Trail Review: Gran Senda de Málaga, GR 249

I had a very good time on the Gran Senda de Málaga but there were some difficulties, too. These were because I had some unfulfilled expectations on what would or wouldn’t happen. I hope I can help future hikers to know a little bit more about this wonderful trail than I did while planning and hiking.

What I did:

My original plan was to trough-hike the western part of the trail from Nerja until the end of my two weeks holidays. But the unmerciful heat and my therefore blistered feet made me jump the big stages and only do the small ones and to finally give up the idea of a through-hike. The result was that hiked a sample of nearly every possible landscape of the Gran Senda de Málaga and some other famous trails in Andalusia.

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I did one stage starting in Nerja in the Sierra de Tejeda, two stages in the gradually decreasing Sierra, starting from Periana and from Pulgarin Alto, I had to rest my feet for two days in Antequera, sent home my shoes and bought new ones, then I continued in the very flat and dry northern area of the trail starting from Alameda to continue the next day from Fuente de Piedras. This part of the trail was so f…g hot and therefore so exhausting that decided to do day hikes with only water in my pack. I stood four nights on the wonderful Camping Parque Ardales and did the stage Ardales-El Chorro, the Sendero Gaitanejo and the famous Caminito del Rey from there. Than I went on to Cartajima in the South of Ronda to do a hike to Los Riscos and one to the white villages of the Valley of Genal. My last day I sat on the roof terrace of the wonderful Refugio Hostel and did nothing but looking the swallows whizzing through the blue sky.

Facts about the Gran Senda de Malaga:

Location: Andalusia in southern Spain

Length: 656 km

Potential dangers: Hunting, some road walks, breeding boars, wasps, dogs, getting lost, no water, river crossings in the colder seasons, eventual forest fires.

Difficulty: There are very easy stages and very long and/or difficult mountain stages. To predict the difficulty of every stage there is a very useful table provided by the Gran Senda Organisation. Also you will find the composition of paths (single trail, dirt road, road, river crossing) at the beginning of every description of the stages in the downloadable guidebook provided in english language.

Civilisation density:  You will have at least one point of civilization on or at the end of every stage. This doesn’t mean that you’ll find accommodation or something like a pharmacy over there. But at least there will be a bar and a cold cerveza.

Landscape: Very diverse and very beautiful, sometimes unbelievably lovely. You’ll see the Mediteranean Sea, the mountains, agricultural landscapes, lakes and hills. A very good reason to do it! I was completely overwhelmed.

Cultural sites: You will cross some “bigger” cities with wonderful cultural sites like Ronda, Archidona, Nerja and Malaga. But in general the trail passes through simpler, rural areas.

Best time to do it: There is one thing I can already say: Do it in May, but in the beginning of May. It’s the time of bloom, the landscape buzzes and you’ll see the most fantastic colors around you. But in this year it was a particularly hot May and there is not a lot of shadow on the road. It can be hell, too. Maybe it’s better to do it in autumn or even winter. But you won’t experience the wonders of spring then. Look at the climate table of Andalusia and see what suits you most.

Trail signage and way markers:

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If there is one compliment to be given to the Gran Senda Organisation then it is that one: The signage is nearly perfect. Everywhere, even in the most lost areas, you’ll find wooden posts with striped (go!) or crossed (don’t go!) trail marks. You wont get lost if you hike with your eyes open. As I hiked in the end of May and nature was in full bloom it happened that one or two posts were hidden behind bushes, but in general they were easy to locate. There were only two times when I had some difficulties finding my way. On the stretch from Nerja to Frigiliana behind the river crossing I lost one hour because of bad signage and in the forest from Ardales to El Chorro I saw a “corzo morisco”, a kind of a mountain deer, directly in front of me and out of surprise I missed the  junction which was well hidden in some bushes.

Sometimes I had the impression that someone coming from the opposite direction has installed the trailmarks.

Busyness and Solitude:

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Between Nerja and Frigiliana I briefly met two girls from Switzerland who did more than one stage. I also met some day hikers on this stage. Between Periana and Pulgarin Alto I met a group of American day hikers on a visit to Andalusia again. That was it. This trail is – regarding other hikers – completely deserted. You’ll meet forest workers, farmers and some tourists in cars when the road is near, but there aren’t any hikers. At least in the areas where I was. It’s quite a lot of solitude to take in. You either search for that or you have to deal with it when you are hiking solo.

Documentation:

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There is this great guide which you can download for free on the website of the trail. There is some really good information in it, like the lengths the heights and the level of difficulty of every stage after which I chose the stages I wanted to walk. If you are interested in it there is even some quite useful information about history and geography. Unfortunately it also lacks some really important information.

  1. Maps.
    The maps they provide in the guide and on the website by the Gran Senda Organisation are completely useless. Don’t even bother to load them down or print them out. I recommend some kind of App with offline Maps based on Openstreetmap (for example MapOut for IOS). Offline Maps are – in my opinion – mandatory.
  2. Water.
    There is no real indication about where and when to find water on the trail or even the possibility of water. As I walked in the month of May at an shadowless average of 27°C I would have been very grateful not to have to pack 3 liters of water on top of the weight of my backpack. In the guide they write about water but more generally, where it comes from and why and the geological conditions. In case you are sweating like I did, this is quite useless.
  3. GPS Downloads.
    There are GPS downloads of every single stage and they are obviously very detailed. I don’t know what I did wrong but I wasn’t able to load them into my map app (MapOut). There is no download of the complete trail. At least I didn’t find it. Instead I downloaded it from gpsies.com. But this was clearly not always the designated trail (read this, if you want to walk Nerja-Frigiliana).
  4. Accommodation and transport.
    There is no useful information about the end of every stage. If there is civilization, accommodation, something to eat and drink or private or public transport. All things you are longing for after an exhausting hike. There are some random links on the website but accommodation should at least include a short description and a price range.

As I posted some pictures on Instagram the Gran Senda Organisation contacted me and offered me help if I would need it. I was pleased to hear that. Later I had one question but they couldn’t answer it and the reaction alone took some days. At the end they offered to meet me an give me some “presents” – I can’t imagine what kind of presents that would be and I’m really not much into merchandising stuff but I would have liked to talk to someone who maybe did the whole through-hike  – but when I said I would like that but I had no car and I’m kind of far from Málaga they didn’t answer anymore.

 

Coverage

Spain is public network paradise. Even in the mountains you will frequently have at least one point of coverage. I think it happened to me only four or five times that I looked on my phone and read “kein Netz”. Wifi in the hostels and on the camping sites on the other hand is more or less useless and ultraslow. Better to have a good plan from your home provider.

Anyway: In my opinion it is absolutely necessary to have offline maps with you. Print them or use something like MapOut (IOS).

 

Camping

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I carried my (ultralight) tent all the way but if I had known that I would barely use it (which was more out of personal reasons than out of exterior conditions) I would have left it at home. But this was my thing and it is completely possible and even easy to pitch camp all the way. As usual it is more difficult in the mountains. If you want to, you can look out for “recreation areas” where you can camp legally and where there is water most of the time.

Most of the land is privately owned though, and it is not advisable to pitch camp there.

There are no dangerous animals, snakes or insects in Spain so this is nothing to be worried about. What you will hear at night are owls, boars, deer, goats, mice and squirrels.

Near to El Chorro I recommend the fantastic, huge and very wild camp site Camping Parque Ardales with very friendly staff, directly on one of the clearest turquoise mountain lakes .

Keep in mind that it is forbidden to free-camp all over Spain.

 

Landscape

This is why you should do the Gran Senda de Malaga. The landscape is diverse and at least once on every stage I found it really breathtaking. I chose the stages I walked because of a mixture between their level of difficulty and where they would lead me to, but they were all fantastic and I have a lot of wonderful pictures in my head which I will be able pull out on cold German winter days. It surprised me and it is much more beautiful than I thought it would be.

Dogs

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After my second day I bought a pepper-spray in a hunting and fishing store in Antequera. A lot of farmers have untrained guard dogs which are alone on the land or around the houses. Sometimes they are aggressive and won’t let you pass which can be quite a problem in the mountains when there is no alternative path.

 

This was my hike. And I finish with a short abstract which is purely my opinion:

Do it …

  • if you like solitude and don’t want to see any other hiking tourists
  • if you want to see fantastic landscapes
  • if you don’t want to be in the wilderness but in rather near to little spots of civilization
  • if you don’t like dangerous animals (there aren’t any)
  • if you want to do a through-hike in southern Europe (maybe in winter)
  • if you speak a little spanish. At least I found this very relaxing.

 

Don’t do it …

  • if you are afraid of dogs
  • if you are looking for a wilderness trail
  • if it’s hot
  • if you would like to have a very pre-organised trip (I think you can’t plan and book in advance, or at least this will be very complicated)

 

 

Please ask in the comments if you have any questions. If I can answer them, I will do so. And if you do/did it, let me know. Have Fun!

 

 

 

 

Gear Review: Lowa Wendelstein

There is always this possibility that I’ll find the perfect shoes!
With this mantra I went into shoe shopping again and I had some conditions in advance: I was at the research for light (yeah, not ultralight) boots because I had this not so good experience last year in the mountains with my trail runners and I wanted leather boots because it’s comfy and I’m still convinced that leather is giving me the best foot climate. And I don’t want to look on my feet all the time and be over-careful. That’s my reason for boots.

I have a two-weeks through-hike in spain ahead of me and I want to be sure to choose wisely.

The Lowa Wendelstein are …

  • … very light for a leather boot (1031g/pair/41)
  • … rather narrow and with that they should have been perfect for my narrow foot
  • … beautiful. With their proportions, the brown leather and the red shoelaces they look just like my imagination of classic hiking boots grandpa style.
  • … made in Germany
  • … a wonderful piece of craftsmanship
  • The sole is rather stiff and the cushioning is less than average.
  • The sole has an excellent grip.
  • My size is 40 and I chose the 41. I put my orthopedic insoles inside and they are slightly thicker than the original soft leather surfaced insoles. My toes have enough space on the top and in the front.
  • The break-in is very long.

Finally I decided to go with my La Sportiva Core Highs (and get to know the Lowas better when I come back) because of trust issues:

  • I’m not sure how long the break-in will take. Until this moment I have the problem of a very aching little toe after 15 kms. But I think this will be better when the leather gets smoother with time.  I don’t want to risk Cinderella-like foot pain.
  • and because of better cushioning

 

Data Lowa Wendelstein:

 kind of shoe mid-height leather hiking boot
top full leather, interior leather
sole Vibram
price 210 €
drop ?
break-in Very long, haven’t finished yet
weight/pair
(size 41)
1031 g
waterproof If you grease them well
marketing promises Perfect mix between traditional craftsmanship and Innovation

Evaluation Lowa Wendelstein:

tested for 50 km
foot climate *****
grip *****
stability (sole) *****
stability (top) *****
protection *****
comfort *****
cushioning *****
durability *****
(seams great, but I did not test it long enough)
toebox normal to narrow width
Dachstein Spürsinn Review

Gear Review: Dachstein Spürsinn MC

Those boots! I saw them online and I thought: this is the MY pair of hiking boots. They are…

  • … mid height
  • … light
  • … made in Austria by people who know their artisanry
  • The Design is – in my opinion – outstanding, compared to all those insect-like colored trail and hiking boots
  • Their USP says that they have an outstanding underfoot feeling (and I just hate if my soles are so stiff that I can’t feel the ground anymore)

Unfortunately I can’t give a full evaluation of the boots because I only wore them for about 1 km and I quickly recognized, that they are to small for me. So here are my 5 cents:

  • They look great
  • The sole is stable and has an excellent grip (I didn’t walk on wet ground though)
  • My size is 39,5 and I chose the 41. This is still not enough. I have to say that I put my orthopedic insoles inside and they are slightly thicker than the original ortholite insoles. My toes touched the top even without walking.
  • They are not comfortable. This means: the sole is comfortable, but the top isn’t. Even in wearing them so shortly I already discovered some slight bruises. And this was the most disappointing thing for me because they looked so much like the perfect shoes! So maybe they need a long break-in, I just didn’t try it long enough.

Finally I sent them back – teary-eyed.

Data Dachstein Spürsinn MC:

 kind of shoe Mid-height Hiking Boot
top mesh & leather
sole Vibram
price 179 €
drop 9 mm
break-in can’t tell
weight/pair
(size 41)
751 g
waterproof No
marketing promises Perfect mix between approach shoes and trail runners. Very good underfoot feeling.

Evaluation Dachstein Spürsinn MC:

tested for 1 km
foot climate ***** (did not test it long enough)
grip *****
stability (sole) *****
stability (top) *****
protection *****
comfort *****
durability ***** (did not test it long enough)
toebox normal width & rather round
La sportiva ultra raptor

Gear Review: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor

I bought this pair of shoes to thruhike the GR 221 mountain trail in Majorca /Spain. I put a lot of thoughts into my choice prior to my journey because it has been the first time that I chose trailrunners over hiking boots for a longer hike. I already had the Brooks Cascadias 10 at home but the cushioning seamed to weak for my sensible feet which easily get tender after long hikes.

I read a lot about Hokas and I ordered a pair together with the La Sportivas to compare them at home. They have been utterly comfortable when I tried them on and I especially loved the forefoot cushioning which I have never seen in other trailrunners before.

Finally I’m more than content to have chosen the La Sportivas because the footing of the Hokas (Challenger ATR) is god when it comes to the soles but very weak on the top of the shoes. And this has been my principal problem with the La Sportivas although they are much more stable than the Hokas.

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My feet disguised as clowns: The Hokas compared to the La Sportivas
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The La Sportivas after 300 kms and about 17.000 meters difference in altitude

 

Foot climate:
I wore them together with Falke RU4 and RU5 socks and I never had any feeling of excessive sweating even when temperature climbed. The mesh is wide and you have to wear gaiters on sandy ground if you don’t want your shoes filled with dirt at the end of the day.

Comfort and grip: 
I had no break-in phase. They were immediately comfortable from the beginning. I had one small blister as a result of a very long hiking day. In my opinion the soles are just perfect. Absorption is great but you can still feel the ground very well. The grip is perfect, too. Even on wet ground.

Stability:
And here comes the problem: The stability of the sole is perfect. But I hiked a mountain trail mainly consisting of sharp rocks and debris and  steep ascents are mostly connected with steep descents.
While I observed my co-hikers in their leather boots nearly running down those hills I had to be very slow and cautious because the top of the shoes does not provide enough stability to hold the feet in place over a long period of time. Some descents were longer than 10 kms and I had to tie the laces so tight that I didn’t feel my feet anymore. At the end of my journey I had bruises on both feet and one of them even bled.
Well, there was on good thing about all that: As I was forced to walk very carefully on the descents, I didn’t have any problems with my knees as I had on previous hikes.

Conclusion:
I love this shoes and I hate them. They are superb on ascents, but a real pain in the ass on descents. On my next mountain only trip I’m going to wear boots again. I will use them with delight to hike my really flat home region.

Data

 kind of shoe Trailrunner
top Mesh
sole Vibram
price 130 €
drop 10 mm
break-in none
weight/pair
(size 41,5 without insoles)
658 g
23,2 oz
waterproof No
marketing promises  optimum shock absorption

 

Evaluation

tested for 300+ kms
foot climate *****
grip *****
stability (sole) *****
stability (top) *****
protection *****
comfort *****
durability *****
toebox  wide & rather round

 

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And sometimes it’s just great to get rid of all your shoes and clothes and jump into the sea.

Gear Review: Aku Tribute II LTR

In comparison to the Brooks Cascadia 10, the La Sportiva Primer and the Salewa Ultra Trail Every review is subjectively biased so I will describe my preconditions, expectations and needs further down to let you know from where I’m coming. At the end of this page you will find a table with the comparison to the above mentioned shoes. Review: […]