Sierra de Grazalema

Conquering Torreon peak in Grazalema

I have rebublished this wonderful article from 2010. Fantastic memories of a wonderful person. Yes you Sacha Burton 🙂

It’s been far too long since I viewed the Sierras from our highest peak here in Grazalema and as we have a friend from Canada visiting us I thought it would be a good excuse for me to take a day off the computer to show her the view from the top of our particular world…The walk of Torreon takes about 5 or 6 hours there and back depending, of course, on how long you stay at the top. It is a steep incline to the summit of 1654 metres which can take around 2.5 to 3 hours to trudge.

This article was first published on Wildside Holidays in 2010

Remember that to enter this restricted area you need a permission from the park authorities. Read here about how to obtain permits for restricted areas in the Sierra de Grazalema

Over to Sacia for her thoughts and observations 🙂

Torreon adventure story! by Sacia Burton.

Ooh, STOP! I want to get out and take a picture… please?

Lady birds at the very top!
Lady birds at the very top!

Clive, my friend and nature guide for the day, shrugged and pulled to the shoulder of the road; I had cause to be excited — we had just turned the corner on our way to Torreon and the Puerto de Boyar Mirador, or “golden view“.

Spectacular views of endless mountains dispersed between verdant valleys lay before us. I hopped out of the car, camera in hand, and snapped a few shots of mountain tips peaking up through morning mist.

I am diligently not a morning person, so with such enthusiasm early in the day (early being any time before 11 a.m.) I was surprising even myself. Torreon, the highest peak in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, standing at 1654 metres, was to be my first mountain hiking/climbing experience here.

As it turned out, my early morning enthusiasm wasn’t the only thing that surprised me that day.

Pinch me views!
Pinch me views!

As we rolled away from the Mirador I was a bit dumbfounded. I thought about what the view at the top of Torreon could possibly be like if there was such a striking lookout at the base. We drove towards the car park where we were to begin our ascent, and each turn in the road presented a fresh view of the valley. In my excitement the trees could not have been greener, nor the sky bluer.

I was captivated in a dizzying attempt to see the whole sky from my open window and I didn’t pay attention to much else, certainly not the looming peak of Torreon, as we carried on and finally stopped in the gravel car park. I sprung from my seat, eager to be outside.

It was a beautiful day; the mist around the lower mountains and hills was suspended and the sun shone above us. Still, the morning air was crisp.

Not wanting to waste a moment we piled on our layers, grabbed our packs, and set off. The first thing that greeted us on the mountain path was a herd of goats. If there had not been a very official looking Junta de Andalusia sign claiming this was the Torreon walking path, I would have assumed we were in the goats’ grazing pasture; indeed, before we came to the gate stating that the walking path was closed from June 1st to October 1st (due to forest fire hazard) we probably had been in their grazing patch. Quickly enough, though, the bleating of goats faded and for a while the only sounds we heard were our feet crunching on the rocky path and our own voices chatting away.

Soon, after we had been walking along at a reasonable pace on the fairly inclined path, the chatter decreased and the heavy breathing increased. I’ll admit, it hit me first: my main excuse is that I’m from a very flat place, but to be honest since I have been in Europe fitness level has gone downhill.

Sacia having a rest!
Sacia having a rest!

This was my first taste at a real uphill hike, and only 20 minutes in I was starting to have my doubts. Could my out of shape legs (and everything else) keep up with my stubborn mentality? Or would I pass out and be left for vulture food? Griffon vultures are Spain’s natural clean-up system, “disposing” of dead and injured animals they find. Was I to be their next meal!? I had seen them swirling over-head, their impressive wingspans easily a meter wider than I was tall. To prevent myself from going further into the “will I be vulture food” mindset.

I asked if we could stop for a moment.

Once we stopped, I dragged my eyes from the rugged (but easily identifiable) path, and my mind was quickly put at ease. We couldn’t have gone more than a few hundred meters at best, but already we had arrived at a new vantage point. I looked through the holly oak and pinsapo trees we had just passed and felt mentally energized. I could see the silver 4×4 we had arrived in sitting in the gravel car park; it was distant, small and shiny. My heart rate took a bit longer to settle, but after a few minutes we were back on track.

I wish I could say this “am I going to make it” mindset disappeared after the first incident but It didn’t! Throughout the ascent I questioned my motives, sanity, and physical limits… usually out loud, to Clive’s amusement (and I can certainly imagine to his annoyance, as well).

Each time I asked to stop, though, we did and once another life and/or biology lesson from Clive was shared, a couple of questions were asked, my water bottle put to good use, and the view was admired, we set off again.

On a couple of occasions when I found either a new kind of muscle pain or myself in a particularly disgruntled state, I would settle myself onto a rock over looking the valley and meditate. Each time I did this I felt myself become more drawn into the overwhelming mountain and its impressive wells of energy. I was, as well, given a new sense of determination each time we set off: I needed to get to the top!

At approximately two-thirds of the way up, the terrain changed. Where before we had been passing through young forest and brush, we now were faced with semi-grassland surfaces on either side of us. Clive told me this was where the mountain goats come to sleep, and pointed out the wide patches of long grass that had been pushed down. At that point it looked pretty tempting to take a nap in one of these goat bed patches — the sun was inescapable, although it brought a kind warmth; at least, it was certainly kind compared to what my friends and family were experiencing at home in the heart of an Eastern Canadian winter.

The peak of Torreon in the Sierra de Grazalema
The peak of Torreon in the Sierra de Grazalema

I was, however, at the point where my East-coast slang would allow me to describe myself as “fairly tuckered”. We carried on and passed the goat patches into a small valley for a moment of refreshingly cool air.

Upon leaving the valley, I realized I had to pee. This was a scenario I had not yet considered. I had had the foresight to bring with me a small swath of toilet paper, but that had been used up; my nose had starting running not long after our first stop, and it hadn’t stopped since. I eventually had to resort to blowing my nose on my sleeve… not a pleasant experience. It was nothing compared to having to pee behind a rock on the side of a mountain though. Needless to say I eventually, albeit quite awkwardly, marked my territory behind that rock (and wondered what the goats would think about that). I won’t say much more except that next time I will know better and bring a whole roll of tp with me — and a bag to put it in… it is a nature walk, after all.

Not long after I re-joined Clive on the path we ran into the only other people we saw on our entire mountain excursion. Honestly, we heard them, they being two Spanish men, before we saw them. When the pair finally came into view, I was astonished by what they were wearing. By this point both Clive and I were reduced to t-shirts and trousers and we were still sweating under the heat of the unobstructed sun. These guys, though, had enough gear on to comfortably go for a ski trip in the Sierra Nevada — they even had the ski poles! I was baffled, and carried on in silence wondering if I, too, would be that crazy one day.

The rocky terrain quickly grew steeper before us, and the last 100 meters or so were a bit of a scramble. I had one last “I don’t want to go another step right now” moment before the climb, which I was promptly (and literally) pulled out of. For the best, really. I have always preferred being on a mountain climb where I can use my hands to pull myself onwards, and on the last leg of the ascent that’s exactly what we had to do. Although it was probably the most tiring stretch, I was given a bit of an energy boost since we had switched our activity from strenuous walking to full on climbing. Pulling, scrambling, and occasionally swearing at sharp rocks.

I finally peered over the last rock and saw it.

Clouds from the top of Torreon in the Sierra de Grazalema
Clouds from the top of Torreon in the Sierra de Grazalema

I saw the top, and beyond it, the other side of the mountain… and beyond, further. I felt like I could see everything! Once I settled a bit and could form words besides “WOW” in order to communicate properly, I was pointing out landmarks I recognized (like the bridge of Ronda) and asking about places and things I could see but couldn’t recognize from such a distance.

Clive showed me that from where we stood, we could see Africa, the Mediterranean sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and a British colony (Gibraltar) all while standing in Europe. I was amazed at how far we could see in all directions. I spent a lot of time looking North towards Ronda and much further beyond to the Sierra Nevada. We sat facing those snowy peaks in the distance as we ate our well deserved lunch.

Clouds from the top of Torreon in the Sierra de Grazalema
Clouds from the top of Torreon in the Sierra de Grazalema

After scoffing down a ham sandwich, a banana, the better part of a litre of peach juice, a chocolate bar and a substantial quantity of crisps, I skipped and hopped around in an adrenalin infused flurry. I took pictures of everything, but I knew that even if I begged, pleaded, and pressed every button on my camera, I couldn’t capture what I saw.

As it was earlier in the day, it seemed the vibrancy had returned to the greens and blues surrounding me; even the yellow grasses that replaced the trees near the top seemed to glow. I had the feeling that nothing could be wrong at the top of the world, and that by being there I was a part of everything.

Eventually we had to start picking our path back down the mountain. While we were making our way down the rocky path, a light bulb went off in my head. We, like the Spanish men before us, were walking down the mountain in what suddenly seemed like a ridiculous number of layers. Of course, it had been quite chilly at the top, what with nothing around to block the wind. I had on two substantial hoodies as well as mitts and a hat. Suddenly the Spanish men we had encountered earlier, decked out basically in ski gear, didn’t seem quite so silly.

As we descended from the top of the world, the path going down might as well have been a completely different landscape. Not only did it feel different to walk downhill as opposed to up, but things looked different as well — perhaps because I was actually looking around this time. I noticed plants and insects (mainly ladybugs) that I was sure I hadn’t seen on the way up. The view I also noticed, and appreciated more (although I wished, a bit, that I was still at the top and could see 360 degrees).

Not long into the descent, which took two hours, my legs started to wobble. More than once I rolled my ankle, to varying degrees of “owch“, and I learned to tread carefully. I was feeling especially exhausted, and I was quite tempted to sit down a couple times… I think I even did, once or twice. But my heart wasn’t in my throat like it had been on the way up, and I was laughing and smiling from ear to ear.

An incredible mood had come over me since reaching the top, and I was determined to hold onto it. I sang songs by The Beatles for the last 20 minutes of the way; this was the section of path which had previously seen me clouded in frustration and doubt, and I was happy to meet it again in a better mood. When we were nearly level with the car, I noticed the herd of goats that had been grazing that morning had gone. Perhaps, I thought, they had heard that the grass was greener on the other side.

As we drove back to Grazalema, the light of the day was fading; it was only quarter after 4 (16:15) but as we drove past the Puerto de Boyar Mirador I once again asked to stop. The horizon was golden and purple clouds hung above the hills. I snapped another couple photos and we continued on towards the pueblo.

Once in the village we grabbed one (or three) victory beers at Rumores tapas bar for our efforts of the day, and congratulated ourselves. I was thoroughly pleased at what I had accomplished: my first big hike in the Sierra de Grazalema.

Remember that to enter this restricted area you need a permission from the park authorities. Read here about how to obtain permits for restricted areas in the Sierra de Grazalema

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