You know how that casual chat when you’re sat in the sun, outside a UK cafe, slowly starts to build in to a plan. That’s how I found myself rushing through the Spanish Sierras wearing baggies on fat tyres. In the early part of the year a friend, Simon, had been inbetween jobs and had been a regular cycling buddy during the week. During the periods when we had enough breath to speak, we had discussed the merits of Spain as a cycling location, I love it, and he mentioned he had been mountain biking there a few times, using a company called Pure Mountians. The chat turned in to a definate must do, once he started his new job.
Well here we are in Bérchules, joined by Simon’s friend Andy, with kilometers of trails and climbs ahead of us. What an amazing place our home for the next few days was. Built by our host Tim and his partner Jenny, the house is totally off grid, power and water wise, at the top of a twisty broken road, looking out in to the Sierra Nevada National Park and residing at 1650 metres altitude.
The weather, however, was not so amazing. The journey from Malaga had taken two hours and most of it had been in the rain, getting worse as we started to climb. At 14:30 we hit a small cafe in Cádiar for lunch, as we had not eaten since breakfast at 05:15. Hungry? I should say so!
We met the group in a hotel in Bérchules and started the steady journey up to the house, following the Land Rover in our hire car. Once up at the house we sorted out our hire bikes, changing pedals and adding Garmin mounts, then spent time getting to know the great group of guests. After which we settled in for a hearty meal and found that, apart from the three of us, they were all keen mountain bikers, all bringing their amazing bikes, while we hired three great spec Canyon Spectral bikes from Pure Mountains.
Mountain biking has moved on a bit since I bought my old Whyte, 10 years ago, this was going to be a steep learning curve, 1 x 12 gears, seat post droppers, 27.5 wheels, the list goes on.
Day one, a steep learning curve
I dived out of bed to see what the weather was like and was greeted by a great sunrise, and knew it was going to be a great day.
With breakfast out of the way we left the base and headed South West in the direction of Juviles. The trail started just outside the grounds and gently climbed from 1650 until we reached the tree line and met up with the Land Rover and the first tea stop.
From there we continued up to 2020 metres, where we were treated to a great view. The climb had felt hard work as we had not had chance to acclimatise to the altitude, and the breathing was laboured and heart rate high.
The weather was clear and the climb had been warm, but it was now time to stick a jacket on and head down some single track to Juviles around 1000 metres below us.
In Juviles we enjoyed a picnic lunch, after which we split in to two groups, those doing the “Death Valley” route, and us, who did the road route to Tímar, which involved a great descent, followed by a gruelling crawl of 25 to 29% climb up to the church, where we would meet the others.
Once regrouped, we dropped on to a piece of gnarly single track, heading South to Lobras, through a couple of river crossing. We then had a choice of going straight to Cádiar and the pick-up, or putting a loop in, which would add an extra hour to the ride.
The weather was still good, so we headed off along a dry river bed until we reached the 33Km mark, took a right turn and started the 7Km climb, which was steady, and on wide track, but it was damp and loose. We then enjoyed a final drop, back to the earlier river crossing and up to Cádiar for the pick-up point.
The bikes were loaded in to the Land Rover trailer and the three of us jumped in to the other Land Rover and we headed home.
There are main roads in this area, with smooth asphalt surface, but they go around the mountains, which can take time. Our driver Richard, took a right turn, off the main road and straight on to the unmade loose mountain roads as a short cut, which proved to be quite an exciting journey home.
Total 3 hours 55 minutes riding and 1230 Metres of accent
Day two, short, but sweet
Today we were heading to the town of Trevélez, to the North West of our base. We headed out roughly towards the highest point of yesterday, but on a differenet route, though gated trails. This involved a few climbs, pushing the bikes, due to the condition and steepness of the trails. I had forgotten just how much hard work this kind of riding was, but it is very rewarding. Just to be stood in the remote forests, with cattle wandering about, looking out on to the mountains, knowing the only other way to get there would be a long walk.
The route then took in some great rocky single track through to lunch, quite challenging in places, but the old skills were slowly coming back. The final rattle down the hillside in to Trevélez was a real bute, spitting us out just where the Land Rover was waiting for us.
This was followed by a steady climb, up through the town, where we found the spot earmarked for the picnic lunch. The weather was still with us, so just sitting in the sun, eating lunch in November is a real treat.
Directly opposite the picnic spot was the start of the next climb, which would start the afternoons ride. We continued up the wide trail for about 45 minutes before we jumped on to the GR7 trail, a great piece of undulating single track. We remained on the GR7 for the rest if the afternoon as it took you swooping up and down, taking in some tricky descents.
At one point we reached a section of the route that had been completely washed away by flood water, leaving us a real steep descent down to, and across the river, followed by a real scramble back up to the track, bikes over the shoulder.
The final few kilometres was a series of steep fast descents on a mixture of loose surface and rocky outcrops down to the village of Busqistar. Again we popped out of the trail to find the familiar sight of the cream, LWB Land Rover Defender waiting for us.
A quick snack, load the bikes and we were off back to base, and again as we passed through Trevélez, we did a quick switch back left on to the unmade loose mountain roads. Another great day out in the hills.
Total 2 hours 55 minutes riding and 890 Metres of accent
Day three, short, and painful
This morning we headed out South, following a cool bit of single track towards Bérchules. There was a good steady climb to start, taking us way above our base, with the intention of dropping down for the rest of the day, staying low, away from the bad weather.
Once we reached the peak for the day, we dropped on to single track and lost height very quickly, the route being twisty, rocky and technical in places. It was at this point the inevitable happened.
I caught my front wheel on a rock, which bounced me to the left. As I looked up I could see this wasn’t going to end well, so I unclipped my pedals as quick as I could, laid the bike down, and left the bike, with the intention of just carrying on, on foot. However, the incline was too steep and my legs just couldn’t keep up, ending in a crazy roll until I eventually stopped, hitting my left knee on a rock. I knew straight away, it was a big knock, but continued on, descending on even more really cool single track all the way in to the town of Bérchules.
Once in the town we rode up and down the back streets, dropping down steps, and through small streets until we hit another piece of single track. We then back tracked through town heading up the country lane towards the Pure Mountains base, until we reached the large cage at the side of the road with a chicken in it.
Opposite this cage was a break in the fence and another piece of single track, which swooped up and down, with steep drops at one side and overgrown hedges at the other, until we sprang out and on to the main road, just above the hotel, where we originally met and this was our coffee stop for the day.
The knee had been OK on the descents, but I was now starting to feel it on the climbs. Once inside the hotel I peeled back the leg warmer to find chunks of skin missing and it was starting to feel stiff. After coffee I made the decision to call it a day, rather than aggravate the knee further and not be able to ride tomorrow, or worse still, not being able to ride when I get home at the weekend. As the afternoon wore on I realised it had been the right decision.
So, I spent the rest of the day in the Land Rover with Jerry, heading to the lunch spot, helping to set up the picnic, then clear up after everyone had left.
We then toured around through Juviles and Cádiar, finally meeting up with the gang, soaking wet from the rain, in Yátor. We loaded up the trailer and headed back to base on a very gloomy Sunday afternoon.
Once we arrived home the weather really turned nasty, torrential rain and thunder storms. That evening we headed back down to Bérchules, where we ate in the hotel restaurant and even when we left after the meal the streets were still running with water coming down from the mountains.
Total 1 hours 10 minutes riding and 275 Metres of accent
Day four, the perfect end to a perfect trip
I got up early to see what the weather was doing, only to be greeted with clear skies, and a snow line that had dropped to only 200 metres above the house.
The ride set off up from the house towards the trees and aiming for the snow line. The first 1.5Km saw us climb 150 metres, a great way to get the lungs working and by about 4Km we had reached the wider mountain road. We continued on up to just over 1950m, at which point Jerry was there with the Land Rover and snacks, just as we touched the snow line, but the sun was warm, as we sat soaking it all up.
From here we continued up to a peak of 2010m, and now the roads were covered in ice, so we gently continued to roll up and down the side of the mountain. We dropped down around 200m and felt the temperature start to rise, but as we rounded the face of the mountain the cloud rolled in. Visibility dropped to 20m at the point we started the next climb, which was between 3% to 6% for a good while until we spotted Jerry again, marking the turn and we regrouped.
It was here that we left the wide forest roads and jumped on to a great bit of single track. The trail weaved it’s way through small tufts of scrub bushes on a stone base, and the trail slowly tipped downhill to lunch, increasing your speed as it tipped, until there was a wide, quick run-off in to the picnic spot. Just awesome.
At lunch we were greeted by sunshine and a bit of warmth, something we did not expect after what we had been through so far, but we’re glad of it.
The final part of the day was made up of tricky single track, some of it you could ride, some you had to push, both uphill and downhill. I had started to find it easier to grab the bike frame near the bottom bracket and carry it up some of these as they were so steep. The trail had big drops to the side, river crossings, gnarly technical sections, abandoned buildings, and a section called the xylophone, which was made up of loose flat stones, and as you rode over them the tune was incredible.
The final leg in to Bérchules was along the trail we used yesterday, past the remote farm yard, then a quick left, through the trees and we were in town car park, Jerry waiting with the trailer.
Total 3 hours 05 minutes riding and 760 Metres of accent
I will be honest, I started the week quite apprehensive, as it had been a long while since I had done any serious mountain biking. However, a few pointers from Tim and Jenny, plus a really capable bike, confidence grew, until I stacked it. I think the crash also made me realise what you can get away with, and I had four great days in a very remote location, on some of the best trails going.
Images of me are courtesy of the team from Pure Mountains.