Back in January, we ran Katie Lambert’s report on climbing the Murciana 78 route (7c+) on the Naranjo de Bulnes West Face in Picos de Europa with Caroline George. It was the same face Caroline’s parents climbed via the Rabada-Navarro (6c+) route in 1971 when her brother was only four months old, which was the first female and first foreign ascent of what is known as an Iberic Eiger. In the process of last fall’s ascent, Lambert climbed the entire 550m Murciana 78 route free with no falls, putting up the first successful American—man or woman—free climb of the route. We were so transfixed by the pioneering then-and-now stories that we asked Caroline to provide her own perspective on revisiting her family’s climbing history. She gave us not only insight, but also her parents’ black-and-white photos from that original family climb in 1971. This is her past and present report on the Spanish big wall experience. —LYA Editor
Words by Caroline George, Images by Ben Ditto and Courtesy of the Ware/George archives
In 1987, I traveled to Spain with my parents to climb. It was then that they recounted their epic ascent of the Rabada-Navarro on the Naranjo de Bulnes. I remember trying to pronounce this name when my parents would talk about their adventure on the west face of this peak. I had just learned that “naranjo” meant orange, so I pictured an orange- shaped and colored peak. And I could never place the “r” and the “j” in the word, as in French both are pronounced the same. It was also my first time watching bullfights, and I imagined that “bulnes” stood for the bulls that must be living in the Picos de Europa range, where the Naranjo de Bulnes is located.
My parents had many adventures together in the mountains. But this one stood out in particular, as they did the third ascent of the route, the first non-Spanish ascent and the first by a woman. My dad was always eager to venture about in the mountains with my mom, and my mom loved the thrill of it. As they say: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
So when Katie Lambert mentioned wanting to climb there, buried memories of my parents’ tales came racing back, and I once again looked forward to following in my parents’ footsteps. I asked my dad to share his adventure with me once again. And he did:
“We climbed la Rabada Navarro. Third ascent. First foreign and first woman. It was a very feared climb at the time. We were assailed with questions when we returned. I felt like Columbus coming back alive from the ocean of monsters,” recounts my father. “The pendulum traverse was legendary. We took bivi gear, a liter and a half of water, three lemons, and cheese and crackers for two days. We still had a liter of water on the summit. We were met on the summit by a group of “fans” who celebrated our ascent with wine and goat cheese…and music. The climb was that famous and mythical at the time.”
“I was interviewed and had my face splashed across the newspaper. It was a big deal in Spain at the time. People had died attempting it, so it was a sort of Iberic Eiger (where Navarro and Rabada died in an epic attempt),” he continues. “There was very little gear then—now it is all bolted and surrounded with harder but bolted climbs. So for the Spanish climbers, it was a scary commitment. It is a beautiful part of Spain, quite wild. The king still hunts there. Great little hut, but very noisy on weekends. Hike the surrounding hills. Majestic silence.”
Even with that set-up, my time in the Picos de Europa was all I had dreamt it would be: the sun setting, turning the west face into a blazing flame looming high above our camp. I wasn’t too upset that the bulls my dad had told me about turned into grazing sheep, making my nights less frightening. This place was just like I had imagined it to be through the countless tales of my parents. But it was made even more magical when, at night, I would close my eyes and imagine my parents bivouacking somewhere on this steep face so many years ago, and later summiting in the setting sun on this magical summit that I would climb 42 years later.
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