Text and pictures © 2006-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"If someone were to ask me to quit climbing because they love me so much and doesn't want to lose me, I'd be out the door so fast, that someone wouldn't have time to say adios." — Inez Drixelius.
Left: The tiny spot of Gelida, makes a convenient rest stop along the highway as you drive from France, across Barcelona and into deeper Spain. We expected a minor unknown local spot and were surprised to find americans, germans and plenty of other nationalities climbing there.
Right: Night above an empty village in dusty and smelly Aragon. The place was like a ghost town. We drove through it looking for a place to camp and all the windows were dark, with only one or two cars parked in the streets.
Left: The Montserrat mountain range a short way from Barcelona. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to stop there. From what we heard the rock is similar to what you get in Riglos, just not as solid.
Right: Welcome to Riglos. Riglos the village. Riglos the big climbs. From the village I was thinking: that thing can't be 250 meters... Counter-intuitively, the fact that it overhangs the village makes it appear smaller.
Left: View of the main cliffs of Riglos. the Fire (left, in the background), the Pison and the Visera (right).
Left: A little prayer at the church underneath the overhanging Pison. How do they get the idea that it's safe to build a whole village under such a big pile of barely stable overhanging rocks is beyond me. As we were on our 2nd climb, I hear 'Roccia!' and looked down just in time to see a head-sized boulder fall right in the middle of 4 onlookers, missing them by no more than 50cm. The rock then bounced at high speed in a street of the village. Advice: unless it's your ex's car, obey the sign that says to park at the entrance of the village !
Left: Dihedral at the start of Moskitos, one of the easiest routes on the main towers of Riglos.
Right: Vertical panorama of the traverse of Moskitos. The potatoes encrusted in the cement matrix, something very characteristic of Riglos, are quite visible on this image.
Right: View on the upper towers of Riglos. They harbor easier routes, but the rock is allegedly not as good as on the main towers.
Left: Crux of the route, a non-trivial 6b move over a bulge on crimps.
Right: Moskito finishes on the right side of the Visera, the direct end of which is clearly overhanging, as seen on the right of the image; but we'll come back to that later on. The village of Riglos is right underneath.
Left: The Aragon countryside seen from the summit of the Visera. Aragon is not that great to drive through: there's an industrial pig factory every km or so and it stinks the whole way you are on the main roads. But as soon as you hit the mountains it turns beautiful and quite isolated.
Left: The Visera, one of the 2 main 'Mallos' walls. Moskitos is the crack visible on the right edge of the image, ending in the dihedral and then avoiding the top headwall by taking an exit on the right.
Right: Wild camping seems to be tolerated throughout most of Spain. Indeed there's a place with water, tables and campfire right below the village.
Left: From that campground we can easily follow the epics of climbers who start their retreat off the deeply overhanging wall of the Pison only 5 minutes before sunset. Result: 5 hours to get back down in the heart of the night. I took this image with the telescope and those guys are still at least 150 meters off the ground.
Right: Headlamps taking their time to retreat off the Pison. We had planned to go climb that very route the next day and it was quite intimidating to follow their efforts throughout the evening. The next day the same two guys started the route right after us but they must have been wasted, and rightly so, by their hanging night. They climbed only the first pitch while we did 3 and they retreated, this time managing to reach the ground before nightfall. We got their booty off the route and although I was all ready to give it back, we never saw them again.
Left: 2nd day. We now feel a little more confident climbing on those potatos incrusted in the walls. The first day I felt like I had to test them all. And indeed some of them sounded hollow or cracked. But they stick to the wall anyway. So after a while you pull on anything that has chalk on it without a second thought.
Right: It's so overhanging anyway that if you waste time checking the holds you just pump yourself out. The holds are good and large in most cases, but they are also slopers with more than their fair share of polish. In particular the feet always feel insecure.
Left: Here on the Pison, right above the village.
Right: The perspective is so extreme it appears as if Jenny is on a slab. Not so, she's actually on a 20° overhang.
Left: Video taken from the Pison and then showing the last few overhanging moves of Zulu.
Left: Summit of the Pison.
Right: Rappels off the back side of the Pison. Better take a description of the descent with you.
Left: The clearly overhanging headwall fo the Visera.
Right: And a party of two frenchmen up on the route. With the telescope I could see when they were pulling on gear !
Above: A complete (?) view of the various rock structures forming the Mallos de Riglos.
Left: A view of the main Mallos from the cemetery of Riglos. There are worst places to rot and stink.
Right: Another view of the Mallos at sunset.
Left: Cooking by campfire bellow the village.
Right: 3rd day. Now we are ready for the main dish of Riglos, 'Zulu Demente', a route ending at the very tip of the overhanging headwall of the Visera. Here a traverse on a very long 50m pitch. Straining muscles in overdrive. We actually skipped the first two (somewhat easier) pitches as another party was already there, taking great effort to enjoy a lead fall on every bolt.
Left: It's so overhanging, by about 20°, that it's difficult to figure out how to hold the camera. Also it never rains on the wall so the holds are just slimy with excess chalk.
Right: Ropes hanging in mid-air. And Jenny hanging on puffed up arms. I managed to on-sight the whole route, doing 50-meter pitches the whole time, up to about 15 meters from the summit at which point my arms gave up in the 7a section.
Left: Some climbers have no shame: a no foot-stand after 10 pitches of 6c~7a. Riglos was actually full of frenchmen. 4 out of 5 cars were from there. But as we got out of the bar later on, a spanish voice called me incredulously: it was Javi, a spanish guy I climbed with in Peru 11 years before !
Right: The back side of the Pison, with a clear view on the Fire.
Right: The back side of the Pison, with a clear view on the Fire.
Right: One of the features of the canyon of Rodellar.
Left: A house in the village of Rodellar, above the canyon.
Rodellar is one of those places that one might want to keep secret and all for himself, and at the same time scream to the world how great it is... Judging at the amount of people there, the second attitude prevailed. In a tiny village that would otherwise be only crumbly houses and gnarly ancients, you find this canyon filled almost to the ream with climbers from all over Europe, people who expect bar, restaurant, camping and plenty of parking spaces when they come back out.
Right: Natural rock arch in the canyon, and climber hanging from the large roof on the left.
Few routes below grade 7, Rodellar is not for the meek, although if you line up on the most popular routes you are garanteed to enjoy yourself. One thing for sure: don't expect to climb there in summer. Even at the beginning of November we actually actively avoided the sun !
Right: Plenty of overhangs at Rodellar. And indeed most of the routes are 7a and above. no easy stuff there.
The canyon doesn't have continuous walls but plenty of cliffs of various shapes and heights (only a handful of routes have more than one pitch though). There are plenty of trails between those cliffs, heading to improbable drystone hermitages lost in the foresty hills around. It's a good place to come in family, even if not everybody climbs, hikers will enjoy the place too.
Right: One of the most popular areas of Riglos: El Camino. Can be very crowded dues to its quick access and the relative number of easy routes.
Some walls are like parts of hollowed out spheres, with climbers trying to hang on their horizontal ceilings. And plenty more aspiring climbers watching the show sitting safely below.
Right: Panorama from inside a cave with a french name I forgot.
Left: 6c roof in the back of the cave. No, the image is not tilted.
Right: And resting the arms after the roof.
A single week was way too short to even get the glimpse of an inking of what sort of climbing is available in Spain. We'll be back there as soon as we can.