Pico del Veleta is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 3.369m (11,053ft) above the sea level, located in Sierra Nevada, a mountain range in the region of Andalusia, provinces of Granada and Almería in Spain. It's one of the highest mountain roads of Europe. At an altitude of some 3,000m road conditions become significantly worse.
This road, unpaved only in the last meters, was built after the creation of the Sierra Nevada National Park. In 1999, the road was closed to general traffic beyond Hoya de la Mora, just above the ski station. However, the road is still used by ski station employees, national park rangers, cyclists and walkers, and there is also a microbus service that takes hikers up to Posiciones del Veleta, a viewpoint 3,100 metres above sea level.The access road that arrives to approximately 10 metres below the summit is the highest paved road in Europe.
Starting from Granada, the ascent is 43 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 2.700 meters. The average percentage is 6.2 %. At 2,600m a barrier represents the end for public motor traffic. The road conditions up to this barrier are excellent as the entire route from Granada was newly asphalted in late summer 2007 and thus provide a paradise for road bikers. Behind the barrier the conditions ignificantly become worse. Pot holes and rock slides do not significantly impede on the ascent but constitute problems on downhill ride. At an altitude of some 3,000m road conditions become significantly worse. After a few kilometers the pass road diverts to the South but that part is only rideable with a mountain bike.
Do not travel this pass in severe weather conditions. Avalanches, heavy snowfalls and landslides can occur anytime, being extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging. Last mast of the skilift is located at 3,250m. Very similar to the Alps weather conditions can become worse within only few minutes. Suddenly rain clouds can appear behind the Pico and temperature decreasing more than 20 degrees Celsius down to only few above freezing point. This road has a high difficulty index due to its length (43 km), gradient (2700 m) and height, not its %. Last 8 km get harder though.
The experience of using this road is very impressive.The altimeter shows 3.267m when the road conditions do no longer allow to ride the route with a race bike. Thus, you have to push your bicycle the last 900m. On last 10m you even have to shoulder the bike. The first few kilometres are a lot tougher this way, with sections at 14%, 15% and 17%, but the scenery is fantastic and there is almost no traffic on the road.
Due its unique location and the climb in elevation over thousands of feet, and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. Do not try to do this in summer - it is a beast of a climb and with the heat it will not be at all enjoyable. From November until April there is likely to be some snow near the top which means that you will probably only be able to get as far as the service road at 2700m (which is a hard enough climb!). May, early June, late September and October are the best months to tackle the climb. There is less traffic and the top should be free from snow - just remember to take a jacket because you can still get cold on a 40km descent even if it seems nice and warm!
With such a high summit altitude the road can be closed anytime due to snowfalls. The zone is prone to heavy mist and can be dangerous in low visibility conditions.
Pic: David Stolarsky