This is my version of a day scrambling I had in the Sierra Nevada on the NW ridge of Tozal del Cartujo. Thankfully I was in the competent company of Richard, Felipe and Andrew, who all helped to keep me calm, make me laugh and make me feel confident. Yes I can do it.
The four of us met in Lanjaron and drove to the ski centre above Granada to catch the gondola to the middle station and then the chair lift to below Veleta (in July and August the ski chair lifts are open and give you a good bump in altitude to help a good mountain day). At this point
we left the crowds, Okay so in reality there were only a couple of other people about. We headed on down to the beautiful Lagunillas and carefully passed through the unique ecosystem of the Sierra Nevada known as Borreguiles. Here I admit to getting distracted by all the flowers, insects and birds who call this place home. Many photos later I caught up with the others who had reached Laguna Misteriosa. Another beautiful and rarely visited area, shhh don’t tell anyone about it.
Two hours after leaving the chair lift we had a rest, putting on our helmets and harnesses and my nerves began to tickle away in my tummy as I took in the (to me anyway) enormity of what I was about to do. The start was pretty straight forward and a nice way to get you into the day, but soon enough the rope was brought out for me to give a little confidence on the exposed areas we were now on.
I’ve had a number of scrambling days over the years and thoroughly enjoyed them once I’ve argued with the “I can’t do this” voice in my head. However, this ridge is different from any of the other days I have done. It is one long high altitude ridge with sustained exposure. The voice in my head was different today, it didn’t say “I can’t do this”, it said, “what the hell are you doing here, how are you going to get up, down and over this”, I thought this was progress and maybe me and the voice in my head are coming to an understanding!
At some point during the day Richard took off to go explore and see if he could find a way around the ‘crux’. It was decided that I would have more interesting scrambling by sticking with Felipe and Andrew, I should have known better! We arrived at the ‘crux’. Now for most the ‘crux’ is the short abseil into the void and (in my opinion) a near impossible climb back up the other side.
For me there was an added ‘crux’ the piece of rock you need to down climb to get to the abseil. I’m short, the rock has no hand holds at the top and the foothold is cut away underneath the rock out of view and out of reach of my feet! It’s only a short distance to drop down but exposure started to get the better of me, and I was having a serious argument with the voice in my head at this time. I had to ask Andrew (Felipe was setting up the abseil point) to push on my backside to push me back into the rock as I attempted to lower myself down the rock. Sorry Richard and Andrew but there was no other choice other than a helicopter coming to get me ha ha. When I look at the photos of this section I laugh at how something like that could cause such fear in me, but that is exposure for you.
Felipe had set up the abseil point and Richard had now rejoined us, but he was on the other side of the ‘crux’ yes he had found a way so people didn’t have to do this section! I have not abseiled for maybe 9 years (not had a need to do so), luckily Felipe had set it up so that he would lower Andrew and myself down, phew. Andrew was first to step into the void and disappear over the edge. Then it was my turn. I used to enjoy abseiling, turns out I don’t anymore, or I’d forgotten what I’m supposed to do. I clung to the rock as long as possible, do you know how hard it is, having flipped out at the short step before, to make yourself walk off the edge of a mountain? Then I think Felipe thought well let’s get this over with and started to lower me, there was no going back. I reached the bottom and scrabbled my way over, still attached to the rope I might add, a very exposed slab and to the safety of a small flattish area. Felipe joined us within a few seconds!
Andrew and I had been discussing how the climb up looked doable, well the part we could see anyway. Felipe arrives and says okay down we go, Andrew and I looked at each other with the expression of WTF, we want to go this way! Down we climb to the near impossible climb back up. Felipe led, thankfully, and was up with relatively little effort, don’t you hate people like that? Richard was at the top taking many photos and shouting words of encouragement, well at least that’s what I tell myself he was shouting. I will keep this short there was no elegance in this climb, I don’t do rock climbing and that was certainly evident in my efforts to haul myself up this chimney. One foot on one side of the rock and your back pressed against the other side of the rock and push up with your legs, repeat but add huffs and puffs and a few choice words and you eventually reach the top to smiling faces of my husband (I think he was actually quite proud of me, hell I was quite proud of me) and Felipe. A few hand holds arrive the higher up you go making it a little easier on the legs. Andrew arrived a short while later, well I think it was a short while later, but to be honest I was so full of adrenaline that I was away with the fairies and don’t really recall much from I finished that section.
The day is far from over here. Another three quarters of an hour easy scrambling before you reach the summit of Tozal del Cartujo 3151m. The problem I had is that the adrenaline had left me by this point, my legs had turned to lead and didn’t want to work, well they did but protested all the way. We had a little chat and I told them they had to keep moving as I didn’t want to spend the night out on the mountain. I found a feather en-route to the summit which we believe to be from a Griffon Vulture, maybe it had come from the one that circled above us during the climb up the chimney. We reached the summit, had a break, drink, food and photo. We walked back through the Lagunillas, took more photos of flowers, passed the observatory and made our way down through the ugly ski centre to the welcome sight of the gondola. We were out on the mountain for 6.5 hours, not a bad time at all, apparently. Back in Lanjaron we had the obligatory celebration drink before going our separate ways.
This turned out to be a day of not conquering my fears, but mostly successfully dealing with them. I was physically and mentally exhausted by the end. I had thought of nothing else but the rock a few feet in front of me the entire day, it was incredibly rewarding, what a great high mountain day out. Thank you Richard, Felipe and Andrew.
If you are interested in scrambling and would like to experience scrambling in the Sierra Nevada, check out the Spanish Highs website for more details. The Sierra Nevada and surrounding area sure have plenty to offer.