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Chapter 21: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Bayarcal to La Calahorra

10th June 2019

You can see my YouTube on Riding the Eastern end of the Sierra Nevada here

On waking, the sun had risen and was lighting up the mountain to my right, but my camp was still in the shade. It was chilly, even with gloves on. I packed up camp quickly and returned to the route, taking the turning I’d missed the night before, which climbed higher up this hump.

It felt very remote up here, the camino was chained off to motorised traffic, the only tracks on the mostly grassed over camino were those of mountain bike tyres, goats and cows. I wondered if any of the bike tracks were those of Robert and Meta, that had ridden the Altravesur a few weeks previous.There was woodland to both my left and right, right was down the mountain, left up it. Many trees had been blown down, a couple were across the camino, with the loud wind the night before, I wasn’t surprised. Being left to only walkers and cyclists, this camino had a very special feel to it, the flora and fauna were flourishing with many butterflies, moths and beautiful wildflowers.

After a few kilometres there were many mountain springs, so plenty of water to filter as I was just about out after using a lot at camp. It seemed such a waste, many of the springs running down the camino and it was sodden in places. Such a shame no effort’s being put into harnessing it, as farther back on the camino there is no water.

I was at around 1800 metres altitude by now, the amount of cow poo on the camino increased as I progressed on up, it made me wonder where the cows were, the poo was often quite recently deposited! I could only see one farm, way down the sierra, but no cows or goats.

Eventually getting to what I believe is the highest point of the Altravesur, just over 2100 metres, where there was an ideal photo opportunity at a rocky outcrop at that point. I’d never been to the Mid-East End of the Sierra Nevada, only the West and middle mountains. I think this was my favourite, it was vast and less populated, with the feeling of wilderness that I like, to a degree.

Way down below in the distance I could see a surfaced road, I think it was the mountain pass road that cuts through from the Southern Sierra Nevada to the North, it looked rarely used, I only saw one vehicle on it. Seeing that, I knew I was close to the crossing point myself. The camino rose up from that point perhaps another 50 metres or so, then came the descent taking me to Puerto de la Ragua, the mountain pass I was taking to cross the range, from the Southern slopes to the Northern slopes.

The descent wasn’t as long or steep as I thought it would be, it made sense a little later why that was, there was more descent to come. The camino exits the Southern Sierra Nevada, hitting the mountain pass surfaced road, At the Puerto de la Ragua pass I found what looks like a cafe, it was closed.

I turned left onto the road, downhill for a kilometre or so, then the route called for a sharp right turn. I couldn’t figure it out and overshot it by a short way. The surfaced road was high and steeply downhill, with barriers alongside. I walked back uphill a way and saw that the turning was a singletrack which was well hidden between the roadside Armco.

Now was descent time! This singletrack was steep, rocky, twisty and overgrown, scary at times. Hard to follow too, a new firebreak was being cut by a digger, which threw me off the trail for a while. This ride down the Northern side of the Sierra Nevada was such fun, but hard on the bike as it was just so rocky, then it became overgrown. At first with long grasses and shrubs, then tunnels of brambles and stinging nettles.

These brambly tunnels went on for some time, whilst riding one, I dodged some stinging nettles, got a bit of a wobble on, went to dab with my right foot, but nothing was there, it was a twenty foot drop down to a barranco. Me and Bay fell sideways down the brambly embankment, luckily stopped half way down by a sturdy tree. With all the weight on Bay, he fell hard, catching the tree with a hefty thud, between the forks and downtube. I landed heavily on my right hip and bashed my head quite hard. I don’t think I lost consciousness so wasn’t too worried about the head hit but was so glad I had my helmet on. I had quite a few scratches and was a bit shaken but no serious damage luckily.

The worst part came when I tried to get Bay back up the embankment. The embankment was steep, but worse, it had a water spring at the top, so all the soil was sodden. I could barely stand on the embankment due to having no traction on the steep slippery mud, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get Bay upright. I was so worried, my phone had survived the fall but there was no signal, and by how overgrown the trail was, I knew it was unlikely than anyone would be around to help.

I decided to remove the front and rear luggage; this was quite difficult. Getting the removed luggage up the embankment, onto the trail was worse! It was so slippery I just couldn’t get up, I found a branch of a small tree to pull myself up with. After four trips to the top I started pulling the much lighter Bay up. It was so difficult getting the traction to push him up, eventually I resorted to pulling him up through the brambles. It was such a relief when everything was back up onto the trail. There was nowhere to stand Bay on the bramble lined trail, so I pushed him around 30 metres down the trail and lent him against a wall. I reloaded Bay then went down to the barranco to wash the mud off me and to clean all the scratches.

I realised after, if I’d have walked along the creek with Bay, I could have got up a less steep embankment. But still I would have had to remove all the luggage as I couldn’t extract him from around the tree. My legs stung where I’d got scratched up on the brambles and stung by the nettles. All this palaver took around an hour or so. Seriously I shouldn’t be allowed out alone.

Then I set off on my way. Luckily Bay sustained no damage, I still had all my gears, the tyres were fine as were the brakes, how lucky. I had no serious damage, but did feel a little weird, which didn’t hinder my riding. Continuing on, it was around another half kilometer of brambles, then there was a decent camino which I sped down at top speed, leading into the sleepy pueblo of Ferreira, I still don’t know how to pronounce it! It was around 3pm, so siesta time, but I didn’t even see any cafés or restaurants, so I continued on through and headed into the dry hot plateau leading to La Calahorra. And it was hot, with the sun at its highest and zero shade.

The terrain on this side of the Sierra Nevada was so very different to the other side, where it’s still green and lush mostly, this side was desert-like, dry and barren. It wasn’t a long ride on the surfaced road before I saw a beautiful castle upon a hill, this was situated in La Calahorra. I soon found a bar open, Bar Restaurant Rosabel, I stopped off for a coke at this rather trendy looking bar and asked if they did rooms, yay it was also a hostal I learnt. I wasn’t planning on stopping here, but after my accident, I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent, so I took a room for two nights, that would give me enough time to wash my muddy clothes.

La Calahorra was another beautiful whitewash mountain town, but this one didn’t look as though it had been invaded by foreigners! There were many dilapidated houses in need of restoration, and it didn’t look as touristy or as ‘wealthy’ as say the villages in the Alpujarras. The Bar Rosabel had been remodelled by the current owners, Paula and Sam, a young married couple, expecting their first child in October.

They had been running it a year. They’d made a fab job of the renovation, even making the furniture themselves, for the bar and restaurant, which was a designer twist on traditional Spanish, making a modern and airy space. They’ve not renovated the adjoining hostal yet, but it’s fine in its current form. I’m so excited for them, they are such nice people and were very welcoming and helpful to me. Sam connected the hosepipe out in the street for me, so I could wash the mud off Bay and the luggage. And they let me store him in the large hostal reception.

From my room I could see the castle, the beautiful church and another building, just opposite, that I never found out its history, but it was beautiful. Perhaps an old monastery? I’ve no idea. I didn’t visit the castle, it’s not a ruin, so would have loved to but it’s only open on Wednesdays.

I’d woken early Tuesday morning, and was happy that after my accident the day before, I only had a few aches and pains; shoulder, hip, wrist and ankle, but none were debilitating. I was so glad I had the sunburn-preventing wrist supports on! I spent Tuesday doing some shopping and looking around the town. I was looking at the outside of the impressive church and an old lady said I could go in with her to have a look, I didn’t stay long as a service was about to start. I was taken aback at just how ornate and richly decorated it was inside, and at how big it was, with a beautiful wooden ceiling, that I learned was lucky to survive the civil war, as many were burned down.

It was a Monday I arrived there, so I was having Monday and Tuesday night in La Calahorra. I washed my clothes, gave Bay a good check over and rested. Bar Rosabel serves great food, alas, I often seem to be in a hostal on the day they close, in this case the Tuesday, not opening until midday Wednesday, the day I was leaving. I found another Restaurant to have my meals on Tuesday and breakfast Wednesday.


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