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Every Picture Tells a Story:

Cielo (1508m), Sierra de Almijara, near Nerja, Spain

This a particularly significant walk for the development of Walking Stories – as well as being a great climb in itself.  It sums up the opportunities that exist for people who find themselves on holiday in different parts of the world, surrounded by impressive scenery, looking for routes where they can safely go hiking.  When discussing the idea for Walking Stories with a friend at the end of a winter hike, we found out we had both climbed Cielo when staying at Nerja some time in the past.  The same happened when I bumped into another walker from England, on a hike in Crete in 2004, and in talking about the difficulties finding a route up the hills on holiday it emerged he had also climbed Cielo from Nerja.


Back in 1994, I had even used it as a prototype for “walking stories”, writing up a couple of walks and information on Nerja.

View north-east from summit of Cielo

View north-east from summit of Cielo

And so, although I haven’t managed to scan many photos yet to illustrate the story with, and can’t remember the route in detail, Cielo definitely deserves a mention.  Especially when you see this photo from the summit!

We were in Nerja back in July 1994 for a fortnight, on a Thomsons holiday staying at El Capistrano village, and after spending time on the beaches and by the swimming pool at the village, I was itching to get out in the countryside.   Nerja is  ringed to the north by the rugged mountains of the Sierra de Almijara, which reach 1832m at Navachica.  This would be impressive were it not for the higher peaks of the Sierra Nevada further east, near Grenada, which rise to a mighty 3482 metres (c.11,000ft) at the summit of Mulhacen, Spain’s highest mountain. 


From the beach in Nerja the shapely peak of Cielo can be seen, reaching a height of 1508 m.  It’s picked out by a large cross on the summit.  I’d already explored the dry gorge leading towards it but turning inland towards the slightly higher, rounded summit of Navachica.  My route had been blocked by tall rocks in a dry stream bed and thorny scrub on the slopes around it, and I was running short of water, so had to turn back on that occasion. 


I decided it was worth trying to find a route up Cielo, and to try and beat the heat I set out before dawn, along the track north-east from El Capistrano that includes a short section of original Roman road.  It turned left across rough flat ground, past a ruined wall on the left, and a field of irrigated crops on the right (I can remember this bit pretty clearly).  Then it dipped down to cross a deep dry river bed – this was spanned further down by a splendid old aqueduct which is clearly seen from the main coast road near the Nerja Caves.


On the other side, amongst houses, I found the vehicle track turning left up the valley.  It was a long stretch, climbing only gently, heading into the mountains.  Further up the valley there were barriers built across the dry river bed to hold back floodwaters in the winter and spring.


This is where it gets a bit tricky to remember the route (if anyone else has a clearer memory, please let us know!).  The gorge which I had followed previously continued ahead, cutting into the mountains.  The route to Cielo went off to the right, and I remember having difficulty at one stage climbing up through more thorn bushes towards a more definite track.  There was also a section on a better track, where I noticed the apricots growing on small trees alongside it. 


I could see my objective ahead, and there was a steep rocky shoulder on the left side.  I was able to climb towards this and then to the left of it, then onto the top of the shoulder and along to the summit.  It was still only about 9.30 a.m., I seem to recall, and the heat of the sun was just beginning to be felt.  The cool air coming off the sea was carrying low clouds with it, resulting in one of the most magnificent views I have ever experienced.  I took quite a few photos of it, and have had one enlarged to sit on the office wall alongside the view from Mount Fuji, another from the Vikos Gorge in northern Greece and a fourth from closer to home in Glen Doll.


The summit was broad and stony, with some low aromatic herbs growing.  The cross rose (I think) about four metres up, but I couldn’t see Nerja below because of the sea mist.  Inland the view was clear, to the higher summit of Navachica.  It looked possible to walk over there without having to descend too far, but I didn’t chance my luck.  It felt a great achievement to make it to this splendid peak, but I ought to get down before the temperatures rose too high.


I scrambled back down the same way, initially, then thought I could see a reasonable route straight down the slope into the valley, rather than skirting around the way I had ascended.  It proved to be a bad decision, and I slipped and stumbled down on loose stones, getting plenty of scratches along the way.  I recall there were one or two trees lower down.  I’m less clear about the route I took to get back to the main track leading back out, but by the time I got there it was scorching hot, and I still had 45 minutes of trekking to go. 


But my luck was in – I hadn’t seen a soul all morning, then heard the sound of an engine behind me, and soon I was sitting in a jeep trying to explain in my few words of Spanish that I’d just come down from Cielo.  The driver could probably tell from my appearance!  I was dropped on the main road, and walked down to the beach where the rest of the family were relaxing.  A lazy swim in the sea had never felt so fantastic, nor a bottle of chilled water tasted so refreshing.  It wasn’t yet midday, and I could scarcely believe that I had just been up to that mountain top that I could see in the distance.


Contributed by: Andrew Llanwarne

Nerja introduction

Read about another (easier) walk from El Capistrano village, Nerja - Tragalamocha

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