Position: 37°53’09″N 1°32’55″W
The soughing of an uphill breeze as it catches a canopy of pines is a unique sound. Deciduous forests sound different. Leaves rustle, but they also quietly rattle and click against each other. Pine needles by comparison are a smooth jazz brush on a hi-hat. The only clatter is a rare cone spinning down from a tall branch.
So much of the landscape of southeast Spain is arid that hearing the rush of wind through pine trees immediately takes us back to eastern Oregon. One of our favourite places to hear pines sing locally is the Sierra Espuña regional park.
We discovered it before lockdown on a cool day in late February. The hills were alive with the sounds of cycling. The whirr of cassettes whining through the forest during a local competitive ride brought me back to my days as a distance cyclist. How I loved the smell of chain lube and the snap of spandex in the morning! Had I known how long we’d be staying here I would have bought a bike and got in shape. There is nothing better than a long, lung-bursting climb followed by a sweeping descent into the path of on-coming cars. You wonder why I think motorcycling is comparatively safe? At least you can stop a modern motorcycle going downhill. The same is definitely not true of a road bike.
Situated about an hour northwest of Cartagena near the ancient town of Alhama de Murcia, the park rises steeply off the plain to a height of over 1,500 metres. Covering almost 18,000 hectares it contains Murcia’s largest forest and is home to dozens of species of birds and mountain critters.
Our first couple of day-hikes there were eclipsed this week by a half-marathon. We started up the Valle de Leíva feeling stiff and lazy after a few days off. With no particular objective or distance in mind, we powered along the narrowing valley until we reached its end. From our rest stop, the climb to the ridge looked far less intimidating. It should have done. We’d already climbed over half its height.
The trees fell away leaving a rocky field pockmarked by clumps of tall grass. Prior to this hike, we’d only seen the mountain’s towering bluff from the south. Her sheer face is something for climbers with pitons and belays, not hikers with a small dog. But from the north side she invited us to come see the view from the top.
With a half-litre of water each and six hours of daylight to go, we took the bait. Now our goal was the 1,444 metre Morrón de Alhama. Once we summitted we’d skip down the face of the mountain and be back at the car before Marlon could bark twice.
Weather brewing out of the south scudded northwards, away from the valley. The rock-strewn path curled around the dingles of the mountain and carried us steadily towards the roofless stone hut at the top. Thirty kilometres away grey rain fell in sheets. Meanwhile, gusts of wind buffeted us as we examined our way down. It looked steep and treacherous. Lacking a helmet, Marlon didn’t like the look of it. Neither did we. We doubled back. From there it was all downhill with achy toes and a tireless puppy.
Totals: 1,000 metres up and 22,000 metres along. A little more than a half-marathon.