If you have ever spent any time slowly cooking yourself on a beach near Marbella you have probably looked along the coast to Gibraltar and maybe even spotted Jebel Moussa in Morocco. If you bothered to turn round you would possibly have spotted, in the haze, a range of mountains inland. This is the Sierra de la Nieves – the snowy mountains – a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve.
The highest point in the sierra is Torrecilla (small tower) with a prominence of P1472, meaning that, in my mind anyway, it could be classified as a sub-Ultra, but anyway it is definitely a Major with an absolute height of 1919m at N36.67596 W4.99623. It is the fifth most prominent mountain in mainland Spain.
If you were on a package holiday and went on the coach trip to the Pueblo Blanco town of Ronda built round a hundred metre deep gorge, then chances are your coach crossed high over the sierra on the winding road, that is obviously a favourite with bikers and cyclists. I doubt that your coach turned off the A397 to the right at N36.66074 W5.09932 on to an intermittently paved and unpaved road heading for the heart of the mountains. Curiously, the road is closed at N36.67508 W5.05278 despite there being a large car park and recreation facilities further on at Quejigales.
For once I had a map, however it wasn't really necessary as there are plentiful signs and the tracks are quite obvious. There were half a dozen cars parked near the roadblock which indicated there were a number of other parties on the hill ahead of me.
I continued on the still intermittently paved and unpaved road to Quejigales, passing an unsigned road at N36.68547 W5.04865 that branched to the right. I later realised that this also cyclable but steeper unpaved road would be an alternative route to the Puerto de los Pilones. After about three km I reached the Quejigales car park. Just beyond there at N36.69202 W5.04350 there is a signboard and small bridge crossing a dry arroyo. From the bridge the path meanders steeply through a forest of pine and deciduous trees.
|Abies Pinsapo Boiss|
Apparently, the pines – Abies Pinsapo Boiss – are almost uniquely to be found in this area. The only other place in the world being one valley in the Moroccan Rif mountains. I am not sure which valley that is and wasn’t probably the hashish trail I had walked a few days previously, however, I love it when I can link walks together. Later on in the walk there were hazy views down and across to Gibraltar and Jebel Moussa, adding to that sense of circularity.
|Out of the pine forest|
The path leaves the forest at and soon joins the unpaved road that came up from the aforementioned junction. Turning left on the road I soon reached the collado at the Puerto de los Pilones at N36.68917 W5.02209. The path then does a long semi-circular traverse around the head of a large ‘corrie’, occasionally losing a bit of height but mainly gradually ascending.
|Marbella the right distance away|
|Snow well, snow well...|
At N36.69410 W5.01379 there is a restored snow-well (presumably shepherds would have collected as much snow as possible to provide a water source after the spring melt) the Pozo de Nieve de Tolox.
|Torrecilla black tree|
Eventually after much twisting and turning the path reaches a rocky pass, turns left, gives the first proper view of the summit and then loses height down to a some caves and a spring at 36.68210 W4.99708. The sign besides the spring says something about not using detergents in the water, I think.
After the spring comes the final ascent and explains why the route has been classed as ‘media’ rather than ‘facile’. It was on this part of the walk that I overtook all the other parties, that had set off before me, as they struggled with the loose rocks, scree and prickly vegetation on the steep slopes. There was evidence of waymarks but there were a number of options – all as good/bad as each other.
Handy sign for anyone who is not sure where they are
The top is marked by a cairn, a sign and a nearby cross. There is a logbook to complete inside a metal box fixed in the side of the cairn – the logbook shows that Torrecilla is a popular destination.
I had the summit to myself for quite a while and then the other parties started to arrive looking sweaty and frazzled. I was the first to leave and I did not see anyone else the rest of the day. I reversed my ascent route – except when I reached the Puerto de la Pilones I remained on the unpaved road. Although it was slightly longer that way it had the advantage of being able to march without having to concentrate on where to put my feet and it also meant that I stayed within a gentle and welcome breeze for a lot longer than the way down through the trees.
Overnight in the Camping Le Sur, Ronda
|Torrecilla from the north|