Tomorrow is my last day in Spain. I survived my first European winter. Well, it was in Spain, but still, most of it was in the north, but it was still winter. I´ve never been so cold in my life as I was while climbing in Roya or Gredos, during Carnival. But this winter overall did not have very good conditions for climbing, and snowfall was constant and at times overwhelming, so it was impossible to climb non stop as I expected. I was lucky to have a friend in the south, and as winter ended, I started getting my hands on real rock, and in what are considered to be some of the best multi pitch spots of Spain. Even better, weather was great and I managed to climb some of the most awesome classic trad and multi pitch lines in the Costa Blanca. A great wrap up to these months in the Peninsula.
Equipment for all these routes is pretty much the same: 2 60 m thin ropes, as there´s lots of drag, a set of medium cams and small aliens, and a big set of nuts or two sets of nuts, and if you will, some hexes. Helmets are absolutely mandatory as there is lots of rock fall on all mountains. For Ponoch, some extra webbing to abandon since fixed gear is old and hardly appropriate for rappelling. Lots of chalk, water and something warm to put on, as it gets windy in all of them.
“Campana” means bell and is named so because it resembles the shape of a bell. This beautiful 1320 m high limestone mountain sits on the back of both Calpe and Alicante, overlooking a large portion of the Murcia coast. Alfonso and I left Bullas the night before in order to start climbing early. This was one of the spots I was going to be climbing with him in the beginning of my Spanish incursion, so it had been on my mind for months and I was super excited to finally get my hand on it.
It is filled with amazing trad routes, and our goal was the Central Spur, one of the most classic routes of the south face, graded V (6a with the variation), with about 9 pitches in 420 m. The route follows the obvious spur and ends up near the summit, with some amazing views of the coast. Most of it is clean, with fixed gear on belays, but we did find a bolt at one of the times we tried climbing off-route, and it was a welcome one.
We got up a little late and by the time we reached the base of the wall there were already 3 rope teams on the same route, and another 3 arrived after us. The first two were quite slow so it was literally climbing with someone´s a** on your head… or close. I started leading on acceptable limestone, not as decent as the one in Leiva but pretty okay to protect. As we climbed up and switched leads we eventually came too close to other parties and decided to take a detour, which saved us one of the pitches.
I lead an awesome dihedral that led to a terrace where we “lunched”, followed by another detour lead by Alfonso, about 6a and slightly overhang, and those were the two most interesting parts of the climb. Almost lost a cam again, but it was rescued by a British woman, and in return I rescued one of her nuts on the following pitch.
Easy and fun climb – with lots of jugs and “hand on foot” moves – I haven´t been climbing strong and Alfonso is just coming back from an injury, but still a great day out, amazing opportunity to practice leading with trad gear since limestone is so irregular and different from granite – a lot harder to place gear I´d say. Limestone, I learned, forces you to place a lot more nuts than cams, and if you are not used to it, eventually you will. I found them a lot more reliable in the uneven cracks of limestone than cams.
Descent is dreadful, with fixed lines on exposed passages, and lose stones on steep ground over two hours of walking. I´d rather rappel…
Some online resources about climbing Puig Campana can be found here and here.There is a printed guidebook of Costa Blanca climbs in english, as well as a printed guidebook in Spanish with classic trad routes of Spain, published by Desnivel and Fedme. All of the routes in this post can be found on both books.
This mountain is the postcard of Calpe and the Alicante region. It towers over 300 m above the first and was another “must climb” of my list. This time Sandra from Bullas joined us. We opted for the most classic of all lines, the Valencianos route on the south face, an easy V grade, 245 m, climbed in 8 pitches that zig zag around a lot.
This time we left Bullas in the morning and started climbing at around 13 h, since it is getting dark here at 21 h, so we can enjoy longer routes without being too worried about it getting dark. Also because it is recent spring, the weather hasn´t been too hot, even though these are all south faces, making this transition season ideal for climbing in these spots.
The climb starts easy and right away I panicked because the limestone here is so broken up, and rotten. Obviously so, it is a mountain right at the sea, and aside from that, being such a popular route, its limestone is very polished and slippery. I would take the lead on the second pitch, in which I had the option of a beautiful 6a dihedral, a delicate 6a+ slab, or an easy 4 grade detour. I chose the latter because I simply am not ready to face a dihedral in limestone. After finishing this pitch I eventually regretted my decision as midway through it I was attacked by a seagull, which pooped in my helmet and backpack in the following pitch.
Whenever Alfonso leads he likes to detour to take the hardest possible way, and what was supposed to be the V pitch of the route turned out to be an overhand super polished 6b pitch, which I had to climb without chalk because Mr. Alfonso forgot his in Bullas. After that we got slightly lost but eventually found our way back to the route, reaching the thin ridge from which we could see both the Mediterranean sea and the beaches of Calpe on the other side. Epic!
From then we had another nice short pitch up a dihedral, and then the summit pitch in which again I was almost attacked by a seagull. Once in the summit, I brought Alfonso and Sandra up while admiring the 360 degree view around me, which reminded me a lot of climbing in Rio de Janeiro and kinda made want to go home…
A short walk takes us to the summit, and then less than an hour walk over easy trails takes us back to the ground for some celebration, and to sign the climber´s book at a local bar.
Last climb of Spain would be our longest route yet, up the super wide and spectacular walls of Ponoch, a massive mountain that overlooks the town of Polop. Most important feature about this wall though, is that n every guidebook it said that it is very easy to get lost in it. On top of that it is a Nemesis for Alfonso, who tried climbing here 3 times before and on all occasions had either an accident for a forced retreat.
So we were 3, not climbing a hard grade and having not been to the wall before, opted for the easiest route, another Valencianos, a 600 m, 16 pitch, 6a route that although long has almost half of its extension composed of second and third grade climbing on terraces.
In order to expedite things, instead of starting with the rambling on terraces more to the left, we started with a pitch of Gorillas, a 6a that saved us at least a few pitches and took us directly to the beginning of the terraces, which we short ropes in ensemble, saving us even more time. Then the problems began.
Although I took tons of pictures of the topo in my cell phone, and we studied it over and over again, I went off to the pitch that would lead us to the crux pitch, but the line wasn´t obvious and I ended up going way to the right. I found a belay station, with another one a few meters to the left. This pitch had one or two pitons, but other than that was run out and really awful to protect. Even nuts wouldn´t fit in reliably and I really missed not having tricams.
We had over a third of the route done by noon but somehow Alfonso thought we were going slow and decided to go down. From there we figured there was a two pitch route bellow us, we linked the belay stations together and reached the ground in two 50 meter rappels, the last one almost completely aerial.
A little sad for aborting, but definitely one to come back to, maybe even for the harder routes, even though it is limestone. It is an imposing wall with very interesting trad routes.
But of imposing, long and beautiful routes I will have an overdose on the next leg of this trip, and in granite. These months were really contrasting, and I tried a little bit of everything I could in terms of climbing. It has a little bit of everything of good and great quality, asides from gorgeous landscapes, great food and really warm people.
Gracias España, he sido buenasso!
So I remembered how nothing in my life ever goes according to plan, and I figured, since I am in Europe, then why not move again, and step up the game in the “birth place of alpinism” and playground of other kidults like me? This trip keeps surprising me with unexpected twists, and I guess this was meant to happen…