Although we were supposed to be two thousand miles to the north, Shirley & I once again found ourselves driving tired from Barcelona towards Huesca in northeastern Spain following a longish series of flights from Portland, Oregon. It was a combination of factors that made us change our plans for that week. First and foremost was the fact that during our last visit to Riglos, the weather had been shitty and we did not even get a chance to try some of the routes on our “list.” Second was the fact that the place intimidates me – a lot! Steep to overhanging face climbing with sometimes sparse bolting – exactly the kind of stuff we never climb and do not really feel we miss much as there aren’t that many places in the lower 48 states where multi-pitch climbing of this sort (juggy overhangs) can be experienced. Also, when one thinks of bolted routes, “commitment” is not what comes to mind. Riglos however is different. Thousand foot tall faces which overhang for some (Pison) or all (Visera) of that vertical distance! Bailing from a 20 degree overhanging multi-pitch route would not be fun. Hell, bailing from a vertical route that consists of a series of deep bulges (“panzas”, or “bellies” per local guidebook) was challenging as we found out on Chooper route back in May when it started to rain on us. It should also be noted that there are very few routes (on the main towers anyway) that clock in below 5.10 (~6b French). Yes, there are some old school routes that are reportedly loose which get a lower rating…however, after a scary dislodged chockstone near-miss last May, we were not going to touch anything smelling of looseness or resembling a chimney in Riglos. All these factors scared the shit out of us really and the more scared we were, the more we wanted to climb there again.
Chooper (6a C1, 5P) & Pany Haus (5a, 2P)
Following a restless night in a roadside motel, we dragged our jetlagged bodies up the short approach through the narrow streets of Riglos the village towards the base of the Pison tower. Plan was to warm up on a route which we never finished last time due to rain. Chooper clocks in at 6b (~5.10) and is 5 pitches long. It climbs the right edge of Pison’s amazing looking east face to about mid-height. From there another (aid) route could be followed straight up to the summit or one can cut right into an easy gully system (Pany Haus) for two pitches to the rap line. The first three pitches (5c, 6a, 5c…I think) went smoothly and brought back fond memories of pulling over bulges on cobble stones. The fourth pitch though a touch more spaced out bolt-wise was moderate and went smoothly as well. The crux fifth pitch was a kick in the nuts for me however. After getting through a couple hard (already) bulges, I came to a series of improbably steep moves with poor handholds and worse feet. Much hanging and cursing ensued and eventually the difficulties were overcome with aid. Oh well – the difficulty difference between the 6a and the 6b pitches on Chooper felt astronomical …at least to me. From there, we traversed over to the two easier pitches of Pany Haus. A longish but very friendly series of rappels brought us down. Not exactly a warm up route…more like a confidence shattering one.
Espolon del Adamelo (5c, 7 P) & Normal Route (5c, 3P)
The next day’s forecast was calling for rain. Based on our experience from May, a 40% chance was a sure bet in Riglos. We woke up late, enjoyed the great pastries and good coffee in a bakery in Ayerbe and then drove three hours up north to Pamplona. We walked around town for half a day including the stretch of narrow streets where they run the bulls. We drove back and spent the rest of the day checking out nearby villages, including the nearby Aguero with its own set of (relatively) miniature towers. We flipped through the guidebook trying to decide what to climb next…the Chooper ass-kicking was modifying our “list.”
Our third day, we went for an easy line up a ridge just right of Pison, Espolon del Adamelo. Seven pitches with nothing harder than 5c (5.8-5.9). Fun, low-stress sort of climbing that joins up with the same finishing pitch of two days prior. This time however, instead of rappelling right away, we followed the three pitch (5c) Normal Route to the summit of The Pison. A spacious meadow a thousand feet above the village with amazing views of the nearby Fire and Visera formations and the Aragon countryside.
Our fourth day, one of the rear tires on our rental car disintegrated and so we had a non-climbing project of trying to exchange the car in nearby Huesca. Process was not helped by our less than fluent Spanish or the relaxed operating hours of Spanish businesses. Once things were sorted (sort of…still waiting with great anticipation for the bill), we drove around a bit, including a stop in a national park by the French border and eventually ended up heading back towards Barcelona with hopes of climbing something in the famous Montserrat. Somewhere along the way, we were stopped at a highway checkpoint by polite but machine gun armed police, a scene more reminiscent of Mexico than Europe.
Punsola-Reniu (6a A0, 7P)
We’ve done the tourist thing in Montserrat with family back in May and recalled seeing an impressive conglomerate tower high above the road. A quick scan through the book revealed it to be the Cavall Bernat. That afternoon, we scouted out the approach and decided on a route, something called the Punsola-Reniu.
In the morning, we woke up to find the entire mountain top socked in thick fog. After a leisurely coffee and pastry breakfast, we drove up and started the hike up. Things cleared up nicely and soon we were batmanning up the approach gully on fixed ropes. Punsola-Reniu route climbs probably the tallest aspect of the tower and reaches the summit in 7 very exposed and fun pitches. The route is very user-friendly and anything 6a and harder is essentially a bolt ladder. We freed the 6a pitches and some of the harder terrain but A0’ed much of the 6c sections (polished slick rock). Soon we were on the summit and being blasted by sudden winds. Seeing the surrounding formations from the top made us realize how large some of the walls were! Routes of 8 or 10 pitches are not uncommon, contrary to my previous (uneducated) belief. We really like the place and will return for more. We rapped the Normal Route and descended the steep gully affixed with knotted ropes.
The next morning we flew home from Barcelona. Our gear finally joined us a day later.
For some basic Riglos logistical info., you can check out what I've posted after our first trip there: link.
For Montserrat, we found one book in two volumes (North & South) in Spanish:
XYZ... by ABC
We also found some cheap motels (<40 Euros/night for 2 people) in the town of Manresa, just at the foot of the mountain. For what it's worth, the food in Montserrat area (Catalonia) is very good! Cannot really say the same about the food in Aragon - sorry, just a personal opinion. Though the bakeries are great in both places (so if you're like us, you'll try to stuff yourself with breakfast before a day out in Riglos).