Well, the weather crapped out for a few days, cloud base down to the level of the cable base-station, mountains invisible. Seb and I retreated to to the now familiar Cueto Agero and found it cloud free, a good length of warm-up route at last! Seb got to teach me some about brakes, too as my newly replaced rear pads started to smoke alarmingly on the long downhills. Calipers and piston stripped, pads sanded and re-assembled by the road. Touch wood they’re doing fine since!
Then with days dwindling we headed around to the more recommended (Sotres) approach to Picu Uriellu (Naranjo de Bulnes) – the real thing.The road up the to start of the hike was perhaps the most exciting thing Naranjo had done yet – steep gravelly switchbacks and potholes – but she rose well to the challenge and proved her off-piste mettle.
We slept at the road-end and got an early start the next day. It was so good to finally set eyes on the main goal of our trip to the Picos – Picu Uriellu. The hike was around 3 hours but not too exhusting, and the Uriellu hut appeared suddenly. The cloud was drifting up the valley again, but we ditched the bags and took the chance for a taste of the rock on the west face – a shorter (6 pitch) route called Saggitario. After a rather run-out first pitch (and resultingly grumpy Seb) the route settled down to good face climbing. As we climbed, the cloud rolledin further until the hut disappeared, but just as spirits were flagging, we were rewarded with a bit of Picos magic – the classic cloud inversion!
We dispensed with the final IV exit pitch in favour of a quick abseil and run back to the hut for dinner. Officially you have to register by 6m for dinner, but the cook did us proud with a feast of leftovers – meaty soup and fish risotto. I abandoned by low-carb diet in the cause of needing every energy source available for the next day – the Nabada-Navarro …
(Spoiler alert – there’s video at the end – think of it as a reward for reading such a long post. Also I will post a separate blow-by-blow description of the pitches later, just because there isnt one in english that I could find.)
Early doors, strong coffee in seb’s yogurt pots, peanuts and bananas for breakfast. We struck camp and pushed up to the start of the route, only to find another party earlier than us. They were taking a while, aiding the crux pitch, so we chilled at the base and then again at the stance at the end of P2. There was a long way to go, so I was starting to champ at the bit, and worrying that this would be the theme of the day and our hopes of a summit could be dashed. Finally the crux 6c+ pitch was clear and I could get stuck in. To my surprise and delight, it succumed to a combination of crack-trickery : knee bars, chickenwings, slippery jams and wiiide bridging. Nowhere near as pumpy as I had feared, and the final intimidating section to the ledge was amply supplied with good holds. The crux was free’d!
The party ahead turned out to be bailing off, and kindly donated us some cashews. We had the entire west face of Naranjo de Bulnes to ourselves! The air was cool, but the skies clear, with a stable cloud inversion far below. We had water, nuts and dried fruit aplenty. The hardest pitches were done, and conditions had finally aligned on Sebs last possible day for a perfect send. There was no doubt in our mind we were going to the top. A wee bit of climbing to be done first though….
Route finding wasnt too bad, although it took care. We managed to run some pitches together early on. This meant that the Traverse pitch landed to me. Felt kinda bad since that was meant to be Seb’s pitch but he gracefully donated the lead. Felt well tricky for its given grade of 6a+! A devious, serpiginous line with polished footholds, it almost had me off. But good holds appeared and soon after, Seb made swift business of the pitch with the burden of the rucksac! Good work.
The rappel pitch was kinda weird, and relied heavily on my trusty shunt to get me along the hand-traverse. After that it was into the Grand Diedre and some very long pitches, full rope lengths or more (one of my ropes is 55m, the other 60m) of wide cracks, chimneys and thug. Finally it brought us to a spectacular perched stance on the NW ridge and lots of air.
The final pitches had a choice, according to the topo. Three pitches of V or one long one of V+ straight up, 60m. We opted for the direct finish, but it involved at least 20m of simulclimbing to reach the final (bolted) anchors, making that pitch more like 75m total. After that it was a quick grade III sprint to the summit, to perfectly coincide with the sunset! Golden light, cloud far below, no wind, the moon high above the peaks. A magical Picos moment.
Too bad we couldnt linger too long – we still had to find the start of the decent abseils before it got totally dark. Thankfully this went smoothly and we were on the ground in four torchlit ropelengths. I think we lost the path a bit on the walk down, but by this time we didnt really care. We got back to the tent at 1.30am, about 17 hours after we left, and with 17 pitches climbed in around 13 hours. Our water had lasted perfectly (4 litres), we had food in reserve, the weather had been kind, and we didnt need to bivi or bail from the route. Could we have had it better?
Anyway, enough wittering from me – here’s Seb’s video which says it all….