Feet above the clouds on the summit of Pico del Cielo

Sea to summit

They were definitely naked. Sin ropa. Starkers. I couldn’t say for certain whether they were doing yoga or tai-chi but it involved stretching. A surprising start to the morning, but apparently La Caleta is a hippy commune as well as a beach. I’d arrived at just the wrong moment.

I was staying in the village of Maro, lured by the towering Pico del Cielo rising 1,508 metre above the white washed Andalusian houses.

I could well have started at my apartment, but there’s a special attraction to going from sea to summit. Plus, where better to calibrate an altimeter than with your feet in the waves? So I headed the kilometre down to the beach in the morning sun.

It was obvious I was out of place. I wasn’t the only one in clothes, but I suspect I was the only one who didn’t live there and the residents looked bemused to see me. I stood briefly in the waves and then set straight off up the steps.

The Mediterranean Sea, feet in the waves The Mediterranean Sea, feet in the waves

From the beach there’s a hill up through the village leading to a foot bridge to Cueva de Nerja. It was only 1km, but I was already breathless and desperate for a drink in the heat.

It was strange, given how much I love the freedom of untamed hills at home, to find the initial climb is on the road. It’s almost all dirt, with a few concrete sections. I gained about 800m of vert in 8km before finally hitting the single track where the climb begins in earnest.

It was strange, given how much I love the freedom of untamed hills at home, to find the initial climb is on the road.

From then on the going is all trail and the path is straight forward to follow. With the summit only 3km away there’s still 700m of climb to go, giving a daunting idea of the steepness to come.

With carry on luggage only, I’d taken my Salomon SpeedCross. I sometimes wear them for light hiking as well as running so they seemed a good shout for a trip away. They didn’t disappoint. As the going got steep I encountered quite a few sheets of rock and it’s like having adhesive on your feet.

With a couple of hundred metres elevation gain left, the trail became more scree and loose rocks, although still not technical. The sun glinting off the cross that marks the summit gave a clear point to aim for.

From then on it seemed only moments until I hit the summit. The views were incredible, with Nerja and the Mediterranean to one side and the tops of the clouds to the other. Sea to summit took about two hours, which doesn’t feel bad for a training jaunt with that elevation.

The sensible thing to do, of course, would be to turn around and head back down. I’d achieved my goal, eaten my last haribo, used more than half of my water, and had no map other than the GPX file of my planned route. On the other hand, I could see more peaks.

The final approach and cross on the summit The final approach and cross on the summit

Having enjoyed the moment of adrenaline and indulged in a summit selfie, I decided to crack on. There are three main peaks in the Sierras de Tejeda and I wondered if I could blag a round of them. Navachica was visible and it didn’t look too tricky to get to so why not?

I headed north from the summit. I couldn’t see a path so started to pick my way over the rocky ground. Clambering over bushes and fallen tree trunks, I use the ancient navigational method of ‘heading in the general direction of a summit’.

After about half an hour, I came over a rise only to survey a valley I’d have to cross to reach Navachica. It would mean a big descent and another lengthy climb to get across there and I was running low on water. One of the biggest differences between the terrain there and back home is the lack of water sources. I’d not seen a drop since leaving the village and decided to head back.

By the time I hit Pico del Cielo for the second time the wind was up and the summit wreathed in cloud. I’d spent about an hour in my aborted attempt to find more peaks. There were some great views but it didn’t help with momentum.

By the time I hit Pico del Cielo for the second time the wind was up and the summit wreathed in cloud.

I ducked off the summit but missed the path down - what had been an easy ascent became tricky time on the loose rocks. Every rock I put my foot on moved beneath it, but there wasn’t a good line for a fast scree descent.

Things improved when the single track resumed and I started to pick up some pace again. Every bush and plant seemed designed to scratch and cut so my legs took a constant battering on the narrow path.

As soon as I hit the road again it became an easy downhill towards Cueva de Nerja, and I set away on cruise control.

The view from the top The view from the top

I arrived in the tourist car park at the caves and stopped the clock at 25km. The last part of the descent was boiling and I’d been unable to cool down so it felt great to finish. A bottle of Fanta Limon has never tasted so good.

Overall it was a great day on the hills and, as I’ve only done British mountains so far, this automatically pops in at top spot on the elevation list.

It’s one long 1,500m climb followed by one long descent. The terrain is less interesting than the scrambling on things like Helvellyn and Sgurr a’ Mhaim, but the views are great and it was good fun. There’s a nice amount of vert and great to get that high in December without a hint of snow or ice.

I definitely need more hill miles in my legs but that’s the perfect excuse to come back to Andalusia again sometime soon. It’s a rare treat to start with your feet in the waves and end with them in the clouds.

Gear: Salomon S-Lab Sense Set 8 trail vest, Salomon SpeedCross 4 shoes, Garmin Fenix 5S Plus