Bernia Ridge - and other scrambles
Over the last few days I've spent a little more time on the local ridges here in Costa Blanca. The Bernia and Segaria ridges are places I know very well, having traversed both many times. Until this week I hadn't attempted the Bernia as a solo day, so decided to have a go at a quick, solo ascent.
There is a lot to consider before setting out onto a big ridge or any mountaineering environment, especially so if going solo.
Weather, gear, skill set, fitness, daylight hours, escape plan, who knows where I am. Just a few things to be considered.
With all of the above taken into account, I set off for an afternoon ascent of this wonderful ridge. There were a lot of walkers out enjoying the fine weather, I wandered if anyone would be up on the ridge. I moved fast, soon arriving at the tunnel through the base of the ridge and 10 minutes later I was up on the crest enjoying views down to the coast. The weather was perfect, no wind and completely clear. Now on the rocky terrain I slowed the pace so more considered movement could be employed, this is not a place for a slip!
Even with this slowing of pace, as I was solo so all obstacles could be tackled immediately, I covered ground much quicker than I had expected. Soon I was at a small abseil, so sorted the rope and after a thorough check whizzed down it. A few minutes later another abseil station was reached, this one being above a bigger drop and I knew the rope was going to be borderline long enough. The rope length turned out to be perfect. I had knotted the ends of the rope just in case it had been too short.
Lots more straightforward scrambling brought me to the main challenge of the day, a 4+ climb of about 25m. This is very well bolted and I had come prepared to aid the initial moves as the rock is very slippery.
A lanyard and 2 quickdraws were enough to keep safety limits acceptable and me moving efficiently over this steep terrain. Clipping in the 'draws to a bolt and pulling on the 'draw gave me a huge advantage. Yes this could have been done without aid (and typically would be when using a rope), but a fall from this section is unthinkable and safety comes first. As the terrain eases once more a high point is reached, I de-harnessed at this point.
With the main difficulties behind me, I felt myself starting to relax a little more. This needed attention as when we loose focus we make mistakes. I switched the brain back on.
Dropping down onto the scree before the main summit of Bernia I now only had an easy scree path to descend before the tourist path would be reached. Until now I hadn't seen another person or animal since joining the ridge. Right in front of me stood a herd of Ibex, every one of them had their gaze fixed on me! I tried to be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb them, but it was too late, they were already retreating. But three stayed much longer, perfectly still and focusing on my every move. Moments like this are a rare privilege.
This had been a brilliant afternoon, with many mountaineering skills practiced.
Yesterday, a last minute change of plan put the nearby Segaria ridge into the picture. It is splittable into 3 sections so can be done in a short space of time. Perfect for an afternoon out.
The weather wasn't so calm though. We had clear blue skies, but a strong north-westerly wind. A ridge scramble could be extra exciting. The Segaria isn't high, so I felt it to be a reasonable objective, I also approached with an open mind about turning back (always do this). The wind at Portet Beniarbeig - which is a big notch in the ridge - was pretty high, but to be expected given the terrain and wind direction, so this didn't deter me. But I did take some time to investigate the effects of the wind a little more. The small trees and shrubs up on the ridge were not being blown around, this was good news. Onwards.
Interesting scrambling leads out of the notch and up onto the exposed crest. Once on this it can be followed directly for much of the way. At times the wind was too strong on the very top, so I dropped slightly to the south side and was instantly given shelter. I was noticing an increase in wind speed as I progressed along the ridge. I was slightly concerned by this and adjusted my speed and stance to compensate. Very close to the end of the ridge is a short, exposed and difficult down-climb. This required total focus in order to get the sequence correct. I knew once I had descended this there would be an island of safety in the form of an abseil station. What I hadn't realised was quite how windy it would be at the abseil station!
22m to the ground and a big footpath, but it felt so much further. Even trying to take the rope out of my backpack required all my effort, the wind was that ferocious. Having eventually threaded the rope through the anchor, I began to coil it ready for a throw. Not quite sure why, but I took hand coils and cast them in the hope they may end up on the ground. No chance, I needed to fully engage the brain again and consider how best to get the ropes down. I tried a 'rope bomb' which is something like a big ball of rope. This didn't work either, in fact it made things worse as the rope made slightly more progress than before and just enough to allow it to become tangled. Oh joy.
With the ropes stuck and no amount of tugging would free them, I attached to the abseil rope, double checked everything and set off to fix the problem. Thankfully I was able to do this after only descending a couple of metres so ascending back up was easy.
I took some time to consider a variety of other methods for getting the rope down during extremely windy conditions, but also took time to look around my immediate surroundings. Actually I could abseil southwards rather than north, this would make all the problems go away.
Sometimes a solution is easier and closer than it seems, keep an open mind and a look out for it.
Minutes later I was off the ridge and out of the wind. A fun adventure with a final twist.
Mountaineering is an extremely rewarding pastime, but it does come with quite a helping of danger. Beware of this and be prepared. Build skills over years, and don't rush into things. Training courses and technical books are worth considering. We can arrange skills courses suitable for all levels and these are available from early March through to late November, based in the Lake District.
If looking for a technical book of all things mountaineering, the very best currently available is 'Down' by Andy Kirkpatrick.
And if looking for a guidebook for mountain adventures throughout Costa Blanca check out our Cicerone guide here
Thanks for reading