19 Apr 2012

Return to the Sierra de Bernia for a proper hike this time!

So last Fall, when I was looking for other groups to go hiking with other than the Centro Excursionista de Alicante (because they only went out once a month), I managed to snag a spot on a hike organised by the Diputación Provincial de Alicante (provincial representation of the government). The destination was the Sierra de Bernia, a mountain that separates the green northernmost part of the Province of Alicante from the drier south (in fact the northern face of Bernia is the rainiest place in the province!). It turned out to be an interesting, albeit somewhat frustrating, hike. Frustrating because it was an "easy" hike, just crossing the mountain via the easiest pass and then hiking downhill to a river. Forget about getting close to the summit! And yet interesting because of the chance to visit the ruins of a 16th century military fort and because of the crazy weather (dark clouds kept moving around giving us really interesting views). In any case it left me wanting more! Wanting to go back and try the summit. Wanting to go back and cross the mountain through the Forat (a hole through the mountain!). And on the Sunday before Easter I finally got to go back!!! :o)

April 1st. Palm Sunday. No procession for me this year. Up bright and early to meet up with other members of the CEA at the bull ring downtown at 8 a.m. Everyone piles into the cars, and off we go, heading north to arrive around 9h30 at the "Casas de Bernia", about the closest we can get to the mountain by car (although there were a couple more options on the southern face). A gloriously sunshiny day, with no signs of those pesky rain clouds that hid everything from me on my previous visit! :o)

Sierra de Bernia, north, seen from Casas de Bernia

Our route (which you can see on the map in the photo, starting at the arrow) was to go around the northern face of the mountain towards the east (the sea), climbing as we went, until we reached a point called the "Forat" which basically means hole in Valenciano, a hole through which we crossed the mountain! Then once on the southern face we headed west until we reached the Fort de Bernia which was the starting point for the summit climb. Then back down and around the mountain again completing the circle you see in the photo (ignore the downward red line, that's if you start from Altea). The information board also had a vertical profile for the hike, but it adds in the starting point in Altea, and doesn't include the summit climb... Fortunately a friend of mine did the exact same Bernia route last Sunday with another hiking group, and he sent me their hiking profile! :o) 

profile by the GMP

As you can see in that profile, although the hike started off easy, as soon as we got close to the mountain we started a steep climb!

At some points hands were required as well as feet!

But it sure was impressive standing at the base of that rock wall... made one feel kind of tiny!

Steep sunny climb = red face! :p

We crossed a lot of people doing in the same hike in both directions, and the path to the Forat was well-worn and easy to follow.

Once there, it seemed a bit hard to believe this little tunnel was going to lead us through that massive mountain!

No one told me it was "hands and knees" terrain! Those pebbles HURT! Should have brought gloves... :s

Come into the light... ;o)

aaaaaahhhhh! the mountain won't let me go!!! :p

Once through the other side... WOW!!! Words don't work... images will have to do!

view from the end of the tunnel
Looking out from the opening of the Forat: Altea, Sierra Helada, Benidorm, Puig Campana...

Here I am, Queen of the Cave!

We had our mid-morning snack there in the cave opening, then headed on west to continue the hike. Notice how different the vegetation is on this side of the mountain? A lot more sparse, not as green... definitely more arid!

And then there were the series of "pedreras" to cross, which just made the whole thing feel a bit lunar if you know what I mean...

A bit of climbing through rocks and shrubbery here and there...

And then finally up on a plateau area with an easy path leading to that Fort!

There were LOTS of people hanging around the fort, other hikers, families up for a picnic... so we set up base a little on the side and had a pow-wow to see who was up for the arduous summit climb.

As I have a reputation to maintain (that I'll try anything!), I of course said I'd go! *gulp*

But I didn't expect it to be so steep for such a long stretch! Dirt path then rocks through another pedrera, my lungs and calves were yelling at me after a while! 

Two people who started out with us turned back... and at one point (probably about halfway up) I looked up to see the others were so far ahead of me... I just sat down and kind of gave up myself. I waved to them that I was going to head back down, I didn't want to slow them down any more. But before heading down I just sat there for a while on a rock taking in the fabulous view in front of me...

That's the Puig Campana (Dec. hike) straight ahead, and to the left the Sierra Helada (Oct. hike) on the coast. In between the two Benidorm is lost in the mist, and there are orchards at the base of the mountain. And at my feet the Fort de Bernia, with little ants (people!) milling around it. Someone pointed out to me that you could just make out the original outline of the fort: a 4-pointed star with the walls curving in a bit, and a moat/ditch around it!

16th century Fuerte de Bernia

Spend some time admiring the view... say hello to a few more hikers who come up and pass you... and you realise you're finally breathing comfortably again and your legs don't hurt as much as you thought! So why not try going up a little further? Especially since those last hikers were OLD and hey! if they can get up there then so can I!!! :p

So up I went. And once I cleared the pedrera I ran into Roberto, this hike's guide, who had come back looking for me 'cause the others were worried since they hadn't seen any movement on my part, neither going up nor down! So he took over my backpack and guided me (over some scary ledges!) to where the rest were waiting at the beginning of the mountain's crest. Warm fuzzy feelings! :o)

Climbing and walking across that crest felt so... I don't know! "Top of the world!" sensation the whole time. Feeling tiny compared to the scope of everything. Maybe some of these photos will help convey my meaning...

At one point Lucía said this felt like a moment from "The Fellowship of the Ring", and I was like "For sure! Right after the Fellowship has left Rivendell and the music swells and Gandalf comes over a rock followed by the rest!" And then we both started humming the soundtrack from that scene! And then of course had a stupid grin on my face for the rest of the climb! :D  I guess I didn't need to go all the way to New Zealand last year to find a piece of Middle Earth! ;o)

Reach up and touch the sky...

And then, finally, the peak was just in front of us! And I wished I had a camera with a wider angle lens so you could see more of this shot: the peak with part of the North and South coastline...

And voilà! We made it up! Happy to be there but annoyed by some pesky (huge!) flies which had set up residence around the geodesic summit marker! :p

This one was my toughest climb yet... can I keep it please? I was just happy to have made it up to the top of Bernia... 1128 meters above sea level. A sea which stretched out before me.

Gazing along the rest of the crest towards the coast... with the Peñón d'Ifach just visible at the end... that has to be an incredible trek as well! From what I'm told harnesses and ropes are needed to do it, and you can't go on a windy day or you might get blown off!

Time to go down and rejoin the others at the Fort for lunch... and as usual going down is a lot faster than going up!

But on this terrain it's also more dangerous so we had to be careful how and where we set out feet down...

And made good use of some of the technical aids set into the mountain, like this chain:

That pedrera was hell to climb up, but it was scary to climb down! Worried about slipping and sliding and twisting or breaking something!

But we all made it down unscathed.


Then after a quick lunch (for us, the others had been waiting almost two hours!), we continued along the path crossing through the Collado "El Pas dels Bandolers" (the bandits' pass... there used to be a lot of them on this mountain).

At this point (and starting at the Fort), we were following the same route I did last Fall (check out that hike here to compare!), so I didn't take too many more pictures. Plus I was tired and I realised the scenery had been a lot more interesting with the crazy clouds. :p

Round the tip of the mountain, and then easy path to follow along the northern face until we returned to the Casas de Bernia and the cars...

A fabulous day... with a bit of sunburn for me! An approximate total of 9 km (5.6 mi), starting at 600 m above sea level (1969 ft), and accumulating 700 m (2297 ft) of climbing for a maximum altitude of 1128 m above sea level (3700 ft). And so glad to have finally done it! :o)


  1. Congratulations! This was a real accomplishment, and the pictures do tell the tale, don't they? Thanks so much for sharing it, Cris. I am back from a ten-mile hike today and feeling glad to be sitting down again... :-)

    1. Thanks DJan! I am sometimes a bit amazed my how I will let my stubbornness push me to do things I didn't think I could do... and then discover I could after all! I guess there is something to be said for "pride" after all! :p

  2. I loved the cave - that was very cool. Every hike you do, I say, this one is my favorite. They all look awesome.

    1. Lol! Every hike I do at some point I have that feeling "this is my favourite one" too! In this case it was traversing the crest to reach the peak (total "Lord of the Rings" moment). But I think so far my favourite remains the 6000 Steps into Hell hike. ;o)

  3. I read a blog a while back in which an experienced hiker and photographer described hiking up to this cave to be there right at sunrise... crossing it from south to north (opposite direction I did) so they could have breathtaking sunrise view as they came out of the cave on the northern face! Considering they had to start at something like 4-5 a.m., that's dedication! I am tempted though...


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