Stage 1.17: Nerja – Motril, Spain

In which I run kilometres through a river, get stuck up a mountain, backtrack 30 km, run through the night, and stop after 16 hours and 78 km.



Today I aim to leave Nerja, continuing my journey up towards Granada. The most direct route lies through a park and over some mountains, according to my map. An easy start, with the track-road passing underneath the motorway high, high above.

Approaching ever-higher hills, I leave the road behind me.
The path ascends rapidly, with a staircase followed by a narrow path which winds around the edge of the rock.
Rocky hills grow before me. Into the mountains.
Clearly, I am not the first person here. :P Delicately balanced on rocks alongside the path, mini-towers of pebbles hold firm.
The path opens out, for an easy route through the forest.
A fallen tree blocks the route. This turns out to be one of the easier roadblocks in today’s stage…
A large tree grows sideways out of the rocky slope.
Water. The path is basically through a river, sometimes alongside, and later, with no option but to go right through it. This continues for kilometres.
Now and then, a mini-waterfall, the rocks of which need to be climbed. It’s all very beautiful.
Periodically, it’s stunningly beautiful, with the water and trees and mountains and sky.
I often look downstream, too, and am rewarded with equally delightful views.
The river cuts through the rock, frequently many metres high on either side.
The rocks become larger, requiring some effort to clamber up. The water collects in shallow pools in front.
Much larger rocks block the way, with fast-flowing water. The large tree-branch to the right becomes the path up.
A rock much taller than a person, smooth and slippery. I doubt it would be possible without a rope someone’s left, also using footholds which have been attached to the outside, like bouldering.
Almost immediately afterwards, the way becomes very, very steep. There’s no proper path, and I see from my map that I’ve just diverged slightly from the intended route. I begin to climb.
And climb. And climb. Progress is slow. Sometimes there’s a small slope, just about walkable. Sometimes it’s an almost-vertical ascent, requiring finding footholds and climbing. Sometimes it’s a rockfall, the difficulty of which varies greatly depending on the gradient.
The higher I go, the more of the stunning landscape I see. But the going is tough. I continue, checking my compass periodically; I hope to rejoin the path, which apparently lies only a few tens of metres nearby. But I still can’t spot it.
The mountains are all around. On the peak behind me, the entire side is green with trees.
Some peaks are dappled, with trees growing in patches much like moss on a small stone.
It is hard to convey just how steep this is. I’ve been climbing for perhaps an hour, much of which there have been steep drops of tens of metres. I’m at over 700 m high, having ascended a hundred metres or so, but the peak is double that. At times, there has been almost nothing to hold on to. The occasional root or tree saves me, but when those are absent, or so dry they break in my hands, the going is really, really tough. I’ve been trying to edge round clockwise, to get to where the map says the path is. I encounter a steep rockfall on a slope with nothing to hold on to, and have to lie flat and edge very, very slowly. A couple of times I start to slide, which would likely be catastrophic.
The path is a lie. According to my map, I am now directly on top of it—but in fact, I’m stuck up a mountain without even enough room to stand upright, having gone through lots of water with the exhaustion of having spent so long keeping concentration where a single false step could easily prove disastrous. I only have a couple of hours of sunlight left, and I haven’t eaten today, as my food somehow become detached from my backpack during the route. Even getting this far has been far too dangerous, and to attempt to climb either up or down in failing light would certainly be disastrous. There isn’t enough room to even think about pitching a tent, or even lying down. The mountain having defeated me, I begin to climb down slowly. Partly because the descent isn’t all that much easier, and partly because of tiredness, I slip a couple of times. I have to force myself to slow right down, to regain patience. I get away with nothing more severe than a mildly bruised tailbone, some rips in my shorts, and lots of scratches.
I reach the river, which is a welcome sight of safety. Here, at least, I know the route is passable, and there’s an opportunity to rest. I’ve been climbing for much of two hours. There’s no other route around, given that the river is cut through the rock, so I retrace my steps. All the way back.
After 30 km, I arrive not far from where I started, many, many hours ago. Sometimes, life is like that.
I am back from the mountain with just about an hour to spare. The waning light highlights the peaks.
And morphs into a glorious sunset.
I rest and refuel in the delightful village of Frigiliana, thankfully finding a small shop open despite it being Sunday, New Year’s Eve, and already evening. I don’t feel like stopping my run. So I don’t, and continue into the night.
I leave the village behind, with its pretty streets, and lights from houses and bars where people are watching the sunset.
It quickly goes dark entirely. Passing under another insanely high motorway, the moon is visible above.
I finish with the path, and join the road. I have both streetlights and pavements for a while.
Most things not directly on the road are barely visible. Here, the viaduct is picked out in purple.
I run through a small village, which is almost deserted.
There is very little to show for much of the rest, since not only is it difficult to photograph, it’s so dark, I can barely see it myself. Here, the motorway stretches away to the left on its stilts.
I follow the road almost exclusively; any path is far too risky. A tunnel is cut through the hillside.
Running through it so late at night is rather surreal. There is almost no traffic.
Encountering a village, things are still eerily quiet. The only place I expect to find open is a petrol-station, but this is closed, being New Year’s Eve. After wandering around for a while, I eventually find water on the beach. This is something very useful to bear in mind, in case you’re ever searching for water whilst running through the night on a Sunday on New Year’s Eve along the coast in Spain: most beaches have drinkable water.
It’s hard to accurately convey the nature of the route, it being so dark. But the road leads steeply up and down, from village to village, rounding bends with huge, dark expanses of the sea just about visible. I wonder what this would look like in the light; it’s probably absolutely lovely. In the dark, I frequently get the slightly-odd feeling when there’s a vast emptiness stretching out on one side.
At around the change of the year, I run through a town which is more populated. People are spilling out from the bars, celebrating the new year. Someone lights a firework on the beach. A huge octopus glitters on a roundabout. I run on.
For a brief while, fireworks explode ahead of me. And here’s where I pretty much cease to take photos, running on into the night in the small hours. Periodically when too tired, I walk for a while, and then run again. I stop now and then to rest from my backpack, but not too long, as doing so makes me cold. After about 63 km, I am simply too tired to run anymore, so I walk, instead. Kilometre after kilometre goes by, mostly spent on highways. I am deserted.
At last, when I don’t feel I can walk much more either, I come to a halt at Motril. It’s already past five in the morning. I’ve been 78 km, 30 km of which was doubled-back on, risen to a maximum elevation of 800 m and returned to sea-level, gained over 2300 m of elevation overall, spent a couple of hours climbing, run kilometres through a river, refilled my water multiple times, taken paths and trails, pavements and highways, and have been travelling for over 16 hours. Checkpoint. 78.0 km (stage) / 481.0 km (total)