Conglomerate Pitches and Limestone Arches: A Week in Northern Spain


Larsen, Rebekah
Kwan, Julian

Dates of Trip: 

November 29, 2019 to December 7, 2019

Montserrat (Days 1 - 4)

On Day 1, we landed in Barcelona after an overnight flight from Boston. We immediately drove to Montserrat, a mountain range whose pink conglomerate spires house a world-famous monastery--and a storied history of Spanish sport climbing. We had our sights set on Cavall Bernat, the most prominent of the towers. We spent the afternoon sussing out the approach, hiking along the lower trails, spying wild goats, and eventually finding some fixed ropes that led up the slabs to the tower.

Somewhat jetlagged, on Day 2 we finally made it to the base of the tower in the early afternoon after a late start. We chose the classic Punsola-Renui, a 7-pitch 6c+ (5.11b/c). Described as ‘sport alpine’ in Mountain Project, the climb is bolted and the upper crux pitches can be aided. Pitch 0 was a 30 meter 4th/5th class scramble, which we elected to do without ropes. Given that neither of us had climbed on conglomerate in a long while, it took a little time until we were used to the rock. The first few slabby pitches were easily graded but sparsely bolted: i.e., 50m with 5 bolts. The climbing was not too physically strenuous, but slabby conglomerate--when the holds aren’t obvious--can be a little nerve-wracking. Nevertheless, we found a good rhythm after the first two pitches.

A cloud inversion rolled in around 3:30 PM, just as we were in the middle of the more difficult pitches (6c+/5.11c). Suddenly, it was as if the pebbles were sweating, and we both began to take fall after fall since we couldn’t hold onto the wet, smooth holds. At this point, we knew we would likely be benighted. We topped out at sunset, took a few pics, and quickly began to rap down the other side of the pinnacle as the thick clouds began to roll in. Though we both had headlamps, the foggy conditions and vague description of the descent meant that we spent hours trying to find the fixed lines down to the base of the pinnacle. We rapped off two separate trees in the wrong direction, each time giving up part of the way down and ascending back up the ropes. Finally, we did find the fixed ropes and gingerly made our way down the hundreds of feet of wet, conglomerate slab in the dark.

Days 3 and 4 consisted of some relaxed single-pitch sport climbing on the other side of Montserrat. On Day 4, ready to trade the cobbles for more navigable limestone, we drove north to the Pyrenees (a mountain range in northern Spain).

Rodellar (Days 5 - 9)

We rented a trailer from a local climber, and stayed in the sleepy town of Rodellar for the rest of our trip. Given its altitude and the abundant shade of the steep limestone crags, Rodellar is a summer crag for most climbers; most of the more iconic tufa lines were dripping while we visited. But we still managed to find plenty of amazing limestone climbing during our visit. One highlight was the El Delfin archway, a sustained, gymnastic-y roof that took more endurance for a clean ascent than either of us had. But we loved the moves so much we worked on a particular 7C+ (5.13a) for two days. At the end of the second day, we took advantage of the rope hanging straight down through the archway to practice some ascension techniques. Other highlights of Rodellar included the fresh Spanish orange juice we made each morning, the quiet sunrises lighting up each of the countless caves across the mountains, the herd of local cats that began to recognize us and follow us down the trail each morning, and the rest day hikes through scree slopes, caves, and ivy-covered canyons.