Hiking Sierra Nevada – Spain

La Veleta peak is the second highest peak in the Spanish Sierra Nevada’s and can be ascended as a day walk in summer. The trail starts from the gate at the end of the A-395 road from Grenada and follows a ridge above the adjacent Sierra Nevada ski field.

Situation and history

The Sierra Nevada mountain range is located in south-west Spain. It is a national park and its high peaks enable skiing despite its southern latitude and its proximity to the Mediterranean. The range is also home to Spain’s highest peak, Mulhacén, at 3,478m. The nearby peak of La Veleta is more easily accessible, situated at a similar altitude and has a similar contour.

Trail notes

The ascent to the summit can be broken into two sections: the main body of the trail across the upper fringe of the Sierra Nevada ski field and the final steep rocky section to the summit.

Walk directly uphill from the carpark to a tall pyramidal shrine of the Madonna. The route continues up the ridgeline on a more direct heading than the maintenance road, which snakes back and forth across the ridge. There are various worn tracks that diverge and re-join up the hill, your selection will probably be governed by the prevailing winds. Even in summer you may need to traverse several snowfields.

The walking routes re-join the gravel road at the base of the summit itself. Walk along the road until a well-trodden trail appears to your left. Ascent this trail with its many switchbacks. The summit is on a rock massif that juts out to the east with and is fringed by jagged cliffs.

Planning your trip

The total trip typically takes around 4 hours and could be completed in a half day. This includes about 2 ½hrs ascent and 1 ½hrs decent.

Starting elevation: 2,400m
Summit elevation: 3,392m
Total ascent: 992m
Trail distance: 5.0km (each way)
Average gradient: Medium 1:5

Trail Grading

Gentle incline over scree. Final short section to summit steep and rocky.

Gear

Sturdy shoes are an asset on this walk and good grip will help on the loose gravel. The trail is very exposed so windproof clothing is essential. Temperatures are cool even in summer.

Access to and from the hike

The trail head is located at a carpark above the Sierra Nevada skifield about 1hr drive from Granada. To reach the carpark simply follow A-395 road until you arrive at a no-entrance sign. Park your vehicle. If you try to drive further you will be confronted by a chain barring the road at the next switchback.

Hiring a car is the recommended if travelling further around Spain. Car rental is competitively priced and public transport options to natural attractions are relatively limited.  There is one bus daily running between Granada bus station and Sierra Nevada skifield  outside the ski season.

Navigation & Facilities

No food or drink available on the walk. There are a handful of canteens that operate in the middle of the day at the carpark. The university lodge just down the road can make sandwiches and is open all day.

There are no refuges but in a storm some shelter could be sought around the skifield facilities.

There is no signage. An information centre for the Sierra Nevada national park is located at junction of the A-395 and A-4025 on the road from Granada.

Flora and fauna

Sparse alpine grasses populate the slopes in summer. Alpine Chamois are often sighted along the route.

Safety

Most of the trail is adjacent to an asphalt road making on evacuation relatively straightforward. Vehicles frequently access the area to conduct summer maintenance on ski facilities.

The ridge-top is very exposed and hypothermia is a risk.

Our experience

Short on time we hoped to get an express view of the Sierra Nevada mountains by driving to one of the peaks. Our road atlas indicated the A-395 made its way all the way to the summit. After an overpriced breakfast, including the worst coffee in Europe, at Pradollano ski town we headed for the peak. A chain and padlock thwarted our efforts so we parked the car and resolved to walk.

At the carpark, a limber European man was doing stretches in colour coordinated alpine mountaineering gear. We were mildly intimidated so decided to do a ‘test walk’ to the Madonna further along the ridge. It was really, really windy and pretty cold to boot. We returned to the car and drove to the nearby lodge where we grabbed a decent coffee and a baguette with smelly cheese as a packed lunch.

The walk was deceptively long and the peak teased us by looming no larger despite our continued efforts. After passing a snowfield and eating our baguette we completed the final ascent to the summit. On the way we surprised a young mountain Chamois which tried to escape us by running up the main trail to the summit. Eventually we herded the dim witted animal away. We were rewarded by great views of the skifield, our car, Grenada and the Spanish coast. Looming across the valley was a peak almost imperceptibly higher than ours – so we were on the second highest peak. Hmm.

On the way back down we chatted to a couple of other walkers trying to find their way. To avoid the wind we cut hard right and skirted the top of a series of cliffs. There was running water and an abundance of goat poo. On closer inspection it became apparent we had displaced a bunch of goats who were now standing precariously among the cliffs below us.

Back at the carpark we relaxed on plastic chairs at the canteen while enjoying a coke and hotdog. Later in the afternoon we visited the Alhambra and were stoked to have a clear view of ‘our peak‘ from the gardens.

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