I glanced down at my watch; the time read 4:03pm, which indicated there were two hours of sunlight left. Two others and I had somehow managed to meander off the beaten track on a presumably simple hike through the Sierra Nevada National Park. We’d walked eight kilometres in and had decided we were going the wrong way, as our navigation implied we we’re headed into the centre of the park and nowhere near any points of exit. The shorts I had ambitiously chosen in a mental protest against the irregular Spanish weather had served as a stark reminder of the conditions: freezing. And then the snow came.
Two hours earlier
I’m sitting underneath a beautiful hanging bridge in Las Cahorros, adorned by a half frozen waterfall, a meagre stream separating myself and two other travellers from the natural wonder. We sit huddled around a flickering campfire, which often needs replenishing due to the bitter and cold weather making quick work of the brittle wood. We’ve stashed some beers into the natural pools surrounding us as a nice reward for the hike we made to this point. One of my friends, Calvin, begins rolling a cigarette while my other friend, Simon, delves headfirst into the hummus dip.
I sit close to the fire and try to navigate the delicate balance between warming my freezing legs and singeing the hairs on them as well. It is an especially cold day in the nearby town of Granada, in which saw a -5c morning, not atypical but representative of the cold snap sweeping Europe. I find a cosy spot and gulp down a beer, the only sounds being the sombre sound of water falling and the crackle of fire. Its times like this that I find myself thinking: this is what travelling is for.
After an hour or so of relaxing we extinguish our makeshift heater and continue on past the hanging bridges and deeper into the park. The path itself doesn’t seem super safe or even maintained, as we see no signs indicating directions or distance. We pass through a cave, using a series of hand hooks fastened into the rock wall to drag our bodies across the face. When the hand hooks weren’t available we crawled on our hands and knees underneath the jutting edge of the rock wall, the narrow path providing little comfort or mental security. After some time, we found ourselves in a huge opening that was reminiscent of the Andes mountains. There was an incredible and intricate mountain range, with peaks that seemed to pierce the dull, grey skyline. The wide expanses were a refreshing change from the tight squeezes before and we carried on before heading across another bridge.
It was at this point the track became relatively blurry. With no signs we followed what we presumed was the logical route that would end in a circuit. Not so much. We ended up heading up the side of a mountain, unbeknown to us continuing on a track that literally crossed the entire national park. If we were to continue we would have been walking for five days.
Nevertheless, we continued without thinking much about it, presuming that the track would find an exit path for us eventually. We walked along the Rio Monachil, subconsciously evoking some old Bear Grylls knowledge about following water when you’re lost. The river separated us between some huge bison grazing on the steep and rocky mountain faces.
After around an hour we realised we didn’t seem to be heading in a logical direction. We checked our offline maps, and turned out we we’re walking into a maze of greenery. We turned around and tried to realise where we had gone wrong or made the incorrect turn. It must have been at the mountain, after we crossed the bridge. I was already starting to get pretty cold given the temperature was around one degree and the occasional wind worsening the problem. When we got back to the path alongside the mountain, the snow started to fall. I realised we only had two hours to sundown, eight kilometres to cover and that it would not be so easy to keep walking past that point. I wasn’t so keen for a night out in the wilderness wearing only shorts, so we powered down the mountain side, almost at a running pace.
Two hours later
We successfully made our way back to our original entrance point, realising that for some illogical reason the path we followed on was a one way route to crossing the entire park. Sharing a few high fives, we jumped onto the bus from Monachil back to the city of Granada, embracing the warmth of the bus’ heater reminiscent of the fire we made a few hours ago.
As I headed to sleep that evening with the maniacal snoring of an elderly Chinese man in my dorm, I held my sheets tightly thinking what could have been if we had kept walking. My shorts would have offered little protection and the weather was unforgiving. I’m sure I would have been fine, but I sure as hell didn’t want to find out. It could have very well been an experience in Andalusia that fell... short.