Serra da Estrela

The Serra da Estrela lays claim to Portugal’s highest peak (at just shy of 2,000m) and some marvellous scenery of granite peaks and glaciated valleys strewn with giant erratic boulders. We’d flouted common sense on a February visit a couple of years ago, when a cold snap meant that the ski station was in operation…

… and managed a few routes on the “low lying” valley crag of Parade dos Fantasmas, at “only” 1,450m.

With a much better forecast we rolled the dice again, hoping to bag a route on the iconic Cantaro Magro: at 1,928m it is the central of the three Canteros (“pitchers”) which dominate the Covão d’Ametade valley. We had tantalising views of this from the conveniently situated summit plateau road last time, complete with iced-up cracks on the south face.

There’s a great free campervan “aire” in Unhais da Serra, about 10 km from the top of the Serra, but a twisty, bumpy 30mins drive. Individual placements with well-maintained toilets, barbecue area and even a shower (cold!) in a fab location – highly recommended

After a delicious dinner chez Jim and Claire, and a speedy completion of a Times Cryptic Crossword (we might be cheating a bit more now they’ve gone), we bade them bon voyage as they headed for their ferry, and wound our own way up the hill. Hopes were high but we soon found ourselves driving up through clag and frustratingly popping our heads out at around 2,000m just on the boundary of the cloud inversion. One minute the Cantaro Magro was wreathed in rainbows

… and the next it had disappeared into the gloamin, utterly soaked.

We pondered bailing, but a late afternoon improvement encouraged a return to the Parade dos Fantasmas, and we managed to wring five fun pitches from the day:

Back up to the summit for another spectacular night’s stopover, hovering on the edge of the clouds.

… we woke to a different class of day entirely.

Our ambition for a February route on the Cantaro Magro was back on. However, our guidebook only covers the “west” face, which is actually more like northwest and there was no way it would be dry from yesterday’s drenching. We turned our attention to the much more appealing south face, whose top pokes up about 100m above the road, but whose flanks give routes of over 300m.

On my rainy recce the previous day I’d stumbled across a bunch of bolted routes in the striking square-cut slot that slices through the Cantaro.

What a difference a day makes…

This turns out to be the Rua dos Mercadores or “merchants corridor” that provides an adventurous walking route up the mountain. Routes on both sides were in perma-shade apart from a couple right at the base of the slot, so we threw ourselves at the most attractive line.

This turned out to be completely outstanding – almost 30m of off-vertical lay backing and jamming, protected by good but spaced bolts on gleaming orange granite (a bit scrattly in places).

Not only did we manage a February route on the Cantaro Magro, but I did it without a shirt on!

Later Googling revealed a useful topo and it turned out our guess at the grade was spot on: Sujidade Anonima, 6b+

Job done, we headed back down to the low lands with a look back over the shoulder to the impressive sweep of the whole of the south face,

with the Rua dos Mercadores and our route just about visible

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