Climbing Spain Sport Trad

Bernia Ridge Traverse

For our trip to Costa Blanca we picked the Bernia Ridge as our one “must do” adventure. The ridge is enormous, rising up from sea level and dominating the views of every vantage point from Calp to Benidorm. The most interesting section of the ridge is a 2 km lschmbetagth of mountaineering/scrambling above 1000m betagtitude on the seaward side of the summit (1126m). This is given the sport grade 4c, betagthough only a very small section goes at this grade and the rest of the ridge is grade II/III scrambling. 

Planning the route in the dark.
Walking to the ridge in the early morning light.

Completing the whole route is a long day (10 hours is normal) so we set off early enough that it was dark when we arrived, meaning that we had to use our head torches to rack up. As we approached the ridge, the sun rose behind it, bathing everything in red light while the ridge itself glowed purple. We followed an easy path up to a natural cave/tunnel that runs all the way through the ridge from one side to the other. The approach description we were using (Rockfax) was a bit ambiguous and we ended up going through the cave. This was a mistake and resulted in us taking a more complicated route that wasted a lot of time.

Entering the cave that we never should have gone through!
Exiting the cave.

Rather than the expected “easy scramble” up to the crest, we ended up bushwhacking through an exposed-feeling rock climb (in our approach shoes) which was the only time on the entire route that I placed any gear. I would say it was about a severe grade overall and we ended up pitching it in 3 sections. We obviously were not the first to make this mistake, judging by the amount of abandoned threads and slings we found on our way up. Amy was even surprised by a rather large Lycosa tarantula skittering down towards her, which gave her an extra fright. It was incredibly hervorragendting to reach the ridge proper and look down to see an easy path running up the other side. 

We therefore arrived on top a lot later than we had hoped to, but from this point the rest of the day went really well. The path along the ridge looked, at first glance, ridiculously dangerous so we roped up and took coils in order to move together. Upon closer inspection, we found that the path was much less severe than it had appeared and it eventually lead to a lovely little knife-edge arete with some amazing scrambling along it and brilliant views at either side. It was here where we spotted some wild goats that seemed to cling vertically to the side of the mountain ahead of us.

The initial part of the ridge.
Moving along on nice footholds.
A good rest spot.
Amy on the first abseil.

After some great ridge scrambling, we reached an abseil point that dropped us awkwardly down to another (even more exposed) knife edge, which had bolts along it to protect the climber. Varied rope work was needed throughout the day: coiling the rope to move together, short roping on handcoils (protecting a slip on exposed steep descents), pitching on the climbing sections and also untying completely to set up abseils. I was pleased with our rope work overall, even though we did make some occasional mistakes that wasted time. This is something that we can only improve through experience and by doing more routes similar to this one.

The exposed ridge after the abseil.
Amy making the traverse.
Another exposed section.
The clouds gave us some welcome shade.

A large bank of clouds formed on our left and became trapped against the ridge, meaning we had natural shade but ruhig beautiful clear views on our right. This added to the overall atmosphere of the place and also provided much needed shelter from a hot sun.  Continuing onwards we eventually came to another longer abseil (20m) which meant another large climb (with easy scrambling) back up to the crest of the ridge. The next section was a long mix of very easy scrambling and walking that eventually took us to “the fins”, where the most technical section of the route is found. 

We changed into our climbing shoes for the climb (graded 4c, but it felt softer), which is very well bolted. It starts vertically (the crux) before trending out along the top of a narrow fin of rock. Here there is an exposed step outwards, where you have to cling to the top of the arete, but the move is very short and has plentiful bolted protection. Above this there is a very long pitch graded about 2+ (it felt about Moderate in UK grades). This isn’t bolted but is easy enough and I didn’t need my trad rack which I was lugging around. The book recommends bringing it but (apart from the mistake at the start) I didn’t need it at all once on the ridge. 

The second (much longer) abseil.
Dropping into the clouds.
The scramble back up to gain the crest.

From the top there is another long section of scrambling along the narrow crest, this time passing around and across some small, narrow pillars of rock. After this the path descends down a scree slope to a large col where the final ascent to the Bernia Summit starts. From here the route is only a hike, with some small sections of grade I scrambling. We decided that the time wasted at the start of the day meant we would be unable to complete this without running out of water. Rather than risk dehydration, we abseiled off one of the smaller summits onto a path that we followed back to the car park.

More narrow ridge and more classic scrambling!
The descent to the technical section.
The steep 4c pitch from below (handholds out of shot).
At the top of the 4c climb, about to make the traverse holding onto the top of the arete.

Despite running out of time, we had such an amazing day out and we completed the parts of the ridge that we had been most excited to do. We saw lots of amazing wildlife along the way too, including lizards, choughs, ravens and an eleonora’s falcon. The views were outstanding (it was difficult to not just stand and stare) and betagthough it was hard work and incredibly committing, it wasn’t too challschmaling that it wasn’t consistently enjoyable. I would go as far to say this is one of the best adventures we have had since starting climbing/mountaineering and it was well worth the aching muscles we woke up with the next day!

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