Much Better Adventurer James McDermottroe recently headed out to tackle the 3 Peaks Challenge in Spain. Here, he chats freezing cold glacial streams, traversing exposed ledges and summiting the highest peak in mainland Spain, Mulhacén (3,482m). This is James' story...

Capileira is the highest and most northerly of the three villages in the gorge of the Poqueira river. Photo: James McDermottroe

Day one of the trip involved a steady and winding uphill hike from our base of Capileira (at 1,430m) to our home for the next few days, the Refugio del Poqueira (at 2,500m). It was a hot and clear day at the end of summer, with views down through the valleys to the Mediterranean. The promise of a big lunch and cold beers was enough to allow the group to battle through the heat and the weight of all our kit on our backs.

It's not a hiking trip if you don't rinse the feet off in mountain water at some point... Photo: James McDermottroe

Streams with mountain and glacier run-off provided much needed relief to sore and aching feet after each day of hiking. Here is Ed, Kevin, and myself having a soak – chuffed to have found our oasis in the desert. Some of us could handle the freezing cold water better than others!

The road to the third highest mountain of the Sierra Nevada range, Alcazaba. Photo: James McDermottroe

After a big breakfast at the refuge, we headed out for an early start towards our first 3,000+ m peak of the trip. We stopped at a glacial lake for snacks and to refill our water bottles before a final push to the summit. Guide Jaime’s homemade flapjack went down a treat with everyone!

Alcazaba, 3,369m, is the fifth highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula. Photo: James McDermottroe

The view from the summit of Alcazaba (3,369m), with our first glimpse of the north face of Mulhacén. Soon after exchanging fist bumps and high-fives at the top of our first peak, we were already talking about tackling the highest peak in mainland Spain the next day. We journeyed back round the seven lagunas towards much needed snacks and cervezas on the mountain refuge’s sun terrace.

Hiking Adventure in Spain’s Picos de Europa | Much Better Adventures
Tackle an epic route through Northern Spain’s hidden gem of a mountain range on a small group holiday with expert local guides in Asturias and Cantabria.
Celebrating on top of the highest mountain in mainland Spain, Mulhacén. Photo: James McDermottroe

Elated to reach the highest peak in mainland Spain, Mulhacén (3,482m), we gathered for an obligatory group photo. The last 45 minutes to the summit was a tough zig-zag of hiking and scrambling, requiring all our leg and lung power to complete. We took a break for lunch here, and swapped stories about other previously conquered peaks in Morocco, Slovenia, Tanzania, and Nepal.

A stunning view out over the Sierra Nevada range from a tight trail line. Photo: James McDermottroe

On our way down from Mulhacén, we took up guide Jaime and Victoria’s offer to traverse this ridge around the middle of the mountain. We couldn’t resist the idea of seeing more epic views, and the possibility of drinking from the highest natural spring in Spain. Those who weren’t so keen on heights headed back to the refuge for cervezas and popcorn in the sun.

A tough ledge, made more comfortable, but no less scary, by the via ferrata chain. Photo: James McDermottroe

On our last day of hiking, we took a short-cut up to our third and final peak across this narrow ledge. With the help of an iron chain, and each others encouragement, we made it past the ledge comfortably. Standing at the bottom of the ledge, Yorkshireman Phil was not keen on the exposure! However, 15 minutes after insisting there was no way he was coming up this route, he was greeted by the rest of the group cheering him as he crossed the top.

Hiking Adventure in Spain’s Picos de Europa | Much Better Adventures
Tackle an epic route through Northern Spain’s hidden gem of a mountain range on a small group holiday with expert local guides in Asturias and Cantabria.

We stopped at a small hut near the summit of Veleta to take on water, snacks, and another layer of clothing - still energised from the ledge crossing shortly before. Spotting that there was another peak very close by, and with guide Victoria’s encouragement, some of us turned the three-peak challenge into four! I didn’t feel the effects of altitude on this trip until I decided to (foolishly) try and run up this peak.

Veleta or Pico del Veleta is the second highest peak of the Iberian peninsula and the Sierra Nevada. Photo: James McDermottroe

Celebratory pic at the top of Veleta (3,398m), our final peak of the trip. This summit had amazing 360 views of the Sierra Nevada, including the other peaks on our trip - giving a real sense of accomplishment to us all. Despite the clear blue skies, 40mph winds at the top meant we were dressed for the Scottish Highlands!

The Alhambra was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, and dates back to the 9th century. Photo: James McDermottroe

Taking in the stunning Alhambra palaces from the top of a maze of streets in old town Granada on our last morning of the trip. A view of Veleta from here put into perspective how high we had climbed in previous days. We exchanged in-jokes amongst new friends at a tapas lunch together before going our separate ways. A fitting end after an excellent, scenic and challenging trip.

Inspired? Check out our hiking trips in Spain, and other mountain climbing adventures.