Calar Alto

If ever a place illustrated why climbing mountains in southern Spain and Andalucía in particular is an acquired taste, Calar Alto is it.

Almost extraterrestrial in its desolation, with the fitting exception of one of the world’s best astronomical observatories on its summit, Calar Alto overlooks the A-92 autoroute as if from the vantage point of another world or even galaxy. No villages bustle on its pleats, no road forsakes its camouflage amid the scrub and pines, and no branch or bush betrays the Poniente winds that frequently lash the Sierra de Los Filabres from the west. Everything seems lifeless, embalmed in silence and inactivity behind the heat haze that engulfs the immense valley stretching south to the Sierra Nevada for much of the year.

A little further east lies the Desierto de Tabernas, Europe’s only true desert and film set de choix for many Hollywood westerns. To the west, towards Granada, legions of wind turbines whirr soundlessly, eerily. Devotees of cool, fragrant Alpine passes dotted with bell towers and edelweiss may want to turn back here rather than off the road towards Aulago or Gérgal; in Andalucia and at Calar Alto more than anywhere else, menace is the mountains’ only inhabitant.

Calar Alto is a mountain you’ll either love or you’ll hate. What it won’t do is leave you indifferent – or, for that matter, unchallenged.

The Climb in Detail

“For some, the essence of the mountains resides here, in the wilderness...." - Mountain High

The Ascents

With the road resembling an upside-down horseshoe, Calar Alto can be climbed from the A92 from either the town of Aulago or Gergal. Each climb has its own distinct feel, although the road from Aulago in the west, is easily Calar Alto’s most compelling side both on the way up and down. The landscape never stops evolving, particularly in the latter half as both the scenery and conditions can change dramatically as you ride to the moonscape summit and the observatory that sits atop the mountain.


The Observatory

The Calar Alto Observatory is equipped with top-notch telescopes and instruments and is open to the world's astronomers and astrophysicists. There are four telescopes of 3.5m, 2.2m, 1.23m and 0,8m mirror diameter. Opened in July 1975 the observatory site has developed with a German and Spanish cooperation in astronomy and is one of the main sites in Western Europe for such purposes. 

It’s place at the Vuelta a España

The Vuelta a España took the back road via Serón en route to Calar Alto and a stage finish at the nearby Alto de Velefique in 2009, having ascended from Gérgal on its previous two visits in 2004 and 2006. On both of those occasions, the finish line was situated at the observatory and the stars of the Vuelta came promptly to the fore. In 2004, having already cracked race leader Floyd Landis, Roberto Heras attacked seven kilometres from the summit to win alone and set up his third overall Vuelta title. Two years later, the Basque climber Igor Antón surged away close to Venta Luisa, just over three kilometres from the summit, to score his first ever Vuelta stage win.

"It was really difficult..." - Ryder Hesjedal after winning a stage of the Vuelta a España that went up the Calar Alto - 2009

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