Words By
Alberto Mediavilla

The Naranjo de Bulnes, or Picu Urriellu as it is known by the locals, is the most iconic mountain in Spain. A rocky tower of top quality limestone, it requires technical climbing to reach its summit from every face. From the very first ascent of the mountain in 1904 by an aristocrat and a shepherd, to the most recent extreme free climbs by the Pou brothers and Alex Huber, it has set the milestones and the evolution of rock climbing in Spain.

But the Picu is much more than extreme free climbing or big wall aid epics. Among its more than 80 routes, there are climbs for any kind of (trad) climber, regardless of your grade. In this case, we are featuring the South Direct Route. This is the most popular line for novice climbers, due in no small part to its top quality rock, comfortable belay ledges and the possibility of an easy retreat.

The Approach

The shortest approach to the peak is from the North. Just before arriving at the village of Sotres, take the gravel road that leads to a place called “Pandeabano”, just below the pass of its namesake. From here, a well-defined and marked trail takes you to the Urriellu hut in around 2-2 and a half hours, or to the base of the South face in 3-3 and a half hours. The vertical gain is about 900m to the refuge and around 1,200m to the base of the South Face.

The Climb:

The climb follows a variety of rock features, including vertical runnels, pockets and dihedrals, over top quality, compact, sticky grey limestone which always has plenty of generous hold options.

1st Pitch (10m, V-): The reference for the start of the route are three parallel runnels just left of a dirty wide crack with a piton visible in the very centre of the wall. These runnels are the crux of the route and the belay (2 bolts and a chain) is just to the right of them.

2nd Pitch (35m, IV+): Starting with a short traverse to the right, after a first piton, the route follows quite straightforwardly to the next belay on a broad ledge, slightly to the left of the characteristic dihedral in the middle of the wall. 3 fixed pitons, several threads and plenty of friend placements make this a very safe pitch.

Note: the first two pitches can be linked into one, but watch out for rope drag!

3rd Pitch (25m, III+): This short pitch follows the characteristic dihedral and there’s a belay at the end of it (2 bolts and a chain).

4th Pitch (35m, IV+): In my opinion, this is the most beautiful pitch of the route. It goes straight up, following a perfect runnel that leaves you on the edge of the characteristic upper amphitheatre of the South Face. Once this pitch is navigated it’s the end of the main difficulties and, like the rest of the route, it’s clean with good, friendly placement options.

5th Pitch (35m, III): This easy, low angle pitch takes you to the end of the technical climbing on the route. Climb slightly to your right until you reach a broad ledge with the last belay (2 bolts and a chain). From this point, most teams will scramble un-roped (beware of loose rocks!), first traversing to the left, until you find a gully (II) that takes you straight to the middle of the summit ridge. Once up here, just hike to the top and enjoy the view!

Products used in this Summit Special

The Descent:

Reverse the scramble to the last belay. With 60m double ropes, you can descend quickly in three rappels:

  • Abseil 1 (35 m): From station #5 to #4.
  • Abseil 2 (58 m): From station #4 to #2.
  • Abseil 3 (50 m): From station #2 to the ground.

When to go

The best time of the year to climb the Naranjo is from late May to mid-October. If you plan to climb it any time up until early June, then be aware that crampons may still be necessary for the approach around the North Face.

Where to stay

The South Direct route can be climbed in a day, albeit a long one, from the valley, but most climbers prefer to take it easy and stay overnight at the refuge at the base of the magnificent West face. It’s best to book in advance – http://reservarefugios.com/

Many thanks to Alberto for his write up of Naranjo de Bulnes. If you’ve been inspired by this Summit Special then you can follow Alberto on Instagram and Facebook.

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Born in Bilbao, Alberto moved to the Picos de Europa almost 17 years ago, where he has developed a career as an International Mountain Leader and Avalanche Forecaster. Alberto also works as our Marketing & Communication Coordinator for the Spanish market.