More Calcena and a Rest Day with the Vultures

The forecasted “Big Rain” wasn’t much more than drizzle, and it was at least as wet everywhere else, so we stayed put in Calcena. To pass the time we made the short 20mins drive to recce the nearby climbing at Trasobares. This served only to prove that most crags look pretty uninviting in the rain – especially when you can’t even be bothered to get out of the van – rather than write it off unfairly I’ll mention it here as a reminder to explore next time.

There are around 200 routes split between two main areas, each within a 10mins walk of the town / your vehicle (or indeed the handy campsite).
– The Viñalajuen Ravine, accessed from the road above the village, with two walls facing each other, one facing east and the other west, with mostly short routes.

– The Barranco del Río Isuela, with walls in all orientations, and bouldering interspersed with routes of up to 30 meters, below the town. Apparently there’s a guide “Climbing in Trasobares” which can be purchased for €15 from the “Chus” store, in the square and from the campsite.

Back in Calcena, I went for a recce of the remaining sectors we hadn’t yet visited.

The Penya de los Buitres is well named (Buitres is Spanish for Vultures) and the col at the top of the main valley seems to be the principal thoroughfare for their comings and goings.

Having had a shufty at the various sectors (better pics to follow below taken in sunshine on the subsequent couple of days) I ventured up to take a peek at Vulture-Central. Reassuring myself that “they’re only birds” I put to the back of my mind that a Griffon Vulture has a 10ft wingspan – beedy eyes peered down from every rampart on either side. Clearly it wasn’t great weather for flying or climbing.

I was reminded of my favourite scene in the Disney Jungle Book:

“What are we going to do now?” “I don’t know, what are we going to do now?”

Every now and then they’d obviously get so bored of perching that they’d unfurl those huge wings and do a soaring tour of the clifftops, before a precision landing back where they started from – I could have watched for hours! I’ll try to add a few video clips when we get decent WiFi but here are a couple of stills for now.

The following day was a case of “what a difference a day makes” – having had the place entirely to ourselves for 4 days, and barely seen a passing vehicle, Saturday brought the locals out in force, no doubt encouraged by the magnificent weather.

Probably a couple of dozen teams out – plenty of room on the crags but some fairly creative parking tactics being deployed (though tonnes of space in the village if you don’t mind an extra 5mins walk)

Cueva Honda (derecha – RHS) is one of the few fully south facing sectors (much of the rest of the climbing is either east or west facing) and it was a popular spot. About a dozen routes from V to 6b – shortish (15m) and typically with punchy starts before relenting.

Locus Bajitas, V
Chusmo Esponja, 6a
Lowering off from La Bolera, 6a+, you can inspect the couple of dozen routes in the Passilo ravine – they’d be good for a hot day.

At the left hand end of the sector (past the eponymous cave which is of both speleological and archaeological interest) I had my eye on the stunning arete of Bichos Raros, which is the featured image in Donde Escalar:

Thin orange wall (slightly friable) followed by crozzly crack, small butch roof, and long cracky/crimpy grey slab. 35m of well-protected fun – 6c+ or 7a, but 3* in anyone’s book and the current front-runner for route-of-the-trip!

Here’s one of the local team topping out at the end of the day

Further left Pena de los Circos was enjoying the evening sun. I got quite a way up the 7a variant of De Caracter Soriano before bailing in the face of crumbly holds, but finished up the excellent parent 6b+ for a really fun 3D conglomerate adventure. Recommended (RHS of picture below). If you look closely you can just about make out a climber on the lower left on Las Asturianas, 7a, which I surprised myself by managing despite it being short and burly.

Sunday was also stonking, despite overnight rain, and we wandered up to the Aguja del Diablo and Pena de los Buitres sectors. Here’s a shot taken in the “Golden Hour” at the end of the day. It’s worth noting that a number of these higher sectors are banned from April through to September for nesting Egyptian Vultures (though you’d have to be pretty brave to want to mess with these rascals who look like they can look after themselves!)

We started with a two-pitch adventure up Abolafia, 6a, 6a+, which runs the full height of the grey pillar to the right of the huge orange cave of Diablo. Here’s Helen leading the first pitch:

I had a go at one of the 7a+s in the cave itself which I would strongly not recommend – Directissima – overhanging orange crud followed by thin, tufa crozzles.

Further right on the Pena de los Buitres, Helen lead the excellent Badaran, 6a

… and sure enough, a member of the supporting cast put in an appearance right on cue.

The leaning orange tower between these two is Aguja del Collado, and I did a couple of well-bolted 7as on there: Saon de Harimatea and Los 4 Piratas.

By now the weekend throngs had headed home and we had the place to ourselves again, and very much feeling we’d made the most of our visit to the magical place. Perhaps the only minor regret is that we didn’t get to do a route on the stunning pillar of Puente de los Lobos (left of the shot below) which bounds the striking through cave. One of many reasons to make a return trip.

A couple more pointers about the Albergue / Refugio. It’s a municipal establishment, and is open every day apart from Thursdays (not sure how that works if you are staying for a week – worth asking!) They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner including typical Menu del Dia fare of salad, grilled meat and fried potatoes, pudding, beer and a coffee for about a tenner (it seemed rude not to enjoy the hospitality as they wouldn’t take any money for the overnight parking). Chatting to one of the guardians, she told us that she couldn’t remember ever having had any British climbers visiting before. We assured her that we would be back, and not to be surprised if we weren’t the only ones, once the cat’s out of the bag!

If you are planning a visit best also read our first post:

Calcena – a New Addition to our List of Favourite Places

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