The Junta de Andalucia website describes the peaks of the 900 metres high ridge of Crestellina as inaccessible and yet they look so inviting
Disappointed vulture as meal escapes
The Junta de Andalucia website describes the peaks of the 900 metres high ridge of Crestellina as inaccessible and yet they look so inviting, so ‘I’m here, climb me’, if you are that way inclined. Anyhow they proved irresistible to us two old codgers, I will call my companion Richard because that’s his name. Richard is 75 years of age and carries a small paunch, I am 65 and carry a large one. To be fair this was entirely Richard’s idea. He had wanted to climb Crestellina since he first saw it on one of his previous visits to Andalucia.
Casares from a different angle
At 8.15am on Friday 22nd September 2017 Richard parked his hired Micra in the underground car park at Casares and we caught the lift to the viewing platform above. From here we saw Casares from a different angle. We walked through the town past the Fuente de Carlos III, through the square with Unicaja Bank on the left, past the House of Blas Infante until we emerged on the road that runs to Casares from Casares Costa. We turned left and walked down the hill to the bottom where, on our right we saw the sign to the Refugio Sierra Crestellina directing us up a track. Within a few metres we turned off this track to our left, the way marked with green and white splotches on handy rocks or wooden posts.
The path took us steadily uphill through cork oak, wild olive and pistachio groves. Beside the path was the occasional autumn crocus with pale purple flowers opening to the sun to reveal the five stamens within, each touched with bright yellow pollen. It is of these stamen that saffron is made, they are worth more than their weight in gold. We noticed the ubiquitous Mediterranean dwarf fan palm has produced a good crop of date like fruit this year as we gained height and the vegetation became increasingly maquis like.
There were a couple of times we could stop for a breather without losing face. At precisely 9am the first of the scores of griffon vultures we were to see that day glided down the valley behind and below us. Silently and without disturbing a feather this majestic bird passed within 20 metres of us on its 2.5 metre wings, heading for breakfast at Casares perhaps. Within minutes another dozen soared out into the valley from over the top of Crestellina itself outlined against an alpine blue sky.
Over to our left a family of ‘cabra de montana’ decided we were getting too close for comfort, they had been settled down for the night just off the path. They trouped off towards the top of the ridge. The old goat bringing up the rear, probably the alpha male, gave us disdainful looks over his shoulder as he shepherded his harem and kids along. He knew we were no danger.
Casares from near the refugio
We soon arrived at the refugio. There we met the only two other people we would see on the trail all day. Two Spanish lads on mountain bikes, apparently on their way to work and heading down the path we had taken up. They stopped to briefly extoll the virtues of Casares goat’s cheese and the wonder of the landscape. It beats fighting your way round the M25 every morning.
Off once more, a brief uphill stretch took us to a signpost. To the left is the mirador and to the right the continuation of our route. We made a slight diversion the couple of hundred metres to the mirador just for the views. You can soon run out of adjectives up here. Roget’s Thesaurus only gives me 21 synonyms for spectacular, I will choose fabulous.
Back to the junction and forward, heading for the saddle at the end of the ‘U’ shaped valley. The track here is wide and easy and relatively flat. On the left is the karstic limestone ridge of Crestellina whilst to the right is the verdant green valley of the Arroyo del Albarran. At this time of year quite dry but in winter a raging torrent. And overhead a perfect blue sky with squadrons of vultures gliding along. Obviously keeping an eye on a potential meal – us.
Close to the head of the valley we came across a sign labelled simply ‘Crestellina’ pointing to the left. Some wag had engraved ‘No Motos’ beneath. Our destination loomed above us. The path is well trodden for the first kilometre and then gradually degrades to a goat track marked by cairns. As we ascended the maquis gave way to spiky, scrubby plants and the path became steeper. Stops for breathers became more frequent. My old morale raising battle cries of ‘Just round the next bend’ and ‘Just over the next hill’ fell on deaf ears. Richard has heard them all before. We reached a compromise, when we reached the skyline we could see at the moment we would decide whether to take the next step in an upwards direction.
Reaching that skyline became a bit of a hands and knees challenge. First on loose scree and then almost vertically inclined rock but as I poked my head over the last outcrop I experienced something I had never before experienced. No I had not found God. I had, for the first time in my life, got to the top of a mountain without there being ‘just one more bit to go’. What you see on Crestellina really is what you get. I would have mentioned this to Richard a few metres behind me but he would not have believed me so I kept my mouth shut and let him have his own epiphany.
There are 360 degree views. To the west Jimena de la Frontera and the Alcornacales mountains, to the north the limestone ridges behind Gaucin and Cortes de la Frontera. The east is dominated by the bulk of Los Reales and south down the low plains to, on a clear day, Gibraltar with Africa behind. Adjective – phenomenal.
The descent was at first inglorious, well padded bums taking the brunt of it but then became easier as we reached the less precipitous parts. A group of black wheaters chuckled away at us, scuttering up and down the rock faces that we old codgers had to circumnavigate.
Once back at the main track turn left and just continue for about 3 kilometres. The way very gently descends, giving the strained calf and quadricep muscles the opportunity to recover somewhat.
Even on this last stretch we were to be amazed. Every so often a large shadow would pass over us. The vultures descending for a closer look, barely able to acknowledge that their next meal was escaping. They were little higher than the telegraph poles that line the track.
Then we saw, across the valley, a bow winged raptor making a high aspect ratio turn towards a buttress of rock. He gracefully alighted on the top closely followed by a second to join two more already there. Those two took off and flew down the valley out of sight. It was a group of four booted eagles. The parents will soon be encouraging their young to leave. The cheeps of the two youngsters left on the nest could just be heard on our side of the valley.
We managed to pick up our pace as we entered Casares, a tubo beckoned.