Distance: 14.3 km (8.8 mi) or 19.4 km (12 mi) with optional summit of Torrecilla
Elevation: 1191 - 1919 m (3906 - 6294 feet)
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Time of Year: March - November
|A view of the summit basin of the Sierra de las Nieves|
Located in southern Andalucia, near the city of Malaga, are the Sierra de las Nieves (mountains of the snows). This range rises from near sea level to over 6,000 feet in elevation. This range contains one of the last stands of the rare Spanish fir (Abies pinsapo) left in the world. Just above the forests of pine and fir is an alpine ecosystem unlike any I have seen in North America. This rocky landscape contains a "meadow" of spiky hedgehog brooms (Erinacea anthyllis) and large ancient gall oaks (Quercus lusitanica).
|Village of Tolox at the base of the Sierra de las Nieves|
|At the parking area, you will see a park map for the Parque Natural Sierra de Las Nieves|
|A young Spanish fir in the forest|
|The last of the firs eeke out a living near treeline|
|Feral goats graze amongst a restoration project|
|Four ancient gall oaks in a line. Did they grow on a nurse log?|
Once you climb over the top of the ridge, you will come across a central basin at the summit area. This sheltered basin contains some small meadows of low-cut grass and wildflowers with scattered ancient gall oaks. These trees are native only to Iberia and Morocco and have been commercially harvested for their nutgalls for thousands of years. These nutgalls are created by an infection of gall wasps and are used to produce brown and grey dyes for textiles.
|Gall oaks with Torrecilla summit (1919 m) in the distance|
About 1 km up from the trailhead in the fir forest and again in the summit basin are large stone pits called Pozo de Nieve. These are snow catchment basins and have been used for hundreds of years to collect and store winter snow. In the spring, people would come up to collect the snow, put it into backpacks and baskets and carry it down to underground ice rooms in the local villages called nevero artificial for storage of meat and summer treats like early forms of ice cream.
|A pozo de nieve near the summit|
As you walk along the northern edge of the summit basin, you will encounter a trail intersection. Heading off to the south is the trail to the summit of Torrecilla, which is the highest peak in the range. This adds approximately 2.5 km each way to the hike if you decided to go there.
|A view to the north from the summit ridge (above the pollution line)|
You can also continue straight until arriving at the west edge of the ridge. Here the trail will drop dramatically down toward the village of Quejigales. This overview spot would be an excellent place to turn around and head back to your car at Puerto Saucillo.