Great Mountain Bike Routes in Andalucia - GR7 2010 - Day Three Cazorla to Banderillas
Breakfast in the Hotel was “limited”. The sparse offering of “tostado y tomate” was accompanied by a display of flying oranges as the waitress chucked enough fruit into the juicing machine for eight thirsty people. What was meant to be a long but straight forward day, with a glorious mountain-top finish, ended in calamity and torch lit parade, exhausted, cold and hungry.
Decamping from the hotel drew curious stares as we carried our bikes and kit down the narrow steps to the waiting mobile service centre / feed station of the Land Rover. The start of the trail was immediately “up”, passing the Ermita overlooking Cazorla.
The trail head starts behind the Ermita and is a rough and rocky ascent across the face of the cliffs overlooking Cazorla and Iruela. Height is gained quickly and needed a strenuous portage of the bikes, broken sporadically with tempting short rides that would lull you into the hope that the section was going to be rideable. It never was. The trail snaked through pine forests and the scent of the pines and flowers accompanied by bird song and the crunch of cleats against rocks was strangely peaceful. Cresting the climb gives panoramic views over the Sierra de Seguras and our destination in the distance, Banderillas. A fast and sweeping descent to the Rio Guadalquivir was rewarded with fresh oranges in a wooded glade at the foot of the next, long, climb. The ascent through the Cazorla national park reveals a dramatic valley around every bend, and the occasional coach bus to Alicante. Shepards tended flocks under the ancient Oak trees and Eagles and Vultures glided overhead. The tranquillity only broken by the superlatives, and the cursing. Reaching the summit of the park at the Arbol Felix Rodriquez de la Fuente gave everyone a great sense of relief knowing that the ascent was over. Everyone was wrong. Leaving the massive pine tree and the ravines and pines behind, the trail levels on to a barren alpine tundra of stunted thorny shrub and grass lands, surrounded by a labyrinth of rocky limestone ridges and shallow valleys. Perfect country to get lost in, which we promptly did. A seemingly obvious trail turned into a less obvious goat path, and then petered out all together. Unfamiliar terrain and no recognisable features, and a false hope that the trail was “just over the next rise”, led to wandering in the wilderness, not good at the end of a long day, setting sun and tired legs. Everyone was on empty. No phone signals meant no recovery by the Land Rover. The situation wasn’t bleak, but it was borderline and it could very easily turn worse. A rapid climb to a high point gave some direction to our destination, but it meant crossing a high limestone ridge, strewn with potholes and boulders. Not great walking country, especially with cycle shoes and carrying a bike. Gaining the ridge was a struggle, but good moral just about kept the banter going. Descending to the discovered trail was welcoming and a relief. We still had light, we were behind on time, on our “chin-straps” but it was all good. No it wasn’t. As soon as we hit the trail, Simon had a puncture, the thorny undergrowth spiked the tires, and stalled our progress, whats worse, the replacement also had a puncture, direct from the factory. Fixing these took even more time in the fading light. As soon as Simon’s steed was sorted, Brian also had a puncture. Good luck was still not on our side. The sun had dropped behind the ridge line and it was rapidly getting darker. The planned climb to the refugio by bike was abandoned. The plan now was to just get to the Land Rover and trailer as soon as possible, dump the bikes, get our kit and yomp to the refugio. We made the critical error of splitting the group. Caler went ahead to let the support crew know we were safe, which seemed prudent, we were way behind schedule. Those with a little energy left unknowingly pulled away and left Simon and Burgers to follow. A major error. The LR was parked just over a rise off a t-junction. A simple oversight as people had an end to the ordeal in sight, only realising too late that Simon and Burgers wouldn’t be able to see us, even though we were only a very short distance away. They had cycled past the turning and gone ahead into a maze of tracks and trails and cold and darkness was already upon us. A search team in the Land Rover was sent out, blaring the horn and speeding through the twisting, rutted, caminos hoping to find them before the light completely went. They were spotted cycling out of a rock formation waving and shouting, and venting many expletives and frustrations. Rightly so. Luckily, the sighting of a huge family of wild Boar had made the abandonment slightly less of an ordeal. Regrouped, bikes and kit were dumped against a tree, and all bundled into the LR for the vertiginous ascent to the refugio. Relief from the days adventure was obvious as we made the torch light climb along the narrow path to the shelter, hot food and a warm sleeping bag. Lucas and Conor had provisioned us with some strange pulse and meat calories in a tin, and Gary had supplied exotic “ready to eat” self warming technology food. Both equally inedible, both equally fantastic. Caler opted for the executive suite and the rest of us hunkered down into our bags for as much sleep as the snoring and rustling of nylon would allow.