/ Espolon Central in December, are we mad?

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roym - on 01 Nov 2017
Espolón Central (4c)

My mate and I are going to Costa Blanca the week before Christmas and have been looking at Espolon Central. We are super keen to do it but having seen some of the previous threads on timing etc I'm wondering if it is a good idea. We both lead HS on grit (not sure really how comparable that is) but are newish to big multipitches.

As it will be one of the shortest days of the year are we mad to attempt it?
Luke90 on 01 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

Given that you're new to multi-pitch and don't have any grades in hand, that sounds ambitious to me.

It's certainly possible to do it comfortably even on the shortest days of the year but you'd want to be confident in your ability to move fast and/or your ability to retreat if necessary.
Joez on 01 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:
I climbed it with two others and topped out just as the sun was setting.

We survived obviously, we had head torches but they weren't massively helpful as looking for red dots painted on the rocks at night with an underpowered head torch (ok ok it was a bike light I taped to my helmet) was hard work, there are cairns dotted along the decent too, but some are misleading.

At one point I down climbed on to a ledge with a large drop, climbing back up was harder than the crux of the route and I had my rucksack full of gear on!

Once we got onto the large scree slope it was pretty plain sailing down to the car (aided by a bright moon).

We were climbing as a 3 and there was a lot of faff involved.

The climbing isn't all that hard, and the hardest bit does have bolts. I can't remember more than 3 bolts on route - but every belay was bolted.

If you've not done big multi-pitch before (placing trad gear) then you might want to rethink.

If you have and are happy to run it out a bit, confident you're quick and the weather is good, why not?


EDIT: it was the beginning of November, 3 days before the full moon. Darkness arrived at about 7pm and we got back in the car at about midnight (going off my logbook) we didnt rush down and I don't remember it being especially cold.
Post edited at 19:16
Stiga - on 01 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

Bring a bivy bag, some extra clothes and some water and food and wait it out if you are to slow. A nice adventure.
Pero - on 01 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

As with all long multi-pitch climbs, you ought to do something beforehand of a comparable standard but shorter to see how fast you move.
roym - on 01 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

Thanks for all the advice!
I think we'll leave the decision until we've had a go climbing out there. We'd definitely take gear in case of benightment and be prepared to bail at pitch 3 or 8.

Any suggestions for alternative multipitches of similar or easier grade?
roym - on 01 Nov 2017
In reply to Joez:

What year did you do it? I've seen comments about the state of the bolted belays not being great. Bolted belays would speed us up immensely so really want to find out what they are like atm
Mark Eddy - on 01 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

Overall the route is easier than grit HS but if not used to big multipitch days I'd recommend something shorter first.
Try some of the 3 - 5 pitch routes at Toix (Calpe), carry bags too and finish along the ridge. Time yourself.
A big timewaster on mp is rope faff and belay ledge faff, so get slick at all this before attempting such a long route.

It will likely be cold up there if you get benighted (very cold)!
If you do go for it and need to bail, it's possible to Abseil from pitch 8 or 9 if you have half 50's. The quick start would make sense too.

Another Puig Campana option that's shorter is Aristotle's, about the same grade but about 100 - 150m shorter. Need half ropes for the Abseils. Descent is quicker and easier to bail out until about pitch 5/6

If you'd like any more detailed info email me at: mountain.journeys@yahoo.co.uk

Hope you have a great time in Costa Blanca.

Mark
David Mora - on 02 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

Hi Roym,
Espolón Central is easy but long. December is a good month but night arrives early.
The belays are bolted mainly. rom the fifth/sixth belay you can abseil down following a wires abseils, after that, it is a little bit difficult but close to the top.
The pitches are around 30m but you can climb 2 in 1 (take care with the friction).
Full rack needed and some threads.
If you don't know the route, I recomend to start to walk early (07:30) to arrive to the bottom of the route around 08:30. 6/7 h for the route if you don't know.
At the end of the route, to descent, follow the red dots to the right hand, some wires during the descent.
Enjoy it.

David Mora
Mountain Guide
www.montana-mediterranea.com
montana.mediterranea@gmail.com
Babika - on 02 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

No, you're not mad. I did it in December many years ago. Finished in daylight but couldn't find the way off at all and settled in for a benightment wrapping the ropes around us for warmth. Not fun as I was only wearing shorts!

Fortunately my mate had a whistle and kept blowing it and our friends came up with torches and helped us find the way off, so all was well.

Top tips:
- know the descent
- take headtorches
- be super quick on the changeovers. This is where a lot of time is lost on multi pitch. I wasn't helped by having to lead it all so we kept flaking the rope through on every handover and it wasted time

Good luck!

Max factor - on 02 Nov 2017
In reply to Babika:

We did this in November climbing as a 2. started walking in at more or less first light and think we were down by about 1.30pm, so it is possible. If climbing as a 3 and everyone is reasonably competent, consider practicing and using autoblock devices so both seconds can climb the pitch together on straight ups.
Offwidth - on 02 Nov 2017
In reply to David Mora:

Hi David generally good advice (as ever here) but such a route is nothing like "easy" for a UK HS leader. As with any route it's the difficulty that the grade indicates (fair at 4). I thought it was hard for its old UK grade of Severe and I think I did it in Jan as someone comfortably climbing such grades on mulitpitch and despite starting early any queue or problems would have left me finishing at dusk or in tne dark. I'd say a good bright head torch is essential (the red dots were not so obvious in late afternoon winter light) and emergency bivi clothing and water is very advisable for a less than perfectly efficient HS team in December.
roym - on 02 Nov 2017
In reply to Mark Eddy:

Thanks for the advice, we're definitely going to try some shorter stuff first (Either Toix or Echo Valley). We'd definitely use 50m halves too. Aristotle looks great, not sure how I missed it in all my research!
Joez on 02 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

> What year did you do it? I've seen comments about the state of the bolted belays not being great. Bolted belays would speed us up immensely so really want to find out what they are like atm

It was 2008, I don't recall any issues with the stances, I'm pretty sure they were all on decent ledges, not hanging belays and there were usually more than 2 bolts at each one.
Alex Pryor - on 10 Nov 2017

Don't forget if you're taking shoes, food, water, torch and spare clothes that can effectively increase the grade. And even more if you're carrying bivi gear.
Post edited at 21:18
afshapes - on 12 Nov 2017
In reply to roym:

We did it this summer as a rope of three. Two of us are experienced the other not so. Not all the belays are bolted , very few in the lower half. I would be cautious about retreat, it didn't look straight forward if attempting to follow the abseil stations like the guide suggests. Also I imagine a retreat would be due to impending darkness so trying to find the abseil stations in the dark would not be fun. Grade wise I'd say severe going on hs and it's amazing. We were 9hrs car to car but there was three of us. The descent isn't for the faint hearted either. Probably the world's worse via ferrata! The red dots are good..... if you're not colour blind !
Pero - on 20:15 Mon
In reply to roym:

We just did this today. We climb HVS/E1 and it look 9 hours car to car with 6 hours climbing.

I would say this is an alpine style route. There is nothing harder than HS4b, but the pitches are long. As it's trad you could bang in a lot of gear but to do it in 9-10 hours you are going to have to climb perhaps 5m or more between gear.

In short you need to be confident of leading 30-40m pitches of HS in about 15 mins. And there are 11 proper pitches in all.
Howard J - on 09:13 Tue
In reply to Pero:

No one's mentioned the walk-off yet. It involves a long traverse across the mountain side to reach the walkers' route in the big gully. OK it's mostly easy ground and there are cables on the harder bits but route finding can be tricky even in daylight when you can see the paint markers.

We did it one February, starting in the dark so we were at the bottom at first light. We did the route OK but mist came in and it took us some time to get down. By the time we reached the bottom of the gully it was dark as well as foggy, and after falling over a few terraced fields we abandoned our attempt to return to the car and followed the path down to Finestrat, where we had a few beers and then got a taxi back up the hill to retrieve our hire car. I think it took us maybe 14 hours in total. We were fairly competent at multi-pitch severe, it was getting off in thick fog and darkness which took time.
Trangia on 09:49 Tue
In reply to Howard J:

> No one's mentioned the walk-off yet. It involves a long traverse across the mountain side to reach the walkers' route in the big gully. OK it's mostly easy ground and there are cables on the harder bits but route finding can be tricky even in daylight when you can see the paint markers.

Beat me to it. One of our guys is short sighted and had left his glasses back at the villa. We only just managed to locate the start of the descent walk off, and he really struggled in the fading light and eventual darkness, which slowed us right down. Even when we eventually reached the walkers gully, things didn't relent. Head torches were ok for seeing what's immediately in front of you but not much use in picking the route out ahead. As you say it's not difficult scrambling, but very exposed. When we did it there were no cables on the steeper bits, but as you used them they've obviously been installed since.

The route itself is fairly easy HS, but the OP and his partner would need to move fast, make a pre-dawn walk in, and be able to lead through. They would still be allowing little time for error, including finding the start at the bottom. I'm not certain I'd want to do it on the shortest day or thereabouts.

Take plenty of water.

Apparently, benightments are common with parties underestimating the route, most accidents occur on the descent, many parties miss the start of the descent altogether, and go on too far to get caught up in the complicated area of ridges and gullies beyond it where it's quite tricky to find a way down into the famous notch below the summit even in daylight, let alone darkness. If you are heading for the notch, you've gone too far.
jon on 09:54 Tue
In reply to Trangia:
> They would still be allowing little time for error, including finding the start at the bottom.

Always best to recce the start the day before whenever the outcome's in doubt. Not only does it speed things up, but it allows you to start with less stress.
Post edited at 10:09
Rog Wilko on 10:24 Tue
In reply to jon:
> Always best to recce the start the day before whenever the outcome's in doubt. Not only does it speed things up, but it allows you to start with less stress.

And recce the descent too, perhaps?

Also remember the old saying which goes something like this: carrying bivvy gear is a good way of ensuring you'll need to bivvy.
Post edited at 10:25
Simon Caldwell - on 11:15 Tue
In reply to Rog Wilko:

Last time I did it, we got back to the bottom just as it was getting dark. Missed the route back to the car and ended up a few miles further along the road away from Finestrat so the only option was to walk back. Quite a long day!
Trangia on 13:22 Tue
In reply to jon:

> Always best to recce the start the day before whenever the outcome's in doubt. Not only does it speed things up, but it allows you to start with less stress.

Good advice

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