El Desfiladero de La Hermida – A Review by Steve Crowe
The latest climbing guide from Richie Patterson is for La Hermida Gorge situated in the Asturias/Cantabria region of North West Spain. This valley is covered in the second edition of the Roca Verde guide but his new guide is the definitive guidebook to El Desfiladero de La Hermida and it reveals all the secrets to the most sought-after crags of the valley. This new edition includes a lot more easier sectors like Cabanes, Vendejo, Placas de la Mora, Bejes and Pendes that give more options for a ‘mixed ability party’.
The whole gorge, from the sea cliffs of Pechon on the coast, to the scattered outcrops on the alpine meadows of Cabanes, offers a fantastic variety of single pitch sport climbing. Many of the limestone crags are dripping with tufas, with routes graded from very easy on accessible roadside slabs to almost impossibly steep 9a’s in the world class cave up at Carcalosa. There are more accessible routes at Carcalosa though you want to be climbing grade 7’s to get the best out of the steep 45 minute approach. Dimensiones Paralelas is a 40m route that climbs the amazing twin tufas and is a much sought-after prize at 7c+. Cicera is a well-established north facing venue which is only 20 minutes walk, mostly on a good trail, and it offers a great range of grades but it’s best for climbers operating in the high 7’s and 8’s. Both Pacifis 7b+ & Troncomovil 8a are justifiably popular. Another new venue that is definitely worth checking out is Estragueña. It is quite small but the dozen or so 35m long routes are packed with quality from 7a+ to 7c+ with Marabunta 7a+ & Princesa deva 7a+ standing out from the crowd.
If all that sounds a bit daunting then the roadside sector at Urdon offers a great variety of easier routes but beware that the popular El pájaro momificado 6b is not a pushover! Efecto dominó is a superb pumpy 7b. There are a pair of popular 8a’s here too. Urdon is south facing but there is a huge mountain that casts a big shadow providing more shade than you may expect. Furthermore, the parking is shared with the most popular walk in the area so arrive early to avoid disappointment.
The quieter Valle de Bejes, has lots of smaller accessible venues that are ideal for novices. Calabreru is the exception with tricky access and harder climbs in the 7’s and 8’s. The village of Bejes is worth visiting on a rest day. There is a spring for fresh water, a bar and many cheese shops. This is also the starting point for some great walks into the very heart of the Picos de Europa.
Rumenes is certainly the main attraction with many well-established sectors but it is the long sustained stamina test pieces up on Chorreras that will draw me back again and again. Rumenes power y al vino 7a+ is up there with the best anywhere but don’t forget to pack your knee pads especially if you’re going to enjoy thrutching up Tubular hell 7b+ and the mega classic 50m long Sindrome de Stendhal 8a which is the epitome of tufa endurance climbing. One of the few disappointments with the new edition is that it still doesn’t indicate that Sindrome de Stendhal actually has two extensions so be sure to sweep left at the junction a short way above the 7c+ belay. The more direct finish has been climbed but is harder and was still a little dirty.
As you travel further up the gorge there are some more smaller river side sectors to check out, 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 7c’s and three 8a’s. Further south rising up out of the valley is La Collada de Cabanes, this is a great spot for mid-grade climbers. There is a good spread of grades across half a dozen sectors and superb views of the Picos de Europa to enjoy.
Beyond the ancient town of 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.
The crags in La Hermida Gorge are excellent and generally much quieter than the world-famous cousins like Rodellar and there have been no issues with climbers sleeping in their vans. This area is mountainous and near to the Atlantic coast, therefore the weather can be more turbulent and less reliable than the Mediterranean coast. Late summer and early autumn is certainly the most reliable time to visit this area especially if you are keen to climb the tufa routes, I’d suggest July through to October although I’ve heard recent seasons have extended well into December.
Sport climbing here can be easily combined with hill walks and multi pitch climbs in the magnificent mountains of the adjacent Picos de Europa as well as surfing off stunning beaches along the Cantabrian Coast (aka Costa Verde). There are plenty of rest day activities in the area. The attractive old town of Potes is situated on the confluence of four rivers and provides an excellent selection of shops, cafes and restaurants. La Reunion is the climbers bar and is well worth seeking out for their excellent ambiance. Don’t overlook the opportunity to enjoy the freely accessible hot springs situated underneath the bridge that leads to the Balneario Spa Hotel. A superb way to relax on a rest day from the powerful wrestling with those many steep tufa climbs.
There is a lifetime’s worth of climbing across the many varied areas inland from Spain’s Atlantic Coast. The crags covered by El Desfiladero de La Hermida alone could keep you entertained for many climbing trips, there is certainly something for everyone. A 70m rope should be considered a minimum but some of the newer hard routes advise a 100m rope as preferable, 20 quickdraws should be enough for most of the routes covered in this guide.
As with the previous Roca Verde, a generous percentage of the profits from the sale of this guide will go to the bolt fund and will be used to assist with the continued development of the sport climbing in the area.
Travelling from the UK head to Santander by air or overnight ferry. The crags are less than an hour’s drive away.
The guide (176 pages, 32 crags and nearly 700 routes starting from III+) is available from www.rocaverdeclimbing.com for £20
Steve Crowe has been climbing for over 40years and is still striving to improve. He was climbed around the world at a consistently high level, establishing new routes up to 8b and E7. The sea cliffs of Mingulay and Pabbay remains his favourite climbing area. He has written three climbing guides to Northumberland and the North York Moors and runs the climbing website Climbonline | Climbing Online since 2004. He is also very passionate about the great variety of sport climbing across Spain.