So Seb arrived! In our eagerness to get stuck in we drove around to the south of the range, where the Fuente De cablecar allows quick access to the high altitude areas. In theory. The reality is more like a waiting game, the inefficiency of which defies logic. We kitted up, and walked over to the station at 8.30am, only to find a huge cue and discover that the first cablecar was not until 10am! Not 9am as we had thought. Add to this that the last scheduled return car was 7pm and we soon realised that this was not designed with climbers in mind. Anyway, we had committed ourselves to this plan now, so we paid up and waited for our number to come up. Around 10.30 we finally departed, and indeed it made short work of the steep ascent to the El Cable hut (otherwise a 3 hour hike). We set off into the moon-like landscape.
The heat now reaching debilitating levels, we decided not to push for the Uriellu Hut (under Naranjo de Bulnes) but to find something nearer to climb. The most popular choice, with cues already forming, was an uninspiring IV only 10 minutes from the Cable. We walked on by, and up scree switchbacks, staring at the huge limestone walls to our sides, deep tarns below us, and scurrying for shade whenever it presented itself.
Finally we identified a short climb (only two properly technical pitches) on an eye-catching spire of rock: Aguja de Canalona. The route was called Capricho TD inf. V+. Stashing our camping packs (with some relief!) we racked up and scrambled up the scree to the base. The first pitch was given III, up a chimney, after which there was easy ground to the start of the proper climbing. We watched a lone walker pass beneath us, on the track up to the col, don a helmet. That should have warned us about the state of the rock.
Having udged our way up the short section of III, we discovered that in the Picos “easy ground” is a synonym for ‘CHOSS’. We were moving together, roped together but not protected, when my slightest touch released a day-sack sized lump of otherwise solid looking rock. I pride myself in being pretty light-footed on friable rock, and very aware of loose blocks given my incident on Skye, but this took me by surprise. Suddenly the helmet wearing on a path made more sense!
Luckily the main section of the route, two pitches up an otherwise blank-looking face, were solid, delicate and plesantly featured. A good mix of fixed gear and trad placements, with just enough run-out to make it interesting. The route finished on a true little summit with good views, and the descent abseils were straightforward.
The heat of the day, and the crowds, had dissipated, so we enjoyed a stroll back down to the col near Cable and cut around eastward to camp down on the pleasant Aliva Meadows, taking advantage of the posh refuge/hotel there for dinner (a very generous 3-course deal, lovely bit of sea-bass, and a bottle of wine thrown in. Holidays!)