“Sometimes our trips are meticulously planned and sometimes they just happen, often at the whim of others. Our Roca Verde road trip was the latter. Touching down at night in late October to Santander after a week of work in England we were looking forward to a climbing break – but we hadn’t a clue what to expect – all we knew was that we had seven days guided round the region.
Our good friend Richie Patterson, the author of the first English language guide to a block of north-west Spain he’d christened Roca Verde, had invited us; but we didn’t really know where we were going or what the area encompassed. We’d actually not climbed in Spain for a while as we are always looking to go a little ‘off-piste’ as the crowds and polish of the major destinations, don’t really appeal. So when Richie promised unpolished rock, empty crags and plenty of great routes – we were intrigued enough to give it a go!” James Pearson
Day 1 – La Hermida – Cantabria
Arriving in the dark, never gives a sense of the surroundings so it was a big surprise to wake up in an enormous, steep-sided valley. Not only because it was filled with huge crags but also because it was incredibly green, tree-lined and not at all ‘Spanish’ looking.
The Desfiladero de La Hermida marks the Eastern border of the mountains of the Picos de Europa and is the one of the major tourist routes into the heart of the mountains. Our hotel, La Cuadrona, a beautifully restored traditional building, was a bit further north, at the centre of the climbing in the village of La Hermida itself. Known as the climber’s bar the owners were incredibly friendly, used to dealing with foreigners and knew to provide the sort of ‘mountainous’ breakfast that it turned out we were going to need for the day!
I say that because Richie had arranged a bit of a treat, a visit with one of the busiest local equippers, Alberto Hontavilla, to his latest work in progress. A stack of exceptional routes in the huge cave of Carcalosa. Imposing and tufa-strewn it’s also situated on the ‘wrong’ side of the river and perched above a slope that necessitates a 45 minute hike. Braving the icy water we crossed and made our way up the hillside, marveling at the dedication needed to even create the path, never mind to slog with all the gear needed for equipping. Secretly we wondered if this was not the beginning of just another of Richie’s ‘brilliant ideas’, yet as we pulled on the last of the fixed ropes and the full extent of the cave came into view, we realised it was totally worth it. A deep, seemingly bottomless hole flanked on either side by steep, tufa covered walls. Not at all the type of limestone we were expecting!
All in all there are around 50 routes from 6a and up to 8b, with many projects still to climb. Slap bang in the middle of the main wall is Dimensión Paralela 7c+ and the “tram line” tufas just have to be climbed. At 40 meters long, it is an endurance marathon, and doesn’t give up anything until just before the chain. At the end of the day we couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised! Perfect rock, brilliant routes, friendly locals, and superb views. Luckily for us, this feeling would become more and more common as the week went on!
Day 2 – Poo de Cabrales – Eastern Asturias
A second giant breakfast eased our discovery that rain had fallen in the night – you don’t get to be green and lush without a little water. Our intention had been to head straight to Poo de Cabrales, one of the most well known sport-climbing venues around the Picos. But, worried it may be raining there too, Richie suggested a quick-hit at the roadside of Urdon just a few of km from the hotel, to do a couple of routes while the weather settled. He swore Urdón had a climate of its own and was ‘almost always-dry’, yet with the roads still soaking and the mist hanging low, I wasn’t sure I believed him. Happily the walk in this time was short, around one minute, and there were no rivers to cross. We climbed a pair of excellent wall climbs, 6c and 7c, on solid orange and grey rock, that despite the falling rain were in perfect condition.
Heading out of the valley from it became pretty obvious that it had been a localised shower as clear blue skies greeted us at the end of the half-hour drive to Arenas de Cabrales, a short hop from the crag. Grabbing some bread, chorizo and a chunk of the famously fierce Cabrales blue cheese we were soon in T shirts and marvelling at the views of Picu Urriellu from the car-park below Poo.
As we arrived at the crag it was immediately obvious why Poo was so popular. A ten-minute hike leads up to a compact little crag, with several sectors ranging from slabby to steep. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the magnificent Picos, Poo is one of the most visually pleasing crags of the area, and the climbing’s not half bad either. There are too many good routes to choose a favourite, and on national pride alone I should really mention Englishmen, 7c, opened in 1991 by our friends Nick Dixon and Andy Popp. However the most memorable route of the day, if only for the never-ending discussion of the grade, had to be Lord Byron, an intense and athletic 7c(+) at the Horóscopo sector.
You can check out James and Caro’s adventures in northern Spain in a short series of movies they made about the place: their Roca Verde Road Trip.
They’re all on Epic TV so here’s some links
Part 1 – https://youtu.be/n5bil2d1Br4
Part 2 – https://youtu.be/yq37n0zej9A
Part 3 – https://youtu.be/HQ6RheBVFog