When I was reading guide books about Andalusia, I anticipated there’d be tons of architecture to explore, but what I didn’t realize was how many national parks are in the area. I’d been looking up specifics on various parks that might coincide with our travel times in various cities. I’d read you could ride your bike on the Vías Verdes, which are bike paths along old train tracks (looks really cool, though we didn’t do it), venture into nature preserves, and hike in UNESCO biosphere reserves. Not surprisingly, the hiking won our attention as did the location of the parks we visited.
We decided we’d use Ronda as our mid-point for our two days of hiking. This worked out well as both areas were about 45 minutes away. We’d decided the first day of hiking would be to summit Torrecilla, the highest peak in the Sierra de las Nieves. My research had shown the hike would be 5-6 hours roundtrip. It had also provided detailed instructions for how to drive there from Cortijo de los Quejigales. This meant we could drive our car to a parking lot and start the hike from the paths there. Perfect.
I printed off the “guide,” which explained at some points it would seem like we were off-roading. I’d wager it was close to a 30 minute drive to the parking lot through rough gravel paths (both Jim and I wondered how big and pointy a rock needed to be to puncture the tire on a car…as we found out – the rocks here are NOT big enough) though there was one stretch that seemed to be properly paved. Luckily, we saw no one else on the road, which wasn’t large enough for two cars. And when we arrived at the parking lot we were the only hikers for the day. This has never happened before, and I was pretty excited to have the park to ourselves for the whole hike.
Just past the parking lot we came to our first map (in hindsight, this was also the only map). The instructions I’d brought said the area was well signed, so I didn’t get a proper hiking map (mistake #1). We looked at the above map, which also looked pretty straight forward to follow the river and then take a right so we did not take a picture of this map until our hike was complete (mistake #2).
Feeling confident in our abilities and excited to enjoy the sunshine, we started our trek. The instructions said this, “After parking follow the signed path to La Torrecilla, which is located on the right at the end of the car park. This path climbs up through a pine forest which soon becomes predominantly Spanish Fir. Gradually the path gets steeper but is always clear and the route obvious. Gradually the trees diminish in number and you reach the Puerto de los Pilones (with an information board) where the path joins a track coming up from the valley. By the time you have reached here you have already ascended 470 metres.” We walked through the pine forest – check. Then we came to a fork in the road, but no informational sign (aside from telling us NOT to disrupt any of the plants). Thinking back to the map, we decided this must be when we take the fork to the right (mistake #3).
Our next instructions read, “From this pass you already have a fine view with Torrecilla just over 3km to the southeast. The onward route goes half right along a clear footpath that leaves the track. The path initially descends as you walk slightly downhill amongst an interesting landscape of rock and gnarled oak trees. Soon you reach a reconstruction of a snow storage pit with another information board. At the next path junction bear right following the cairns.” We thought we found the footpath that left the track – which was really a 30 minute trudge through a mud trail (Jim had mud on his pants up to his thighs and both our boots were completely covered). Once we came to the above clearing, we figured that was the rock and gnarled oak tree spot. Check. We stopped to take in the views and the breeze. There’s something really therapeutic about looking out the horizon and hearing the wind. I love it. We continued on the path, but then the path disappeared and we didn’t see an old snow storage pit (or even really know what an old snow storage pit looked like). We wandered through the trees for a while and then decided we’d gone the wrong way. So we trudged back through the mud (where we passed a couple…in hindsight we should’ve asked them where they were headed) to the fork.
At this point we re-read the instructions and thought maybe we were supposed to stay straight at the fork and that was the part that would take us down into the valley. So we started that way, which highlighted an even more interesting landscape. After 20 or 30 minutes we stopped at stared into the distance (below, left) and wondered if that peak in the distance was Torrecilla. At this point it became painfully obvious we weren’t even sure what Torrecilla looked like or what direction we should be looking in to find it. Regardless, we decided we’d continue on the trail a little longer. This is when we started to see all the hawks or eagles (after much internet sleuthing we couldn’t figure out which they were, even after looking at the tails). While we were eating lunch I spied at least 12 and after lunch we saw three that got quite close (below, right). I may or may not have squealed a little each time one approached my head.
We continued on this path for another 45 minutes or so, but decided it looked like a fire road, which wasn’t heading back up at any point. We’d been in the park for at least 3 hours at this point (4 by the time we’d returned to the car). So, we decided to head back and instead explore Ronda in the afternoon in the sunshine.
On our final walk we continued to look for direction markers and/or signs and didn’t see any. We walked up a path that appeared to go to the peak we’d seen earlier, but it stopped after a couple hundred feet. Before reaching the map we also saw a bridge over the river. Maybe that’s where we were supposed to go. Jim investigated, but came back shrugging his shoulders. I took the final photo (above, right), thinking it might be Torrecilla but figuring it was not.
I was disappointed we weren’t able to summit (or even come close), but have to admit that it was a real treat to be in the park, see the hawks or eagles, and take in the breathtaking views. It was also quality time with Jim where we laughed a lot as we scratched our heads. A day out in nature is always a day well spent.
I also learned a few important lessons – maybe we should’ve hired a guide and maybe we should always get a local map when hiking. If anyone knows where we went wrong, we’d love to know. Until then, we’ll just be viewing Torrecilla as the summit that got away. Guess this means we’ll just have to go back!