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Chapter 25: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Campo Camara to the Sierra de Cazorla

16th June 2019

A strange thing the night I stayed at Casa Pepe, and to this day I’m still not sure if it actually happened or was a dream, but during the night, around midnight, someone slowly tried my door handle. I was so glad I’d locked it. How creepy.

Sunday morning the Casa Pepe bar, in Campo Cámara, was open early, and quite busy with many locals having breakfast. Pepe, the owner was behind the bar this morning, he was a happy friendly chap. It was a nice atmosphere, so I wasn’t hurrying at all. I had a coffee or two and a tostada, Pepe’s wife made me a bocadillo to take with me, and as a treat I took a can of Coke, to open when I was really needing it!

I rode back to the top of the town and continued on the surfaced road I had ridden in on. The mountains ahead of me were getting closer and closer, the road was tree-lined and undulating. Along this road, I left the Granada province and entered Jaén. Almost immediately the road was passing through beautiful thick woodland, and a massive descent had started, it was nice payback after the awful climbing nearly all of the day before. And the sun wasn’t high yet, which was another bonus.

Not far into Jaén, around half ten, I came across an entrance to a restaurant on my right, and thought I’d stop and have a Coke. I didn’t realise because of the woodland, that the restaurant was sitting above a lake, the Embalse de la Bolera, another turquoise-watered reservoir. It was similar to the one I’d visited the previous day. It looked like you could hire kayaks further around the lake, with many already on the water. I had a quick drink, then got on my way. I wasn’t feeling too clever this day, I think I’d way over-done it in the 13 hours of riding in the sunshine the day before, but I was quite excited that I’d soon be on another mountain sierra.

I continued on the surfaced road, still a scenic ride through woodland and cuttings made for the road to pass through the rocky terrain. I hadn’t seen the dam for the Embalse de Negratin but stopped to have a look at the one for the Embalse de la Bolera, this Embalse runs well into the Sierra, the dam wall being just outside the parc. Then soon a right turn took me into the Parc Natural of the Sierra de Cazorla. There seemed to be some holiday chalets at the entrance, it would be a nice place to stay, mental note made! From the get-go, this Sierra was scenic and calming. It was busy with hikers and mountain bikers, most of whom were returning from an early morning jaunt.

The camino passed through wooded land, not far into it was a finca-like building, it looked like the base for an outdoor activity centre, seemingly run by an English person, I guess, from the Union Jack on the building signage. I couldn’t see anyone around, so I opened the door and went inside. It looked rather elegantly decked out in polished dark wood, I didn’t go too far into the building but could see out the window into a large internal courtyard, that seemed to be surrounded by rooms. Possibly dormitories? Anyway, there was no café, so I was off!

Back riding along the forest, I stopped for a rest and a mountain biker, going the same way as me, stopped to have a chat, we talked for a while, finding out what each other’s story was, compared bikes, as you do and after a photo he went on his way. He said his name was Guzman, but I think that must have been his surname?? He had ridden in the Sierra de Cazorla quite often, driving from Almeria, which was good to hear, as I knew it must be a great place to mountain bike, having driven all that way!

Soon the mountains to both sides of the camino becomes steeper and rockier with gorges and high cliffs all around. It was another good sign this was going to be a special sierra! I was never actually sure that all of this was the Sierra de Cazorla, as there are many different sierras within it. I was a little confused as to whether I was in the Sierra de Cazorla, Castril, Segura, Villas, Hornico, Pozo Alcón or what!! But we will call it Cazorla! In fact on looking, it’s official name in Google maps, is Natural Park Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and the Villas.

The signposting was excellent, and it seems there are many different ways to walk or ride through it. The views got prettier and the trails quieter, except for mountain bikers returning from their rides. The camino was stony, sometimes with a descent, eventually the Altravesur moving off the camino onto a singletrack that passed over grassy meadows and through woodland. The singletrack became rocky and gnarly. Thus far the route had followed steep cliffs along the valley of Rio Guadalentin, to my left. Exiting the woodland and meadows, the route turned towards and followed high above the perimeter of this, the far end, of the Embalse de la Bolera. A nice bit of singletrack, descending, with a long drop, probably 50 metres, down to the reservoir one side and rocky outcrops on the other.

I stopped and sat on a weather-worn rock, looking across the gorge to the high, sheer cliffs the other side of the lake. I had my lunch there, admiring the views. I was passed by more mountain bikers, ascending the trail I had been descending. I was also passed by two members of the Guardia Civil on mopeds! Good to know someone’s patrolling I suppose!

Looking forwards to the right, was the main body of water, to the left the water narrowed to a river’s width. As I rode on, I passed over a bridge that crossed the narrow end of the Embalse, this was crossing the Rio Guadalentin, the river that flowed into the dammed lake.After the bridge the trail passed over more meadows and was the start of a long ascent. I thought I’d shortcut a long switchback, I wouldn’t recommend this, it was steep and tiresome! After the shortcut the singletrack passed over more meadows then becomes a rocky grassy doubletrack that lay in a plateau between two mountains, again I was passed by a few mountain bikers coming from the other direction.

This ride was a real gem, although it had been ascending for a couple of hours, I was enjoying the remote feeling of the trail. It seems that there was no farming going on, there was a few ruins but no current inhabitants in the Sierra de Cazorla thus far. Just as I hit the descent, there was one large modern cortijo, although it looked like a holiday home as there didn’t seem to be anyone around.

I was running low on water by now, I didn’t see any easily accessible water but luckily the descent on this grassy doubletrack was down to a river valley, with many river crossings, and easy access to the water if need be. The descent went on for a few kilometres, running through woodland and winding along-side the pretty mountain stream. I stopped and refilled my water bottles a couple of times, I’d rationed my water as I was getting a bit low, so drunk a whole load too.After descending, the trail continued along-side the river but started ascending. I was very tired by now. Although it had been sunny earlier, heavy clouds had started gathering, I wanted to keep going to avoid the rain I thought was on the way. On looking at my map I could see this ascent was at least a 300-metre climb. I realised I needed to rest, so climbed down the bank of the stream and sat on a rock eating my bocadillo. I watched a dragon fly bouncing up and down, in the silt under the water, I presumed laying eggs.

The stream was so very pretty, tumbling over rocks and waterfalls, just the sound of it was soothing. As I ascended the trail, although still running along-side the river, I was getting higher and higher above it. I was finding this climb difficult as I was so tired, still tired from my overheating the day before. The ascending went on for an hour or so, still alongside but much higher than the river. When the trail steepened, it diverged away from the river, around another peak, on a chalky smooth camino. It was around half past five by now, I was struggling to get up the steep road and so happy when I got to the top, where I came to a Tee junction. The signpost at the junction indicated a Refugio to the left in 300 metres and one to the right in 11 kilometres. Obviously, I went for the one on the left! Unfortunately, it was uphill, but not as steep as the last kilometre.

After a while the camino was gated by an iron girder, to stop motorised traffic, with a walk around for hikers and bikers. The Refugio was higher on a hill to my left, it was such a relief to get there, I was hoping it would be open and wasn’t disappointed. Although it didn’t matter, as I decided to put my tent up outside the building. The rain hadn’t materialised, although the clouds were still black, but moving fast.

Refugio Fuente Acero, as it was called, was on a large piece of fenced off land, several acres. The righthand third of the building was falling into disrepair, the main room had bed platforms, seating and a table. It was colder inside the building but not damp or smelly, still I wanted to camp outside. I put everything I didn’t need that night, inside the refugio, including Bay, only keeping what I needed to sleep, my thinking that if it did rain, I could pull the tent pegs out and carry the tent into the building.

I set-up my tent, then went off to find water. As it was called Refugio Fuente Acero, I was baffled as to why there wasn’t a Fuente. Eventually I saw the sign pointing across the rocky meadow to the Fuente. I thought before I use my water for cooking, that I’d go and check it out. It was 150 metres away, a pretty walk up the hill, passing a derelict building on the way. The Fuente had plenty of water, I didn’t need to refill at that time so I returned to the refugio and had some noodles and a cup of tea. It was only around 7pm by now, but still I wanted to sleep there and then. I managed to stay awake until around 9pm, by now the black clouds had gone and the sky was blue, with some cirrus clouds blowing over the mountains, high up. I could hear the wind, but not feel it.

I slept well until around 2am, I usually wake between midnight and 2am and have a cup of tea, which I did. Apart from some deer ‘barking’ whilst I was getting to sleep at dusk-time, that is around 10pm this time of year, the only noise was from the birds. Earlier there had been a couple of cars driving on the camino, that un-nerved me a little as I didn’t want it known I was there in case they were weirdos!

When I woke in the night, the view from my tent was just beautiful. A full moon was lighting the sierra, so I went out and took some photos, it was silent and quite serene, I loved this camping spot, no one else was around and it was a legal place to stay, that made it all that much more relaxed.

I’d thought about staying here another night but had made a school-boy error with my food. I knew it would take at least two to three days to cross this range and only had three packs of noodles, some chocolate and about six slices of bread and some processed cheese. This allowed no contingency for a delay and I decided it would be foolish to stay another day in this spot, in case I ran out of food before reaching a village.


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