The most wanted ice-fall in Serra da Estrela, “Cascata do Inferno” (“Hell`s icefall”) on the 1st of March 2013.
- Hey, your project is formed!
More than a thousand kilometers away I could feel the excitement in Miguel’s voice on the phone. It was not even necessary to tell me the name, for me to guess what he was talking about.
It was the winter of 2002, and I was living in Benasque in the heart of the Pyrenees.
Miguel, João and Hélder were at Serra da Estrela. In those days, all the iceclimbs were formed, including the rare and emblematic "Cascata do Inferno." On the right side of this "ex libris", there is a pronounced roof from which arises from time to time, a fantastic inaccessible icefall, almost 30 meters above the base of the wall. This inaccessibility, this seeming impossibility, was perhaps the real reasons that sparked my imagination and attracted my dreams of adventure. That provocative granite roof, a roof that inexorably prevented the access to the beautiful ice immaculate line, represented an irresistible challenge.
Views to the west face of “Cântaro Magro”. A good adventure terrain for mixed climbing.
From the mid-90s I felt highly inspired with ice climbing and “our little mountain” turned out to be an excellent playground of exploration and adventure. After climbing several icy lines, frequently considered classic lines today (if the terms "classic" and "frequent" can be applied to the extremely ephemeral characteristics of the ice in Serra da Estrela), my perception of winter climbing would change forever. The reason for that change was the vision of a simple photograph.
The photo was published on the cover of the Spanish magazine “Desnivel” in January 1995 and eternalized Jeff Lowe, hanging on a perfect roof, with one of the brand new (at the time), ice-tools "Pulsar" hooking a rocky crack, and the other tool placed on a stunning stalactite of ice suspended in the void. It was a unique vision, even grotesque, definitely powerful. The photograph witnessed the first ascent of "Octpussy" in Vail, (USA) and immediately became the symbol of a small revolution in the world of ice climbing, the birth of a discipline as strange as disturbing: the "Dry-tooling ". A new concept that deliberately allowed using the typical tools for ice climbing on pure rock. The original theory advocated that the main purpose would be "hunting" columns and curtains of ice, otherwise inaccessible.
The photo that sparked the dream. Jeff Low suspended in its "Octopussy", a revolutionary route which became the symbol of the birth of "Dry-tooling” in the world. Photo taken from the web.
Suddenly, before my eyes lit up a whole new world. Also Serra da Estrela would have a representative line of this embryonic discipline. One of the most promising candidate that was emphasized by its aesthetics and logic, was that crystal line, so inaccessible, rising from nothing on the right side of “Cascata do Inferno”.
On a winter day in 1997, alone and lost in my own enthusiasm, I came down from the top and, armed with the power drill, I placed the belays and some bolts in the roof and in the crackless vertical slab that would in future be the first pitch. And so it was born an ambitious project. Then I spent nights with open eyes, dreaming, imagining athletic movements that would lead me to success and much personal satisfaction in my very private "Octopussy".
Years went by, and every winter, in my mind was the image of that line still to be climbed, like a seasonal ghost willing to torment my spirit every time the temperatures on the thermometer went negative.
Two main reasons have prevented me from attempting an ascent worthy of the name: the line stubbornly refused to form in climbable conditions or when it was formed, I wasn`t there to try!
Bomb proof belay!
One of the major conditions for successfully ice climbing in Serra da Estrela is being in the right place at the right time. It was the recognition of this that led Miguel to call me in Benasque that winter day, so I would not lose the chance to finally inaugurate the so dreamed route.
My period living in the Pyrenees was coincident with the beginning of the discipline of "dry-tooling" in Spain, and it was then that I climbed the largest number of lines in that style. More than ever, I was prepared to face the difficulties of the new route in Serra da Estrela. Ironically, the immense distance prevented me of taking advantage of that opportunity.
In this photo of April 2003, Spanish Juan Goyanes climbs the route "Titan" in Ardonés, Benasque. This route, equipped by me, was a good challenge for Dry-tooling and its difficulty is M9. Photo taken from "Desnivel online", courtesy of Juan Goyanes.
I replied to Miguel: - Cool! If you have the chance, go there! Do not let it unclimbed! – Secretly, I feared the answer on the other side.
Like a Gentleman, Miguel declined the invitation and, inevitably, once more the route literally melted.
More years went by and the desired line, the Lusitanian "Octopussy" of my imagination, would be relegated to an obscure corner of my memory. The state of lethargy was only interrupted in March 2010, by a top-rope climb of the first pitch that allowed me to state two main conclusions. First, I had to admit that the first pitch was hard as hell. An "M- a lot!" in terms of difficulty. Second, I confirmed that the placed bolts were clearly insufficient to an attempt free from the risk of breaking the legs in case of a potential leading fall.
Once again, the FA of this eternal project was postponed for future opportunities.
Daniela in a comfortable armchair after climbing the great “Cavado de Gelo” ("Ice Horse").
28th of February, 2013
- I might take the power drill this time, I think that line can be there... - I said while we organized the gear for another trip to Serra da Estrela.
On the preceding weekend, Daniela and I had been sniffing the ice and nervously climbed the compromised line “Canalito” (“Little hole”). Apart from this, we made the first ascent of a small iceclimb that we baptized as “Micro-Coisa” ("Micro-thing").
Daniela on "Micro-coisa", one week after the first ascent.
Judging by the forecasts, that weekend seamed promising. The hope to find good conditions was so strong that Daniela decided to take a vacation day in order to take advantage of the possible three days of ice climbing.
Friday proved to be a day of absolute tranquility, without the usual hustle and bustle of tourists who invade the highest area of those hills during the weekend.
Opening a deep trail in the dense snow, going down the hyper-classic couloir "Corredor do Inferno" we immediately found the walls that border that canyon, with the so desired frozen element.
Going down "Corredor do Inferno" and confirming the good conditions for ice-climbing.
Upon arriving at the bottom: Yes! There it was, the most desired of the iceclimbs. The "Cascata do Inferno", perfectly standing and waiting for the first tool placements of the season.
Daniela's eyes sparkled with excitement. It was an icefall that she waited long to climb and now the opportunity arose, perhaps unique.
On "Cascata do Inferno", 1st of March. Immaculate ice!
During the next few hours, we have focused on climbing the 80 meters of ice that materialize this beautiful route of rare formation. The day could not be more perfect. The intense blue sky contrasted with the pale white mantle of snow. The total serenity of the cold air was only interrupted by a deep breath, on the more delicate vertical steps.
"Yesssss!" Finally climbing the most famous ice route of “Serra da Estrela”.
At the end of the first pitch.
Upon reaching the top, the satisfaction was evident. It was impossible to remain indifferent before the privilege of completing a route with such quality. For us, one of the most aesthetic ice lines in the Iberian Peninsula.
On the second pitch of "Cascata do Inferno".
Daniela on the delicate moves almost at the end of the route.
The descent, abseiling, placed us right on the top of the old "project". A kick in the suspended ice column at the end of the large roof showed that it was in excellent conditions. Immediately, a sense of "Now or never" crossed my neurons, like an unexpected lightning.
Anyway, it was late for an attempt worthy of the name. "Maybe tomorrow." I thought.
The next morning, there we were, at the base of the dream.
If there were any doubts, Daniela helped to finish them “If you think this is a chance in a thousand, c'mon!“
With the power drill, I quickly added a couple of bolts in the exposed slab of the first pitch of that eternal project. I was aid climbing from below and at the same time I was checking how it could be if, by chance, I had the enough stamina to free it. I pretended to free climb it, only to conclude (again) that I was facing an absolutely futuristic line in Serra da Estrela.
Aid climbing, aiming for ice
Somehow, disillusioned by being confronted with my own weakness, my mind decided I would go down after placing the last bolt, before overtaking the roof followed by ice. So I was going to give up of the desired route that day.
In the roof, still not convinced that “I will do it this time”
I placed the last bolt and in an irresistible impulse, I stretched and bashed the axe high up in the ice column. "Surprise!" The ice was excellent. It was disconcerting. Now, I had absolutely no excuse not to proceed.
- Be aware, I'll try going up! - I shouted to Daniela.
"Be aware, I’m going up!"
The feeling of well-placed ice-tools made me sure that I was going to make it. I relaxed, breath ... and a few minutes after I was suspended in the belay, about four meters above the end of the roof. "Wow!"
Daniela joined me, after also aid climbing the first pitch.
Daniela’s perspective on the way out of the roof.
Still aid climbing, Daniela gets ready for the ice.
"Ok! Now it’s better!"
However, to consider the line real and officially open, we still missed to lead the second pitch, all in ice. This fact posed no problem, on the contrary, given the excellent appearance of the frozen "building" rising above our helmets. What followed was the climb of one of the most beautiful ice pitches ever formed by nature in our Serra da Estrela. A structure with almost 40 meters, slightly steeper than "Cascata do Inferno".
Second pitch. Almost 40m of pure enjoyment!
At the top, super happy, we celebrated the first ascent of an extraordinary route, a totally unique line in our geography. For me, a lot more than a simple climb.
Daniela and I decided to name this one as "GRÂNDOLA, VILA MORENA" (name of the song that was the hymn of the Portuguese 1975 revolution against dictatorship and fascism), it’s our cry of protest, in this troubled period which we are living. It’s also homage to the great poet who created this meaningful anthem.
The final icefall and the end of a 15 year old dream.
After the period of euphoria and objectively analyzing this climb, concerning the technical level, this route doesn’t bring anything new. The use of the power drill greatly reduced the level of exposure and made the first pitch a mere sport climbing exercise, except for its beginning in an easy icefall, and the way out of the roof to the ice column and then the belay. However, the truth is that there were no other options for protection (at least in winter, when the small exit cracks are fully covered with ice and unusable). On the other hand, now there is a way to reach the beautiful and spectacular iceclimb of the second pitch. Finally, speaking about dry-tooling, the first pitch represents a challenge for the future, with obvious physical and technical difficulties, waiting to be climbed.
The celebration rappel. Back to the ground.
For me, opening this line is the culmination of a dream. Not a fiery fanatic dream, but a warm desire that came and went throughout all these years, sometimes with a little more intensity, sometimes in the form of a brief thought, a faint recall. This dream, this desire, this thought, accompanied an important part of the history of winter climbing in Serra da Estrela, also it accompanied the friends to whom I roped during this long period.
An old idea materialized, an idea over 15 years old.
For me... a climb with soul. An ascent with memory.