Patones – Ponton de la Oliva

Despite camping within sight of La Cabrera, that isn’t our objective for this trip – multi pitch trad at 1,400m might have to wait for a warmer visit.

 Instead, we’re heading to Madrid’s premier crag – Patones. This is a 6* destination crag, famed for it’s pocket-pulling which can be sampled in a range of grades from V+ into the 8s.

We arrived at the crag on a Sunday, and not surprisingly it was rammed, but in a friendly and convivial way – there must have been a hundred climbers scattered across the various sectors, and I think just the two of us who weren’t local. We hadn’t rushed to get there, knowing it was west facing, but we still managed to get to the crag before the sun did, and did our “warm up”, Tripi Continuo, 6a, on sector Ciello Liquido, in icy conditions, barely able to feel my fingers – a poor choice as it was polished to a high sheene and only had 5 bolts in 20m – harrowing in the conditions. Hint for next time: leave it until about 1.30pm.

Chatting with some locals we were taken under their wing and given a guided tour of the best that Patones has to offer. Next up on the agenda were a couple of 6b/+s on the adjacent sector Stradivarius: Halley and Bombardeolito. Both followed a similar pattern: steeply overhanging start on big, sharp pockets to easier vertical ground; a technical white wall on balancy crimps topped off with a very stiff pull over a roof. A bit of everything, and both excellent (and much better protected).

We’d obviously passed some kind of test, because next on our tour guide’s list was “the most famous route at Patones” (and by implication within a hundred km of Madrid), the appropriately named Estupendiux,  7a – Stupendous indeed, up a really steep orange wall on good but spaced pockets which suddenly run out around half height leaving you with a couple of really long reaches between monos (or two-finger pockets if you haven’t got such tubby digits as mine) Despite some cunning beta from my mentor, I didn’t manage it, but thoroughly enjoyed trying. A couple of shots of others having a go below:

Having tuned in to the style somewhat we did a few more routes before taking on board the most important piece of local beta of the day: The “climbers rendezvous” in Patones is Bar Manola… 

… which is just like a Spanish version of the Stoney caff from the good old days, complete with good but cheap food, plenty of craic and climbing and caving photos all over the walls.

We headed back for more of the same on Monday, which was still fairly busy with a couple of dozen climbers taking an extended weekend, perhaps mindful of the monsoon forecast for the whole of the following week. Much muttering about luvia, luvia, luvia – rain, rain, rain! 

We started a bit further down the hill at sector Luna with its eponymous route 

Helen “steely  fingers” had certainly mastered the pocket pulling, and had her leading head on, despatch La Pelosi, 6a+, in fine style

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