It was already spring and our special order had not yet arrived.
After the last winter activity in the Serra da Estrela, we were still expecting an extra extended weekend to close the season. This weekend came from the 13th to the 16th of April, when we recognized some good weather days for the Pyrenees.
In our mind there was a line in Gabietos, a 3000m peak.
The northwest wall of Gabietos, Pyrenees.
On the 12th, a day after finally receiving such a secret special order, we headed to Spain.
On the following day, with little patience to the traditional approach to sleep near the face of Gabietos (carrying all the equipment, food, overnight gear, in addition to the typical technical material, and sleep relatively close to the wall) we decided to sleep near by the car, and accumulate the approach and the climb the next day. We were counting with extra 5 hours considering this.
For a “delux” evening!
Between 5:30 and 6 am, we started the approach, in the beginning by a beautiful trail that was transformed into a real stream fed by the melting snows and then, by extensive and cumbersome snow. Either we smiled because of its nice consistence, either the smile was gone when we buried ourselves knee deep.
Here and there we saw traces of recent avalanches, caused by the sudden rise of the temperature on the last days ... indeed, this was supposed to be a spring day, followed by a summer day, on which we were beginning to suspect that we would not get do any kind of winter climb!
On our way to the mountain...and the wind!
Somewhere around 9 a.m, fighting a wind that we did not expect, we started to climb and debuted the secret weapons. The green of the tools excelled in the brilliant white snow. Finally, the new ice tools came into action!
The north face looked truly inviting, except for the persistent spin-drift that insisted on refreshing our bodies. Paulo had a positive thinking about it "It’s all good for training!" And I ... I could live without that powdery snow permanently trying to get into my Neoshell jacket.
“Here we go!”
On the first slopes, after some precarious steps somewhere down there...doubts...should we go up, or down?
We soon realized that the nice look of the wall did not match to what we found. In fact, the rocky wall on which we imagined our route had some snow, but it was so powdery that it wouldn’t even hold a snail!
After two pitches of stubbornness, each with 60 m and some precarious steps, the decision was taken, we would follow a different line, at least we could finish the day at the top! A large ramp followed by a traverse to the left led us inevitably to the couloir "Remi-Quintana." We did not want to go to an established route, but the bad snow conditions left us with no options. For a few meters we moved quickly, until we reached the closing of the couloir.
"OK, we move up!"
Our original idea was to climb a mixed line straightforward.
About two thirds of the wall were "in the bag" when Paulo investigated the best way out...left or right?
To the left there was an exposed area, to the right the unknown ... we took our chances to the unknown.
Again, the new green tools showed its potential for hooking. We progressed on mixed terrain between rotten snow and rock ... rotten, and at the same time compact and almost impossible to protect. This is where 25 years of experience are good, and finds places to place protections where they supposedly do not exist (nice job Paulo!).
Daniela almost on a belay, high up on the wall.
"Let’s see if there is a way out of here!"
A few more meters up, a traverse to the right, an exposed and delicate section where it was forbidden to fall, a few more vertical meters and there we were, at the last belay, where we were surprised by the only piece of gear that we found along 550m: one peg!
"Wow, somebody was here before! From where did they climb to get here?"
The eagerness to be opening a new line forced us to imagine all the possible paths to reach that point. If the climbing conditions found by those who placed the piton were the ones we were having, then there would only be two ways to get to that point. If they were much better, other horizons could have existed. Finding that little artifact made us think that with honesty, we could not call "our" route: Route! Probably, we were opening just a "variant".
After the "crux" of the route, which was a precarious mixed section, protected by a “psicological” peg.
Only one pitch was left, a wide couloir ending in vertical snow under an intimidating cornice! Praying that the heat did not make it fall in those brief moments, Paulo kept going to the edge, surpassing that section, impossible to protect.
Begining the last pitch, more of the same realy bad snow with no place to protect.
"You can cooooooooome" I heard minutes later. "If you fall its ok, I'm on the other side of the crest". I climbed, passed on the left side of the cornice and reached the crest. Behind and ahead of me, a few more cornices, one of them was a huge flap looking truly threatening, especially with the heat that had settled and the sun shining with all his strength. Well, we did not feel great heat, just because the wind was so strong that the body did not have the perception of the actual temperature. However, the sight of an avalanche made us realize that we were not yet entirely free of danger.
A Daniela on the top of the crest. One can easily see the size of the cornices made by the wind.
We would still have to cross a big part of the crest to reach the col between the Gabietos and Taillon.
A part of this crossing still made my brain sweat "It is not good to cut the snow like this! Go carefully, step exactly where Paulo stepped, don’t cut the snow ... ". We kept the rope between us and some intermediate protections were placed "Just in case!"
On the right, the northwest face of Taillón.
The north face of Taillón.
Hours later, we reached safe ground. "Nice!". We then only lacked a laaaaaaargeeee walk to return the car and the tent.
On the descent, we observed how the terrain changed during those hours. The "Debris" of avalanches multiplied! Looking around, we understood that this really was the last winter climb of the excellent winter 2013 season.
"Done! Let’s go for a beer!"
As invariably happens in these situations on this part of the world, the following day was spent in Riglos!
We went from low temperatures to pleasant 24 °C, where the beers on a terrace facing the famous “Mallos de Riglo”, tasted like nectar of the gods!
If we rock climbed there?
Yes, 4 pitches. No more was possible cause our feet were completely swollen from the 15h climb and the fingers destroyed by about 3h descending the previous day. We could simply not tolerate the "(dis) comfort" of the climbing shoes!