Yesterday 3 of us ventured into the Mascarat gorge near Calpe. We have visited this gorge only once previously and didn't much care for it, but thought we should at least try one climb here, so picked a 3 star route called 'Llobet/Bertomeu. A HVS climb of 8 pitches and almost 300 metres.
Not only were we pleasantly surprised by the quality of the climbing, but we were all totally wowed by the incredible atmosphere of the place. Even though the climbs start at a roadside location, almost immediately the atmosphere is one of a high mountain environment with exposure to match. Route route is traditional, with just a few bolts at belays and that occasionally mark the route, but a full rack of climbing gear is required.
Each pitch had its merits and each was a challenge, if only to find the correct route through the sea of rock. But for me the 2 outstanding pitches were numbers 5 & 7.
Pitch 5: The crux pitch with quite a reputation! As I stepped around the corner to below the groove, I looked up in horror at how slippery it all looked! This was going to be quite a challenge and some 'flight time' was a real possibility. Taking it slowly, ensuring each foot placement was as good as possible, i'd search for the next hand placement, position my body as best as possible and move up in search of the next foot placement, all the time looking for cracks to place protection to supplement the spaced and old bolts! Before I knew it, I was standing above the groove and moving onto easier slabs, with the belay in sight, phew! Really pleased to have led such a difficult pitch of climbing without any dramas.
Kate and Kim soon joined me and we were all happy to have the crux pitch behind us.
Pitch 7: This provided us with route finding dilemmas, but thankfully between us we came to the right decision. Once on the traverse we enjoyed a massive drop below us, directly down to the base of the gorge, probably 250 metres below us. The moves were easy and well protected by old bolts and threads. The belay came as quite a surprise though as I was expecting this would take us to the top of the climb, but no chance. I set up a hanging belay above the huge drop and got the camera ready for when Kate & Kim emerged onto the traverse. I don't think either were enamoured with the belay stance, well at least I though it was brilliant! The remainder of the route was straightforward, with the top about 30 metres higher.
Knowing in advance the problems experienced by some climbers who visit these walls, we were all apprehensive about the climb. This of course adds a level of stress and gives an edge. Keeping a steady head is crucial in such situations, especially so on the harder sections of climbing. Personally I find this very therapeutic, and strangely calming internally, although this doesn't always show externally. The thrill of being right on the edge, at the limit is fantastic, but even at the top of the climb we don't let our guard down, there's a long way to go yet. So a quick bite to eat and off we go to start the descent and back to safety. It's only afterwards that the full impact of the day hits home, and a mental (and physical) crash follows with extreme exhaustion. What an amazing feeling, we love it.
The terrace descent was quite straightforward to find and follow, although great care is needed as the small track is very close to a huge drop! Once over a rock step we followed a cairned path back to the road.
Yes for all there's a bit of noise from the road when climbing in Mascarat, but it's an epic place to climb and the route is most definitely worthy of its 3 stars.
Thanks to Kate & Kim for agreeing to join me on this one and for climbing it so well, good times.