Part 5 – Riglos.
The weather had timed itself perfectly. We had scheduled 3 non-climbing days in San Sebastian to be tourists for a weekend, and the weather finally turned wetter and colder. However by Monday things were on the improve and we arrived in Riglos in time for lunch, with cool but not unpleasant temperatures.
First view of Riglos. The lack of a nearby bridge means they are still a 13km drive away.
Riglos (the town) is a funny little place. It's basically a farming community at the base of 1000-foot cliffs, with a mix of climbing and tourism. Facilities are limited. The one pub/bar "El Puro" was closed on the Monday, so the only lunch in town was 'bocadillos' (sandwiches) from the local refugio. We got two large sandwiches with pork sausage and a beer for €6.50 each, then went to try to check in.
You end up with a sore neck. Mallos de Riglos towering above the village.
There was no answer at the door of our chosen accommodation "Casa Escalaretas" (house of stairs), so we rang the phone number posted near the door. A man, "Miguel" answered. With our limited understanding of Spanish he seemed to be saying he had no room for us that night, even though we'd booked and confirmed weeks in advance. After struggling with lack of a common language for a few moments he put us onto the landlady (Pilar) who didn't speak much English but spoke enough French to have a conversation, and confirm they did have a room tonight but not with a double bed as booked. We arranged to meet at 3:30pm for check in.
We headed up the hill to scope out the crags. They are just 5-10 minutes up the hill, and are enormous.
Me soloing 7 pitches of "Fiesta de Los Biceps" (7a) in my sandals. I wisely decided not to continue.
Griffin vulture soaring around the crags.
We returned to the Casa and hung around until Miguel turned up. Later that night we went searching for dinner, only to find the pub was still closed, and the only option was the "Menu del Dia" at the refugio. Inside, the dining room has about all the ambience of your local scout hall, but fortunately the meal was quite good.
We'd decided again we needed more climbing info, but the only guide still in print was Spanish-only. We bought it anyway, as our existing guides had relatively little coverage of Riglos. Over dinner we decided to start with a moderate route, "Espolon de Adamello", 7 pitches of 6a or 6a+ (18/19), 200m.
Party ahead of us on "Espolon de Adamello"
Breakfast was at an early (for Spain) 8:30am, allowing us to get a relatively early start. Paula led off on the first pitch (16ish) but with only 5 bolts in the first 30m on steep, slippery conglomerate lumps was really not happy. She persisted to the belay, and pronounced on that basis, I was leading the rest of it.
Paula on belay ledge 1, "Espolon de Adamello"
However my pitch was a totally different story, about 6 bolts in just 15m over two bulges. The first one went easily on steep rock but OK holds, while the second one took a few moments to work out - slopey holds and a high step solved it.
We thought that was the crux, but Pitch 4 went up a very steep prow with unobvious moves left and a hard clip at the lip. I took a moment to arrange the protection and then pulled over it, nice moves.
After all that Paula decided she liked the look of the next pitch and took the lead again.
.. back on the sharp end
At the top, there was a long (57m) abseil to reach some rings, down a loose, steep face and gully - not very comforting terrain, but fortunately the anchors were well out of the firing line.
The second of 4 abseils to get back to the village.
However on the third abseil the pair above us managed to unleash a cricket-ball sized rock that exploded next to us. They apologised later, and fortunately no damage was done.
That completed, it was back to the village again. We found the local supermarket doubles as a makeshift pub when the bar's not open - there are a number of tables and chairs next to it, and the manager will happily open anything you buy. She even sells wine by the glass. Strange, but it all seems to work.
Mallos de Riglos, evening light. El Pison on left, La Visera on right. Espolon de Adamello climbs the thin buttress immediately right of El Pison. The white stripe of 'Fiesta' is visible on La Visera's left side.
Our landlady had offered to cook dinner for us that night. She was accommodating a group of 12 French mountain bikers on a group tour, including dinner, and could add us for about €12 each.
Day 2 we were looking for something moderate and preferably better bolted, so walked 30 minutes up the hill to the less-frequented Mallo Colorado to climb "Anorexia" (130m 5b (16)). Turned out to be a good call, as the route had all been retrobolted with comfortably-spaced shiny new stainless, and much less polished than the routes near town.
Heading up the hill to Mallo Colorado
Paula leading off on Anorexia. Yes the rock looks like dirty choss, but is actually very solid.
We rapped the route in three long raps, packed up and headed down for a late lunch. However when we reached the village Paula realised she'd left her phone at the base of the route, and went up for a second time to retrieve it.
We'd booked massages that afternoon with the local masseuse, Marta, who tried to fix two chronic cases of belayer's neck. We were told we had to use the belay glasses more diligently in future.
That night we drove back around to the nearest larger town, Murcillo de Gallego, for dinner at the campground there which had been recommended. It was slightly more pricey, but very good, and we struck up a conversation with the adjacent table. One was a climber who gave us a little beta for tomorrow's objective - an ascent of La Visera.
We'd originally has (and still have) dreams of climbing "La Fiesta de Los Biceps", 270m 7a, the prima donna of the crag, touted as "the best multipitch sport route in the world". While we figured after a few weeks climbing we could perhaps dog our way up the crux 7a pitch, the prospect of 4 pitches of 6c (22) and above on steep rock, plus some runout easier (but still 6a/6b) pitches was enough to make us realise it wasn't a sensible prospect. Instead, the consolation prize was "Mosquitos", a 280m 6b (20) with a lot more moderate ground.
After the French cyclists had cleared out, our landlady let us know we were the only guests that night. We thought we understood, but she literally meant we were the only occupants of the whole building - Pilar doesn't live there, and it was very quiet.
We'd seen 4 parties on the route the previous day, so the next day we were up for an early start, and racked and were ready for breakfast at the crack of 8:30am. Nothing. The place was deserted.
We waited about 15 minutes then went downstairs again, still nothing. Had we been forgotten? We snuck into the kitchen and started raiding the fridge, but then Pilar turned up, apologising profusely for being late, and prepared us the usual breakfast of tortilla, catalonian toast (spread with tomato and oil), yoghurt and cake.
After the delay we still managed to be tied on and ready to start at 10am. I led off, as the agreement with my rope-gun wife was that I'd do the odd-numbered pitches and her the evens, meaning she got the 6b crux pitch but I got the slightly runout first pitch. It also meant she didn't need to lead the traverse on pitch 5. What is it about women and traverses?
The start was steep, stiff (17ish) and polished. Full on from the get go, then about 10m up to the first bolt. I placed a cam on the way - we'd wisely decided to bring some trad gear to reduce the runouts - and managed the pitch without incident.
Paula coming up to the first belay.
Paula led off on the steeper corner-crack of pitch 2, placing a couple of cams but finding the bolts much better spaced. A hard move at 10m (18ish) didn't slow her down much and it was a terrific pitch overall.
I led through on the easier but run-out again 3rd pitch, which ended on a set of ledges that allows you to move right into the next corner system. Another pair of climbers were storming up the steep wall of "Zulu Demente" (7b) which crosses our route. The wall above was steadily overhung, as could be seen from their rope free-hanging in space above me.
Paula coming across the series of ledges along the middle of the wall.
Looking straight up at climbers above on "Zulu Demente". If they dropped anything it would fall well away from me.
Paula led up pitch 4's corner, also a very nice pitch, and brought me up.
Pitch 5 continued steeply up the corner then branched out right on a very exposed traverse across to a sofa-sized boulder stuck onto the cliff, called "El Trono" (The Throne). This is a fantastic pitch, very steep, uncertain climbing but mostly on good holds. At the end with the help of some beta I managed the move onto the Throne and enjoyed a great perch, high above the town.
Paula pulling onto El Trono.
Looking up at the crux pitch, 6b (20-21).
We'd made good time, about 45 minutes per pitch. However the bolting on the next pitch looked a bit more spaced than we'd hoped. After a bite to eat Paula launched up pitch 6, managing the steep scary moves to a high first bolt at 7m. With the help of an intermediate runner - a sling around a knob - she gained the second bolt, got a little higher after placing a wire, but then baulked at the hard moves up to the next spaced bolt.
"Let me down. I didn't sign up for this."
I was hoping my rope-gun would recover after a short break, but no go - we swapped ends and I headed up to the high point (happy the rope was preclipped) and took a sit (and a photo) and sussed out the situation.
Maximum exposure! Paula on belay on El Trono, 170m off the deck.
A bolt was visible a few metres away but there were hard moves in between. After a couple of false starts I made the sequence and clipped. The route then headed up and left into scoops, then left again under a bulge where a high bolt had some tat hanging from it with a foot-loop. Clearly the crux.
I made it up there, clipped the tat then the bolt properly, worked the moves a little then launched up and left, finding it stiff for the grade. A couple of momements of desperation later I managed to claw my way over the bulge and stand up on a good rest. Success!
I spoke too soon. I climbed up to the next bulge, only to find it even stiffer, and couldn't work out how to clip the next bolt. The wind had come up, and communications were difficult. I placed a purple cam in between the bolts, and embarked on a full-on dogging session. After one attempt to work the moves I started to climb back down to the cam, yelled "take" and jumped off. Paula lost my words in the wind, figured I'd yelled "clipping!", and gave me a couple of armfuls of slack just as I let go. Wheee! That'll teach me for sitting on gear.
The rope pulled me up OK, back down at the first bulge with nothing more than a smashed knuckle. I hauled back up the rope and eventually stood in a sling to get around. 6b=20? Not so sure.
Paula pulling over the second bulge.
I balanced up the start of the next pitch to clip the first bolt to protect the second, then moved left to belay.
Paula followed, also managing the first bulge free, but pulling on the draw to get around the second. We were now moving into "anything goes" mode, and it was about 4pm.
The next pitch (at 6a, 18) had a hard move at about 6m then eventually eased. We had no more hard climbing between us and the top.
Paula leading up pitch 7.
At the final belay.
I led through on a scrambling pitch with a single (unnecessary) bolt mid way, then found a single anchor at the end. We coiled ropes, went up to the summit to enjoy the view, then walked down in about 45 minutes. Next stop, El Puro for a beer!
Celebratory drinks. "Mosquitos" climbs La Visera, the cliff on the right, starting near the shadow line then finishing up the grey groove at 3/4 height.