The start of a long day, Mulhacen in the far distance
As the 5th highest pinnacle of my entire Expedition, I always knew that a solo winter ascent of Mulhacen would be extremely dangerous and probably the greatest challenge I've faced on a mountain in my life to date! My fears were compounded after reading about three British mountaineers who had died on the mountain whilst climbing at the same time of year in 2006.
Summit shrine to the three British who tragically perished on Mulhacen
At 7am I set out, planning a 10hr round trip. I quickly ascended the ski slopes and dropped into the back country where the hard work really started. It was clear that nobody had been to the mountain for sometime as there was no sign of any human presence. This made life hard for me as I had to break a trail through waist deep snow.
Trail breaking, always a thankless task
After hours of tediously slow progress I reached a ridge line. I had two choices, faster but dangerous progress over the icy, technical ridge, or continue trudging in the deep snow below. I chose the ridge. It started well but became increasingly technical as I felt myself pushing the limits of what is reasonable to do without a climbing partner! It got seriously dangerous but I manged to cross. By now it was 2pm, my latest turn around time was 3, but I still had 2 hours of climbing to reach the summit. I considered my options, now or never I thought, get it done. The final summit push involved an incredibly steep climb up a slope of mostly pure ice! My crampons and ice axe where the only things gripping me to the mountain, one slip and it was game over. 4pm, I reached the summit, awesome, but the usual feelings of euphoria were not present, I was worried about the descent, technically I knew it would be even more demanding that the ascent and I only had 3 hours of daylight! After a couple of quick photo's and with cloud rapidly rising from the valley's below I knew it was time to move. I descend and crossed back to the ridge with no real problems, suddenly the cloud came in! A total white out ensued with absolutely no way to differentiate between the sky and the ground, I could see only whiteness.
The beginning of the white out, it got far worse
There was no way I could safely cross the ridge with zero visibility, so I dropped into the snow, took a compass bearing and tried to hug a lower part of the ridge attempting to blindly maintain the correct direction. The situation was serious now, I needed to pass this dangerous section before nightfall but I was moving so slowly. After 2 hours the cloud finally lifted and I'd managed to pass the ridge, eventually picking up the trail I'd made earlier.
It was almost dark now, I still had 3 hours to go but I'd passed the real danger. I put some extra layers on and donned my head torch, looking back I witnessed the most stunning view of my journey so far, the sunset was bathing Mulhacen's summit in golden light. At last that euphoric feeling came to me!
Last light of day falling on Mulhacen's summit
Finally at 10pm I returned to the ski resort. After 15 hours on the mountain I was totally spent but proud of what I'd just done. This is what it's all about I thought. What a freaking day!
The bright lights of Granada in the distance on my final descent
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!