Text by Peter:
Our climb of the most coveted peak of the Picos de Europa started with a breakfast negotiation at 6am with the stoic Spanish cook in the Refugio de Urriellu. Early starts are not the norm in the Spanish mountains apparently) After eating our hard won basket of cake and rich tea biscuits we set off just before dawn, heading for the South face and a 14 pitch route called La Cepeda.
As it turned out, La Cepeda was a popular one – 2 people were already on it and 4 or 5 others were waiting at the bottom.
The night before we had made friends with a solo Spanish climber called Fernando – and again we met him at the base of the East face where he asked if he could join up with us and we agreed. Even though our Spanish was terrible (unless we needed to order beer) and Fernando’s English wasn’t much better, we somehow managed to communicate reasonably well. So we decided to climb a route called Amistad Con El Diablo – slightly harder than, but ultimately joining up with, Cepeda towards the top. Interestingly the name translates as “friendship with the Devil”….
I jumped straight on P1 which was a nice easy pitch to start. Although I did climb past the belay and belayed Michael and Fernando off a spike instead.
Fernando raced up the slightly harder P2 with ease. So far so good- the rock was beautiful and the sun was on its way around the corner to warm us.
P3 – Michael was up next, he led the hardest pitch yet and looked solid. The theme so far seemed to be a lack of bolts and a lack of places to place protection…
P4 was going to be the hardest pitch on the route (until the 6a overhang portion after we join La Cepeda, which it turns out was bolted well).
The grading was V+/ 6a – a sort of mixture of trad with an odd bolt at hard portions which were impossible to protect. E1 seemed appropriate for us Irish climbers. It being my turn to lead, I set off from the belay and the climbing got progressively harder until I reached the crux. I was on my limit and slipped on the slightly polished footholds a couple of times and only just managed to stay on! There were 3 bolts for 30m of climbing and not many options for trad gear…After quite a bit of faffing, procrastination and little motivational chats with myself, I was relieved to reach the next belay and had developed a new level of respect for Spanish climbers.
Up came Fernando with ease, followed by Michael – whom I was glad to see struggled a little at the crux! Fernando sped off again, making easy work of P5, which was not quite as hard the previous one, but sustained and run out climbing nonetheless.
When we were all safely at the next belay Michael decided he wasn’t in the mood for anymore scary leads, so it was my turn again.
P6 was graded in the region of V (maybe HVS or E1 but again the grades are hard to compare). A large roof blocked my way about 5m up, so the route went straight up and traversed left below the roof and then up its side. The traverse was super scary – from the belay for the first 5m (part of it a traverse), I placed one crappy cam, which was practically useless but provided some psychological reassurance nonetheless. I reached the roof and continued up fantastically runnelled limestone with more spaced out climbing to the belay above. (I couldn’t find the proper belay so I made one)
The traverse was super scary – from the belay for the first 5m (part of it a traverse), I placed one crappy cam, which was practically useless but provided some psychological reassurance nonetheless. I reached the roof and continued up fantastically runnelled limestone with more spaced out climbing to the belay above. (I couldn’t find the proper belay so I made one)
Now we would join Cepeda.
Michael had gotten his mojo back at this stage and was up for a lead. P7 turned out to be a beautiful climb with lots of bridging and uncharacteristically there was gear on demand.
It was now time for Fernando to showcase his Spanish sport climbing skills so he took the gear and cruised up P8 until a small overhanging section graded at 6a slowed him down. He struggled his way up the polished overhang, slipping and almost falling once or twice and soon he was near the top of the pitch disappearing from view. Thankfully there were a few bolts in in all the right places…
Michael and I were soon climbing and I was pleased to climb the crux cleanly, although it would have been a difficult lead. Kudos to Fernando, our favorite Spaniard.
The Pitch finished with a squirm though a hole, through which Michael only just fitted, which brought us out onto the South face (we had intersected the ridge between south and east)
The ropes were packed away and we scrambled the remaining 150 or so meters to the South Summit of the Naranjo de Bulnes. A nice little ridge walk to the northern summit and we were shaking hands and taking pictures after what was an incredible route on a spectacular mountain…
The decent consisted of multiple abseils down the now quiet South face direct route. Soon we were back at the Refugio de Urriellu for celebration beers, just in time to see the dreaded mist approach from the valley.