Thursday, February 4, 2010

La Pedriza

OK, I'm guilty but we all do it! A brand new guidebook in my hands all I do is flick through looking at all the pretty pictures.

One photo doesn’t seem to make any sense. I put it down to a weird camera angle and continue flicking, and again this time from a different angle. I find the previous photo and compare. My first thought, “I got to climb that!” Closely followed by my second thought, “why hasn’t that fallen down yet?”

A closer inspection of the topo reveals the route name, Fulgencio 6a and 4 or 5 pitches and M2! Que? What’s that then? Lets face it anything with a “2” can’t be that hard, can it? Quick inspection of the grade description reveals, hey these Spanish aren’t as daft as they look, it’s like an E grade thingy. MO is dead safe. M1 easy protection. M2 difficult protection and M3 advises you not to fall, ever! That probably means there’s a bolt every 4m instead of 2m I can handle that, after all I’ve climbed on the Slate.

The wall is called El Hueso, meaning bone, without doubt named after the 2 or 3 metre wide giant rib of rock that Fulgencio takes. For the first three of the four pitches it is completely detached from the main face. Leaning at a gravity-defying angle for almost 90 meters one gigantic solid ribbon of rock.

El Hueso is situated at the head of the valley 3 kms away and 500m higher than the parking, but don’t let this put you off. Good paths leads though shady woods, never far from the bubbling waters and plunge pools of the River Mayadilla, until the Refugio is reached, sadly only open on weekends. The full extent of the cliffs can now to admired, usually accompanied with a dozen eagles catching thermals above the cliffs.

The main face of El Hueso is dwarfed by the imposing El Pajaro just to it’s left. As we neared the crag two tiny climbers bring the face into perspective. It’s a lot bigger than first impressions suggested.

A wooded path leads up to the base of The Bone. What an awesome line with a bolt every 10 or 12 metres. Maybe M2 does deserve a little more respect after all. Geared up in a flash and throw myself at the line, which promptly throws me back to the floor narrowly missing a tree. With photos in the guide like that, it´s reasonable to expect a little polish, even so I don’t normally fall off 6a. Brushing myself down I go again, “grab my foot quick” the polish is over come by combined tactics. It must be a high gravity day!

Only 6 more metres to the first bolt, padding up on absolutely no holds, the bolt brings welcome safety and a sigh of relieve. The slab continued at 80 degrees for a further 10 metres before the next bolt, and utterly smooth, no chance of any natural protection. I spy a hold in the middle. My mind works over time, “OK, might be hard to the hold, but then it´s got to be easy to the next bolt”, chalking my hands and stepping up, “I could fall before the hold, that’s OK I’ll just run”, gingerly padding my way towards the security of my hold, “but after the hold I must not fall, because I’ll deck out!” The sanctuary of the hold appears, fingers search the surface of the rock, “shit no hold just 75 degree rock.” Nervous chalking, “It’ll be a good foot hold,” pulling on imaged holds and a high step to the sloppy foothold. “Relax, breath idiot,” I rest my head against the rock and consider my options, “Sam’s much lighter than me, so a fall from here could pick her up off the ground which would allow me to deck it. OK so backing off by jumping is now not an option. I could down climb?” Chalk marks the imaged holds I’d used to get myself so committed. “Ok no option either.” My subconscious kicks in, my mind searches for the Zone, breathing relaxing and my mind becomes void of conscious thought, my limps move without permission, no sane mind would have given permission, non hold to non hold and smear to smear. I arrive at a tiny ledge and a bolt.

“I could just lower off from here, back off it.” My conscious had been busy in my absence. “No way am I backing off a 6a, Sam will rib me forever, and besides I’ve done the hard bit!” With the next bolt only 2 metres away, I should have guessed the crux was yet to come. Stupidly thin moves on polished rock, easily over come with a quick foot in a sling. I pondered my chance of finishing the route at the stance. Aiding on a 6a she’ll rib me anyway.

With a snug rope Sam arrived at the stance, wide eyed, and expressing disbelief in the grade and her ability to climb 6a on granite slabs.

The next pitch eases in angle and has a really good wire 5 metre above the stance and then bolts friendly placed at 4 metres apart. Brilliant climbing to the next stance must be a big difference between 5 and 6a. Sam followed slightly happier.

An optical illusion made the third pitch look much steeper and scarier than reality, until truly massive ears of rock are reached and very easy but exposed ground leads to a large stance. Couldn’t help feeling the grades seemed a little out around here.

Now I’d memorized the topo before I left the ground, but the last pitch seemed vertical, green, and with the first piece of gear being the belay 40 metres away, maybe I should have given M2 more respect. Sure it was only a 4, but it looked like some hideous E5 5c. Scouting around I found a bolt ladder (bolts every 4 metres must be an M0), but the moves are too hard perhaps 6b (English), and I can’t clip them.

From the higher position I see the line I think Fulgencio takes, complete with 4 bolt spits without hangers, and the angle not as steep as first impression. I decided to give it ago.

The spits easily take wires and provided reasonable protection, and large hidden holds appeared on request. Piece of make!

Scrambling off to the left and 5 long abseils later, we’re back no terra ferma. Four Spanish climbers, who had been giggling at our antics, approached us, congratulating us on the ascent. Saying, “Not many people do the M2+ 7a variation start”.

What’s the area like? The Guadarrama Range, 50km North of Madrid, presents an uniquely rugged landscape. Lush green trees grow between a labyrinth of huge ochre granite domes and boulders. The highest peak Penalara (2,429m) often has snow well into the summer months, contrasting the warmth of the valley floor and feeding the plunge pools of the Majadilla River.

What’s the climbing? Immaculate granite slabs of various steepnesses with gravity defying rock architecture. But be warned it has a reputation! You won’t find many bolt ladders here, and the opportunities to place gear are far and few. A steady head for running it out and the ability to smear are important prerequisites. Once your head is tuned in the friction and the climbing is phenomenal. Boulders are everywhere and on the whole untouched!

When do I go? You could climb all year here, but during the winter months of November to February a light sprinkling of snow is not uncommon, the valley floor is at 1000m. Spring and Autumn are the best times. Or to escape the summer heat, just climb high and in the shade.

How do I get there? Most major airlines fly to Madrid. Try to search for the cheapest flights. All the major car hire companies operate in Madrid, but once you’re there you don’t really need a car. Buses run daily from Madrid to Mazanares el Real, which is only 2km from the main climbing areas.

Where do I stay? The cheapest and most convenient options are camping at El Ortigal or the Hostal El Alcornocal both in the north of Maranares el Real. Wild camping in the Park is not permitted.

Local Amenities? Maranares has a climbing shop just off the main square, El Refugio on Pza de Postiguilli. The town also has a large super market, with a healthy sprinkling of cafes, bars and nice restaurants.

Guidebooks and maps?
A walking guide 1.25000 map (Spanish and English) at 9 euros ISBN 84-8090-160-8
Guia de Escalada La Pedriza by Ignacio Lujon & David Zapata ISBN 84-95744-46-5
Pedriza Guia de Deportiva by Luis Nararrete ISBN 84-96192-08-3

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