Had a visit mid September from an old friend. Andrew Clifton is a very keen photographer – the sort of man who never takes just one camera out at a time and always has another lens on him somewhere. As it happens he also loves wildlife and walking and asked me to find him somewhere with good views, lots of interest. No problem. Time to revisit Atalaya.
Walking with a photographer makes you look with a fresh eye. My own shots suddenly made more use of of light and shade and the landscape’s inherent drama.
To my amazement I even got a good shot of a female Crossbill, using a camera that Andrew lent. Small birds are always hard to capture, being adept at finding the thickest point in the tree to hide in, but there is the odd one, like this lovely bird, that will perch very openly. But you still need a good zoom.
My pocket camera does not have one, so very few of my shots of bird are any good. However, it is excellent at macro, which suits me down to the ground for shots of all kinds of small things – bugs, bees, spiders, flowers. I think my favourite of my own shots of wildlife on this one was a close up of lichens on Atalaya’s crest: they are so beautiful if you take the time to look.
When I was done taking pictures of ‘more bugs’ – and especially as we got into the rough lands around the crest of Atalaya – I also noticed that photographers are photogenic themselves. Landscapes, which fill the mind and soul when you are in them, can easily seem dull in the flat after-image of a photograph. A person gives the picture a focus, especially if that person is working rather than merely grinning at the camera. All the better if they are standing on the edge of a precipice at the time. Like I said, drama!
Now I wait till Andrew has recovered from his holiday here enough to process the hundreds of shots he took. Hope he will send one or two my way.
I had a go at Cerro Atalaya a few years ago. The name means ‘the watchtower’ and this rocky pinnacle, which rises to 1,259m just beyond Cerro Verde, certainly has all round views of the Sierras Almijara and Tejada. I was intrigued by its dramatic stone summit and wondered if I could work my way up. It is easy to get to the coll below it and tempting to try to find a route.
That wasn’t truly my first look-see: I’d done a reccy before, but I was with a friend with no head for heights and so, having left him at the coll, only gave myself about half an hour to explore. When I got back he said that he’d thought I would appear on the summit any second because a small herd of ibex, disturbed by my approach, appeared and danced down from the rock above. No photos: he’d lent his camera to me!
But my solo attempt did not go well because I am just too damn clever for my own good. Go right round the back across nasty broken ground? What, when I can see a way to scramble up on a short-cut just here? I have to add that I do have good balance and am confident in scrambling as well as being reasonably fit, so I attacked the route I thought I could find with gusto. It took me about 20 minutes to decide this was a bloody silly idea. It took me nearly 45 minutes to get safely back down again.
Atalaya peak is not a good place to experiment. The rock is eroding, the surface unstable. You bank on the thick roots of spiky bushes holding but even these are in shifting pockets of soil. Large chunks of rock will occasionally come away under hand pressure. Yes, you can see a route that looks plausible, just up head, you just need an extra three foot … but it turns out that extra three foot is veering into High Risk. I love to walk and scramble but I don’t count myself a climber and this was close to climbing territory.
I tried again with another friend, on a cloudy January day, starting in sunshine from Canillas de Albaida’s Fábrica de la Luz and ascending via the firebreak to be enveloped in scudding clouds. The change in vegetation at the top of the hill was as dramatic as the change in weather – no more swathes of rock-roses, Jerusalem sage and rosemary – lots more tiny flowers peering from cracks in rocks. The lemon thyme was intensely scented, and there were plenty of stone crops, and some shrubby helichrysum. There are prickly juniper and gorse bushes quite high and lots of common orange lichen on the rocks and branches (I guess this is Xanthoria parietina!).
The summit itself is quite accessible, provided you have a good head for heights and we delighted to make it to the top. We were just disappointed to see no ibex waiting for us there and that the views were completely lost in cloud, so I had to make do with trying to capture the drama of the cliffs.
Last year I went up again in March on my own, taking the way described here in Route: Atalaya! and it was simply glorious. For one thing, being alone in early spring, all the wildlife came to see me: a fox ran across my path as I walked from the turning circle; ibex looked out from the pine woods on the right; when I turned off at Fuente Borriquerro there were great tits, blue tits, a goldcrest and chaffinches in the trees. I heard a woodpecker drumming. Heading up towards the firebreak I saw a Short-toed Eagle drifting up the gully on the left hand side.
I reached the coll and then took the little trail past the stony block that forms the summit. The views as you come out between a couple of holm oaks are wonderful. This is the perfect place, ordinarily, to find a spot to picnic and enjoy the height and sunshine, but I wanted to do the full climb.
The last stretch before you get to climb the rock is only about 200 metres, but it’s tricky. You have to track right across the slope, round and up to pass a big separate rock I call “the tooth”. There is no clear path, nor any significant way markers; the ground is steep and difficult.
As I had done before I found myself unintentionally losing height and had to back track and start again, but eventually, after 40 frustrating minutes I got there. I’ll bore you by again saying the views… no, you can already guess! Fantastic!
The final path up is not as challenging; it needs a good head for heights but the route is obvious and even the final scramble isn’t physically challenging though the broad clefts you step over and the vertical drops at hand can make you a little … edgy!
The summit itself is almost level. There was even a little patch of grass. I sprawled out and ate my lunch with great contentment. I was looking forward to see some big ocellated lizards. Andrew, a friend who has climbed Atalaya many times, said that he sees them on the summit if he stays quiet for a bit. None came out for me: I only saw a little psammodromus. However on the summit’s edge a lark perched and hopped confidently, giving me the chance to get my favourite summit shot.
I have identified it as a Thekla lark, rather than a Crested Lark, but they are fiendish to separate – this is simply on the basis of probability given that the latter prefer cultivated fields and the former prefer rocky wilds (me too!)
I came down very content and, having come back across the nasty slope below the tooth, picked up a trail that leads to the Cruce de Canillas, near Venta María on the Silk Trail. This path is rather overgrown, but not difficult to find; you do tend to blunder through bushes so I was surprised (and a little alarmed) to come across a Montpellier snake. I might have expected it to have sense my approach and disappeared before I saw it. I came down to the crossroads, ready to take the track down through the pine forests and, for a final hurrah, saw more raptors sailing through the blue sky. The larger I believe was another Short-toed Eagle, but what the smaller bird was, without a better zoom, I couldn’t guess.
As you can see I love this walk. It can be done in 4 or 5 hours and it has something of everything. I have, however, written up the route without the summit ascent, which is risky enough that I would hesitate to recommend it and, unlike Andrew, or local ‘multi-adventure’ company, Salamandra, I’d be dubious of guiding people up it. But it is not necessary. I hope you get a chance to do the Atalaya route with or without the final climb. It’s terrific!
Good Walk for: Spring and Autumn: varied terrain right in the Park, with lots of wildlife about. Stretching your legs – a good uphill and down. Superb views.
Option: You can extend this circular walk by walking out from the town along the road to the Fábrica de la Luz; take the upper road when you reach a division just past a sign welcoming you to the natural park and continue til you reach the “Curva grande,” a large hairpin bend with a dirt track leading off from the outpart of the loop. At the end of the walk you retrace the same route to return to the town. This adds 5 Km easy road walking.
Description: Drive to or Get a taxi drop off at la Curva Grande (debajo de la Cruz de Canillas). If you want to rebook for the pick up now, since the last stretch lacks good mobile cover, the walk is about 4½ hrs including picnic time (3km/h, rough ground). This hairpin taxi point is where the lorries turn; the track that leads off it goes all the way to Puerto Blanquillo. Follow this track and stick with it. After about 20 minutes you pass a track going uphill on the right (you will come down this way); a bit later you ignore a path off into the woods. You pass a house on your left, Finca Buenavista, once used as a fire look-out point I believe – you might walk around it since the views are attractive but it is always closed up. A little further on you will pass above the Montossa Quarry (you sometimes hear it before you see it if work is in progress). You pass a track going down on the left (to Pepe’s farm opposite the Cueva del Melero).
Finally you come, after about 1¼ hrs, to a large concrete water tank (Fuente Borriquero) on the right, which used to be just about always full of tadpoles, but since it was renovated and painted seems to be less wildlife-friendly. Perhaps they will have come back?!
Now head off to your right along the track into the little dry valley that the water tank marks the end of: stay in the (dry) water channel, looking on your right for the start of a path up the bank, just before you reach more old concrete water tanks. The path, once you find it, is fairly clear. It is a bit steep and in late spring rather overgrown, so take it easy and look out for wildlife, which the woods are full of. There are all the small birds you might see in UK pinewoods (finches, tits, warblers etc) and I’ve seen foxes, eagles, ibex, snakes and a flock of bee-eaters too, as well as abundant lizards and butterflies.
After about 45 minutes you will reach a glittering white firebreak that heads up towards the rocky crest of Atalaya. In cooler months I sometimes see snakes warming up here, but they are brilliant at vanishing before I catch a shot. Turn left and walk up to the head of the firebreak (5 min): you will then easily find the path on the left that leads, once again into the woods. This shorter path is a little more open – it takes you up to a col: the low point between Cerro Verde to your left and Atalaya to your right. Straight ahead are views down towards El Fuerte and the coast at Nerja. TR here and follow the footpath that leads you to the left side of the rocky crest of Atalaya: there is a little exposure as the land falls away on your left, but nothing too alarming and great views. As you pass out from beside Atalaya’s rocky side you have panoramic views south of the whole landscape, which is breathtaking: this might be a good spot for a picnic lunch.
Ahead of you from this spot you can pick out Cerro Gávilan, with the fire station on its summit. The name means Sparrowhawk but although I have seen Sparrowhawks in the area I have never seen one just here – Bonneli’s Eagles, Honey Buzzards and Peregrine Falcons yes, but not Sparrowhawks. The path heads on towards this, skirting to the right of one or two outcrops: keep following it (it may be a bit overgrown) until you come down onto a track at the “Cruz de Canillas” junction. A left turn on the track would take you towards Gávilan and Cómpeta, while a footpath on the left leads off on the “silk route” – but these are for another day. Instead turn right and follow the broad and recently relevelled track zigzagging downhill.
After about an hour you meet a junction with the Puerto Blanquillo track you were on at the start of your walk. Here you turn left and follow the track back – another 20 minutes brings you to the “Curva grande” and – hopefully – your taxi will be waiting for you here.
I absolutely love this walk. It can be done in a morning, is enormously satisfying as a neat circular that encompasses height, mountains, woods, maquis and open spaces. Hope you enjoy it too!