Pico Veleta

The first thing you see when you arrive in Granada is the majestic mountain range that stands out on the horizon towering over the rest of the land. There are two prominent peaks that look similar in altitude, but one has a very characteristic silhouette. Perhaps it’s already familiar to you. You may have seen it before on the label of a water bottle. Well, it is this summit known as El Veleta, the challenge we (at Sulayr Travel) have in store for you to conquer.

You arrive at the hotel and leave your luggage, the bike… You stretch your legs on a walk around the city, all in the presence of that great mass of rock that you can glance at while you finish off your drink. That’s because you can see Sierra Nevada from almost any point in the city.

The big day is finally here! We are up early, well rested and with fresh legs (we are going to need them). Of course, we also pack the food and water necessary to help us summit El Veleta. We are talking about a route of about 50km to the top at 3396 meters of altitude. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

We depart from the city centre in Granada. It’s still early but some businesses are already starting to open. We are wearing light jackets as it’s still cool and at the top the cold is felt even in summer. Soon we leave the city behind, cruising along the river towards the base of the mountain. We haven’t been riding more than 20km when we find the first slopes that make us get off the seat. Traffic has almost faded away and it’s a good thing because we are going up the old road where two cars could hardly fit.

We start the climb with energy but also care, as we know what still lays ahead. The sun still has yet to kiss the little villages we pass along the way. We find plenty of freshwater fountains though, so we don’t have to worry about staying hydrated. So far so good: gentle slopes spotted with a few steep descents that bring us to the depths of The Valley. We lose all the accumulated height almost all at once. Now we start from zero. We’ve left the villages behind and we ascend zigzagging through a dense forest where we can only see some country houses. This route is beautiful, I hope it’s like this the whole way through, you think…

10km and a couple layers later, we arrive at our first checkpoint, El Dornajo. From this point on the landscape changes entirely. Now we get the feeling of being in high mountain terrain. The vegetation changes, the road is wider and draws gentler curves on an almost pleasant climb. Even the air seems different. We continue going up even tough we can’t see our destination. We are so close to the top now that we can’t see the summit. As we gain altitude, trees are gradually replaced by shrubs that can’t shield us from the sun, but the views are incredible. We are almost at 2000m of altitude but no sight of El Veleta. It’s only now that, on one of those bends, you lift your eyes from the bar and it is there, right in front of you. It looks like you’ve already got it but you are not even close!

It seems like the road is getting gentler, but it only seems like it. Maybe it’s because of the altitude but the road that takes us to the military base is steeper than it seems. It’s alright though, the excitement and anticipation give us the push we need to arrive at the final stop where we can get fresh water and snacks. From here on it’s the good part. The real reason why we are here.

The state of the road worsens just after the fence that keeps cars out. Wherever you look there is only grey slate rock and, of course, the silhouette of El Veleta. It’s still there, almost at the same distance as when you first took a glance at it. To the left we leave behind a beautiful altar to the virgin. It’s a good moment to pray because you are at 2600m and we still have a long way to go. But you cheer yourself on, we’ve made it this far, we are not turning back now! We continue meandering at a good speed feeling refreshed after our last stop. We start seeing the first bits of snow. You realize you’ve been feeling the temperature drop but we are so close now that it’s not worth it to stop to put a jacket on. We are almost there! Frost has done some damage on the road and we can hardly call this pavement. We do the math and there are 8 torturous kilometers left. Everything prior to this seems like a joke now. A silly warm up exercise. Because now the level of oxygen has gone down and after hours on your bike it seems like you can’t breathe. You can finally understand why so many elite athletes train here.

As you go on exhaustion settles in, the silhouette that will forever be engraved in your mind doesn’t seem so close now.

We finally make it to the summit, and, for the first time, we can see the other side of Sierra Nevada. The Southern face. You stop to admire the landscape for a few seconds from the mountain refuge of La Cari Huela. This is your turning point if you’ve come on a road bike, but if you’re on a gravel bike you’re just facing one more complication in the terrain.

Finally, whether you have stopped or not, you’ve made it to the very top. Luckily, the last few meters are literally impossible, so you’ll be able to hop off your bike knowing you’ve made it. You climb the zenith, bike on shoulder. You’ll get to the top, put your bike down and look all around, feeling on top of the world with such a feeling of victory that not even the chilly wind that’s trying to blow you off the top can take away the best feeling in the world.