Chapter 11: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Ardales to Valle de Abdalajis

Updated: Feb 2

18th April 2019

You can see my YouTube of this ride here

The Hostal El Cruce in Ardales was in the right location to easily get back onto the Altravesur route, the at first steep surfaced road out of Ardales was easy to find….but oh so steep. This was day 30 of my ride, Thursday the 18th of April.

It was a very scenic ride, but clouds were looming over the mountains ahead of me. Perhaps an hour or so into the ride the rain started, not torrential but reasonably heavily. Out came my fabulous purple ponchooooo. I’m so glad I bought it with me, it's far too heavy to take bike packing, it’s thick plastic, so is 100 per cent water proof and is definitely the best piece of equipment I gambled on, why I say gambled is because I nearly didn’t bring it because of its weight.

The dirt road ends and then I’m onto an uphill surfaced mountain road, I saw many motorhomes coming the other way, I guess the rain wasn’t what they came for! After a few kilometres on this road, going straight ahead on a tight right-hand turn takes you back onto the GR7 dirt road. At first through a sparse woodland, you can see a huge concrete wall through the trees to the right, turns out it’s a reservoir wall.

After a few kilometres you pop out of the woodland, high up, with rocky mountains ahead and the trail becomes single track. After all the climbing, you’re at the top, with a very gnarly steep descent for a couple of kilometres to El Churro. Basically it’s down the side of a mountain, with diverse terrain from eroded, rutted soil, to bare rock with drops and steep switchbacks.

This singletrack would be a fabulous ride without all the luggage, but it was so steep and rocky, on the precipice of this huge chunk of rock, that I could only ride now and again. I’d packed my rucksack badly and my laptop was to one side, which totally unbalanced me, and when I’d try and make a slight steering correction, it would sway and the correction would become an overcorrection, which made it very difficult to ride!

I still had my poncho on, the rain had stopped, but the clouds were still heavy. To negotiate this rocky descent I had to take it off, as it also hindered any subtle movements I was trying to make. As it turned out, it didn’t rain again……..well not yet!

It’s an epic descent by any standards into El Churro, eventually hitting the surfaced road, it’s a short climb up into the village.

I’m not sure exactly how you get your ticket etc for the Caminito del Rey, which is a famous short trek through the mountains, on platforms pinned to the side of the rock. I deliberated, I really wanted to do the trek, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I was still recovering from my sunstroke and didn’t want to have myself over. So I decided I wasn’t going to do it.

There’s a train station in this remote village, quite strange really! I stopped at a café just outside the station and had a sandwich. Whilst at the café another mountain biker came along, Tatod. He had ridden from Granada, in three days!! Put’s my riding to shame! He was getting the train back to Granada. We chatted for around half an hour, by now it was around 3pm, so I needed to get going to try and find somewhere to sleep. I was sorry to have to leave him so soon, as we got on really well, he has good English!

I struggled to find my way back onto the Altravesur. After dicking around for around twenty minutes going the wrong way I eventually found I needed to go high into the Village of El Churro, and onto the mountain trail above it.

It was obviously all uphill, standard! Twenty minutes on this mountainous woodland and the thunder started, then the rain, lightning and hail. This continued all the way up for around two hours. A few hikers had been coming down the mountain. In heavy rain, I’d stopped a group of ten to ask if there was camping nearby, they happened to be English, which made it easier. The guy said that I was near the top and there was a car park around 100 metres away, so that gave me some hope that I could find shelter and set-up camp.

I continued on in the hopes of finding this car park in 100 meters, I didn't find it. I wasted half an hour walking down a side track towards what I thought was the car park, only to find it was a large cortijo, alas no one was around to ask if I could camp there. I had to walk back up to the trail, and re-join the route proper, eventually finding the car park at least half a kilometre from where I’d spoken to the man!

It was in a clearing off the side of the trail, but the rain was too heavy and had settled into too many puddles to think of camping there. All along the trail I’d been sheltering under trees when possible, to get relief from the rain, at the same time scouting for a camping spot. You’re not allowed to camp there, so whilst I was still seeing hikers coming down, I couldn’t think about setting up camp on the trail side. I couldn’t go into the woods as it was a steep embankment down into the woodland, to the right, or a steep embankment up to the left.

Where the guy had said I was near the top, turned out it was a false summit, it had gone down then up again. Due to the rainfall there was quite a lot of water running down the trail. At around half five the surface suddenly became clay-like, and it stuck to my shoes, weighing them down like lead boots, 5cm thick and increasing the size of my shoes by about ten sizes! It stuck to my tyres and built up like a snow ball. After 10 metres Bay stopped dead, the wheels were jammed up in the forks and suspension.

I had to get my knife out to try and clear the clay, it was difficult, and eventually resorted to pulling this goo off with my hands. It was like potters clay, slimy and slippery. I’d push for another couple of metres and it would clog up again. Bloody nightmare.

If I’d thought that was bad, there was worse to come. It had stopped raining by now but there was thunder in the distance, and it was getting closer.

I could see the surface changed from red to white, I thought ahhh that’ll be better, so as I got to the chalky surface, I got on Bay and tried to ride!!! What a mistake. This was stickier than the clay. I couldn’t even move two meters without the bike coming to a stand-still. Not only was the clay and chalk stuck to the tyres and my feet, but stones, rocks and vegetation was all mixed in with it.

I’d clean it off and move a meter or two at a time, but each time it was getting harder to clear away. The thunder was getting closer, the rain started spitting, I was at a loss as to what to do. There was a fence to my right, the chalky roadway in front and behind and an embankment of rough rocks and vegetation leading to the steep mountain to my left.

I could only go forward or backward! I couldn’t see how far the chalky surface lasted as it went off into the see-able distance. I kept cleaning and pushing, and cleaning and pushing, scraping my shoes on the fence, scraping my hands, that were also covered in clay, on the fence. I had taken around half an hour to move twenty meters. It was around six o’clock, the sky was black from the fast approaching storm. I was feeling somewhat alone and desperate!

Eventually I couldn’t do this cleaning anymore, I was thinking about taking all the luggage off the bike, carrying that to a point, then going back for Bay and carrying him. I knew it was around 8 kilometers to the village of Valle de Abdalajis, and thought if all the road is chalk I won’t get there until next bloody week at this rate!

Then I thought I’d try and lift the rear of Bay, and push with the front wheel on the ground. This worked to a certain degree, I could go ten metres at a time before the front wheel jammed. Cleaning the front wheel was easier than cleaning the rear, so I used this method, until eventually the chalky ground ended. What a relief!

Alas, with all the chalk on my tyres, it started to pick up an incredible amount of gravel from the new gravelly surface! So I still had to keep cleaning the tyres, I was worried how much damage these rocks and stones were doing to my bike.

When I got to the downhill section, I thought fuck it, I’m gonna get on and ride as fast as I can to the village, before the pending downpour.

The thunder and now lightning were very close, but the rain was light at this point. The road became surfaced, although very bumpy, I raced down that as fast as I could, with stones and mud flicking up off the tyres at me. There were some horrible noises coming from Bay, from the chain and my front Rollpacker bag was chaffing on the tyre, as the tyre was now 50cm bigger in diameter due to the collection of mud! But I kept going.

Almost the second I got into the village absolutely torrential rain began to fall. It was horrendous. I’d not seen rain like this since Hawaii, where it creates instant puddles and streams run down the road. As usual the village centre was uphill, everyone was diving for cover from the torrential downpour, they were huddled in doorways. Some staring at the bedraggled English bird with her purple poncho wading through the water. The police were trying to sort out directing cars, I don't know why, perhaps the rain interrupted a fiesta?

I’d asked one of the policeman if there was a hostel nearby, and he pointed me in the right direction. On getting there, banging on the door, a man named Sergio came from another entrance. He could see what state I was in, so said he would telephone the owner to see if there was a room for me. This took five minutes or so, still in the torrential rain, he returned to say no, it was fully booked. He took pity on me and ushered me down a steep driveway into a workshop, to get me and Bay out of the rain. It was so kind of him, we were dropping mud and water all over the tiled floor of this workshop! He didn’t speak English but we communicated, and he said there was another hostel in town and phoned them for me, passing the phone over to me.

As it turns out the Refugio de Alamut is run by English speaking Finnish people!! So I spoke to the lady, and she said come up, we have a room for you. It was such a relief to hear those words. Sergio was another example of the kindness that the Spanish have shown me over these past 30 days. I was so very grateful to him, he got the map up on his phone to show me where the Refugio de Alamut is, unfortunately a steep one kilometre climb from where I was, out the other side of the village. But no matter it was refuge!

I thanked Sergio, and went back out into the rain, moments later the rain stopped. By now my feet were soaked to my ankles due to the torrents pouring down the street, I was cold, tired, but relieved. The final climb up the Refugio de Alamut’s driveway was hard, I stopped for a moment to rest, turned around, looking back over the village I had just left, and there, as if to say everything’s going to be alright, was a beautiful rainbow. This inspired me and helped me to the top of the steep driveway.

Timo and Dah run the Refugio de Alamut, they’ve only been running it for two weeks, so I feel very lucky, as the other owners may not have been able to help me. Both Timo and Dah were so very nice and understanding of my messy muddy drowned-rat appearance!

They soon settled me into one of their chalets. I had a very hot shower to warm me up, then walked over to their bar area for a cup of tea, and to collect myself together. It really had been another of those ‘oh shit’ moments, a bit like when Pepe and Inma rescued me!

Although exhausted, I didn’t sleep much that Thursday night, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was that all my stuff and Bay was covered in mud and I was worrying how I would be able to get back on an even keel. I shouldn’t have worried, Timo and Dah both went out of their way to help me. Timo set-up the hose pipe to wash Bay, Dah took my dirty clothes and laundered them. Oh man what more could I ask for!

On Friday, day 31 of my travels, Good Friday in fact, I spent the morning emptying my bags, washing them, washing Bay and generally trying to re-group and get some sort of semblance to my kit. This was made easy with the help of Timo and Dah!

I discovered that I’ve ruined my front Rollpacker bag, where it was rubbing on the muddy tyres, it has worn a hole through, so is no longer water proof, bum it! They are expensive, £200, so today, Saturday I carried out some repairs to it, by sticking puncture repair patches on it, it seems to be quite a robust repair, so fingers crossed.

Dah is originally from Thailand, she speaks Thai, German, Finnish, English and now Spanish! Timo speaks many languages including very good English.

At Refugio de Alamut the spacious rooms are in chalets. With, I’m not sure what you’d call it, but to me looks like Buddhist inspired, tasteful artesan décor. There’s nothing not to like about being here. Even not having a phone signal or wifi in the rooms didn’t bother me. There’s wifi in the public area, which is around the pool, the bar and a recreation room. It’s not that good a wifi, but I’m sure Timo will sort that out. It would make the place absolutely perfect, but for me, it was heaven anyway!

I’m writing this on Saturday 20th April, Day 32 of my travels, it’s rained on and off since I got here, with a sunny morning yesterday, and sunny intervals this morning. Refugio de Alamut sits right below a huge rocky outcrop, well and truly in the mountains. It’s a very rugged area, with an escarpment behind it, and rolling green hills in front, looking down over the village, it’s quite beautiful.

There’s a feral cat that keeps coming to see me, I can’t touch him or her, but she meows a lot to me, and will just lay down near me and seems happy enough.

I took a walk down into Abdalajis today, I needed some food and some camping gas. I'd been cooking all my meals except breakfast, in my room on my camping stove.

The town was busy, I think there was a funeral happening. I met a lovely old guy in the street, he was around 70, and just started talking to me, which is quite unusual for older Spanish people, they are often times very wary of strangers, I guess you can blame the Franco era for that. Anyways, Bartholome, I think that’s how it’s spelt, he pronounced it Bar-toll-a-may, he was telling me where to go for getting the best photos in Abdalajis. He now lives in Barcelona, but has returned to his hometown for the fiestas. How lovely he was.

I couldn’t find English Breakfast tea in the supermarket, so was asking in a Bazaar shop, the lady didn’t know what Te Negro was, but some young senoritas overheard, and started talking to me, they had good English. Rebecca, Marisol and Julia, told me they have English Breakfast tea in the other supermarket. So I went there, and got some. Later walking through the pueblo I hear shouting behind me, it’s the ladies again, asking if I got my tea!!

So now, Saturday evening, with the heavy rain just stopping, I may venture across to the bar for a cup of tea! I’ve no idea how long the rains will continue, but the forecast is not looking good. At 35 euros a night, I can’t be here too long, that’s for sure!

I had some neighbours in the next chalet, Alain and Helene, from Bordeaux, we chatted as best we could, Alain spoke some English. They left on the Thursday, driving home via the Sierra Nevada, back to France.

I ventured over to the bar that Saturday night and got talking to a French guy, Michel, that has lived in Spain for over twenty years. He makes a living by organising Paragliding holidays, pretty extreme hey!

Sunday night I also went to the bar and got talking to a local man, Jesus, he speaks no English, so I have to use my little Spanish, but we managed to spend a whole evening chatting! Embedded in the walls of the Refugio de Alamut bar are some Amonites, Jesus was telling me that he finds these fossils up in the craggy mountains above the Refugio. How fascinating to think that this massive mountain was once under the sea!

There was a strange turn of events at Refugio de Alamut, on the Wednesday, my hosts, Timo and Dah, that had only been running the place for a short while, had decided they no longer wanted to buy Refugio de Alamut. The owner, Marie-Carmen returned and Timo and Dah left on their motorbikes on the Friday, the same day I was to leave!

Marie-Carmen had built Refugio de Alamut, and run it for twenty years. She is hoping to sell up so she can retire. If you're interested in buying it, please contact her on the Refugio de Alamut website, directly.

Jessica did the room turn-arounds at the Refugio, she was lovely. In fact everyone there was lovely!

Adios mis amigos!

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