I think it was an article in Climbing magazine (…or was it Rock & Ice?) about the huge conglomerate towers and faces of Riglos, Spain some years ago that initially put this area on our radar. However, the idea was largely forgotten until I stumbled on a couple of TR’s on the web within the last year or so. Looking at the photos of the 300 meter tall formations with their unique (steep!) rock towering above a charming Aragon village got our climbing juices going.
An overnight flight from Portland to Barcelona (including a layover in Atlanta) was followed by a very drowsy and seemingly never-ending (in reality, only four hours long) drive deep into the Aragon countryside. Thirty minute long bursts of driving were followed by hour-long rest area sleeping sessions. We finally arrived in Riglos on Saturday afternoon with just enough daylight to hike around and check out the starts of a couple of routes on our list. Incredible – the rock consists of “pebbles” of various sizes (ranging from thumb- to car-sized) embedded in a sandstone “concrete.” Something reminiscent of Meteora in Greece. From afar, the rock looks like chossy crap (a bit like Fisher Towers) but up close the holds seem well set in place and the established routes seem clean! With the fire stoked we went to sleep in a motel in Murillo (a nearby village) very excited at the prospect of climbing there over the coming five days.
Excitement was short lived however as we woke up to pouring rain on Sunday morning. A bakery breakfast in Ayerbe (very nice! decent coffee too...hard to find in Europe) and a drive to nearby Huesca in search of internet killed the first half of the day. The weather forecast for the coming days did not look good. In fact, it looked like shit. Depressed, we drove back to Riglos to find a patch of blue sky over the towers. Excited, we grabbed the gear and ran to the base of the first route on our list (one of the easiest there). As Shirley started her lead, the sky opened up and she lowered down from halfway up the pitch in pouring rain. Oh well – just our luck.
Normal Route (6b, 8P) on El Puro
The following day we returned and climbed the Normal Route on El Puro (Cigar), a semi-detached spire on the face of the huge Pison tower. The first three pitches follow some clean and steep dihedrals and grooves on the left side of the Pison (we did the direct start per guidebook). The climbing takes a bit of getting used to: steep bulges on good if polished rocks partially embedded in the ambient sandstone. After a short but very wet section of steep pocket pulling, we reached the lower angle chimney formed by the Puro and the Pison. This brought us to the beautifully exposed final two pitches up the side of the spire. Shirley started up and promptly pulled off one of the encrusted “potato” stones taking a short but freaky fall (nearly landed on her back on a ledge). Other than a bruised arm, she was unscathed and finished her lead. My final lead involved overcoming the crux 6b (~5.10) bulge just below Puro’s summit – short but steep! An airy summit (quite chossy too) was the reward. A quick series of raps brought us back to the base and a pork- and wine-rich dinner.
Moskitos (6a, 6P) on Visera
Proceeding down the list of our planned climbs, we set out next morning to climb the Moskitos route on the amazingly steep face of Visera (The Hood). The huge face (think 8 pitch long routes here) has a parabolic profile: it starts out being less than vertical and ends up severely overhanging near its top. A couple of classic routes penetrate the overhanging upper reaches whereas Moskitos avoids the steepest bit by a rightward “escape”. We climbed Moskitos once again swapping leads. High fun, low stress sort of climbing. The highlight of the route was the rightward traverse followed by a mantle onto a huge cobblestone (VW Bug sized) sticking out of Visera’s face! As the proper sixth pitch (6b crux) was running with water, we opted for the short rap from the belay cobble and traversing escape pitch that put us on scrambling ground. A beautiful sunny day that made us think the weather had worked itself out. Not the case as it turned out…
Chooper (fail) on Mallo Pison
Once again, a soggy morning greeted us. We took our time with breakfast, downing many café con leche’s (or leche’s sin café as Shirley called them given the low coffee content of the mixture), while keeping an eye on the towers. Finally, the drizzle stopped and the rock looked sufficiently dry just before lunch. With the heavy overcast in the sky, we opted for a route that would allow an easier escape should rain return. It should be noted that many (most?) routes in Riglos are not trivial to bail from given the overhanging nature of the faces. We started up Chooper (6b), a 6-pitch line up the right side of Pison’s imposing face. Interesting climbing: a series of steep bulges with rest stances sprinkled in-between. As I finished the third pitch a light drizzle started. We debated our options for a few minutes and then decided to bail. By the time we reached the ground the sun had returned and we were cursing our choice! That however did not last more than 20 minutes and a steady downpour once again enveloped the area. At the motel, we learned that more of the same weather pattern was to be expected for the following and our final day in Riglos. As a bonus, we also learned of the volcanic-ash related rolling airport closures throughout Europe. Terrific – shitty weather and little climbing followed by an involuntary extension!
Galletas (6a, 8P) on Mallo Fire
For our final route in Riglos, we wanted a relatively sure bet – as in something that had a crux down low and if needed could be finished in the rain. The four-star (per guidebook, more on that below) Galletas route on the imposing Mallo Fire seemed to fit that bill. We started up the route by climbing the more direct first pitch of Directa As Cimas line. The crux third pitch involved a short stretch of overhanging rock followed by two pitches of fun and moderate face climbing including some photogenic traverses. Shirley’s final lead was an easy chimney (pitch 6). As I followed the pitch, light rain picked up and so we decided to try and link the final two (easy) chimney pitches. The latter half of my combined pitch 7/8 involved groveling up a tight chimney with the walls literally coated in thick globs of bird shit and weaving around loose chockstones. As I was mantling up onto the belay stance, I heard the rope behind me dislodge one of the chockstones. I heard a sickening sound of rockfall as the rock the size of two bowling balls hurtled down the chimney towards Shirley. I yelled “ROCK!!! BIG FUCKING ROCK!!!!!” at the top of my lungs knowing that Shirley’s belay stance in the chimney below offered little protection. My heart froze. It seemed like an eternity before the sound of rockfall subsided. I kept yelling “Are you OK??!!!” before finally hearing the response. I felt like puking. I hung there at the belay stance near the top of the chimney trying not to touch anything and very gently taking up slack as Shirley climbed. We were both pretty shaken but thankfully Shirley was untouched by the rockfall. She told me that she plastered herself to the sidewall of the chimney when she heard the first noise. Nasty, scary piece of shit route overall – even if the lower pitches were good, it does not deserve its four star rating. We topped out on the spire via some easy climbing and made a quick descent. For something that looks so imposing on the “front” side, it sure has a quick and easy descent on the backside (two short raps with some hiking in-between).
With our climbing time over, we headed back to Barcelona to spend the last two days of the trip sightseeing the city with our family from the UK. Besides family time, the sightseeing highlight was a tourist visit to Montserrat. We also caught one final glimpse of the Mallos from 35000 ft up in the sky on our way back. Later that day we were home where apparently a week of beautiful summery weather had just come to an end and drizzly wet pattern had returned. All was right with the world.
The Mallos Riglos are located in northern Spain , about a 45 minute drive west of the town of Huesca in Aragon directly above a village with a matching name. This is the foothills of the Pyrenees . Long-haul flights (as in from US) will put you in either Barcelona (closest, 4+ hour drive) or Madrid (just a tad further I think). There’s a train station in Riglos itself so it’s no doubt possible to avoid car rental (getting to/from climbs once in Riglos is trivial).
There’s a climbers’ refuge (bunk beds, 4+ per room sort of set up) in the village of Riglos . At the time of our visit, it charged about 15 Euros per person per night. The village of Murillo (~15 km away) has two hotels. The cheaper where we stayed is right on the main highway and will run you about 55 Euros per two people per night (including a skimpy breakfast). The more expensive (75 Euros per two people per night…and up) is up on the hill above the main road. Town of Ayerbe (~20 km away) has stores and restaurants. Yes, we had a lot of downtime in the shitty weather to look around.
Gear-wise we brought way too much! Next time we go, I’ll bring a single rack from yellow TCU to #2 Camalot and perhaps a nut or two. Then a ton of QD’s (18-20) and a few 48” spectra cords for tying stuff off.
We found two guidebooks that describe climbs in the area:
Rock Climbs In The Pyrenees by Derek L. Walker (A Cicerone Guide; ISBN 1 85284 039 0). Only a small selection of older lines is included but it’s in English.
Guida de Escalada en Riglos, Aguero y Foz de Escalate by Felipe Guinda Polo (ISBN 84-8321-069-X). This is the comprehensive guide but it’s in Spanish.
Lost In Translation
In preparing for this trip, we used Google Translate quite a bit to get some key beta. That usually produced some interesting results...here is a translated description of pitch 7 of Directa As Cimas from a Spanish online trip report...all I can say is wow, that's some deep shit (Google Translate needs some work)!!
L7 (6c): Hell on their bellies, you could title this long. Take a long tape, because it makes a kind of zig-zag which just gives a little ass. Start out belly with webs (handsome), is easier to back another belly chokes on a long pass (well insured). You reach a point will hardly see their feet, and everything you see lisooo! Where are the skittles? Well, nothing, is sing a sharp left, shining (starts to be washed), so there is go. Long length.