terrain. I've never climbed on anything quite like it: the only way to describe it is that it is almost like huge rolling hills of slate slabs. You have to scale these at a precarious angle, and try not to step on loose ones. Walking poles came in handy here! It was quite baron, making it easy to get lost if you were on your own, and the nature of the dark slate intensified the heat. But we made it through, and the final ascent was over continuing slate slabs, which eventually turned into huge slate boulders at the summit. It was a steep climb, but all in all wasn't bad, and there was even a patch of snow for us to throw some snowballs on! It definitely was worth it for the views at the top; Mulhacen's intimidating slopes on one side right next to us, and in the distance we could see Veleta too. The only problem was we of course then had to descent: which was a further 7 hours.... Safe to say an 11 hour day, in the heat, after climbing two mountains in the two days before, is extremely challenging, more mentally than anything. It was a stunning walk, beginning with a descent down the slate hills, back to Siete Lagunas for water replenishment. We followed the path down the edge of a huge, bellowing waterfall, and continued down a well-trodden path to reach a tree level. I felt it was at this tree level I immediately felt the effects of it all, with far less of a breeze now we were declining. I felt drained, exhausted, hot, fed up and my feet began to ache. We were aiming for a cluster of white houses in the distance; the town of Trevélez, where our bus would pick us up. But the white rooftops did not seem to get any closer, and the heat, though it was later in the day, seemed to just worsen. We did eventually make it however, to the beautiful town of Trevélez, and the huge feeling of relief of taking off our boots at the bus was immense!

The trek ended with a celebratory meal and drinks, and my auntie and I extended our trip to relax by the pool and extra day, and explore Lanjaron a little (as far as our sore feet would allow us to!). The trek was incredible, and the Sierra Nevada is far more stunning that I ever imagined it would be. Photos do not do this place justice! Do not be fooled that it is only a three day trek, as it does take a lot of mental and physical strength. But all of it is worth it for those summit views! Not only was there the views, but the nature was pretty epic too. We saw plenty of vultures, and one eagle. Wild mountain flowers were often found by the lagoons too, and much to my delight, we had regular encounters with mountain goats! The fellow trekkers were a great group, with such a huge mix of people, it was lovely getting to know everyone. Our guides at Spanish Highs were incredible - not only knowledgeable and full of advice, they were cheerful during the tougher parts of the trek, motivational, always happy to take photos of everyone, and always, always encouraging. I cannot recommend the guides, nor the trek itself, any more than has been said, and I suggest you get signed up right now! Check out the Spanish Highs website for more information, and have a scroll through some of my favourite photos below :)

And obviously if anyone still wishes to donate, you can do so here!



  1. As many towns in my country have a welcome at their entrance "Bienvenidos" you can read when you go away "Gracias por su visita" hope to see you back soon.


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