Staying Safe in the Mountains

The vast majority of visitors to the Sierra Nevada encounter no problems, but sometimes the blue skies can give a false sense of security, and serious accidents do occasionally happen. Here are a few things to be aware of when you are out trekking, particularly if you intend to head up to the higher mountains:

  1. Plan your route properly. Make sure that you have everything you need in the way of maps, clothing, food and water, and that you know how to get to the trailhead. Set realistic targets: don’t overestimate your fitness, and choose a route that is suitable for the weakest member of your group. Consider hiring a guide if you are heading into the high part of the mountain range, particularly if there is snow. Snow fields should only be crossed if you have the necessary experience and proper equipment. The topography of the Sierra Nevada means that overhanging snow ridges are a particular risk.
  2. Adapt your plans to the circumstances. If, when you get up, you find that the weather is worse than anticipated, or you are not feeling in top shape, choose a less challenging route, or just put your feet up! Equally, if the weather turns during your trek, or you find yourself struggling for whatever reason, don’t be ashamed to head back.
  3. Bring lots of water! Intense sun and heat mean that dehydration is probably the number one problem that walkers are likely to face. Even in winter it can feel quite hot. The official advice is not to drink from rivers, unless very close to their headwaters. However, lots of people do so without any problems; if you do, choose a fast-flowing section of the river. The many natural springs with crystal-clear water are definitely safe to drink from. Another option is water purification tablets, which are essential if you intend to drink from a lake.
  4. Cover your head, and apply sunscreen at regular intervals. Sunstroke and sunburn are real risks, not just in summer, so use a high factor sunscreen. The sun is even stronger at high altitudes, so take particular care if you are high up in the mountains.
  5. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. The high altitude of the upper Sierra Nevada means that winds are often strong, and even in summer it can get cold at night. Rain or snow can appear seemingly out of nowhere, so it’s a good idea to have a fleece and a waterproof with you, even if you are only planning on going for a relatively short walk. For longer hikes, proper mountain gear is essential.
  6. Wear good hiking boots or trainers. In many parts of the Sierra Nevada the ground is rocky and uneven,  so it is easy to twist an ankle. In wet weather the ground becomes extremely slippery. Our route descriptions grade the difficulty of the terrain – for routes defined as difficult, walking boots are always strongly recommended. Flip-flops or canvas shoes are never advisable.
  7. Bring a map and compass. Our maps are downloaded from the Spanish national mapping agency, and as such are very accurate. However, for longer treks it is a good idea to have a map of the whole area where you intend to go walking (see our maps section for recommendations). A compass is always useful, and is essential if you intend to head off the beaten track in the high mountains, where there are few marked paths and many steep precipices, as well as a risk of fog and low clouds.
  8. Tell someone where you are going. Let a friend know where you are going, and roughly how long you intend to be away. Alternatively, inform reception staff at your hotel.
  9. Don’t rely too heavily on your mobile phone. Mobile phone coverage is patchy in the mountains, so you may not be able to use your phone to get help in an emergency. It’s still a good idea to have your mobile with you – the Spanish emergency number is 112.
  10. If in doubt, ask for advice. There are a number of offices that can provide up-to-date advice on current conditions (see our section on information centres).