Always clean your cats before climbing

A multi-pitch adventure in Spain

This was Google Translate’s over-literal attempt to render advice from a Spanish website into English. “Pies de gato” (cat’s feet) or simply “gatos” is what the Spanish call climbing shoes. It became our catch-phrase for our trip to the Costa Blanca. There we found blue skies, 20 degree temperatures, no recorded rain for 47 days. The Med sparkled in the sun. A perfect antidote to a dark, dismal English November.

Although best known for its bolted sport climbing the area also has some tremendous trad adventures, including some of a dozen pitches or more. The route that Henry and I had planned was more modest at a mere four pitches, but still looked like it could be an adventure. This was Scorpion on the spectacular Paret de Castellat at Echo Valley. Rockfax grades it HS and 4+ so it seemed to be within our capabilities, although the name hinted at a sting in the tail. That now appears undergraded (and from comments on UKC we’re not alone in thinking that!)

We parked below the crag and walked up past the lower section to where a scramble brought us onto a terrace below the upper cliff. Our first problem was trying to relate the photo in the guide to what we could see in front of us, but eventually we decided that a narrow bolted crack was our route. The guidebook graded this at 4, so I cleaned my cats as instructed and set off up it with some optimism. My confidence was rapidly dispelled – this was much harder than any of the 4s we’d climbed up to now. I sacrificed a karabiner and baled.

Plan B was to follow La Mosca (3) although I probably did a mixture of this and the first pitch of The Wasp. I came to a poorly bolted belay, but I didn’t feel as if I’d gone 45m as the guide indicated so I carried on to another bolt. The guide then showed pitch 2 of The Wasp heading off at the same level but our route taking a rising line. With hindsight I should have stopped at the first belay, and we were higher than we should have been.

Unaware of this, Henry started up a groove and then headed left. When I followed I found him on a hanging belay from a flimsy-looking glued staple and a flake, just below the intimidating final pitch. We had missed out part of the second and the whole of the third pitch!

The good news was that we were now back on route. The bad news was that my careful manoeuvrings to ensure that Henry would lead the final crux pitch had been thwarted, and it now fell to me. Henry must have seen my expression as he offered to lead it, and I hastily tied in to the belay before he could change his mind.

The final pitch involves a hand traverse along a rising crack before a committing move brings you underneath a small roof. Henry tackled this in his usual calm and methodical manner, I followed with rather less style and rather more swearing. The hardest move was actually getting established on the start of the crack – bypassing the roof was strenuous but on good holds, although Henry’s suggestion that I stopped there for a photo was not appreciated (as my expression shows).

From the top we had great views out towards the coast, while the foreground was dominated by the huge face of Ponoch, scene of our via ferrata adventure on a previous trip. After we’d relaxed and had some lunch our thoughts turned to getting back down.

Enjoying the view from the top of the route

Descent was by abseiling down The Wasp. Unfortunately we didn’t know where this route went (we didn’t know where our own route went for that matter). I followed the fall line, not only because that was where gravity took me but because this seemed the best option to avoid the rope getting snagged on bushes. When I couldn’t find another ab station I stopped at a ledge, from where I could see a pair of bolts away to my right (probably those at the end of our first pitch). Although the belays weren’t good enough to ab from, they would have been OK for Henry to belay me across easy ground to get to these bolts. However when he came down he spotted some bolts on the ledge below, so we went to those instead. Again, with hindsight we should have stuck to my original plan, which would have saved us about an hour.

My next ab didn’t seem to get me much nearer to the ground, and it took a third equally long ab before I touched down. Unfortunately where we arrived was not where we’d set off from. We’d gone too far left and completely missed the end of the upper terrace, and had abbed down the lower tier as well. We had to make our way back up the path and scramble back to the terrace to retrieve our rucksacks. Reversing the scramble encumbered with loaded packs wasn’t easy, but we regained the path and returned to the car with sufficient time before it got dark – just! As we drove back a fine view of the Bernia ridge against the evening sky provided a memorable finish.

We’d had great day out, although the routefinding was more difficult and the climbing harder than we’d anticipated. If the definition of an adventure is one where the outcome is uncertain then this definitely qualified as one.

Howard Jones