Monte Atalaya and Monte San Julian

Elevation: Monte Atalaya - 251 m, Monte San Julian - 293 m
Elevation Gain: Monte Atalaya - 251 m, Monte San Julian - 293 m
Atalaya is the Spanish term for “watchtower” and, indeed, Monte Atalaya has been site to many watchtowers and fortifications over Cartagena’s more than 2,000 years of history. Monte San Julian is named for one of the many the 10 Julians formally recognized as saints.
My Ascents:
June 17 2015.

I don't always present at conferences, but when I do, I prefer to present at conferences that yield company-paid trips to Europe! In this particular instance, the conference was Ibertrib 2015 and the venue was the beautiful Mediterranean city of Cartagena, Spain!

After a hellacious 24 hour travel day (which included a nightmarish 5 hours to find my connecting gate in Amsterdam), I arrived at my beautiful room (complete with rooftop terrace overlooking Monte San Julian and the sea). Although exhausted, I was compelled to explore the streets, seeking out the finest tapas and cervezas that I could find before eventually returning to the hotel and collapsing into a deep, jet-lagged slumber.

Although I worried that I’d find myself awake in the middle of the night, I actually managed to sleep in until 9 am! Reinvigorated and with a free day before the conference started, I decided to set out on foot to explore Cartagena. Although I had no knowledge of the area surrounding the city, I had noticed a couple of larger hills that were begging to be climbed! Leaving my hotel, I was treated to wonderful views of a tanker maneuvering in the port beyond the plaza.

Looking towards my original objective (a large hill just west of the harbor) from a bridge (Calle Pio XII) over a dry riverbed. After wandering several kilometers towards this hill, however, I discovered that it appeared to be within a military zone. I retreated at the sound of munitions fire.

After discovering some stairs, I climbed them (reasoning that they must lead to the top of something). While the stairs led nowhere, they did grant a pleasing view and provided a good vantage which allowed me to catch a glimpse of a path which appeared to ascend one of the larger hills nearby (left). After descending the stairs, I found my way to the start of the path near the church (Parroquia de la Concepcion) below.

Stopping to smell the flores.

Once on the path, route finding was trivial! My only goal for the outing was to explore, however, I was pleased to discover (after the fact) that this hill is an officially named mountain (Monte Atayala)! :-D

Colorful graffiti and improving city views on the way up Monte Atayala.

An arid, but beautiful, panorama of Cartagena’s harbor from about half way up. The highest hill on the right is also an officially named peak (Monte San Julian) and would command my attention later on. Click to see larger.

Looking back at the naval ships and tankers in the busy harbor below.

Cartagena is a natural port on the Mediterranean and as a result of its strategically valuable position, features castles/forts atop most of its significant high points. This one (Castillo Atayala) was built between 1771 and 1788 and was still used for military purposes until 1968.

A very different kind of summit block – Castillo walls.

One easy hands-on step to gain the castle’s upper terrace.

Stunning views from the terrace. On the left, the ancient barracks building can be seen while the harbor and city glimmer below on the right. Click to see larger.

A frayed rope allows one to climb an additional 20 feet or so to the castle's roof. Adhering to standard climber's wisdom, I opted to forgo this last bit as it's generally unwise to use a rope that you yourself have not placed (especially when it looks like this)!

Looking out over the Mediterranean from my castle.

251 m above Cartagena.

I really do enjoy conferences (until they start anyways)! ;-)

The estadio and a cell phone tower below.

Making use of my camera's 10 second timer to get a nice summit shot at the conclusion of an EPIC sprint.

Heading back down following a sunny summit stay. The road back to Cartagena provided some interesting photographic opportunities and a chance to practice my talk for tomorrow’s conference several times. Locals no doubt wondered what the crazy ingles was doing talking to himself in the hills!

Looking back up towards Monte Atayala as I wandered in the general direction of my hotel (I had worked up quite a thirst during my ascent).

Passing the naval base en route to my hotel cerveza.

After some mid-afternoon’s refreshments, my explorations continued. Up first: the nearby Roman Theatre which dates back to 5 BC. With over 2,000 years of history, this theatre was lost under newer edifices until 1988 when it was rediscovered during the construction of a new building! In the distance, Monte Atayala stands tall underneath the hot afternoon sun. Click to see larger.

From the theatre, I charted a course east along the harbor front, passing fishermen’s nets as they dried in the sun and filled the hot air with their ocean odours.

Local fishermen.

As I made my way south along the harbor’s eastern shore, I left the city behind and found myself surrounded by ruins on the sea.

Beyond the ruins, I managed to locate the local beach (Cala Cortina) where I enjoyed a refreshing swim and some beach time surrounded by senioritas in the sun!

Of course, one can only swim and lounge in the sun for so long before one has to set out to climb something (again). This time, I started off by climbing some derelict stairs high above the beach’s southern end.

My random ascent of the derelict stairs/hillside quickly led me into some strange abandoned industrial complex. It's not trespassing if there's no fence, right?

Looking down upon the abandoned complex after some easy scrambling. There are definitely much better ways up than the one I took starting from the stairs at the beach, nevertheless, this route provided pleasing views of the Mediterranean. Click to see larger.

After all the easy scrambling and possible trespassing, I found the path. Doh! Indeed, as I would come to discover, several different paths/roads wind their way up Monte San Julian (pictured).

No further route finding challenges as my highway to the top winds its way amongst some ruins.

Cala Cortina and its beautiful beach grow smaller below.

Castillo San Julian on the summit of Monte San Julian atop impressive cliffs (don't worry mom, the road easily switch-backed its way up there – no climbing necessary).

A surprising sight from up high on Monte San Julian! Although it isn't visible from Cartagena, the proximity of the nearby refinery and surrounding industrial complex is apparent from near the top! As a cool note, I later discovered that one of my company's systems is installed at this refinery!

On top and crossing the moat into Castillo San Julian.

Exploring the mountaintop castle’s spacious courtyard. The round tower on the left was first built by the British as part of the War of Spanish Succession during 1706, however, most of the other structures are more recent add-ons built between 1861 and 1883.

Peeking out from the castle walls towards Cartagena.

Looking down from the ramparts towards the industrial port.

A beautiful panorama on a lovely Mediterranean evening from my perch atop Monte/Castillo San Julian. Click to see larger.

The winding road up from (and, ultimately, back down to) Cartagena.

Trading in my mountaineering boots for sandals in this summit shot! While the climb was an easy hike, the approach (8,197 km from Calgary) is on the long side!

With dinner time fast approaching (9 pm in Spain), it was time to start making my way back down towards distant the city.

Even the weeds on Monte San Julian were pretty in the late evening light.

A brief detour to check out the giant smoke stack on my way back into town.

Stack envy.

A look inside the creepy abandoned smoke stack.

The sun sets on Cartagena as I make my way back towards the hotel. By this time my feet were killing me! Who knew that walking 25 km and gaining 550 vertical meters in cheap, brand new sandals would be a poor choice?

Back just in time for dinner (in Spain anyways): 10:20pm! Buenos Noches from beautiful Cartagena. If you’re a peak bagger and you ever find yourself presenting at a conference in Cartagena, I would highly recommend hiking up the small but beautiful peaks nearby!