2-Day Climbing to Mt. Mulhacén, the Highest Summit in Mainland Spain

During our summer road trip in Spain and Portugal in 2018, we had the chance to climb a stunning summit located in the South of Spain. Even if it doesn’t appear to be a common destination for those travelling in Spain, we wanted to tell you more about this amazing location.  “Where to start? How difficult it is? What should I bring?” We tried to review all your questions. 

Exploring the Sierra Nevada National Park

Located in the region of Andalucia, Sierra Nevada is a mountain range with more than 20 peaks over 3,000 meters. Mt. Mulhacén rises to 3482m, making it the highest point in the Iberian Peninsula and continental Spain, and also the highest peak in Europe outside the Alps and the Caucasus Mountains. Its name comes from the Spanish transciption of Muley Abul Hassan, the penultimate Muslim King of Granada in the 15th century. According to legend he was buried on the mountain’s peak. The park is renown for trekking and skiing, with the Europe’s southernmost ski resort. Lastly, the park is home to a thriving Spanish Ibex population: we actually encountered more ibex than humans in 2 days!

An unexpected ascent

Since we were on a surf trip, we didn’t plan to go for a hike at all. When we were backpacking, we had to plan our activities beforehand and thus make sure we carried our trekking gear if needed. While in the van, we always carry our outdoor gear and if we have any chance to explore a new location, we want to seize the opportunity. We absolutely love the spontaneity vanlife gives you! So we were visiting our friends in Sevilla (If you read this, hi Ainhoa and Isis!), where the hotness of Andalucia was absolutely unbearable, and then headed to Granada. We considered stepping by the famous Caminito Del Rey around Malaga but it seemed to be packed with tourists and slightly overrated. Not exactly what we were looking for. We were having a chill afternoon in Zahara de la Sierra (highly recommended stop: it is perched on a mountain, overlooking a valley and a huge lake) when we read about Mulhacén. We got so excited that we headed to Capileira (about 265km) that same night, which gave us plenty of time to research the itinerary.

Day l - Starting from Capileira (l4l2m)

We woke up around 9.30am, had the best porridge ever for breakfast, packed our backpacks (an article about our trekking gear essentials is coming soon), went to buy fresh fruits and veggies in the local market and moved around 11.30am. We left our van in the village and asked a friendly spanish guy, who explained us a lot about the trekking path, to keep an eye on it. Starting at the foot of the path in Capileira, this route passes through pine forests and vast open mountain landscapes until reaching the first Refugio. We ran across animals like cows and sheeps, but not much humans. It was around 3.30pm when we reached the Refugio Poqueira so this is where we had our lunch break. This refugio, located at 2500m, boasts spectacular views down the Poqueira valley and across to Africa on a clear day. Refugio Poqueira is fully-equiped if you need anything (hot meals, snacks, drinks, toilet and shower facilities, crampon rental), we personally didn’t need to step by since we carried our own gear for camping and food.

We decided to carry on our ascent to reach the next Refugio before night: Refugio de Caledera (3065m). We underestimated the time (and difficulty) to get there. Sun was already going down, and we made it there around 8.30pm. Located on the Western Ridge, this is an unguarded shelter which can host around 20 people. You can sleep there for free (no booking needed, but you better arrive early if you want to make sure there is a space left). We were about to sleep there, we actually entered it and greeted the people already inside… However we spotted a beautiful laguna on the left, so we decided to set up our tent next to it and enjoy the quietude of the mountain instead.

We had dinner (nothing fancy, just a ready-made lentils soup), and went to sleep around 10pm. Don’t get fool by the location, it gets pretty cold up there so you better bring a warm sleeping bag!

Day 2 - Climbing to Mulhacén Summit (3482m)

We woke up around 7.30am and warmed ourselves up with some tea. We slept pretty well up there, despite the visit of a couple of Spanish Ibex during the night. They made so much noise while going down the rocks to reach the laguna that we got a bit scared until we figured out what’s going on, but they didn’t bother about our presence so we went back to sleep easily.

After a night’s rest, one can either take the more technically challenging Western Flank to the summit or ascend via the South Ridge, which takes a little longer but is just walking, as opposed to climbing. We decided to ascend via the more exposed Western Flank and descend down the South Ridge.

It took us approximately one hour and half from the laguna to the summit. The path was pretty steep, but the view was so rewarding. We didn’t have any expectations so we felt pretty content to reach the summit… We were standing there, just the two of us, watching over the Sierra Nevada National Park. We actually had a long break there, waiting for someone to arrive and thus get a chance to capture the moment.

It was around 10am when we started to descend down… Time to head back to Capileira to check on our van. Somehow going down always feels harder than going up. We didn’t even stop for lunch, we just grabbed some nuts and bananas along the way and reached Capileira around 5pm. Needless to mention we were pretty exhausted… so we decided to reward ourselves with a huge Menemen (a traditional Turkish Omelette) and a delicious chocolate cake that Gürkan bought in the village while I was boiling the water to take a shower. In the very same night we drove to Granada, and got to visit the city completely sore the following day!

Have a great, safe hike up to mainland Spain’s highest peak!