...with seven unexpected ice climbs

[caption id="attachment_5935" align="aligncenter" width="450"]At the end of a fantastic and unexpected ice climbing day. "And now, dinner!" At the end of a fantastic and unexpected ice climbing day. "And now, dinner!"[/caption]

Winter climbing at Serra da Estrela in Portugal, corresponds to wet, cold and uncomfortable journeys. After a day of action in slopes with deep snow, poor ice or wet mixed climbing under dense fog and heavy wind, the body feels creepy, tired. In this kind of days, the most unwary spirits or those initiated to these kind of labours, are invited to move to warmer places in search of more comfortable activities, less harsh. The stubborn ones...those always return. They fill the rucksacks with sharp equipment, they put on their hi-tech weatherproof armour, and come back to embrace the cold and the pain. More than once, that´s how it happened and certainly it will happen again. However, from time to time ... it’s not like this. From time to time ...

[caption id="attachment_5936" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Nice views Nice views[/caption]

As on other occasions, we traveled to Serra da Estrela without high hopes for great ice climbs. The temperature was not that cold in the previous week and we had torrential rain on the day of our arrival even in the highest altitude of our modest mountain. As usual, we parked in the village of Penhas da Saude at a location where we are used to spending the night.

[caption id="attachment_5937" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Luxury breakfast inside of our "micro-van", caringly nicknamed as "Berlingota". Luxury breakfast inside of our "micro-van", caringly nicknamed as "Berlingota".[/caption]

In the morning, the landscape was painted in immaculate white and the hope to climb anything in appropriate winter conditions returned. We didn’t have many expectations to inaugurate our new tools in pure ice, but we hoped to blow them in rock covered by a thin layer of fresh snow. That could be enough to calm our restless spirits. Regarding ideal conditions, Daniela and I are not too picky or too demanding. The basic idea is to enjoy whatever exists and adapt ourselves to the moment: snow, rock, ice ... Green Ice (something really ours!). No Rules!

We swallowed an espresso coffee…it was a long coffee as we had to wait for the road to open to access the snowy higher areas of our lovely mountains (it’s typical, every time it snows a little the road is closed by authorities!).

- Do we have a look at the Couves sector (Cabbage)? – that was my suggestion without believing in climbing and indeed, with no great desire to go outside the car. The wind was blowing violently, projecting humid powder snow against the windows of our car.

- Ok, lets go and have a look! - Daniela answered me with no signs of conviction.

[caption id="attachment_5938" align="aligncenter" width="450"]A typical day in the Serra da Estrela. "Do we climb?", "Mmmm ... nop! We’ll come back tomorrow!" A typical day in the Serra da Estrela. "Do we climb?", "Mmmm ... nop! We’ll come back tomorrow!"[/caption]

The Couves sector is the most accessible. It is a mere five or ten minutes far from the road and has a particular characteristic that makes it even more interesting. Typically, this sector is the indicator of how are the conditions for most of the other sectors. Although Serra da Estrela already has taught us that ice formation is governed by mysterious forces of chaos impossible to predict, the existence of the solid water on that sector determines the existence of ice in other sectors. So, if there was no ice there, it meant that we wouldn’t find it anywhere else.

Pushed by strong wind and getting damp by wet snow, we analysed the situation. The conditions promised a good adventure, 'Scottish' style probably. The ice route Couves was there but the ice was so thin that probably it was not possible to climb it. That was no surprise for us, given the rain and the heat of the days before.

We did not feel like living an epic and humid day so we decided to leave and come back the next day. And the next day awake cloudless and calm.

[caption id="attachment_5939" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Frozen ground on the way to a beautiful day. Frozen ground on the way to a beautiful day.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5940" align="aligncenter" width="450"]From night to day with the sudden drop in temperatures, the world transformed. The wonderful metamorphosis of Nature. From night to day with the sudden drop in temperatures, the world transformed. The wonderful metamorphosis of Nature.[/caption]

Again we headed to the Couves sector, convinced that we were going to climb a mixed route, without depositing hopes in pure ice.

Surprise, surprise! The ice was in much better conditions than the day before (in fact, it was even possible to climb two distinct ice lines where normally we find just one route) and on the left of Couves, where on the day before there was just liquid water, it formed another ice climb, the classic Diedro de Cristal (Crystal Dihedral). An ice-fall had formed suddenly, literally, from night to day!

- COOL! After all we will manage to inaugurate the new tools on ice, YEAHHHHHHH! - said Daniela, with shiny eyes.

[caption id="attachment_5941" align="aligncenter" width="450"]"I can´t believe it, we’re climbing ice!" Route nº 1 "I can´t believe it, we’re climbing ice!" Route nº 1[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5942" align="aligncenter" width="450"]In the more than classic “Couves”, this time, transformed into two lines! We climbed the left version (on the photo) and shortly after, we climbed the right version (Route nº2). In the more than classic “Couves”, this time, transformed into two lines! We climbed the left version (on the photo) and shortly after, we climbed the right version (Route nº2).[/caption]

A few hours later we had bagged three distinct routes, which even took ice-screws (short ones!) as a reasonable form of protection.

And like this, the new ice-axes passed the test on their own proper ground.

[caption id="attachment_5943" align="aligncenter" width="400"]"Diedro de Cristal” Route nº 3. "Diedro de Cristal” Route nº 3.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5944" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela in "Diedro de Cristal”. Daniela in "Diedro de Cristal”.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5945" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The top of "Diedro de Cristal”. The top of "Diedro de Cristal”.[/caption]

We went down a bit more on the slope; the snow was now in fine conditions. The rain of the days before had melted much snow but the leftovers were totally transformed, so we had to be careful. An unintended slip would certainly have unpleasant consequences.

[caption id="attachment_5946" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Nice hard snow! Nice hard snow![/caption]

We then went to the beautiful and classic Dama Oculta (Hidden Lady). - Wow!

The wall was fully covered with frozen snow and ice, interrupted here and there by rocky outcrops. The 'Lady' had become a technical line promising a nice climb, exactly what we seek in a mixed climbing route. What followed was a small adventure, not missing precarious ice impossible to protect, some more technical moves and good hooks on rock for the new toys.

[caption id="attachment_5947" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The beautiful “Dama Oculta”, technical and interesting. Route nº 4. The beautiful “Dama Oculta”, technical and interesting. Route nº 4.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5948" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Half way on the “Dama Oculta” Half way on the “Dama Oculta”[/caption]

After the last difficult moves, instead of going to the right and then down climbing like we usually do, we continued upward finding a bolted belay, half hidden beneath the meeting ice layer. I bolted this belay a couple of years ago but I totally forgot about it, so it was a nice surprise.

[caption id="attachment_5949" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela on the first steps of “Dama Oculta” Daniela on the first steps of “Dama Oculta”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5950" align="aligncenter" width="400"]...and arriving at the belay. ...and arriving at the belay.[/caption]

Looking up, we saw the upper walls frozen, a great invitation to climb a logical second pitch for Dama Oculta. After about 25m of climbing, sometimes with delicate but enjoyable moves, we christened this new extension pitch Dama Longa (Long Lady). It’s a nice pitch…when the ice conditions allow it!

[caption id="attachment_5951" align="aligncenter" width="400"]"Okay, we have ice, so we move upwards!" "Okay, we have ice, so we move upwards!"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5952" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Negotiating some moves on “Dama Longa”. Negotiating some moves on “Dama Longa”.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5953" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela almost at the top of “Dama Longa” Daniela almost at the top of “Dama Longa”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5954" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Still close to the end... Still close to the end...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5955" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Arriving at the belay...does she look happy or what? Arriving at the belay...does she look happy or what?[/caption]

Last year, when Daniela and I climbed Pepi te quiero (another classy multi-pitch route), we spotted a mysterious line. From Pepi, we could perfectly see the whole sector in which is, among other routes, Estrela Nocturna (Night Star). On the right side of this classic route, a continuous line of ice was now formed, thin and attractive, one of those promising a good psychological challenge. Last year, at the end of winter we were unable to make an attempt. Now, the memory of that line came back and made a "click" in our brain.

[caption id="attachment_5956" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The new DMM toys. They passed the test! The new DMM toys. They passed the test![/caption]

We parked the car on the side of the road and quickly walked down the ramp that accesses the Estrela Nocturna sector, and down there... bingo! There it was, a beautiful thin ice-line rising up the granite wall.

[caption id="attachment_5957" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Getting ready at the base of “Estrela Nocturna”, before starting what would become the best line of the weekend. Getting ready at the base of “Estrela Nocturna”, before starting what would become the best line of the weekend.[/caption]

The first pitch went up a thin layer of ice, typically difficult to protect, ending in the same platform of Estrela. But the greatest challenge was in the second pitch. A very attractive first wall with some 'cauliflower' formations (typical of the Serra da Estrela) led to the upper wall, where we found the real difficulties.

[caption id="attachment_5958" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The first pitch of the new “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Route nº 5. The first pitch of the new “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Route nº 5.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5959" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Still in the first pitch of the new route. Still in the first pitch of the new route.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5960" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela on the delicate ice of the first pitch. Daniela on the delicate ice of the first pitch.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5961" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Almost in the belay of the first pitch of the new route. Almost in the belay of the first pitch of the new route.[/caption]

The perfectly vertical ice wall seemed too fragile and most importantly, it was too thin to accept an ice-screw that could offer sufficient mental tranquillity in order not to make the climb a suicide mission. In case of failure, the landing on a platform was guaranteed. I tried a little to the right. I placed my ice-axe in a frozen tuft of grass ... it seemed solid. “Mmmm ...” I got suspicious. I went left; I climbed a ledge of rock and tried an horizontal traverse in order to get to a 'sheet' of thin ice. The axe was well placed but there was nothing reasonable to support my feet. The crampons scratched the ice precariously. The exposure was too big, not acceptable. Finally I prepared to give up. An easy terrain to the left would take me directly to the last belay of “Estrela Nocturna". However, one last look to the smooth granite wall on the left revealed a small detail. There it was, a small isolated crack, perhaps deep enough to accommodate a reasonable cam.

- Daniela, beware! I’ll make one last attempt!

[caption id="attachment_5962" align="aligncenter" width="400"]First moves in the first ice wall, before the crux. First moves in the first ice wall, before the crux.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5963" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Daniela watching from the first belay. Daniela watching from the first belay.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5964" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Almost at the end of the first wall of the second pitch. The vertical and exposed “wall of ice” where the crux was is out of sight…it gave me some cold sweats and a proportional joy. Almost at the end of the first wall of the second pitch. The vertical and exposed “wall of ice” where the crux was is out of sight…it gave me some cold sweats and a proportional joy.[/caption]

Daniela was out of sight. We could not see each other but judging from the time I was consuming in this section of the climb, she certainly guessed that things would not be easy.

A small precarious placement on pure rock allowed me to open my legs and gain a stable position. One foot on a rock, the other tip of the crampon in a tiny frozen tuff of grass. I reached the small crack and immediately placed a cam inside it. A quick inspection allowed me to trust that protection. Nice! Finally I found a way to solve that delicate section. An unbalanced "dry - tooling" move allowed me to stretch and place the right tool on thin ice, but now I definitely needed to get back to the vertical line of the ice formation. I had half of my body on the ice and half still on rock. I changed hands in the same ice-axe and placed the second tool a bit further away. I breathe deeply before I decide to move again. A few meters later my eyes still had a look at the cam, already down there. In the case of a fall, there would be a 'nice' pendulum effect and there was a real risk of impact. Anyway, those were thoughts that no longer mattered. Now I was totally focused and both tools were well placed. Some awesome mixed climbing moves with good protection appeared for the perfect ending of this new line. Daniela climbed everything and when we met again in the belay we said almost at the same time: - Awesome route!

[caption id="attachment_5965" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela doing the last mixed climbing moves of “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Daniela doing the last mixed climbing moves of “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness".[/caption]

All those routes we climbed were enough to consider these days as…productive days, however, a thin line of ice that we had never seen formed, blinked it’s eyes to us ... and we could not resist! This was a delicate ice line with some spicy moves because the only decent protection point was an hex hammered in a frozen crack…the wonderful pleasures of winter climbing!

[caption id="attachment_5967" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Two moments on the new route "PI - Pequena Intensa (Small intense)". Route nº 6. Two moments on the new route "PI - Pequena Intensa (Small intense)". Route nº 6.[/caption]

To end the day we still climbed one more ultra-classical ice route, immediately before it started to rain. That rain would destroy again the crystal works of art made by wintry nature, a typical phenomenon that only confirms the extremely ephemeral ice in our Serra da Estrela.

[caption id="attachment_5968" align="aligncenter" width="400"]In the ultra-classical "Cascata da Curva do Cântaro", ending two fabulous days of ice-climbing. Route nº 7. In the ultra-classical "Cascata da Curva do Cântaro", ending two fabulous days of ice-climbing. Route nº 7.[/caption]

Winter climbing at Serra da Estrela in Portugal, corresponds to wet, cold and uncomfortable journeys…

However, from time to time... it’s not like this. From time to time, with some persistence and using the imagination, it’s possible to add to the good days, excellent conditions, and those are the moments that fulfil the mind, leaving you smiling for a long time...

... at least until the next time!

Paulo Roxo

[caption id="attachment_5969" align="aligncenter" width="450"]“Yeahhhhhhh!” “Yeahhhhhhh!”[/caption]

And... the Topos:

...with seven unexpected ice climbs

[caption id="attachment_5935" align="aligncenter" width="450"]At the end of a fantastic and unexpected ice climbing day. "And now, dinner!" At the end of a fantastic and unexpected ice climbing day. "And now, dinner!"[/caption]

Winter climbing at Serra da Estrela in Portugal, corresponds to wet, cold and uncomfortable journeys. After a day of action in slopes with deep snow, poor ice or wet mixed climbing under dense fog and heavy wind, the body feels creepy, tired. In this kind of days, the most unwary spirits or those initiated to these kind of labours, are invited to move to warmer places in search of more comfortable activities, less harsh. The stubborn ones...those always return. They fill the rucksacks with sharp equipment, they put on their hi-tech weatherproof armour, and come back to embrace the cold and the pain. More than once, that´s how it happened and certainly it will happen again. However, from time to time ... it’s not like this. From time to time ...

[caption id="attachment_5936" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Nice views Nice views[/caption]

As on other occasions, we traveled to Serra da Estrela without high hopes for great ice climbs. The temperature was not that cold in the previous week and we had torrential rain on the day of our arrival even in the highest altitude of our modest mountain. As usual, we parked in the village of Penhas da Saude at a location where we are used to spending the night.

[caption id="attachment_5937" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Luxury breakfast inside of our "micro-van", caringly nicknamed as "Berlingota". Luxury breakfast inside of our "micro-van", caringly nicknamed as "Berlingota".[/caption]

In the morning, the landscape was painted in immaculate white and the hope to climb anything in appropriate winter conditions returned. We didn’t have many expectations to inaugurate our new tools in pure ice, but we hoped to blow them in rock covered by a thin layer of fresh snow. That could be enough to calm our restless spirits. Regarding ideal conditions, Daniela and I are not too picky or too demanding. The basic idea is to enjoy whatever exists and adapt ourselves to the moment: snow, rock, ice ... Green Ice (something really ours!). No Rules!

We swallowed an espresso coffee…it was a long coffee as we had to wait for the road to open to access the snowy higher areas of our lovely mountains (it’s typical, every time it snows a little the road is closed by authorities!).

- Do we have a look at the Couves sector (Cabbage)? – that was my suggestion without believing in climbing and indeed, with no great desire to go outside the car. The wind was blowing violently, projecting humid powder snow against the windows of our car.

- Ok, lets go and have a look! - Daniela answered me with no signs of conviction.

[caption id="attachment_5938" align="aligncenter" width="450"]A typical day in the Serra da Estrela. "Do we climb?", "Mmmm ... nop! We’ll come back tomorrow!" A typical day in the Serra da Estrela. "Do we climb?", "Mmmm ... nop! We’ll come back tomorrow!"[/caption]

The Couves sector is the most accessible. It is a mere five or ten minutes far from the road and has a particular characteristic that makes it even more interesting. Typically, this sector is the indicator of how are the conditions for most of the other sectors. Although Serra da Estrela already has taught us that ice formation is governed by mysterious forces of chaos impossible to predict, the existence of the solid water on that sector determines the existence of ice in other sectors. So, if there was no ice there, it meant that we wouldn’t find it anywhere else.

Pushed by strong wind and getting damp by wet snow, we analysed the situation. The conditions promised a good adventure, 'Scottish' style probably. The ice route Couves was there but the ice was so thin that probably it was not possible to climb it. That was no surprise for us, given the rain and the heat of the days before.

We did not feel like living an epic and humid day so we decided to leave and come back the next day. And the next day awake cloudless and calm.

[caption id="attachment_5939" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Frozen ground on the way to a beautiful day. Frozen ground on the way to a beautiful day.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5940" align="aligncenter" width="450"]From night to day with the sudden drop in temperatures, the world transformed. The wonderful metamorphosis of Nature. From night to day with the sudden drop in temperatures, the world transformed. The wonderful metamorphosis of Nature.[/caption]

Again we headed to the Couves sector, convinced that we were going to climb a mixed route, without depositing hopes in pure ice.

Surprise, surprise! The ice was in much better conditions than the day before (in fact, it was even possible to climb two distinct ice lines where normally we find just one route) and on the left of Couves, where on the day before there was just liquid water, it formed another ice climb, the classic Diedro de Cristal (Crystal Dihedral). An ice-fall had formed suddenly, literally, from night to day!

- COOL! After all we will manage to inaugurate the new tools on ice, YEAHHHHHHH! - said Daniela, with shiny eyes.

[caption id="attachment_5941" align="aligncenter" width="450"]"I can´t believe it, we’re climbing ice!" Route nº 1 "I can´t believe it, we’re climbing ice!" Route nº 1[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5942" align="aligncenter" width="450"]In the more than classic “Couves”, this time, transformed into two lines! We climbed the left version (on the photo) and shortly after, we climbed the right version (Route nº2). In the more than classic “Couves”, this time, transformed into two lines! We climbed the left version (on the photo) and shortly after, we climbed the right version (Route nº2).[/caption]

A few hours later we had bagged three distinct routes, which even took ice-screws (short ones!) as a reasonable form of protection.

And like this, the new ice-axes passed the test on their own proper ground.

[caption id="attachment_5943" align="aligncenter" width="400"]"Diedro de Cristal” Route nº 3. "Diedro de Cristal” Route nº 3.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5944" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela in "Diedro de Cristal”. Daniela in "Diedro de Cristal”.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5945" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The top of "Diedro de Cristal”. The top of "Diedro de Cristal”.[/caption]

We went down a bit more on the slope; the snow was now in fine conditions. The rain of the days before had melted much snow but the leftovers were totally transformed, so we had to be careful. An unintended slip would certainly have unpleasant consequences.

[caption id="attachment_5946" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Nice hard snow! Nice hard snow![/caption]

We then went to the beautiful and classic Dama Oculta (Hidden Lady). - Wow!

The wall was fully covered with frozen snow and ice, interrupted here and there by rocky outcrops. The 'Lady' had become a technical line promising a nice climb, exactly what we seek in a mixed climbing route. What followed was a small adventure, not missing precarious ice impossible to protect, some more technical moves and good hooks on rock for the new toys.

[caption id="attachment_5947" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The beautiful “Dama Oculta”, technical and interesting. Route nº 4. The beautiful “Dama Oculta”, technical and interesting. Route nº 4.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5948" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Half way on the “Dama Oculta” Half way on the “Dama Oculta”[/caption]

After the last difficult moves, instead of going to the right and then down climbing like we usually do, we continued upward finding a bolted belay, half hidden beneath the meeting ice layer. I bolted this belay a couple of years ago but I totally forgot about it, so it was a nice surprise.

[caption id="attachment_5949" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela on the first steps of “Dama Oculta” Daniela on the first steps of “Dama Oculta”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5950" align="aligncenter" width="400"]...and arriving at the belay. ...and arriving at the belay.[/caption]

Looking up, we saw the upper walls frozen, a great invitation to climb a logical second pitch for Dama Oculta. After about 25m of climbing, sometimes with delicate but enjoyable moves, we christened this new extension pitch Dama Longa (Long Lady). It’s a nice pitch…when the ice conditions allow it!

[caption id="attachment_5951" align="aligncenter" width="400"]"Okay, we have ice, so we move upwards!" "Okay, we have ice, so we move upwards!"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5952" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Negotiating some moves on “Dama Longa”. Negotiating some moves on “Dama Longa”.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5953" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela almost at the top of “Dama Longa” Daniela almost at the top of “Dama Longa”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5954" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Still close to the end... Still close to the end...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5955" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Arriving at the belay...does she look happy or what? Arriving at the belay...does she look happy or what?[/caption]

Last year, when Daniela and I climbed Pepi te quiero (another classy multi-pitch route), we spotted a mysterious line. From Pepi, we could perfectly see the whole sector in which is, among other routes, Estrela Nocturna (Night Star). On the right side of this classic route, a continuous line of ice was now formed, thin and attractive, one of those promising a good psychological challenge. Last year, at the end of winter we were unable to make an attempt. Now, the memory of that line came back and made a "click" in our brain.

[caption id="attachment_5956" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The new DMM toys. They passed the test! The new DMM toys. They passed the test![/caption]

We parked the car on the side of the road and quickly walked down the ramp that accesses the Estrela Nocturna sector, and down there... bingo! There it was, a beautiful thin ice-line rising up the granite wall.

[caption id="attachment_5957" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Getting ready at the base of “Estrela Nocturna”, before starting what would become the best line of the weekend. Getting ready at the base of “Estrela Nocturna”, before starting what would become the best line of the weekend.[/caption]

The first pitch went up a thin layer of ice, typically difficult to protect, ending in the same platform of Estrela. But the greatest challenge was in the second pitch. A very attractive first wall with some 'cauliflower' formations (typical of the Serra da Estrela) led to the upper wall, where we found the real difficulties.

[caption id="attachment_5958" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The first pitch of the new “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Route nº 5. The first pitch of the new “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Route nº 5.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5959" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Still in the first pitch of the new route. Still in the first pitch of the new route.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5960" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela on the delicate ice of the first pitch. Daniela on the delicate ice of the first pitch.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5961" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Almost in the belay of the first pitch of the new route. Almost in the belay of the first pitch of the new route.[/caption]

The perfectly vertical ice wall seemed too fragile and most importantly, it was too thin to accept an ice-screw that could offer sufficient mental tranquillity in order not to make the climb a suicide mission. In case of failure, the landing on a platform was guaranteed. I tried a little to the right. I placed my ice-axe in a frozen tuft of grass ... it seemed solid. “Mmmm ...” I got suspicious. I went left; I climbed a ledge of rock and tried an horizontal traverse in order to get to a 'sheet' of thin ice. The axe was well placed but there was nothing reasonable to support my feet. The crampons scratched the ice precariously. The exposure was too big, not acceptable. Finally I prepared to give up. An easy terrain to the left would take me directly to the last belay of “Estrela Nocturna". However, one last look to the smooth granite wall on the left revealed a small detail. There it was, a small isolated crack, perhaps deep enough to accommodate a reasonable cam.

- Daniela, beware! I’ll make one last attempt!

[caption id="attachment_5962" align="aligncenter" width="400"]First moves in the first ice wall, before the crux. First moves in the first ice wall, before the crux.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5963" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Daniela watching from the first belay. Daniela watching from the first belay.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5964" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Almost at the end of the first wall of the second pitch. The vertical and exposed “wall of ice” where the crux was is out of sight…it gave me some cold sweats and a proportional joy. Almost at the end of the first wall of the second pitch. The vertical and exposed “wall of ice” where the crux was is out of sight…it gave me some cold sweats and a proportional joy.[/caption]

Daniela was out of sight. We could not see each other but judging from the time I was consuming in this section of the climb, she certainly guessed that things would not be easy.

A small precarious placement on pure rock allowed me to open my legs and gain a stable position. One foot on a rock, the other tip of the crampon in a tiny frozen tuff of grass. I reached the small crack and immediately placed a cam inside it. A quick inspection allowed me to trust that protection. Nice! Finally I found a way to solve that delicate section. An unbalanced "dry - tooling" move allowed me to stretch and place the right tool on thin ice, but now I definitely needed to get back to the vertical line of the ice formation. I had half of my body on the ice and half still on rock. I changed hands in the same ice-axe and placed the second tool a bit further away. I breathe deeply before I decide to move again. A few meters later my eyes still had a look at the cam, already down there. In the case of a fall, there would be a 'nice' pendulum effect and there was a real risk of impact. Anyway, those were thoughts that no longer mattered. Now I was totally focused and both tools were well placed. Some awesome mixed climbing moves with good protection appeared for the perfect ending of this new line. Daniela climbed everything and when we met again in the belay we said almost at the same time: - Awesome route!

[caption id="attachment_5965" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela doing the last mixed climbing moves of “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Daniela doing the last mixed climbing moves of “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness".[/caption]

All those routes we climbed were enough to consider these days as…productive days, however, a thin line of ice that we had never seen formed, blinked it’s eyes to us ... and we could not resist! This was a delicate ice line with some spicy moves because the only decent protection point was an hex hammered in a frozen crack…the wonderful pleasures of winter climbing!

[caption id="attachment_5967" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Two moments on the new route "PI - Pequena Intensa (Small intense)". Route nº 6. Two moments on the new route "PI - Pequena Intensa (Small intense)". Route nº 6.[/caption]

To end the day we still climbed one more ultra-classical ice route, immediately before it started to rain. That rain would destroy again the crystal works of art made by wintry nature, a typical phenomenon that only confirms the extremely ephemeral ice in our Serra da Estrela.

[caption id="attachment_5968" align="aligncenter" width="400"]In the ultra-classical "Cascata da Curva do Cântaro", ending two fabulous days of ice-climbing. Route nº 7. In the ultra-classical "Cascata da Curva do Cântaro", ending two fabulous days of ice-climbing. Route nº 7.[/caption]

Winter climbing at Serra da Estrela in Portugal, corresponds to wet, cold and uncomfortable journeys…

However, from time to time... it’s not like this. From time to time, with some persistence and using the imagination, it’s possible to add to the good days, excellent conditions, and those are the moments that fulfil the mind, leaving you smiling for a long time...

... at least until the next time!

Paulo Roxo

[caption id="attachment_5969" align="aligncenter" width="450"]“Yeahhhhhhh!” “Yeahhhhhhh!”[/caption]

And... the Topos:

...with seven unexpected ice climbs

[caption id="attachment_5935" align="aligncenter" width="450"]At the end of a fantastic and unexpected ice climbing day. "And now, dinner!" At the end of a fantastic and unexpected ice climbing day. "And now, dinner!"[/caption]

Winter climbing at Serra da Estrela in Portugal, corresponds to wet, cold and uncomfortable journeys. After a day of action in slopes with deep snow, poor ice or wet mixed climbing under dense fog and heavy wind, the body feels creepy, tired. In this kind of days, the most unwary spirits or those initiated to these kind of labours, are invited to move to warmer places in search of more comfortable activities, less harsh. The stubborn ones...those always return. They fill the rucksacks with sharp equipment, they put on their hi-tech weatherproof armour, and come back to embrace the cold and the pain. More than once, that´s how it happened and certainly it will happen again. However, from time to time ... it’s not like this. From time to time ...

[caption id="attachment_5936" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Nice views Nice views[/caption]

As on other occasions, we traveled to Serra da Estrela without high hopes for great ice climbs. The temperature was not that cold in the previous week and we had torrential rain on the day of our arrival even in the highest altitude of our modest mountain. As usual, we parked in the village of Penhas da Saude at a location where we are used to spending the night.

[caption id="attachment_5937" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Luxury breakfast inside of our "micro-van", caringly nicknamed as "Berlingota". Luxury breakfast inside of our "micro-van", caringly nicknamed as "Berlingota".[/caption]

In the morning, the landscape was painted in immaculate white and the hope to climb anything in appropriate winter conditions returned. We didn’t have many expectations to inaugurate our new tools in pure ice, but we hoped to blow them in rock covered by a thin layer of fresh snow. That could be enough to calm our restless spirits. Regarding ideal conditions, Daniela and I are not too picky or too demanding. The basic idea is to enjoy whatever exists and adapt ourselves to the moment: snow, rock, ice ... Green Ice (something really ours!). No Rules!

We swallowed an espresso coffee…it was a long coffee as we had to wait for the road to open to access the snowy higher areas of our lovely mountains (it’s typical, every time it snows a little the road is closed by authorities!).

- Do we have a look at the Couves sector (Cabbage)? – that was my suggestion without believing in climbing and indeed, with no great desire to go outside the car. The wind was blowing violently, projecting humid powder snow against the windows of our car.

- Ok, lets go and have a look! - Daniela answered me with no signs of conviction.

[caption id="attachment_5938" align="aligncenter" width="450"]A typical day in the Serra da Estrela. "Do we climb?", "Mmmm ... nop! We’ll come back tomorrow!" A typical day in the Serra da Estrela. "Do we climb?", "Mmmm ... nop! We’ll come back tomorrow!"[/caption]

The Couves sector is the most accessible. It is a mere five or ten minutes far from the road and has a particular characteristic that makes it even more interesting. Typically, this sector is the indicator of how are the conditions for most of the other sectors. Although Serra da Estrela already has taught us that ice formation is governed by mysterious forces of chaos impossible to predict, the existence of the solid water on that sector determines the existence of ice in other sectors. So, if there was no ice there, it meant that we wouldn’t find it anywhere else.

Pushed by strong wind and getting damp by wet snow, we analysed the situation. The conditions promised a good adventure, 'Scottish' style probably. The ice route Couves was there but the ice was so thin that probably it was not possible to climb it. That was no surprise for us, given the rain and the heat of the days before.

We did not feel like living an epic and humid day so we decided to leave and come back the next day. And the next day awake cloudless and calm.

[caption id="attachment_5939" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Frozen ground on the way to a beautiful day. Frozen ground on the way to a beautiful day.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5940" align="aligncenter" width="450"]From night to day with the sudden drop in temperatures, the world transformed. The wonderful metamorphosis of Nature. From night to day with the sudden drop in temperatures, the world transformed. The wonderful metamorphosis of Nature.[/caption]

Again we headed to the Couves sector, convinced that we were going to climb a mixed route, without depositing hopes in pure ice.

Surprise, surprise! The ice was in much better conditions than the day before (in fact, it was even possible to climb two distinct ice lines where normally we find just one route) and on the left of Couves, where on the day before there was just liquid water, it formed another ice climb, the classic Diedro de Cristal (Crystal Dihedral). An ice-fall had formed suddenly, literally, from night to day!

- COOL! After all we will manage to inaugurate the new tools on ice, YEAHHHHHHH! - said Daniela, with shiny eyes.

[caption id="attachment_5941" align="aligncenter" width="450"]"I can´t believe it, we’re climbing ice!" Route nº 1 "I can´t believe it, we’re climbing ice!" Route nº 1[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5942" align="aligncenter" width="450"]In the more than classic “Couves”, this time, transformed into two lines! We climbed the left version (on the photo) and shortly after, we climbed the right version (Route nº2). In the more than classic “Couves”, this time, transformed into two lines! We climbed the left version (on the photo) and shortly after, we climbed the right version (Route nº2).[/caption]

A few hours later we had bagged three distinct routes, which even took ice-screws (short ones!) as a reasonable form of protection.

And like this, the new ice-axes passed the test on their own proper ground.

[caption id="attachment_5943" align="aligncenter" width="400"]"Diedro de Cristal” Route nº 3. "Diedro de Cristal” Route nº 3.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5944" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela in "Diedro de Cristal”. Daniela in "Diedro de Cristal”.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5945" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The top of "Diedro de Cristal”. The top of "Diedro de Cristal”.[/caption]

We went down a bit more on the slope; the snow was now in fine conditions. The rain of the days before had melted much snow but the leftovers were totally transformed, so we had to be careful. An unintended slip would certainly have unpleasant consequences.

[caption id="attachment_5946" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Nice hard snow! Nice hard snow![/caption]

We then went to the beautiful and classic Dama Oculta (Hidden Lady). - Wow!

The wall was fully covered with frozen snow and ice, interrupted here and there by rocky outcrops. The 'Lady' had become a technical line promising a nice climb, exactly what we seek in a mixed climbing route. What followed was a small adventure, not missing precarious ice impossible to protect, some more technical moves and good hooks on rock for the new toys.

[caption id="attachment_5947" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The beautiful “Dama Oculta”, technical and interesting. Route nº 4. The beautiful “Dama Oculta”, technical and interesting. Route nº 4.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5948" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Half way on the “Dama Oculta” Half way on the “Dama Oculta”[/caption]

After the last difficult moves, instead of going to the right and then down climbing like we usually do, we continued upward finding a bolted belay, half hidden beneath the meeting ice layer. I bolted this belay a couple of years ago but I totally forgot about it, so it was a nice surprise.

[caption id="attachment_5949" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela on the first steps of “Dama Oculta” Daniela on the first steps of “Dama Oculta”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5950" align="aligncenter" width="400"]...and arriving at the belay. ...and arriving at the belay.[/caption]

Looking up, we saw the upper walls frozen, a great invitation to climb a logical second pitch for Dama Oculta. After about 25m of climbing, sometimes with delicate but enjoyable moves, we christened this new extension pitch Dama Longa (Long Lady). It’s a nice pitch…when the ice conditions allow it!

[caption id="attachment_5951" align="aligncenter" width="400"]"Okay, we have ice, so we move upwards!" "Okay, we have ice, so we move upwards!"[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5952" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Negotiating some moves on “Dama Longa”. Negotiating some moves on “Dama Longa”.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5953" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela almost at the top of “Dama Longa” Daniela almost at the top of “Dama Longa”[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5954" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Still close to the end... Still close to the end...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5955" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Arriving at the belay...does she look happy or what? Arriving at the belay...does she look happy or what?[/caption]

Last year, when Daniela and I climbed Pepi te quiero (another classy multi-pitch route), we spotted a mysterious line. From Pepi, we could perfectly see the whole sector in which is, among other routes, Estrela Nocturna (Night Star). On the right side of this classic route, a continuous line of ice was now formed, thin and attractive, one of those promising a good psychological challenge. Last year, at the end of winter we were unable to make an attempt. Now, the memory of that line came back and made a "click" in our brain.

[caption id="attachment_5956" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The new DMM toys. They passed the test! The new DMM toys. They passed the test![/caption]

We parked the car on the side of the road and quickly walked down the ramp that accesses the Estrela Nocturna sector, and down there... bingo! There it was, a beautiful thin ice-line rising up the granite wall.

[caption id="attachment_5957" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Getting ready at the base of “Estrela Nocturna”, before starting what would become the best line of the weekend. Getting ready at the base of “Estrela Nocturna”, before starting what would become the best line of the weekend.[/caption]

The first pitch went up a thin layer of ice, typically difficult to protect, ending in the same platform of Estrela. But the greatest challenge was in the second pitch. A very attractive first wall with some 'cauliflower' formations (typical of the Serra da Estrela) led to the upper wall, where we found the real difficulties.

[caption id="attachment_5958" align="aligncenter" width="450"]The first pitch of the new “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Route nº 5. The first pitch of the new “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Route nº 5.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5959" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Still in the first pitch of the new route. Still in the first pitch of the new route.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5960" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela on the delicate ice of the first pitch. Daniela on the delicate ice of the first pitch.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5961" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Almost in the belay of the first pitch of the new route. Almost in the belay of the first pitch of the new route.[/caption]

The perfectly vertical ice wall seemed too fragile and most importantly, it was too thin to accept an ice-screw that could offer sufficient mental tranquillity in order not to make the climb a suicide mission. In case of failure, the landing on a platform was guaranteed. I tried a little to the right. I placed my ice-axe in a frozen tuft of grass ... it seemed solid. “Mmmm ...” I got suspicious. I went left; I climbed a ledge of rock and tried an horizontal traverse in order to get to a 'sheet' of thin ice. The axe was well placed but there was nothing reasonable to support my feet. The crampons scratched the ice precariously. The exposure was too big, not acceptable. Finally I prepared to give up. An easy terrain to the left would take me directly to the last belay of “Estrela Nocturna". However, one last look to the smooth granite wall on the left revealed a small detail. There it was, a small isolated crack, perhaps deep enough to accommodate a reasonable cam.

- Daniela, beware! I’ll make one last attempt!

[caption id="attachment_5962" align="aligncenter" width="400"]First moves in the first ice wall, before the crux. First moves in the first ice wall, before the crux.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5963" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Daniela watching from the first belay. Daniela watching from the first belay.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_5964" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Almost at the end of the first wall of the second pitch. The vertical and exposed “wall of ice” where the crux was is out of sight…it gave me some cold sweats and a proportional joy. Almost at the end of the first wall of the second pitch. The vertical and exposed “wall of ice” where the crux was is out of sight…it gave me some cold sweats and a proportional joy.[/caption]

Daniela was out of sight. We could not see each other but judging from the time I was consuming in this section of the climb, she certainly guessed that things would not be easy.

A small precarious placement on pure rock allowed me to open my legs and gain a stable position. One foot on a rock, the other tip of the crampon in a tiny frozen tuff of grass. I reached the small crack and immediately placed a cam inside it. A quick inspection allowed me to trust that protection. Nice! Finally I found a way to solve that delicate section. An unbalanced "dry - tooling" move allowed me to stretch and place the right tool on thin ice, but now I definitely needed to get back to the vertical line of the ice formation. I had half of my body on the ice and half still on rock. I changed hands in the same ice-axe and placed the second tool a bit further away. I breathe deeply before I decide to move again. A few meters later my eyes still had a look at the cam, already down there. In the case of a fall, there would be a 'nice' pendulum effect and there was a real risk of impact. Anyway, those were thoughts that no longer mattered. Now I was totally focused and both tools were well placed. Some awesome mixed climbing moves with good protection appeared for the perfect ending of this new line. Daniela climbed everything and when we met again in the belay we said almost at the same time: - Awesome route!

[caption id="attachment_5965" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Daniela doing the last mixed climbing moves of “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness". Daniela doing the last mixed climbing moves of “DMM - Delightful Mountain Madness".[/caption]

All those routes we climbed were enough to consider these days as…productive days, however, a thin line of ice that we had never seen formed, blinked it’s eyes to us ... and we could not resist! This was a delicate ice line with some spicy moves because the only decent protection point was an hex hammered in a frozen crack…the wonderful pleasures of winter climbing!

[caption id="attachment_5967" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Two moments on the new route "PI - Pequena Intensa (Small intense)". Route nº 6. Two moments on the new route "PI - Pequena Intensa (Small intense)". Route nº 6.[/caption]

To end the day we still climbed one more ultra-classical ice route, immediately before it started to rain. That rain would destroy again the crystal works of art made by wintry nature, a typical phenomenon that only confirms the extremely ephemeral ice in our Serra da Estrela.

[caption id="attachment_5968" align="aligncenter" width="400"]In the ultra-classical "Cascata da Curva do Cântaro", ending two fabulous days of ice-climbing. Route nº 7. In the ultra-classical "Cascata da Curva do Cântaro", ending two fabulous days of ice-climbing. Route nº 7.[/caption]

Winter climbing at Serra da Estrela in Portugal, corresponds to wet, cold and uncomfortable journeys…

However, from time to time... it’s not like this. From time to time, with some persistence and using the imagination, it’s possible to add to the good days, excellent conditions, and those are the moments that fulfil the mind, leaving you smiling for a long time...

... at least until the next time!

Paulo Roxo

[caption id="attachment_5969" align="aligncenter" width="450"]“Yeahhhhhhh!” “Yeahhhhhhh!”[/caption]

And... the Topos: