With a few spare days between climbing courses, we decided now was the time to go check this place out, see if it really is as good as the Rockfax guys say.
Their quotes of 'Magnificent crag' and 'of international significance' and 'finest in the whole book' certainly draw ones attention to the place.
We booked a log cabin in the little village of El Berro: campingsierraespuna.com -- this turned out to be an idylic spot. Friendly and helpful staff, the Leyva climbing guide was for sale there too, an on-site cafe, a great restaurant 2 mins walk away and a bakery just around the corner, perfect for fresh bread in the morning :-)
After the long-ish drive we needed a leg stretch so packed the climbing gear and made our way to the single pitch climbing area of La Pecera. The Rockfax guide doesn't describe the approach very well, so it took us a long time to find. However, as a result, we did find the start of some of the multi-pitch routes we were keen on for the following day, so time well spent.
To arrive a La Pecera from the main parking: follow the wide track along the valley floor for 20-25 minutes until a cairn on the right indicates the start of a small path zig-zagging up through the wooded hillside. Sector La Cuevas will be reached in under 10 minutes, aim to the right of this to reach La Pecera.
The climbing at La Pecera:
We only climbed 3 routes due to our late arrival at the crag. However, what we did climb was really very nice. The rock felt very solid (although there's a lot of rock above so worth wearing a helmet) and was well bolted with good lower-offs too. We climbed the 3 left most routes at this sector, 2 x 6a's and a 6b, all felt appropriately graded. The crag was sunny until late in the afternoon and was sheltered. It was silent apart from birdsong, this was particularly wonderful.
The main face - Carillo-Cantabella:
We planned to climb 2 big routes in the day, starting with the classic 'Carillo-Cantabella'. However, the weather had other ideas!
The approach to the main face is along the same track as above, but go a little further until a low terrace wall leads across the shallow valley and onto a well-cairned path zig-zagging up the wooded hillside, steeply at times. Allow 40 minutes for the approach. The route is located about 100m to the right of the massive caves, so pretty easy to find. It even has its own nameplate!
The forecast was for a warm, sunny day with highs of 19C and a light breeze. We carried lightweight tops and thin jackets with us, this wasn't even close to being enough!!
As we set off on the route, the weather was indeed lovely and warm, sunny and big blue skies. As I set off up pitch 3 my hands were close to numb! That's not great for climbing.
Anyway, not to worry, we wrapped up as best we could and got on with it. The now very strong & cold NW wind giving us quite a beating, this was fast turning into a minor epic, awesome. Thankfully the crux pitch was well behind us and lots of easier climbing lay ahead. Every now and again the wind would subside and the sun came out, this was true bliss and enough to keep the fingers just about warm enough to function, a bit.
The 2nd & final pitches are the hardest of the route, with the 2nd pitch being overall the most difficult by quite a margin. All the route is well bolted though, especially so around the crux moves. There is a fair amount of polish on the route, the crux footholds gleam from past use, so be ready for some slippage.
As we made our way up the crag, exposure build markedly, I remember Kate mentioning this to me as it had skipped my attention. Looking down over the expanse of trees far below was a wonderful experience, the views from up there are truly stunning. Then topping out to the final belay, sitting on the edge of rocky precipice to belay Kate on the final pitch, I was able to properly take in and enjoy the surroundings, what a beautiful place Sierra Espuña is.
A quick energy snack and drink and we hurried away to find the main descent path. Having climbed with a single 60m rope we didn't have the option to abseil down the main abseil line, instead we were keen to check out the more sedate walking descent. As with many paths in Spain, the route down was well cairned and easy to follow. Some very easy scrambling needed to be negotiated, with the exposed bits being protected by in-situ ropes. In no more than 30 minutes we were back at base and re-united with Don who had been sleeping under a bush, no doubt dreaming of sheep back in the Lake District!!
Due to the cold wind and increased cloud cover, the air temperature felt low, so we decided against trying another route today. Both already quite tired after battling with the elements already, this was definitely the right decision for us.
We enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the car, during which we were able to reflect on the day and look up to admire the hugely impressive Leyva crag.
So are those Rockfax quotes justified? I most definitely agree with them all. We will be back....
Thanks to the super friendly people at Camping Sierra Espuna -- if you're planning a visit to the area for walking, climbing, birdwatching, cycling, we can well recommend this place. For delicious home made food check out: Restaurante Sierra Espuna, also in El Berro.
If planning a visit to the area and looking for more information, please feel free to get in touch, we're happy to help where possible. We can also arrange guided rock climbing days here and further north around the Calpe region of Costa Blanca. From April onwards we will be retuning to the Lake District in time to start summer activities there. If we can help arrange some activity days for you, please get in touch anytime.