8 Oct 2012

Return to the Sierra Helada a.k.a. the "Cliffs of Insanity"

Almost exactly one year ago I met up in Benidorm with a friend and his hiking group to do the cliff-trail of the Sierra Helada / Serra Gelada park. It was only my second hike after a long period of inactivity and it was so gruelling I named it the "Cliffs of Insanity" when I blogged about the trek (please don't tell me you don't know where the name comes from, you'll make me feel very old!). Later, when talking with people from my usual hiking group, I discovered we were a bit nuts to have done the trek in both directions (as in round trip)... considering there's a conveniently located bus with stops near both ends of the trail!!! So people usually park the car in either Benidorm or the Albir, hike the trail and then catch the bus back! *smacks forehead*

Sierra Helada Park between Benidorm and the Albir

8km trail, we did 12km -7.5mi- (to bus)
It was a gruelling hike, but as I wrote back then well worth it for the fabulous views! However I had no intention of doing it again any time soon... until my regular group, the Centro Excursionista de Alicante, put it on the calendar as the inaugural hike of the season! Considering we only have one hike programmed per month, no way was I missing out! As the date got nearer (last Sunday) I was a bit worried because of the weather issues (massive storm two days before, with rains Thurs-Sat). What would the conditions be like up there on the cliffs so close to the edge? I needn't have worried. The storm cleaned up the skies beautifully, pounded down the dust on the trails... and left us with an absolutely GORGEOUS day to go hiking along the Mediterranean! Intensely blue waters and skies (punctuated by fluffy white clouds) alongside golden cliffs surrounded by green vegetation... what more can one ask for? Oh, and since we started out pretty early the light was perfect for photography most of the morning! :o)

gazing across to the Puig Campana on the way up to the antennas

With skies and light like that, there was no way I was "putting the camera away" as I had originally intended since I'd already taken quite a few photos last time I was here. I thought this would be a quick recap... but since the lighting conditions were better and most of the photos are taken on what was the "return" leg last time (during which I was too tired to take any photos), well you get an almost full trek! Sorry! Some shots were just too gorgeous, others just too funny to leave out. :p

It felt really good to be hitting the trail again with this group. There were quite a few new faces (I hope they come back!), but also lots of "regulars" including our dear "rear" guide Luis (who makes sure those of us -me!- lagging behind a) don't get lost and b) don't dawdle too much!). He always makes me laugh when he says "this trail is nothing" (well, a slightly less polite version of that in Spanish, lol!), which he says about all our trails no matter how tough! :p

Although not a technically difficult hike, because of the razor-shape of these cliff tops it involves a lot of short but steep climbs then descents then climbs (about 7 "big" ones), so you end up climbing a total of 1000 m (3280 ft) by the time you're done! I found going in this direction less difficult than in the other direction (last year) because although the initial climb is longer, it's not as steep so it doesn't take as much out of your legs at the very beginning of the hike. It took us about an hour of constant climbing to get from the parking lot to the base below the antennas (seen in the photo below above the quarry):

Up there the view of the Bay of Altea (to the north) and the countryside towards the Puig Campana (west) was breathtaking, and made the whole climb worthwhile!

Bay of Altea with Puig Campana (left) - Sierra de Bernia (centre) - Peñón d'Ifach (right)

The Puig Campana is at the very left of that shot, just below the clouds. In the centre you've got my mom's hometown of Altea and the massive Sierra de Bernia (serves as a climate barrier separating the north-south of the province of Alicante) which I climbed last April.

At the furthest right you've got the town of Calpe with its signature landmark: the Peñón d'Ifach. And in the foreground some cages from a fish farm (sea bream mostly)

I'll let you decide if I was happy to be up there or not... ;o)

Of course with views like this to feast the eyes, who wouldn't be?!

We had just another short climb up to the actual antennas (scary-looking things!).

Around which we had to carefully make our way...

trying not to let the view distract us from our footing! ;o)

Finally at the actual "summit" (only 435 m -1427ft- above sea level), doubly glad to be there because I didn't make it to that point last year! :o)

From up there our path lay clear before us, winding its way towards Benidorm.

We only did a short stretch on the pavement. We were soon back on a dirt trail along the cliff-side, through typical Mediterranean vegetation which even after a year I am still surprised to see in the arid Alicante area!

Alberto (our president and this hike's guide), had said we'd stop for a snack "under the pine tree" and I was like "which one?!". Well, after a twist in the path it became pretty clear:

Those who wanted sun could dangle their feet over the edge, those of us avoiding the sun's rays were welcomed in the shade of the pine tree and enjoyed the view stretching out before us (even Benidorm looks almost pretty from up here!).

damn that shirt makes me look even redder than usual! lol!

Those cliffs are definitely something we were constantly wanting to peek over... look down and see the water hitting the rocks. And in this case water coming out of the base of the cliffs!

Pol was complaining that I hadn't taken his usual portrait at the summit marker, so asked to get one with the Isla Mitjana in the background.

I must say he chose a nice spot, there were several kayaks and a dive boat hanging around which made me want to go down and take a peek at what's under the surface! Note to self: find a dive club that goes to the Isla Mitjana!!!

Isla Mitjana

Ouf! I remember this bit of descent from last year, the steepest of the bunch which I had to do mostly on my ass as my legs were feeling all spaghetti-wobbly! No such problem this time, all feet no bum for me! :o)

I forgot to count the climbs and descents, and quite a few times thought "this is the last cimb!", only to arrive on top and see what still lay ahead...

Closer to the edge you can get a better feel for the variations in height. Up and down and up and down and up and down... pretty tough on the legs!!!

Finally: the LAST climb!!! Why is the last climb always the toughest? I seriously think this one was steeper than the others! Of course there's also the fatigue factor to consider...

From up there I took a long look back towards the antennas, pausing to realise just how much we'd done and simply smile.

And just over the hill we got our first good view of Benidorm, the bay and the island (great dive spot!). Just on the horizon I can also make out Campello and Alicante!

We took advantage of a couple of people hiking up towards us to designate one of them our photographer and get a group shot of us all with the cloud-covered (pity) Puig Campana in the background.

It was all downhill from there. Literally not figuratively! Down, down, down (stopping in a shady spot for lunch) until we landed ourselves in the bustling streets of Benidorm where we caught the bus back to the Albir and after another 10' walking found ourselves back at the cars... with two surprise visitors for me:

a couple of ol'fogies out for a walk!

Were they keeping tabs on me? Hmmm... they decided to drive up the coast and have lunch around the Albir and then try the (flat) trail to the lighthouse (which my mom proudly told me later she did "sin problema!"). I wanted to join them but since we were car-pooling... another time!

Only downside to this hike? What I discovered on my feet when I got home and peeled my shoes and socks off...

OWWWWWW!!! I don't think I've ever had so many or such big blisters! (was also one on each pinky toe) :o(

Note to self: in the future after 3 months of wearing flip-flops take some time to re-accustom feet to socks and hiking boots before taking them out on the trails! ;o)


  1. Ouch! Those blisters are not fun, I know! I love the pictures, and you are such a ham, Cris! Love those big smiles...

  2. 10 days later and the marks of the blisters are still there! Took a week for the spots no no longer be tender... I've got to start wearing my boots daily now to hopefully avoid that in the next hike... but it went and got HOT again and the thought of locking my feet up... *sniff*

    A ham?! I don't follow! Must be one Yanky expression my dad doesn't use so I'm unfamiliar with!

  3. Ouch! I've actually have scars from some blisters I got from my diving booties.

    I answer for DJan - a ham is a good thing - a "real character" (aka funny, sense of humour and of course, loves the camera).

    1. Thanks for the "ham" info, fun expression! :o)

      You got blisters from dive booties?! What did you do, go on a hike with them? Mine have never ever caused me any problems! That really surprised me!

  4. Cris - the blisters formed after a week of shore diving. I'm not sure if it was the sand or crushed coral, but I'm sure to get them again when I head back to Bonaire in 25 days!


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