The Rockfax guidebook for Costa Blanca rate it as a 'Top 50' route, meaning it's outstandingly good. And until now it was one we hadn't done. Why? Well, a few friends had come back with horror stories about the polish and loose rock, and indeed the guidebook even warns of this. But I couldn't resist any longer, it had to be done, so off we went in search of an adventure.
Other guidebook quotes about the route include: 'A classic expedition'; 'Spectacular abseil'; and 'looseness'!
These 3 quotes build quite a picture in my mind. Anything with the word 'classic' means harder than expected, slippery, and often a bit chossy! Then we have 'spectacular' - well does that need any more explanation? The abseil they refer to here allows for pitch 6 to link with pitch 8, yes it's pretty 'full on'!
Then on to the more serious part of the quote, 'loose rock'. This was the scary bit. The initial pitches are frighteningly loose and devoid of decent protection should a fall occur. This makes for extremely insecure climbing, on rock that may give way and crumble at any moment. By the top of pitch 2 I was ready to call it a day and retreat, as i'm sure many have done before.
Pitch 1: This is an easy but very loose scramble to reach the first proper belay. I'd say it set the tone for what lay ahead.
Pitch 2: Apparently only 30m but this felt like miles. After a short, delicate traverse on solid rock, the groove above proved to be seriously loose and without any decent protection for much of the way and certainly no protection for the crux moves. I spent a long time on this pitch and questioned my sanity. This all seemed very foolish. A fall now would have almost certainly meant hitting the deck, about 30m below me!!!
Pitch 3: Whilst belaying Kate up p2 I slowly began to calm down and take time to consider what to do next, go up or go down. When Kate arrived at the belay she was keen for the down option, i'd already eyed up the next pitch and wanted to continue, and that's what we did. With the proviso that if the climbing didn't improve i'd retreat and we'd bail off the route, fair enough. Pitch 3 gave some excellent climbing, firstly on a steep wall, then back in the groove, where bridging skills were called upon. I was starting to feel good about this route, and having a harder pitch under my belt, was definitely ready for more.
Pitch 4: This was the first of the crux pitches and it looked fantastic. Steep climbing following the corner the whole way, with more bridging & chimneying, giving powerful and satisfying climbing throughout, this was a delight, if a little tiring. The belay stance was comfortable and I relaxed in the sun as Kate followed up the pitch, also finding it strenuous.
Pitch 5: After initial moves up a fine slab, this pitch climbed into and up the deep chimney / gully that is formed by the massive pinnacle. The climbing was mostly easy, but interesting, with yet more bridging required. Protection was sparse, but by now I was feeling pretty comfortable with that and climbed accordingly. Soon I sat on top of this pinnacle, back in the sun and with glorious views over the sea and grandstand views of other nearby climbers also enjoying routes on the Penon. Kate was less impressed by this pitch, commenting that it felt very precarious and loose. I suspect she was right there!
Pitch 6: The second crux pitch and probably the hardest (we were feeling tired). The steep slab above us looked quite tough and protection seemed sparse. Thankfully the protection turned out to be pretty good, with in-situ pegs appearing and excellent threads, before reaching the newer bolts. I made the mistake of climbing into the small cave (there's gear in it), this should be avoided, the route stays right of here. Exiting the cave felt extremely difficult and I could see a fall on the cards. With some delicate moves I escaped and regained the route leading up to a massive cave and the next stance, phew! Kate too found it hard to stay out of the small cave on this pitch.
Pitch 7: An unusual one here, it's an abseil. And no ordinary abseil, but a diagonal abseil! The next stance is about 8m down and 6m across, so not a slight swing, but a very big swing!!
Here's how we set up the abseil and what i'd recommend (this is assuming you are using 2 ropes). Use 1 rope to set up the abseil in the normal way, by threading the rings, tie a knot in the end if preferred. Both climbers remain tied to the other rope. Whilst the 1st climber abseils they should also be belayed from above, then when reaching the ledge it's easier and safer to let go of the abseil rope and climb across to the stance. Once at the stance, build a belay, clip in and put the 2nd person on belay with the spare rope. 2nd climber abseils whilst also being kept on belay from below. Upon reaching the ledge system they can let go of the abseil rope and be belayed across whilst scrambling, to reach the anchors. Simple.
Pitch 8: An easy, but exposed traverse lead back into the groove system, which is followed with plenty of interest to reach the next stance about 40m above.
Pitch 9: Feeling pretty knackered by now. The groove above looked dauntingly steep, with a significant overhang at its top. I was feeling fine about it though, and relished the challenge that lay ahead. The groove gave fun, powerful climbing with decent protection, but by the time i'd reached the overhanging section I was out of steam. I threw a sling over a shallow spike, it was the best I could find, but wasn't actually very good at all, and I knew it. I had to rest before pulling through this final steep section, my arms were screaming. Luckily I was able to lean against the wall behind me and bridge quite comfortably for a few moments whilst my arms calmed down. Still not happy about the steep moves above with only a poor sling for protection, I looked around for more options, ah, there's a bolt. Far out on the left wall I was able to clip this haven of safety before ploughing through the bulging rock above. The moves felt improbable and a fall inevitable, mostly due to being exhausted, but everything gelled together perfectly, the climbing flowed and all too soon I was clipping into the final belay stance, we'd done it. Kate cruised up the final pitch and soon we sat on the summit, joined by many Seagulls and cats in search of lunch!
So is it a 3 star classic? Yes it most certainly is, all the characteristics are there.
Would I do it again? Yes absolutely, it's an outstanding route.
It feels a little under graded at HVS and definitely more than a grade up on the likes of Via Valencianos and Via Pany. Maybe more towards E1 territory.
If you have an adventure hat, don't mind a bit of loose rock, love massive exposure, and magnificent positions high above the sea, then go do it.