Monte Perdido National Park

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Before we left Rodellar, we had arranged to meet our Spanish friends, Ander and Olaia in a town called Broto, in the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Central Pyrenees. Just by chance, we dropped past one of the campgrounds in Rodellar to pinch some wireless and check our emails. It was just as well we did, because that morning, Ander's mother had suffered an accident walking in the street, and broken her arm and nose! The result meant Ander and Olaia were unable to join us in the mountains.

Unsure whether we should still go, we discussed our options, decided Rodellar would be heaving on the weekend anyway, and went. Driving back out of the Sierra de Guara, the sky opened and gigantic hail-stones fell from the sky. Just when we though they couldn't get any bigger, golfball sized chunks of ice were hammering out car. I was convinced the car was going to suffer some pretty serious damage so we parked under a tree until it was over. Fortunately the Combo survived just fine, and we continued our drive into the Pyrenees.

Departing Rodellar
A break in the storm as we were leaving Rodellar.

Unfortunately, the further we went into the mountains, the weather got worse. In a short time, the landscape changed completely. The hills progressively became greener and greener, and more and more rugged. It couldn't have been more different to any other part of Spain we'd visited! We found a covered car park where we created the most incredible meal yet - canned sausage sandwich. After dinner we searched in the dark for good spot to park the car for the night - which we never found, and slept parked on the side of the road.

In the morning, we drove the remaining 5 kilometers into the Ordesa Valley in the national park. Despite the weather still remaining a bit dubious, we were absolutely gobsmacked by the severity of the landscape - Enourmous limestone cliffs rising out of the valley sides, with tops still covered in snow. I never imagined Spain to be so diverse.

Ordesa Valley
The river near waterfalls in the Ordesa Valley.

The rain stopped long enough for us to walk up the valley floor on a well formed track for a couple of hours. Along the way, the track stops at viewing platforms near a couple of mind-bending waterfalls, where thousands of tons of water are still carving their way down, probably amplified even more by the recent rain. The track winds its way through beautiful native forest and eventually out into the open near the head of the valley, where we turned around just in time for the weather to turn sour again.

Ordesa Valley

Ordesa Valley

That night we found a better place to park up. The next day we visited the other side of the park, but the weather was just as shocking. We managed a short walk in the Valley of Pineta, where I witnessed chunks of ice falling 400m over cliffs with incredible noises echoing through the valley. I shot some timelapse, until it rained too much and my batteries went flat, and returned to the car where Dani was putting together some lunch.

In the evening, we found a spectacular spot to free-camp, high up on a quiet mountain road overlooking the valley. I took some timelapses and we made an impressive dinner. The next day we departed to visit our French friends, Elodie and Laurent, just on the french side of the Pyrenees.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SO... we've been home for over a month, and its nearly two months since we were in Rodellar, which is what this post is about. If we don't write it now, its never going to happen, and theres some great photos we haven't posted! So here goes.

On the way from Portugal to Rodellar in the Pyrenees, we camped roughly in the middle of Spain somewhere. I picked a road one our giant Spain/Portugal map which indicated it was scenic, remote and near a lake, and sure enough it turned out to be a beautiful, quiet free-camping spot - one of the best we had on our entire trip. We even managed to drive our car right onto the lake front, get naked and go for a swim and shower. Later we enjoyed a glass of Bailey's, until insect life and darkness became a problem.

Embalze de la Cuerda del Pozo, near Soria, Spain

Freecamping again
Our choice little camping spot right on the lake, with no-one around.

The next day we drove the remaining 4 hours to Rodellar, in the Pre-Pyrenees in the province of Aragon, Spain. The township of Rodellar is right at the end of the road, some 1 hour on tiny winding roads into the Sierra de Guara, an area famous for the sport of canyoning. As it turns out, its one of the best places to practice the sport in Europe. The township is tiny, with a tiny base of goat herders and a few campsites, a church and a couple of bars.

Rodellar is also one of the most incredible destinations for Sport Climbing in the World - which is why we came.

Delfin Por Detras, Rodellar
Delphin por Detras - The sector is famous as it looks just like a Dolfin!

Upon arriving, we discovered that our hopes of free-camping might be impossible. Signs everywhere inform that pissing, washing in fountains, shitting, playing music, sleeping in cars, vans or campers, cooking - basically everything was illegal in Rodellar - punishable by a 140 Euro instant fine.

We opted to spend the first night in a campground, which we payed the handsome fee of 17 Euros for the privilege to sleep in our car surrounded by loud idiots. Awesome.

The next morning we 'discovered' where everyone free-camps. A descent sized car park just off the main road, which seemingly still falls under the camping ban, was filled with free-camping climbing folks. We chatted to a dutch chap called Jose, who said he'd been there for three weeks without any trouble. The concept of spending another 17 Euros a night for the rest of our time in Rodellar seemed ridiculous, so we joined in and decided to risk it.

Freecamping in Rodellar, Spain
The free-camping climbing bums. Some of these vans and campers had been breaking the law successfully for over three weeks!

The gorge itself is absolutely beautiful. Where the village ends, the track starts and you quickly descend into a wonderland. Rodellar is famous among climbers for ultra steep routes with tufas - a kind of stalactite that run like pipes down the caves. The rock is limestone and the caves are carved by a tiny little river which runs crystal clear and bloody cold.

We quickly discovered that if we wanted to climb anything, we'd have to 'man-up' and try some harder climbs, because 90% of the routes are harder than 7a. Even now, 7a is my hardest red-point. Despite the hard grades, we found enough AMAZING climbs around 6b+ to keep us busy for two weeks. I think the 10 best routes I've ever done are in Rodellar. The place is really that awesome. Tufa climbing is different to anything we've experienced before, and while most of the ultra-classic tufa routes were way out of our league, we found two 6b+ tufa climbs that I could have re-climbed all day.

Tom, 7c, Gran Boveda, Rodellar
Kiwi climber Tom attempting to red-point his project. This is in a sector called the Gran Boveda, which is just route after route of incredible tufa climbs. Unfortunately there is nothing below 7b.

Assorted climbers at El Camino

On a rest-day we drove out of Rodellar to another famous climbing destination called Riglos, only an hour and a half away. Riglos is a different story all together. The rock is conglomerate, and very, very large. Multiple towers of incredible, steep, red limestone conglomerate loom over the tiny village of Riglos. Here the towers are over 200m tall, with many bolted multipitch epic-adventure routes exist. The conglomerate is nothing like the conglomerate we saw in Margalef or Monsant. This is BIG chunks of stone sticking out of the limestone concrete, which looks like it makes for excellent climbing. We watched Vultures circling high in the cliffs, and spotted the white-vulture poo streaks coming out of caves 150m up. The routes are visible, due to the ammount of traffic they get, as pale streaks on the red walls. It took us a while, but eventually we spotted a party on a very steep route, totally overhanging 200m above the ground. They must have been on their 15th pitch at least! The vultures looked MASSIVE in comparison to the climbers.

Mallos de Riglos, Spain
The big walls of the Mallos de Riglos, this photos doesn't show even half of the height of this crag.

Mallos de Riglos, Spain
The walls of the Mallos de Riglos loom menacingly just behind the tiny little village of Riglos

A panorama that Dani put together of the Mallos de Riglos. The shadowy feature in the upper right is the overhang where we spotted the climbers, hanging some 200m above the ground.

We vowed to come back with double ropes and some adventure route experience... it looked totally unreal.

When we came back to Rodellar, we well and truely settled into the lifestyle. Cooking up simple tasty food, spending the entire day in the gorge climbing and swimming, washing in the river and sleeping well, despite the size of our car. Life was extremely good.

I can has pasta too?
The most hilarious looking crag dog we've ever seen. His face seemed permanently stuck in that position.

Dragonfly, Rodellar, Spain
In the river, these giant dragonfly's hover around looking for another dragonfly to copulate with. This one came out of an sexual encounter with a broken wing, we rescued him/her from drowning.


The area on the way into Rodellar is beautiful farming country.

We had a commitment to meet Ander and Olaia, our Spanish friends, in the nearby Monte Perdido National Park, but we decided as we left that we would come back before our departure from Europe.

Rodellar remains the highlight of our time in Europe, and every part of me knows we will return one day as stronger climbers!