Disclaimer: Each year Betsy and I do a guided trip which allows us to climb stuff we normally couldn’t climb on our own and last year I caught some grief on ST for doing this. So I’m just saying this up front in case this offends you – we did it again this year using Sierra Mountain Guides out of Bishop. For full disclosure, we also stayed in mountain huts, took a tram and I pulled on some gear. More than once. Just saying…
DAY ONE: Rest & Jet Lag day – Nope, let's Climb
Well, the thing is, the next two days were supposed to be rainy, so perhaps we should climb while we can? Surprisingly, Betsy and I feel OK so off we go, with the assumption that we’ll surely crash in the next day or two.
A tourist tram Fuente De takes us up to the hiking trails and climbs of the upper reaches of the range, and we do Aguja Cannelona, an awesome 5.10 limestone spire that starts the one-week process of removing the skin on our fingers.
DAY TWO: Rest day – Nope, a tad of sport climbing at Rumenes
Surely a rest day, but the thing is it isn’t raining but is supposed to start later in the day. Perhaps we should get on a few short sport climbs until the rains come? First off, Betsy and I are older trad climbers and live an area without a gym. Further, this summer we’ve spent rebolting and developing an area of mainly slab climbing on a granite dome. Not a lot off super-steep stuff.
We had a blast on steep, almost vertical 5.10a/b limestone with incut holds and positive edges. However we were stunned to hike up around the corner to find wildly overhanging cliffs with massive tufa holds. What the hell …. is this like 5.14 or what? Nope, there are a few 5.11s with huge holds since it is so overhanging – if you pop off down low on a top rope without directionals, you are swinging out 50 to 60 feet from the wall.
By the time we were done it was 5:00 pm, it still hadn’t rained and our fingers, hands and arms were completely spent. So much for a rest day.
In addition to Howie Schwarz of Sierra Mountain Guides we were climbing with a guy who led a lot of the harder stuff, including some climbs we could only dream of doing.
DAY THREE: Rest – No, a bit more Sport
Another threatening rain day, and another day of sport climbing. Not sure why we didn’t rest. Howie had heard of this place next to the quaint village of Urdon and it was only a few minutes off the road in case it rained. By the time afternoon café con leche called for us from the nearby village, we had climbed some great limestone pitches, not too inverted.
DAY FOUR: Hike – no, alpine climb
The other main town on the border of the national park is Cortes, so we decided to head that way for a canyon hike in the rain as somewhat of a rest day. I’m not even sure why we put our climbing stuff in the car but apparently we did. We stopped in a village along the way for more café and decided there in the café that since it wasn’t raining, perhaps we should do a moderate climb instead, Pena Fresnidiello.
Cervesas fria and huevos dishes in the quaint village of Cortes rounded out the day before the drive back to Potes.
DAY FIVE: Rest Day / Hike
Now the weather is great, we somehow are on the right time schedule (except you can’t get dinner before 8:00 pm which constantly drives us all nuts) and a full rest day just doesn’t sound right. What about if we go for hike?
DAY SIX: Sport Climbing at Rumenes
We all talk about rest days quite a bit, but for some reason they don’t happen. This guy Peter loves to climb - it is infectious and we love to climb with him. My arms and fingers are not at all rested, but I’m not saying a thing so we head out for more stupidly upside down sport climbing. I do OK on 5.10 vertical, but when it goes upside down and 5.11+ my technique sucks and it is only a matter of time before I come off. Unfortunately, my best technique is climb fast, not smart. Betsy does better, having long ago developed some of the finesse I lack. Hmmm, I think gym climbing definitely has some benefits here.
Naranjo is a spectacular formation in Picos de Europa with a mountain hut for hikers and climbers right at the base to access over a hundred routes on it. The hut was quite large with bunks that contained one continuous mattress with about 10 people on each one. I had to remember which side to spoon.
We were the only Americans around and the Euros wanted to know how we knew about the place and wanted to know if we had climbed in Yosemite. A Spanish climbing guide thought he recognized Peter from a Youtube video featuring Peter and the route Venturi Effect on the Incredible Hulk and based on this small amount of Youtube fame wanted (and got) a photo with Peter. He probably likes that photo.
DAY EIGHT: Naranjo
Alpine starts are not popular. The Spanish guide mentioned above told his client they would start climbing at noon, after breakfast and after the sun warmed the rock a little. Since we didn’t bring any of our own caffeine alpine starts are not popular with us, either. Luckily with the hut only 30 minutes from the rock we can wait for the café con leche to be served at 7:00 am and then head out before most are out of bed.
Howie and I head up one of the best climbs I’ve ever done, Sagittario (rated 6B or 5.10c/d) while Betsy and Peter head up Leiva, another great climb at 7a. Sagittario was 8 pitches of sustained vertical 5.10 climbing and everytime it looked like it wasn’t going to work, little incut holds would appear.
At one point I looked over and saw a Spanish team climbing and whenever the leader got to a bolt, he would clip and yard on it hard until he was standing on it in one smooth motion. A few times I looked straight up with tired arms and thought I would probably have to give that technique a try, but never did. I fell (not on lead) at the crux but the fall got me lined up properly for a better sequence of moves.
DAY NINE: Long hike home
Planned was an easy hike back to the tram and “home” to Potes. However we hadn’t climbed Naranjo so we got up “early” for 7:00 caffeine and headed out to hike down and around to the South side to climb the 5.8/5.9 trade route to the top. Unfortunately, the universal rule in guiding was in effect – if you want to get your clients up something popular, start early. Even in Spain. There were 9 parties in two guided groups at the base of Naranjo, and since the route down is well known for rockfall we decided instead of doing any of the routes on that side, we would hike the long way back to the tram.
DAY TEN: Rest day / via Ferrata
A rest day, however Betsy and I have always wanted to do a via Ferrata route, there was one nearby at Los Llanos, so off we went. It sounded like fun to Howie and Peter too so we all conquered the hill together. It was a lot of fun and somewhat restful. Interestingly, when we show non-climbing friends photos of the trip they look at the via ferrata photos and say, “You did THAT? Are you CRAZY?”
DAY ELEVEN: Alpine Climb to Cueto Agero
One of the best parts of this climb was the small village and corals that we hiked up past, and the shepherd down below minding his herd as we climbed. The climb itself was good, although it was more like a Sierra alpine climb with cracks, flakes and blocks instead of the vertical climbs with sharp limestone holds. It was definitely old-school as there was a lot of obviously old fixed pitons and I missed a good photo op of a wooden wedge stuck in a crack from ages ago, however it was in a crux crack section that was slick from use and I didn’t stop.
DAY TWELVE: Rainy rest day
We get up for our last day of climbing – why not, it is our last day – and it is raining. We all laugh. It has been an awesome trip and the rain isn’t a problem. We all need a rest.
It turns out we all had some rest days coming. We all got sick. All four of us. I think we were all fortunate that we all hung in there until the end the trip!
Thank you Howie and Peter, and thank you Betsy. What a gift to know all of you. Um, especially Betsy.