250m of ice climbing in Portugal… “Wait a minute! Did I read Portugal?!”
It’s March, I’m sitting here still hopeful winter will return. Hope is normally kept until the end of April, sometimes hope is rewarded, sometimes not.
Looking back, although winter was short, this year was surprisingly cold, and since we live “in the right place”, we made the best of it!
There is a granite tower here called “Cântaro Magro”, a perfect place for any kind of climbing, as long as the conditions will allow it. One can rock climb there (trad climbing) in every season except winter, and when conditions allow, it’s also the perfect place for winter “Scottish climbs” on its shadow faces, west and north. Sometimes, if you catch the right day (the right day is really the right day, it’s not the right week!), you may be lucky enough to do some “Scottish climbing” or an easy gully on the sunny East face, the biggest one, with its 500m of height.
This year in January, already after a nice adventure that allowed us to open a big route on the East face, as the abnormal cold temperatures went on, we decided to try our luck for the second time, and we had a line in mind already.
As usual we arrived at the base of the face around 8am and we were surprised to see what looked like a long line of ice that did not correspond to our original plan. We thought to ourselves, “What are the chances of finding an ice climb with more than 200m of continuous ice in Serra da Estrela?” Being honest, the probability is less than finding Niagara Falls frozen! That was good enough to change our plans, and so we decided to try our luck on that line.
In the beginning, the ice was in a pretty good condition, although being an East face, with the sun hitting almost all day, we had to deal with thin ice. Nevertheless it was good enough to place some ice-screws. We progressed fast, as the climb was never hard, just plain fun ice-climbing, the length of which we've never had in decades of ice-climbing here.
At about midday, the ice was not that good any more, but we could already see the end of the route. I remember Paulo saying “Hurry up, let’s see if we can still do the last pitch before it falls!”
I have to confess we were totally astonished to be able to climb 250m of continuous ice in our “backyard”, Serra da Estrela, on a wall facing the sun that rarely has any ice! Needless to say that on the next day, it was already impossible to repeat that particular climb. The longest ice route ever done in Serra da Estrela was no more.
Already in February, with “normal” winter conditions for Portuguese terrain, we decided to take a look at a wall that had been in the back of our minds for some years. The time had come to visit it, as conditions were deteriorating fast everywhere...
Stay tuned for Part 2!