Picos De Europa Adventure Climbing

Picos De Europa Adventure Climbing

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Activities Activities: Trad Climbing

Picos de Europa

Adventure Climbing in the Picos de Europa

The idea of going rock climbing in the Picos had been hanging around in the back of my mind for a few years and was beginning to gain a sort of mythical status, especially when it came to finding out about it. Where exactly was it? What was there to climb? Everyone I spoke to seemed to have heard about it and most were of the opinion that it was good there. Many people had an opinion or tale to tell, but not many spoke from first hand experience. Some had heard that the weather is unreliable and that the walk-ins are too long, but other reports were of superb road side cragging. I decided that it was time to go and find out for myself.

Having located the Picos de Europa on a map, I was able to confirm that they are indeed situated near the north coast of Spain. It certainly looked mountainous, but what would the climbing be like? Google didn’t pick up much info, but did find a climbing guidebook that is written in English and one ‘definitive’ guide in Spanish. Unfortunately these publications were written in the eighties and despite being recently reprinted, neither of them has been updated.

Eventually I came across a new (2006) selected climbs guide of the entire Cordillera Cantabrica range. This hefty Spanish volume, gives an overview of all the climbing in the mountain range that straddles the north coast of Spain. Encompassing the Picos de Europa, as the bulk of its material, it also includes many outstanding crags and mountains routes outside the boundaries of the National Park. So it was true, there are road side crags as well as big mountain routes.

After some initial confusions, it turned out that Pico Urriellu and Naranjo de Bulnes, were in fact one and the same thing. This magnificent tower of limestone, is billed as being the most famous mountain in Spain and definitely, as a climbing objective, is “the” peak to climb. There appeared to be climbing on all four faces and the rock was generally rumoured to be excellent. But the best bit was that this was only one peak out of a whole mountain range! And so it was, armed with only snippets of information, rumours and an incomprehensible Spanish guidebook, we headed south in search of the fabled area.

In the north of the region, the town of Arenas de Cabrales had been recommended as a good starting point, so we were somewhat surprised to find that it was not the mountaineering mecca we’d imagined. It’s a small town at the entrance to the National Park, and you can hardly even see the mountains from there. However, it proved a good base, with some nice bolted cragging nearby to get warmed up on.

We got our first taste of what the Picos was really about just a few kilometres up the valley from Arenas. Past the spectacular Cares Gorge and its tourist funicular railway, the tarmac ends and the real adventures begin! Pena de Fresnidiello was our first port of call. A spectacular slab of water worn limestone giving routes of 6 to 8 pitches on compact rock. Mostly traditionally protected, with bolted belays, the odd bolt per pitch helped to served as an indicator that you were still ‘on route’ - it is easy to become lost once established on the great expanse of rock. With a walk-in of under an hour it was a good place to get a feel for the Picos experience.

One comment that had repeatedly popped up during research was that it was often cloudy in the Picos. In Arenas, it often was. But the trick is to stay optimistic. A short drive up the valley, and more often than not, we would drive to an altitude above the cloud level and be basking in sunshine above a sea of clouds while the villages below were condemned to an English summer grey day.

A few hours walk from the end of the road, and you arrive at Refugio de Urriellu: basecamp for all those aspiring to climb on Naranjo de Bulnes. It was here that we finally came across some other climbers! The 750m high west face towers up above the hut, with the scale only becoming apparent, when you spot a pair of tiny climbers high on it. A huge number of routes were up for grabs on each of the faces, at a wide range of grades. Some bolted, some trad and most of them a mix of the two.

The south face direct route is the classic and easiest way to the summit with gear placements a-plenty and new bolted belays making for a very pleasant route in a stunning position. Unfortunately, these belays are also the abseil descent for most of the other routes on the mountain so there is the potential to find other parties abseiling down here! With over a hundred routes ranging from around ‘Hard Severe’ to well into the ‘E’ grades, there really did seem to be something for everyone.

Heading south, to Fuente De, there is a cable car that can help reduce the walk-ins and gives access to further routes and huts to stay at. Once immersed in the mountains, there are certainly plenty of excellent routes of varying grades and lengths to suit most tastes. The logistics of getting to them do require a bit of planning as in certain areas water is not in plentiful supply, but there are usually well placed huts or areas to camp – it just needs a bit of planning before leaving the valley.

So if you are looking for some big mountain adventures, un-polished sport routes or remote mountain scrambles, the chances are, the Picos will have something that will interest you. The web sites below should help you on your way...

http://www.climbpicosdeeuropa.com – You can buy a useful e-book from this site which has additional information to supplement the guide books.

http://www.infoasturias.com – Tourist information site

http://www.planetfear.com – Has an article about the climbing in the Picos

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