Wednesday 7th November 2018
There is a mountain ridge that provides a lovely backdrop for those happy tourists on the Costa Blanca coast from Altea to Benidorm. Well, at least to those folk capable of looking beyond their next alcoholic beverage and imaginative enough to face the opposite direction to the sea (or their satellite TVs). This impressive rocky crest is called the Bernia Ridge or, to give it its Spanish name the Cresta de Bernia.
The ridge rises to a height of 1,126 metres (3,694 feet) and way back on day 93 Mrs P and I took a walk around this beast which took us 8 hours, all told.
There is a climb along the most interesting (read: “lumpy“) section of the ridge. It is long. 3 km. It has some technical climbing and an abseil or two. It is described as “airy” and was recommended by some climbers we met a week or two ago. It is also horribly badly described in our guide book.
This is what we know…
The guide book gives some extra information but it is pretty light in detail:
One technical section at grade 4+
One 20 metre abseil
One additional abseil of ? metres
“? metres…” Not helpful! Our lightweight rope is only 50 metres so, maximum abseil is 25 metres. This “abseil of ? metres!” Fine, if it is less than 25 metres but not so good if more. Attention to detail please.
Timings: 5 – 10 hours car to car
5 – 10 hours car to car. Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with?
So, we buy a new guide book. The pictures are better and it at least gives the length of both abseils. Our 25 metre rope will be fine.
It suggests 50 minutes to the start and 1 1/2 hours from the finish back to the car with 5 hours for the climb. I only know this because it’s in pictures.
One evening I was poring over this book staring blankly at the Spanish text when Mrs (I cant speak a word of Spanish) P, takes the book off me and starts happily translating pretty much the whole thing!
Staring agog at this person who I thought I knew, the person who lets me flounder away in Spanglish in shops, bars and, well everywhere, Mrs P spots the question in my startled look and says: “Well, of course I can read it. It’s a bit like French.”
I think she’s a spy. If we go to Russia will she suddenly start jabbering away fluently to all her spy mates? I’m snitching on her to MI5 if she doesn’t buy me nice things for Christmas.
Anyway, happy with this new found information we decide to have a go. I pack a rack of gear that would see us happily along most Alpine ridges, just in case and we set off from Gandalf at 09.10. 8.5 hours of daylight. Best get a move on…
The locals don’t seem too impressed with our plan…
It takes us a little over an hour to get to the start of the ridge and all kitted up.
Now, the tricky bit. Condensing 5 hours and 45 minutes of climbing and scrambling into half a dozen photos. I’ll give it a shot but I won’t do it justice. I suggest you go try it for yourself.
There is a very narrow section between the two abseils with vertical drops in excess of 100 metres either side. Before we started climbing we saw two goats (not Statler & Waldorf) looking down at us from this section of the ridge. Evidence of them was available on the ridge by way of their scat but, no goats. Where did they go? Paragliding goats. That’s the only explanation.
Much of the ridge is unroped scrambling at about grade 1 & 2 (anything beyond grade 3 is classed as climbing not scrambling).
Mr P does 99% of the ridge in approach shoes. A sort of mix between hiking and climbing shoes. Perfect for this sort of thing.
Mrs P on the other hand prefers scrambling in her hiking boots. My hat (helmet) is off to her. I would hate to be on this kind of ground in hiking boots.
The weather is perfect. Not too hot, not too windy and the rock has dried nicely after the rain of 2 days ago.
The first abseil is only about 16 metres long and bypasses a section of grade 2 scrambling. With a risk of death factor positively off the scale we opt for the abseil.
The next section of the ridge is still pretty narrow though some bits you can actually walk along. Mostly however it is delightful, hands on scrambling.
Eventually we get to an obvious abseil anchor, bolted to the rock alongside a big painted red arrow pointing down and over an abyss.
I set up the abseil and chuck our 25 metres of doubled rope off the cliff. By hanging on to the anchor bolt and leaning out I can see that the rope is long enough. Always a bonus as I then commit to the drop…
Closely followed by Mrs P…
A spot of lunch overlooking The Costa Blanca coast and we are off again. Climbing first back up to the ridge.
A long relatively easy section of scrambling ensues culminating in a descent to a col where a short but technical piece of climbing enables us the regain the ridge.
The following picture shows three narrow fins of rock. The third from the left must be climbed to regain the ridge above the enormous cave.
The second half of the ridge is probably a bit easier than the first but, maybe we are just getting used to the terrain and the exposure. We certainly know that all the technical stuff is over.
About 2/3rds of the way along the ridge, near a col, there is a box with a book in which happy climbers can write their names. Mr P does the honours…
Books like this are usually at the end of a route so, psychologically, once the book is completed so is the climb but, not in this case. There are still 2 more hours of climbing ahead.
If you zoom in closely on the above photo you will see 3 climbers on the ridge behind us. Centre of picture there is a tree on the ridge. Follow the ridge left. One climber is silhouetted on the ridge. The other 2 are to the right of him and harder to spot.
We did go off track briefly but it was fortuitous as we think we found some orchids. I can’t find anything on the interweb to prove it so, any budding (excuse the pun) flower experts out there like to tell us what it is?
More lovely, easy, grade 1 scrambling on perfect rock finally sees us on the summit of the Bernia 5 hours and 45 minutes after we started.
Just 1.5 of descent to go. In total our time was 8 hours 45 minutes, Gandalf to Gandalf. This includes one lunch stop, 2 snack breaks and one minor detour.
We are well pleased with ourselves particularly as we arrive back before dark. Time for a nice cup of tea.
ASIDE: Back in September I published a post called, Day 75 – Fear – Mr P gets all philosophical, in which I tried to explain why a particular Via Ferrata near Annecy in France has scared me so much. It was all about exposure etc. It was deep stuff. Mrs P can’t understand why I was afraid on the Via Ferrata but not on the Bernia Ridge since the ridge was way harder and more exposed. The answer? Not sure, but she is right. I wasn’t scared or nervous on this climb. I will have to think about it and get back to you.