We lingered at Siete Lagunas, taking photo's and enjoying the atmosphere, both wondering if we should spend another night there and make an attempt on Alcazaba. In the end we decided to press on, and began our ascent out of the valley towards the summit of Mulhacén. We had climbed Spain's highest mountain a number of times; although not a technical peak, it does demand some effort and the weather can change very quickly. Out last visit had been the previous September when the upper slopes had a thin covering of snow and ice. This time there was still the odd snow patch, and the cloud, which was blowing in earlier each day, was looking ominous even as we began, helped us to stay relatively cool. The route from Siete Lagunas is probably the nicest of the three options, with an obvious path most of the way, and great views of the 7 lakes below. As we reached the top, the sun emerged, although the valley to the north was filled with cloud. As we scaled the summit boulder to the trig point, we noticed a new plaque had been added to the shrine in memory of 3 walkers from Northern England who had died on the mountain in March 2006.
Leaving the summit the path down to Caldera takes the steep path to the right. Once again, I appreciated having poles, but despite this found my knees aching by the time we reached the road. Until fairly recently, it was possible to drive from Granada to Capileira, using this amazing high mountain road. It is now frequently strewn with boulders, and must have been quite a frightening trip. Caldera is a wide bowl, gouged out by ice, containing a small lake and mountain refuge. We stopped at the refuge for lunch, where we met 3 British walkers who had been planning a trip similar to our own, but been thwarted by the Alberque at La Ragua being closed, and that day had walked over from the ski resort. We shared mountaineering experiences over our bread and sausage, before continuing along the road.
A short way on, rounding a bend we noticed a building on our left, and decided to investigate. It turned out to be another small refuge, which we had not seen the previous year, though it clearly had been there and was marked on the map! The Sierra Nevada had once had numerous small rounded unwardened huts, providing shelter for walkers and climbers, however many of these have fallen into disrepair. This one (described as a refugio forestal on the map) was more in the style of a Alpujarran cortijo, with a flat roof.
For the rest of the afternoon, we followed the road, with the cloud billowing around us, and arrived at the Carihuela refuge around 3.30. Our intention had been to have a snack, then head for the summit of Veleta, which at 3,396 is the second highest mountain in the range. Veleta, sometimes been described as the highest cycle track in Europe has a road leading almost to the summit, and was often considered to be higher than Mulhacén (3,482), as this is how it appears from Granada. Today, the cloud and cold meant we would have had no view, and the thought of a toil up a road, was not at all appealing, so we filled our water bottles from melting snow, made another drink and sat in the hut reading until the 3 British doctors we had met earlier appeared to relive their tales of climbing Mulhacén.