Serra de Passos and ‘the way of land and stone’ 

Another three hours north lies the penultimate crag in the Portugal guide, which is set to be our last stop before crossing back into Spain (we’re skipping the most northerly as it’s another 2,000m job). Having driven through miles of granite scenery, with huge boulder fields at every turn, we’re now in quartzite territory. The Serra do Passos can be clearly seen as a grey and green escarpment a couple of miles away from the A4, (topped with a couple of radio masts and a huge white cross) but it’s about 500m higher.

Getting up to the crag is quite involved. The guidebook excells itself in ambiguity with “… from then on with cartography (better with Google earth) use intuition and navigation skills to find the crag” I kid you not!

None the wiser, we do resort to Google and find an approach description in Portuguese, which we translate with more Google magic: “After spending by Mirandela, go out towards Steps. Login within the Village of Steps, go through the Church and course to the Sierra. take the way of land( and stone). Spend the house forest, always following the rail page, which will amount to the Cruise and their antennas.” – perhaps fears of mass unemployment due to AI have been overstated!

Happily, our Googling also turned up a Wikiloc trail, which had the added bonus of a topo.

This led us on a magical mystery tour through the narrow cobbled streets of Franco and up a winding tarmac road before plunging onwards and upwards into forest following “the way of land and stone” zigzagging ever higher, taking seemingly random turns onto every steeping dirt roads and passing the occasional signs to parapent takeoff spots (and one to the crag!).

We finally arrived beneath the cross at the end of the crag after about 45mins and 15km – there’s no way we’d have pressed on without the gps trail.

What a view when you do get there!

The crag is visually stunning with towers, arêtes and caves picked out in splashes of neon green lichen. The quartzite provides mostly flat holds following the bedding / fracture planes, with the occasional crack for variety. The steeper walls suffer the double whammy that the holds slope unhelpfully downwards and outwards.

We warmed up on Drago da terra quente, 6a+, a great looking wall on the left of sector Amarelo, unrelentingly steep for the first dozen metres and a tough choice for a warm up.

On the right arête of the sector we did O tribunal, more of the same but with a wickedly overhanging sting in the tail – preposterous for 6a (post edit – turns out it was 6c!)

Somewhat chastened, we stepped down a gear for an outstanding V+ (route 39 in the book – no name), which turned out to be one of the best routes of that grade I’ve ever done – cunning holds just where you need them and a fabulous paint job!

A couple more (Uma via com graca, 6c, not much harder than the “6a”, and Obrigado ER160, a runout V with 3 bolts in 25m!) before turning in to enjoy beers and the magnificent sunset from our lofty camping spot.

It was still glorious the next morning, with a cloud inversion making for a fine view over breakfast

Seemed a shame to leave, so we nipped back for a final route, that turned into five.

Romeu e malagueta, V+, and very good (the only route where my signature fluorescent green belay jacket is actually camouflage!) ;

the route to the right (which wasn’t); the amazing Balas e Bolinhas that takes the massively overhanging arête right of the cave at a (tough) 6b (think Gogarth Yellow Wall with bolts)

Then finished off on another outstanding 6a+, Amedrontado, that takes a hugely overhanging line of flakes in a quartz vein

and finally the excellent unnamed V+ to the right which covers VERY steep ground on equally big holds (here’s Helen pulling on them):

A fabulous crag and fitting finale to our Portuguese tour. No apologies for the huge dump of photos – it’s just such a vibrantly glorious place.

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