When you grow up drinking from the same wild outdoors as your brother, father, and grandfather, the place becomes unique and special. It becomes a place you look forward to getting back to on weekends or holidays, to revisit old climbs and memories and discover new ones. For me, this is La Pedriza in Spain.
I remember my first time climbing here well. I was about eight years old. Although I had already been bouldering in sneakers with my brother, and there are pictures of me climbing in diapers, this particular experience sticks out in my mind. My father and uncle took my cousins and me to do our first aid routes on some small riveted lines they put up in the 70s to train for more challenging climbs. I have great memories of those first days, sleeping in bivouacs and hiking small distances with our tiny backpacks full of dreams, psyche, and enthusiasm.
This is precisely what I found when I stepped onto the route. After the initial (6c) pitch, I put my hands on what I discovered to be a 40-meter, full endurance (8b) on tuffas. This pitch is varied, technical, and pumpy. After working the moves, I knew right away I was lucky to have chosen such a beautiful route; this single pitch at any crag would be a must-do, 5-star. As I took in the rope with a smile, I could hear my second’s agreement as he worked the moves with exclamations of delight! The (7b) pitch is a long stunning colonnette, and then there are the two magnificent (8a)’s on tuffas. The easier traverse and top pitch might not deserve too much celebration, but they allow you to link between four incredible pitches.
Working on Une Jolie and figuring out every detail, I couldn’t help but remember my adventure on the Voie Petit (500m, 8b max) back in 2016. At altitude, above a glacier, and on granite, these two routes have little in common, but my process was just the same. Negotiating with my fear 300 meters up a new wall is always an intimidating position, especially my fear of failing. I had to refocus on the pleasure and enjoy it. After all, I was abandoning my kid for a full day, so I had better make it a worthwhile success.
My achievement wouldn’t come through a grade, though; for a long time, I have realized grades are all relative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is a 9c or 7c; no one cares! It’s only climbing. It can only be for MY pleasure that I decide to put myself through fear, tiredness, and then, hope, and belief, which all turn into a passion. Of course, over the two days that I worked the route, I had quite a few moments where I despaired in figuring out a method. I also went to bed those nights, asking myself why I was doing this. But then, waking up at 5 am to beat the afternoon sun, I itched to put my hands on the rock, savored the idea that I could only rely on myself to get the rope up; this project reawakened the climber that I am.
I came home with precise sequences in my head and the knowledge that if I trained, visualized, and prepared, I had a chance to link it all. I knew training would be challenging, especially motivating for another endurance lap through the summer heat. But I was finding myself again, finding my space to be a climber and a good mum.
I returned to the route with James a month later while the grandparents took care of Arthur. Part of me wondered why we were leaving our baby, and we both felt a bit empty without him jumping around the van. But then in the early morning, I put my game face on, James transformed into Mr. Perfect Belayer, and the fun began. In the (8b), I had no idea if I had the necessary endurance, but in a month’s training, I had noticed that it was all coming back quickly. I climbed precisely without a single mistake. I have no idea how it happened–maybe being a parent and having little time forced me to improve my efficiency. The (7b), the first (8a), the (5c) it all went smoothly. Then, in the last (8a), I made a few mistakes. I forgot a few methods, and there was a moment at the very end, where I realized I had to make the right decision very fast, or I would be off, and maybe not have the energy to try the pitch again.
It is here that I faced my old friend, the fear of failing; every climber has to find a way of dealing with this. When I was a competition climber, I used to tell myself to focus closer on the pleasure of the movements. This time, with my forearms about to explode, and while I was struggling to slow my breathing on a relatively restful tuffa, I could see in my mind Arthur dancing to his favorite music. With that, I realized that falling would be ok; failing was indeed not that sad. Accepting the possibility of not doing it gave me the energy to finish the pitch and scrape my way to the belay. One more (6b), and I had done it, I was again the climber I wanted to be! I had proven to myself that there was a balance between being a mum and a climber. That even the joy of my little one could give me strength for climbing that I hadn’t had before.
I'd love to tell you James and I drove back home playing Une Jolie, but that would be too whimsically poetic. After all, ticking the climb for its name or notoriety is not the experience I was after. Plus, James hates the song, but James's story of understanding French poetry, and as I say, “truly” becoming French, is another story altogether.
Written by Talo Martin
Photos by Manu Prats
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Stage 8- Fontvieille secret crag
I can't tell you the secret crags, as they are secret because they aren't technically allowed. To find them you have to ask as you meet climbers on your previous days and if you are lucky they may tell you the secrets! France is full of them, and sometimes these are the best crags!
We arrived back home after 25 days of traveling and climbing. It wasn't always restful, but then living with a baby is never restful! Every day brought us load of discoveries, from a wild tortoise to incredible pains au chocolates, to meeting an old friend. Baby Arthur loved it. The minute we stepped back in the house, he was pointing again at the window, asking, "where next?" For James and me, we finish this adventure delighted to have realized that we still have so much left to explore, and it is all less than 100km from our home. This bike and climb trip is only the first!
My desire to return to La Pedriza isn't only for nostalgia, though; it is a wild and unique place. First of all, it is home to the rockrose, or Jara, a bush with sticky leaves that blooms with white flowers in the spring. And for climbing, it is a utopia with one of the largest granite ranges in Europe, with almost 5,000 routes and 4,500 boulders. You would need more than one lifetime to experience it all. I want to help you know it a little better and introduce you to some of my favorite spots.
Cancho de Los Brezos
This south-facing crag is excellent for an intro to slabs with grades ranging from (4) to (8c) on rock with small edges and heel smears, helping make your introduction less traumatic. Once you feel comfortable Editorial Aguado (6a), Phoenix (6a), or Pepi (6b) are great for testing your 80's pure essence style on run-out lines.
Risco de La Peseta and El Euro
This combines two north-facing crags with only a 30-minute approach from the parking lot. The routes range from (5+) to (7a) in the lower El Euro and from (6c) to (8b+) in Risco de La Peseta, which has many hard slab routes. Also, during the winter, the sun doesn't warm the rock here until 15:00, so it's great when you arrive from traveling or after a day of work. The rock here is made up of strangely shaped groups of crystals that you pinch and smear on, so a stiff shoe will make things easier.
For summer, this is a very unique and special crag developed in an old underground basalt quarry on 25-meter high walls that are only 3-meters wide at the base. And it is a great place to visit in the summer to escape the heat. Here you will find 30 overhanging routes ranging from (6c) to (7c) and up to (9a), albeit with some chipped holds, and another 30 slab routes ranging from (6a) to (7c).
The route is a 7-pitch (8b), and 6-months after having a baby, the idea of achieving this was going to be my “I am back” diploma. When I chose it, I knew I was on my way back to fitness, and I had just figured out a rhythm where baby let me train and sleep a bit. Fitness isn’t everything, though I also needed focus, dedication, and the will to finish such a route. What I experienced as a young mum was a total shift of focus in my life. Every second of the day, part of my mind was on my little one – Does he need anything? Is he in danger? When baby Arthur was 6-months old, I couldn’t write a full text, read a book, or focus. I willingly disappeared behind “the veil of mum.” But I was hoping I would find my fully functional brain again, on top of my late abdominals.
There is no shortage of bouldering, with almost a hundred areas to choose from. Here are a few classics you shouldn't miss.
Garganta de la Camorza
This is a north-facing area, allowing you to boulder here year-round with a wide variety of styles and grades up to 8C. Some of the gems of the area are La Sonrisa (6C), El Viajero (7C+) and Samurai (8B).
Bosque de Canto Cochino forest
Here, you will find a concentration of classic boulders and even 8A+ slabs. Mona Lisa (8A+), La Placa Infinita (7B), and Karate Feet (7B+) are an ode to slab climbing.
You can find anything from single pitch to 200-meter long routes with a wide range of grades up to (8a). Below is a small selection of memorable routes and areas. First though, here are some tips on grades and exposure. The traditional climbing ethics in La Pedriza are similar to those found in places like Val di Mello, Italy. Historically, from the 80s and 90s, slabs were established ground up using as few bolts as possible where gear wouldn't work. This ethos has fallen to the wayside over the years. The exposure scale is measured in M values, M1– well protected; M2– some exposed sections between bolts; M3– potentially dangerous, including the risk of death. There can also be a + in between the M grades.
La Sur Clásica al Pájaro
This 200-meter long (6a) is one of the most iconic routes in Spain. It was first ascended in 1935, just before the Spanish Civil War, using a 20-meter hemp rope and a handful of pitons. Today, it is a reference point for the area and one of the most repeated lines.
The 150-meter-tall dome is possibly the most iconic in the area. It was first climbed in 1864 and now contains 125 routes. A notable route is Gálvez-Pascual (6c), established in 1977 using a few rivets pre-placed on abseil, which changed the mentality and ethics for the following generation.
Risco del Hueso
This is a magical place with multiple must-visit routes. Including the classic Fulgencio (6a), which ascends an 80-meter arch. Alongside this are some of the world's most beautiful 8a+ slabs; Art-Herencia (8a+) and Territorio Comanche (8c+/9a)–one of the most difficult slabs on the planet.
In an area as large as La Pedriza, various guidebooks focus on each discipline of climbing. If you need a suggestion for a wide selection of climbs, though, I suggest Escaladas en La Pedriza by Luis Santamaría, which contains a selection of 964 sport routes up to 8c. There's also a new trad guidebook coming out in 2022 as the old one is no longer in print. For bouldering, I published Pedriza Boulder 3470 in 2020, which includes almost 3,500 boulder problems spread out in 78 areas and satellite crags. This book is in English-Spanish with maps, Google GPS points, and a load of detailed pictures to help you spend more time climbing and less time wandering around.
You can usually climb all over La Pedriza with 15 quickdraws and one or two sets of Friends and Rocks. Cracks are generally varied and do not require many repeated Friends. Some routes do require pitons and aid gear, though, so read the guidebook. The most important thing is a stiff and comfortable climbing shoe for the slab routes.
Although you can climb year-round and avoid the summer heat, it becomes impossible to even climb a 6b with much dignity under the full summer sun. Thus, I suggest November to April as the best time to visit. For the rock, you will find the best conditions between 5 ℃ and 15 ℃, although for harder routes closer to 0 ℃ is optimal to feel the power of this unique climbing style and friction that can only be found in a few places in the world.
LA PEDRIZA – MY CHILDHOOD CLIMBING ROOTS
by Talo Martin
5.0 minute read
LA PEDRIZA – MY CHILDHOOD CLIMBING ROOTS
by Talo Martin
5.0 minute read
Where to sleep
Outside of June 1st – September 30th, you can camp directly in the parking lot in the National Park in Canto Cochino, although you need to get there early as it has limited space and fills up quickly. It is also acceptable to bivouac and camp without a tent in the park year-round, but make sure to pack your trash and waste out and be mindful of the natural vegetation! If you come by motorhome, I suggest the Machacaderas car park, and in El Boalo there is an area for filling and emptying tanks. If you prefer something a little more comfortable, there are apartment rentals in El Boalo as there are not hotels surrounding the park.
Eat Drink and Meet Local Climbers
After a climbing day, the best bar and meeting point is the Hostel La Pedriza in Manzanares El Real; not only is the food good they also rent crash pads. Also El Cometa in Cerceda is worth a visit. And while you shouldn't expect to find typical coastal foods like paella, you should try the local dish Madrilenian Cocido, a stew made out of mixed meats, chorizo, vegetables, and chickpeas.
Where to sleep
Outside of June 1st – September 30th, you can camp directly in the parking lot in the National Park in Canto Cochino, although you need to get there early as it has limited space and fills up quickly. It is also acceptable to bivouac and camp without a tent in the park year-round, but make sure to pack your trash and waste out and be mindful of the natural vegetation! If you come by motorhome, I suggest the Machacaderas car park, and in El Boala there is an area for filling and emptying tanks. If you prefer something a little more comfortable, there are apartment rentals in El Boalo as there are not hotels surrounding the park.
Eat Drink and Meet Local Climbers
After a climbing day, the best bar and meeting point is the Hostel La Pedriza in Manzanares El Real; not only is the food goodthey also rent crash pads. Also El Cometa in Cerceda is worth a visit. And while you shouldn't expect to find typical coastal foods like paella, you should try the local dish Madrilenian Cocido, a stew made out of mixed meats, chorizo, vegetables, and chickpeas.