Serra da Estrela and a triumph for blind optimism 

After a last night lulled by the sound of crashing rollers,

… and a morning of domesticity on the campsite, 

… we bade farewell to the Atlantic and headed inland for the mountains of northern Portugal. First stop was the Serra da Estrela, a couple of hours north west of Coinbra. This is a granite wonderland, topped by Portugal’s highest peak (Torre, variously ascribed with a height of 1,993m, 1,997m or even 2,000m on various maps I’ve seen – I think they must include the tower they built on top for the latter!) We arrived at the summit carpark, which is a ski station, in the early evening on a Sunday, just as the crowds were beginning to disperse – not many skiers in evidence (and I don’t think Tignes has anything to worry about), but dozens of families with kids and tots on plastic sledges (inspired perhaps by the winter Olympics?)

We settled down for the night parked in a magnificent spot a few hundred metres from the summit (along, not down) and enjoyed the sunset and twinkling lights over the surrounding vista, our LPG heater proving its worth as the outside temperature slipped below zero and ferocious winds buffeted the van.

Great views from our eerie in the morning, but the temperature gauge was still stubbornly stuck on zero and our plan to climb on the Placa de Francelha (accessed by walking down from the summit to around 1,750m) was looking optimistic in the extreme – perhaps cragging in a ski resort in February wasn’t such a great idea…

Winding down the hill, we admired the ice-filled cracks on the Cantaro Magro (cross that one off the February list too)

… and headed into the textbook glaciated Zezere valley. The orange * ice warning snowflake had just stopped flashing and we were basking in a heady 4C, but more importantly the wind had dropped and the sun was out, so we went to recce the “low lying” valley crag of Parade dos Fantasmas, at “only” 1,450m (still the height of The Ben!) 

This is a very slabby but immaculately carved 80m chunk of granite (orange with a coating of grey and green spotted lichen), and importantly it faces south. It’s not quite “hands in pockets” climbing (unless you’re Johnny Dawes) but all the lines are about IVish and fairly well bolted, so you can keep moving and stay warm – against all expectations we did 3 routes and 7 pitches in all.

 I have to credit Helen with the completely unjustifiable optimism that resulted in a grand day out. If you don’t go, you’ll never know!

Walking back to the car you pass this amazing bit of overhanging orange rock with a couple of horrendous looking cracks trad cracks at 7c+ and 8a!

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