El Desfiladero de La Hermida

This is the definitive sport climbing guide to La Hermida Gorge by Richie Patterson.

El Desfiladero de La Hermida is the definitive sport climbing guide to La Hermida gorge which straddles the Asturias/Cantabria border in NW Spain. It contains 24 never before published crags and nearly 700 routes, many of which have only recently been developed. The whole gorge from Pechon on the coast, to the alpine meadows of Cabanes, has a fantastic variety of single pitch sport climbing on generally excellent limestone. The routes are graded from very easy, on many accessible roadside slabs, to almost impossible up in the “almost inaccessible” world class cave of Carcalosa. This valley is covered by the second edition of the Roca Verde guide but the El Desfiladero de La Hermida guide has even more sectors included. A generous percentage from sales of the Roca Verde guide have funded some of the more recent development. The secrets of the most sought after crags in the valley, including the world-class venue of Cicera, are now described in detail. Clear photodiagrams are complemented by some excellent action photography. There is certainly something here for everyone at whatever grade you climb. A 70m rope should be considered a minimum but some of the newer hard routes advise a 100m rope as preferable, 20 quick draws will be enough for most of the routes covered in this guide.

The Climbing The crags are all situated on the Eastern flank of the Picos de Europa in or close to La Hermida gorge which straddles the border of Cantabria and Asturias in Northern Spain. The area is less than an hours drive from the airport and ferry terminals at Santander. There are 24 crags described in detail in this definitive guide to the area, many for the first time, the highlights include RumenesEl InfiernoCicera and Carcalosa. One or two of the sectors still have some trad climbs so be sure to read the guide carefully and/or carry a small rack of gear. There are many classic multi pitch mountain routes in the nearby Picos de Europa to enjoy but they are not covered by this guidebook.

The first crag described here is the sea cliff at Pechon with easy access and unique atmosphere for the area. Both sectors are slightly overhanging with a good selection of routes 6a-8a. Belen 6a and Jandro cotizando 6a are popular easier routes then there is loads of choice at 7a-7b but La vieja escuela 7a+ and Kurt Albert 7b are very enjoyable.

Estraguena is a small crag but packed with quality, south-east facing with plenty of afternoon shade. It is almost roadside but not really family friendly due to the awkward approach and the narrow ledge at it’s base. The crag offers a great introduction to tufa climbing in the valley and is generously graded, making it a good starting point. Princesa deva 7a, Marabunta 7a+, Alpinista Egoista 7a+, Granma 7c, Goliath 7c, Imperfectus bultus 7b+ and  Austurcantabra 7c+ all standout. Primera intencion 7b is also good but I thought it was hard for the grade.

A short way further up the valley are Rumenes and nearby El infierno, they are among the best crags in the gorge with long and steep tufa climbing especially in the 7’s and with some 8a classics. They both get plenty of shade in the afternoon.  

Probably the most sought after routes at Rumenes are the outstanding Invocando de Onan 7a and the unrelenting 40m pump fest  Sindrome de Stendhal 8a. However Vinarock 7a+, Rumenes power y albino 7a+,  Apokalimnos 7b, Tubular hell 7b+, El dia del arquero 7c and Panico nuclear 7c are all exceptional. Some of the highlights up at El infierno include the steep and burly Malas Pulgas 7a, Hellboy 7a+, Cachimente 7b, Balambambu 7c,  El algoritmo Wallman 8a and the brilliant 47 ronin 8a.

The next crag of note is the accessible Urdon with a selection of popular routes in the 6’s and 7’s and three good 8a’s. El pajaro momificado is an enjoyable 6b with a harder extension at 7a. Effecto Domino 7band the unnamed 7c to its left are both very good. Vias y mujeres 8a is a relatively new route that has already reached classic status. The car park is large, however this is also the starting point for a very popular walk so all the parking spots can be taken up very early in the day.

A short way further up the road is another south facing crag which enjoys the sun until about 4pm. This is the accessible El Salmon with many routes at more reasonable grades. The photo ticks here are El polivaliente 6b and El retorno de mechas 7a.

Cueva del RiberoSector Clonica and Cueva del Corazon are three popular crags close to the village of La Hermida. Rebelion en la granja 7a, Chucho’s Wall 7b and  Estira la Parra 7b+ all standout. The recently developed Cueva Hermida, a pleasant 20m walk from the village centre, is crammed full of steep powerful routes for the strongest climbers. There are also many smaller quieter venues worth checking out as you progress up the gorge.  Parelosa is shady with good routes in the high 7’s that would benefit from more traffic. One of the best routes is Relatividad 7c+ however the photo tick is La coquilla asesina 8a which is a 15m extension of Perirrojo 7b. Dolce Galbana 8a+ is a spectacular 26m route, with three distinct cruxes, that is rapidly becoming a power endurance classic.  

Valle de Bajes is a side valley rising out from La Hermida towards the village of Bajes, which is a popular starting point for walks up into the Picos de Europa and is also well known for it’s speciality cheeses. The Bajes valley also contains a few accessible crags which are ideal for novices. The quick drying crag Calabreru is more difficult to access and the belays are off narrow ledges. The wall is gently overhanging, the routes are hard and up to 40m long. The photo tick here is Eowyn 7c+.

Cicera is 15 minutes pleasant stroll followed by 5-10 minutes steeply uphill. This north facing venue provides plenty of shade and it’s needed because the route are hard. Lots of 7’s and 8’s to try up here. Pacifis 7b+ and Mancha roja 7c are both hard but remain justifiably popular. Deambulante was overgraded at 8a but the climbing is good so it should remain popular as a hard 7c+. The excellent Troncomovil 8a has a tricky diedre to negotiate then an endurance fight to the top. If you prefer tufa endurance then Veneno azul 8a is considered a classic. Walking on the Moon 8a+ is a hard and technical test piece, the superb Arte si quieres 8a+ is also worth checking out. For 40m of pure resistance try Entropia and Treinta anos de locura 8b, both are superb. At a more reasonable grade La Corbata de Unquera 7a is well worth doing but possibly not the best choice for a warm-up. Steep and intense at the start, then technical face climbing higher up. The next route right Naturaleza Viva 7a+ is also a popular route on some curious iron intrusions.

If that’s all a bit too easy, on the opposite side of the gorge you will find Carcalosa. An aerobic 45 minutes of scrambling steeply up, occasionally pulling on ropes, leads to the huge cave with routes up to 9a and harder projects. The right side is a bit more amenable with the classic Dimensiones paralelas 7c+ tackling the twin tufa system.

There are some more smaller river side sectors to check out as you travel further up the gorge including Placas de Esquilleu. This has a slab that is very popular with novices. Nearby is El Lado Oscuro (The Dark Side) and if you are willing to wade the river you will be rewarded with some long  routes at 7c and three at 8’s. The excellent Museo Coconut 7c and Gretaline 8a+ are both over 30m long. 

Cabanes comprises of six sectors with a good spread of grades that all overlook the stunning alpine meadows and enjoying spectacular views of the Picos de Europa.

The ancient town of Potes offers shops, cafes and restaurants making it an interesting day destination. La Reunion Bar in Potes is a great spot with good beer, music and wifi along with climbing info & topos. Posada La Cuadrona at La Hermida also has wifi and topos for some of the more secretive sectors.

Beyond Potes is the small sunny sector of Los Zaborros de los Llanos which is unusual in that it has steep easy routes, Vs and 6s, ideal for novices wanting to progress from slab climbing. Finally don’t miss the dozen or so gently overhanging pump fests ranging from 6b to 7b at the south facing Cosgaya up near the head of the valley.

Rest Day Activities

A superb way to relax on a rest day and recover from the powerful wrestling with the many steep tufa climbs in the area, is to enjoy the freely accessible hot springs situated underneath the bridge that leads to the Balneario Spa Hotel. There is no signage so it is very easy to miss despite being adjacent to the main road. Other activities could include hillwalking in the stunning mountains of the Picos de Europa, Via Ferrata, bike rides or the telepherique from Fuente De. Alternatively perhaps a trip out to the coast to surf or just sit on the beach.


There are ample places for climbers to sleep rough in a van. Camping la Viorna is a popular campsite near Potes, while there is almost too much choice if you prefer to be closer to the coast.

Climbing in Chulilla

El muro de las Lamentaciones from Chullia © Steve Crowe 2011 www.climbonline.co.uk
El muro de las Lamentaciones from Chullia © Steve Crowe 2011 www.climbonline.co.uk

Rock climbing in Chulilla has changed a lot since the heydays of the 1980’s, many new sectors have been developed many older routes have got longer too! A 70m rope is essential for many of the newer routes and for some climbers an 80m rope is preferred. The routes are generally well protected so take plenty of quickdraws too! There is plenty of climbing surrounding the town of Chulilla itself and the some of newer sectors are clearly visible a short walk across the river. The most popular of the newer sectors is the south facing wall of El muro de las lamentaciones. Then a little to its right and directly opposite the new Refugio is the east facing wall of Pared de Enfrente which catches the sun until about 2pm. The NW facing wall of Embalse is a beautiful orange wall which gets steeper as you head left, but ranges between slabs and bulges at the right-hand end to about 10 degrees constantly overhanging for the main middle section, then some harder routes at the left-hand end with steep barrel shaped starts into less steep headwalls. The climbing is mainly technical on a variety of thin tufas, crimps, side-pulls – a face climbers dream venue really. There’s plenty of good 6’s and some superb 7a’s but the main event is the middle section offering a superb choice of 7c and 7c+’s.

The stunning Los Calderones de Chulilla (walkway) through the gorge to the dam has been restored which has eased access to many of the newer sectors nearer the dam and it is a superb walk for rest days and non climbers alike.

El Altico Refugio, Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2013 www.climbonline.co.uk
El Altico Refugio, Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2013 www.climbonline.co.uk

The popular climbers refugio El Altico is situated in a prominent position overlooking the crags and it is ran by local activist Pedro Pons. It is always open however it is important to book in advance preferably by email (info@elaltico.com). The prices are reasonable: about 15 € person/night (or 10 € for people who like to sleep in their van but they want to use the excellent El Altico facilities). For more information about the climber friendly accommodation at  El Altico visit their website here: http://www.elaltico.com.

Reflections at Chulilla  © Steve Crowe 2013  www.climbonline.co.uk
Reflections at Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2013 www.climbonline.co.uk

The recent Chulilla sport climbing boom started with a climbing topo that was first published in the Spanish climbing magazine Desnival in November 2010. Desnival also published a Chulilla update in December 2013. The January 2015 issue of Climber Magazine featured with “Climbing in a Spanish Paradise” an excellent article by local activist Marijne Lekkerkerker who details this magical place festooned with high quality rock and routes. The best source of information can be found at  http://chulillaclimbing.com.

Kaplan 7a, Cañaveral  © Steve Crowe 2013  www.climbonline.co.uk
Kaplan 7a, Cañaveral © Steve Crowe 2013 www.climbonline.co.uk

Top Chulilla Climbs This is a selection of some of the very best climbs at Chulilla. (Note: the list keeps getting longer!)

 Magnetoresistencia 6b+, Oasis
 El Ramallito 6c, El muro de las lamentaciones
 La Diagonal 6c,7a, Sex Shop
 Blue Agave 7a, El muro de las lamentaciones
 Top of the Rock 7a, Oasis
 Richer Line 7a, Chorreras
 Plan Z.  7a, Oasis
 Pim Pam Pons 7a+, Chorreras
 Sendero sinuoso 7a+, Oasis
 Dale duro negro 7b, Sex Shop
 Cantalobos 7b, Pared de enfrente
 Segul lluitan 7b, Nano Park
 Daños colaterales 7b+, Oasis
 Los Franceses 7b+, Pared de enfrente
 El gran dinosaurio blanco 7b+, Cañaveral
 La conjura de los nachos, Cañaveral
 Nibelungalos 7c,  Algarrobo
 Todo un clásico 7c, Cañaveral
 Super Zeb 7c, Pared blanca
 Los Caminantes 7c, Chorreras
 Moon Safari 7c+,  Algarrobo
 El rey de a palanca 7c+,  Algarrobo
 El diablo viste de prana 7c+,  Algarrobo
 El Ramallar 7c+, Pared de enfrente
 El Romanso de las mulas 7c+, Pared de enfrente
 El Bufa 7c+/8a, Balconcito
 El Agent Naranja 8a, Balcon
 La Montana magica 8a+/b, Balconcito
 La bella protegida 8b, Balconcito
Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2012 www.climbonline.co.uk
Chulilla © Steve Crowe 2012 www.climbonline.co.uk

Energia Positiva by Dave Stainthorpe

So here I am, tucked in under an orange roof, trying to recover from being an idiot. Back clipped the last draw on the steepest bit, fiddled with it, took it off put it back on – but hey I’m still on. Fairly pumped but still on and feeling strong. Feet, feet, feet, yes left here, right over there on the dish, backside in for the poor sloper, rock up, got the crimps, where does this bloody left foot go? This will have to do, nah here, drop a bit, right hip in and the Gallowgate throw. Shoooot. Fingers brush the air by the jug but all of me is heading down, through the crisp blue Catalan air. No, no, no, I had it, how did I miss, what am I doing here?

Energia Positiva 7c+ Nate Murphy
Energia Positiva 7c+ Bruixes

Three years ago I retired from a great job, working with lots of superb people. My children had grown up and flown the nest and were making their way in the world. My wife was on board with the idea of me retiring so I could travel and climb. So after spending most of my adult life as a worker who climbed, I became a climber. I was sixty two years old with the resources and the time to train, travel and climb. The opportunity of a lifetime.

 For the last three years I have travelled and climbed and loved it; great places, great trips, great people. I applied myself to learning how to get stronger, how to build endurance and how to improve my technical ability. I did training for coaching courses to improve my knowledge and understanding of “climbing”.

 In October 2015 I came back from a yet another great trip to Siurana as a junior member of “team awld”, the cream of Northumberland, some of the best climbers of their generation. We climbed lots of routes as is usual for these trips, trying to flash each route then moving on. Over the last three years I had completed thirty similar trips in Europe, on sighting / flashing hundreds of great routes and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Then I thought, can I change the game? Can I maximise my strengths and go on a trip where redpointing routes at my current limit was the focus? It sounded very risky, I could go away and fail to do any routes, no ticks, no prizes.

 I needed an achievable goal and had loved Bruixes wall at Terradets since I first set eyes on it, many years ago. The goal was therefore easy, climb up the centre of this beautiful wall on Energia Positiva 7c+, with a heartbreaking move at the top. Worst nightmare for Mr Static midget – a big pop

Dave Stainthorpe on Energia Positiva 7c+, Bruixes © Steve Crowe 2015
Dave Stainthorpe on Energia Positiva 7c+, Bruixes © Steve Crowe 2015

Finding the right person to climb with was essential. I needed calm, positive support, and someone who understood the process through and through. Steve Crowe was out in Catalonia for a long trip with the missus, Karin Magog, but she was coming home early to work. I had climbed many times before with Steve and knew he was the person I needed so I agreed to meet up with him for a couple of weeks at Bruixes in December 2015. The race was on, I had just 46 days to prepare.

Training can be a lonely activity, fraught with uncertainty and pitfalls, and I knew I would get more out of it if I could build a team to get me ready. I enlisted lots of folks for belaying / training support. This included access to bouldering at Durham Climbing Centre and the awesome circuit board at Eden Rock in Carlisle. Then I sat down, had a think and wrote a training plan. At this point I was very unsure if the plan was the right one to get me ready. I had also learned that doing the plan is far more important than writing the plan. The backup and support for this came from Neil Gresham, I was very impressed with the way he had trained to do his new route, Freakshow, at Kilnsey. Going from looking like it would never happen at the end of 2014 to it certainly looking like it would get done in the spring of 2015 , to sending it. I sent Neil my plan and he gave me some fairly robust but well informed feedback and then we knocked it into better shape between us. I was particularly impressed with the nutritional aspects that Neil recommended that I integrated with the plan. I recalled that Lucy Creamer had an excellent trip to Bruixes a couple of years ago and contacted her via her website. She provided comprehensive advice and information, which you can read on her website, lucycreamer.com. Lucy also kept in contact providing great support through her knowledge and enthusiasm. 

Dave Stainthorpe climbing Energia Positiva 7c+ Bruixes © Steve Crowe
Dave Stainthorpe climbing Energia Positiva 7c+ Bruixes

So with the team in place I set off to do the plan, sharing progress with Neil and Steve throughout the process. Neil’s role was to feedback on the progress reports providing support and suggesting tweaks as we went along. Steve kept a watch on how things were going so that he knew the state of play as we hit the crag. He and Karin also gave me excellent suggestions of routes to use to achieve my fitness objectives. This arrangement worked very well and was a significant factor in me following through on the agreed plan 100%. We had ups and downs on the way. My yoga commitment led me to develop positional vertigo which caused me to feel sick and dizzy if I moved my head. This did not stop me training though and my GP was brilliant, sorting it out in one session – flipping genius! The control this partnership gave me over the training meant I did what was planned rather than what I fancied. This was a key factor in training very hard but not getting injured. Not wandering off and doing random bouldering with the boys at the wall, not just trying some new finger ripping exercise, simply doing what we planned.

By the time I left for Spain I knew I was much stronger and fitter than when I started the process and I was totally psyched to get stuck into the redpointing process. By now the route was simply an element in the process, getting on it and learning how to climb it was what motivated me. Steve was great at managing the pace, talking me through the tactics, getting the food and hydration right, advising when to rest and when to go, having the last go of the day to build fitness on the route and keeping me calm and positive. So the route came together quickly. I made big links on day two and thought it in the bag. Went backwards day three, falling off easier sections because I was thinking about clipping the chain instead of placing the feet. Got frustrated next day dropping the last move every go. Then on my rest day I thought I’d have a potter just to warm up the body and found myself looking at the long pop after a very smooth trip up….. Missed it. Took half an hour rest, cruised back up, eyeballed the jug, stuck one on – just managing to catch the very edge. I crimped hard and moved on up. Success!! I clipped the belay, asked for loads of slack jumped off and enjoyed the ride down.


Dave Stainthorpe enjoying the moment. © Rick Kirby
Dave Stainthorpe enjoying the moment. © Rick Kirby

Elation lasts a few seconds. I was dead chuffed, Steve and team Australia were suitably congratulatory. I was empty, desperate to get back into the process, seeking out a new project. Got one, Bon Viatge 8a, sorted out all the moves but too few days and too little left in the tank to finish the process ……. . but I’ll be back


Key ideas:

Building a team to support climbing at one’s limit
Gaining knowledge
  Feedback and testing plans and ideas
  Support through the training period
  Physical technical nutritional and mental issues
  Being part of a team

Pros and cons of being old
Harder to build strength
  But possible to get closer to your maximum potential
  Need to rest more to realise gains
  Breaking poor technical habits and engrams
  Time to research, talking reading and observing
  Time to train
  Time to travel and climb
  Possibly good extended networks to meet and climb with different climbers

The process of working routes around your personal limit
Recognising that a redpointing / upper limit trip is different to an on sighting trip
  Process begins with honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses
  Training is part of the process
  Having a training plan is essential
  Doing what is in the plan is 100x more important
  Having the right people on the ground is essential 
      Good belayers
      Good travelling companion
      Good tactician, listener and communicator

Process ahead of prize 

Support Team:

Durham Climbing Centre

Eden Rock

Karin Magog

Lucy Creamer

Neil Gresham

Team Australia


Steve Crowe