Recommended Equipment for Climbing in Ordesa

Considered by many as the Mecca of big-wall climbing in Spain, the steep limestone walls of the Ordesa Valley in the Pyrenees are full of long, demanding routes, lots of exposure, and tons of adventure. As one of the oldest national parks in the country, bolting is prohibited in Ordesa, making this a trad climber's dream destination. In this article, we'll share with you everything you need to go climbing in Ordesa.

Climbing in Ordesa. Effort, vertigo and nature

For those who decide to climb for the first time in Ordesa, the information they receive can be partly discouraging: old and meager equipment, losing itineraries, endless days between approach, climb and return, colossal effort... We are sorry to tell you that we are not going to disprove any of this, but we can confirm that, if you go with good physical, mental and material preparation, once you have tried climbing in Ordesa, the feeling of satisfaction will last you a lifetime. For those people who decide to go climbing in Ordesa for the first time we have written this article.

Characteristics of Ordesa and Their Effect on Climbing

Ordesa is a beautiful glacial valley formed and sculpted by the forces of nature over millions of years, where the best figures of the Spanish and French climbing scene have opened lines as admirable as their talent in the vertical and, moreover, is a national park with a rigid regulation in several aspects.

Thus, climbing will be determined not only by the technical aspects of climbing such as rock type and morphology, climbing style and ethics, length and difficulty, but also by the specific regulations of the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park (Regulatory Plan for the Use and Management of Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, April 2015, in its last update).

The Geology and Climate of Ordesa

Ordesa is the valley through which the Arazas river flows, the main tributary of the Ara river. The white limestones, dolomites and sandy limestones on which we climb were modeled by an intense glaciation that has given the spectacular trough profile that we enjoy today.

Its characteristic rocks, like a pile of massive cubes with sharp edges, form a curious geometry that can form both feasible slopes of blocks and impossible roofs and overhangs that make for difficult climbing.

Sharp-edged roofs, a constant in Ordesa

Ordesa is a paradise of verticality. Its high, south-facing walls, with route bases at almost 2000 meters in most cases, cause very marked contrasts; cold dawns at that altitude can turn into punishing heat as soon as the sun starts to shine. Likewise, we may be surprised by a sudden cold as soon as the sun hides behind the nearby Tendeñera mountain range.

The climbing season in Ordesa usually starts when the snow is gone and lasts well into autumn. It is difficult to predict when the snow will completely disappear from the exposed upper strips where most of the routes end. Usually by mid-May there is no snow left, but it depends a lot on a lot of factors such as, obviously, snowfall and average temperatures up to the date of your climb.

Climbing on its characteristic square boulders, which resemble climbing through a gigantic appliance junkyard, gives climbing routes of between 300 and 400 meters with plenty of traverses on the more classic routes and much more direct on the modern free climbs of more recent times. The walls are full of weaknesses where trad gear can be placed well and an abundance of cracks, dihedrals and chimneys as well as their characteristic ceilings and cornices.

The History of Climbing in Ordesa

Summiting these impressive walls was a highly desired goal since the mid-20th century. Omitting the false first ascent of Tozal del Mallo in 1944 by Jorge Antonio Gavín and José Luis Rodríguez that found its way into Robert Ollivier's guidebook, the first ascent was the incomplete route by José Santacana in 1954 that ended halfway up the Tozal de Mallo and the Gómez-Khan in 1955 that only runs the last third of the beautiful eastern arete on the same wall.

Revue Altitude nº45
J. Ravier, M. Khan, N. Blotti, C. Dufourmantelle et al. Jaccoux on April 21, 1957 after achieving the first complete climb of the south wall of the Tozal del Mallo.

Altitude Magazine No. 45.

Starting in 1957, when Jean Ravier and his partners established the famous route also in the Tozal del Mallo, Ordesa is a parade of climbing personalities: Rabadá, Navarro, Anglada, Guillamón, Cerdá, Bellefon, Sarthou... in the 60's; Despiau, Battaia, "Bunny", García Picazo, Gálvez, Ansa, Bayona, "Papila", Zabalza, "Chema" Andrés and many great climbers in the following decades have left their signature on these walls.

As you can see, the best of the best have come to establish routes in Ordesa. The surplus ability of this elite group of climbers to climb almost anywhere without artificially drilling the rock, has left completely clean lines in many cases that have only been minimally bolted over the years and the rope teams, many of which have had to abandon pitons, slings or other gear.


The 2015 PRUG (Decree 49/2015 of the Government of Aragon) clearly delimits the sports activities that can be carried out in the national park. Mountain biking, sport climbing, canyoning, caving, paragliding, via ferrata, etc. are prohibited, while trad climbing, which is permitted, is limited by the regulations.

These regulations allow trad climbing (article but with the following limitations:

Trad climbing without a permit is allowed in previously established routes in traditional sectors: Tozal del Mallo-Carriata, Gallinero-Cotatuero and the West Face of Fraucata, as well as the summits of these sectors and those of the Pineta sector. Placing fixed gear is not allowed, meaning sport climbing is prohibited.

Placing new fixed gear is prohibited. We'll have to trust these old pitons.

Be aware of access to the valley too, which is usually closed to private vehicle traffic during tourist season, generally from July to September. The first bus service from Torla to the Ordesa Valley is at 6 am and is usually filled with climbers and mountaineers who want to do some 3,000m peak in the area. If you miss it don't worry, buses run every half hour.

In the same vein, it is amusing (as long as it does not affect you personally) to watch climbers race off the bus to the most popular routes (Ravier, Bruges, Rabadá-Navarro, Pilar de primavera, Diedro del 73, Trituradores...) to be the first to reach the base of the route and thus avoid waiting and potential rockfall from the rope team above.

As we can see then, the geology, the unique style developed on these walls over the years and the current legislation make the type of climbing in Ordesa a very particular activity. Routes established by elite climbers, which are generally long and very physical, with usually sparse, old fixed gear. This means that we have to have our own tools, including climbing skills and knowledge of gear, to safely resolve the difficulties that we are sure to encounter.

We are going to specify what characteristics the gear you are going to use in Ordesa must have so that you can climb in the best conditions. We hope you find these tips useful.

Recommended Gear for Climbing in Ordesa

We assume that, if you are considering climbing in Ordesa, you already have vast experience not only in sport climbing, but also in trad climbing.

In other words, to climb in certain very demanding places (and the Ordesa Valley is especially so) it is not enough to have a well-established on-sight grade with respect to the route you are going to do, but you must have certain well-honed skills such as physical stamina, the ability to place gear in precarious locations, knowing different anchor-building options and how to build them in diverse situations, knowing how to aid climb when necessary, having good route-finding skills and intuition before the always lurking shipments and, in addition to all this, enjoy good mental control so as not to panic in situations where any of the above requirements fail.

A little help to keep from getting off route.

The general recommendation for such long, exposed routes is, when in doubt, choose gear that is durable and lightweight. When this rule isn't applicable for whatever good reason, such as when it comes to ropes, we'll make the sufficiently clear.

With that in mind, we're going to review what kind of gear you should have to climb in Ordesa.

Climbing With a Pack - Yes or No?

The long approaches and return hikes make carrying a pack highly recommended. In addition to the inherent discomfort of hiking with ropes and hanging gear, doing it for an hour and a half at the best of times listening to the constant clink of bouncing carabiners is not good for our mental wellbeing. When access is limited to buses only, you won't be able to take the bus with all your gear hanging off your harness either.

So, once you've reached the base of your route, should you climb with your pack on or stash it somewhere to pick up on the way back? We leave that up to individual preference, although we recommend leaving your pack behind if your route involves chimney or off-widths with tight fits, as it will get in way.

If you do plan to take a pack, a small climbing pack with an exterior daisy chain to clip gear to is very useful.


In optimal weather conditions, it is usual to start the approach at night on the generally cold valley floor and once you have started the climb, the sun starts to beat down quite strongly. It is also important to remember that Ordesa is an alpine environment, you will be climbing above 2000 meters of altitude, where any change, clouds, gusts of wind... will significantly lower the temperature. This makes choosing what clothes to take difficult if what we want is simplicity and adaptation to any condition. As always in the mountains, a technical rain jacket is lightweight and packable and can get us out of trouble. Look for a jacket that has high pockets so that you can access them with your harness on.

Climbing with a windbreaker when the temperature drops.

A pair of long climbing pants that roll up easily, as well as a light and compact jacket to wear at belay stations in cold weather (or the light raincoat we were talking about) are very useful basics. Also, logically, the traditional system of breathable T-shirt that can be long sleeve and so we can roll up the sleeves also in case it gets hot. It is important not to wear clothes that are not breathable; getting wet from our own sweat, cold and unable to move in at an anchor is a very unpleasant feeling.

An important detail that we recommend that you pay attention to is that the clothing you wear for climbing in Ordesa has an accessible pocket to keep the route topo there and be able to consult it quickly whenever you need it. You will thank us.

Climbing Shoes and Footwear

How to choose your climbing shoes


There is a traditional trade-off between comfort and technicality which, thanks to the construction of modern climbing shoes, is now revealed to be false. There are now some extremely technical climbing shoes that are not too uncomfortable.

The new rubber compounds, the internal stability provided by midsoles or the lasts studied for each foot and climbing style allow you to choose models that give exceptional results in both comfort and precision.

A good number of pitches of the climbing routes in Ordesa have a difficulty ranging from V to 6a. In the most classic routes these are usually the required free grades, are reliable and can be aided in the sections that require a higher free grade. For this reason, the use of asymmetrical (and therefore uncomfortable) and ultra-precise rock shoes is unnecessary unless you want to climb a highly technical route.

Also, the long and winding routes with frequent ledges do not make for particularly fast climbing. You are going to be wearing your climbing shoes for many hours and it is advisable to choose ones that provide all-day comfort.

So we recommend, unless your personal tastes are better with asymmetrical climbing shoes and you have a high pain tolerance to pain, opt for a comfortable last cat feet, with sufficient width in the toe area and straight profile. Obviously, the rubber must be of sufficient quality and proven adherence to avoid slipping in the most inappropriate place.

We also recommend comfortable, technical shoes for the approach and return. Although trekking shoes are quite suitable for the highly-traveled trails of Ordesa, the obligatory nature of exposed sections on the Carriata or Salaróns rungs, the Fajeta pass or the Cotatuero rungs may make you opt for an approach shoe, with the comfort of a sneaker but the grip of a climbing shoe. Technical approach shoes will allow you to climb easy pitches when following or even while leading if you're skilled enough to do so without climbing shoes.


How to choose your climbing ropes


We have already talked about the dreaded sharp edges of Ordesa. If taking a fall on an old, rusty piton is usually unappealing, doing so and taking a swing over a sharp edge 400 meters above the ground will make the bravest climber's heart leap out of his or her mouth.

The use of double ropes in Ordesa is not subject to discussion. Arguments can be made about experience, going lightweight, and speed... but when it comes to safety, in terrain like the rocks of Ordesa, double ropes are the best option and have no equal.

Avoid rope teams of three; frequent traverses and the fact of only being tied into a single rope means that following can actually be more dangerous than leading, so it is best to have the follower also tied into both ropes.

Choose double ropes that aren't excessively thin and with a high percentage of sheath and, since anti-abrasion treatments are not subject to official testing, we recommend that you choose a rope with a high fall rating, as these are usually the ones that give the best response to friction and loads against sharp edges.

8.6 millimeter double ropes. Good combination of lightweight and safe.

It is unusual for an Ordesa route to have fewer than ten pitches, and given the usually wandering nature of the routes, it is not common to be able to combine pitches. This, together with the fact that all the descents are walk offs, makes it not particularly necessary to carry long ropes. With 50-meter double ropes, we save weight on approaches and returns, as well as save time pulling up rope after setting up each anchor.

Friends, Nuts and Pitons

Routes in Ordesa are generally unbolted trad routes. Logically and as it happens everywhere, the more traffic there is on a route is the more fixed gear we are going to find, but even in those busiest routes it is mandatory to carry trad gear.

Normally the gear you will need will be included in the topo or guidebook. The minimum necessary is a set of friends (about 6 pieces) and another set of nuts for the most equipped routes and, from there, go doubling central sizes or entire sets, in addition to including all kinds of pitons in the case of routes with very few repetitions.

Although it is not usual, in the event of having to carry pitons, the amount of material and weight increases even more, since a piton hammer (and second one for the follower to remove the pitons) will be mandatory in the climb.

The microfriends are especially valuable in old pin scars, so if you're at your grade limit free climbing, you may find it helpful to use these old pin scars to aid climb a particularly hard move. Likewise, the Ball Nuts by CAMP are particularly efficient for these purposes.

Don't forget to a nut tool for removing pro. It's not good to have to abandon a nut or a cam on the wall; it will only cause problems, whether for logistical, financial or even sentimental reasons.

Belay Devices, Carabiners, Slings and Quickdraws

How to choose your carabiners for climbing and mountaineering?

The range of lightweight locking carabiners available today is overwhelming. Auto-locking carabiners weighing less than 50 grams or standard carabiners weighing less than 20 grams are a relief for climbers when climbing routes that require lots of gear.

If every gram that you reduce counts a lot in big climbs, it is undoubtedly in the carabiners and quickdraws where you can shave off the most weight due to the large quantity that you will have to carry for these climbs. There is no set number of quickdraws you will use as it depends on the length and apparent difficulty of the pitch and your ability to place pro, but between 12 and 18 is usually sufficient.

Except for the odd placement close to a ledge, short dog bones will not be of much use. Opt for longer quickdraws instead (17cm or longer). Be sure to take several alpine draws or extenders for quickdraws to cut down on rope drag on the zigzagging routes of Ordesa. This will make both climbing and hauling up rope easier.

The belay devices you should use are the current baskets that are suitable for belaying both a first and one or two seconds, i.e., those suitable for double ropes. For a belay device you should use one of the many tube-style models on the market, which are compatible with double ropes and include a guide mode for belaying a second from above.

Bear in mind that Ordesa belay stations can require an intricate technique of triangulation between widely spaced and sometimes precarious anchor points. You must know the different ways to build and equalize an anchor and have the gear to do it. A sufficiently long sling allows both to make totally safe anchor points as well as using trees or rock horns to build an anchor. There are also special belay station slings that can be a very good option in these cases.

Harnesses and Gear Slings

How to Choose a Harness for Climbing and Mountaineering


By now you will have realized that you are going to have to carry quite a lot of gear. The choice of harness is always important not only because of safety, but also comfort, which can greatly affect how much we enjoy the climb or not.

Except for mid-pitch rests or aiding through a difficult move, during our climbs in Ordesa we will not spend a particularly long time hanging from the harness. Belay stations are usually in quite comfortable places and in many of them we can even sit with our feet dangling over the edge.

However, our harness for Ordesa needs to have ample gear holders to accommodate the gear we need for such challenging climbs. In the best of cases, when we only need to carry one set of cams and one set of nuts, it is possible that we can fit everything tightly in the harness, but normally it won't hurt to carry an additional chest sling in order to keep everything better distributed and organized.



How to choose your climbing and mountaineering helmet


And last but not least, you'll need a climbing helmet, following the same criteria you would fo any other type of climbing.

We recommend a helmet that fits well, that does not block your vision when looking up and, if possible, lightweight and breathable so that you don't feel the urge to take it off constantly. However, the new trends of helmets with wrap-around protection type top&side protection make us recommend this type of helmet given their highly recommended characteristics to protect against side impacts during a swinging fall, always a possibility in Ordesa.

Head Lamp

It is normal to start the approach at night, except in very specific circumstances such as climbing on the rare days when there is no traffic and you can quickly.

All Ordesa routes, each within their grade, are climbable in a day. However, waits at the base of popular routes can be long and delays due to getting off route, fatigue or other imponderables mean that, at the end of the summer when the day gets shorter, we can get benighted on the way down or, in some cases, miss the last bus and have to continue on foot to Torla.

Since the trails are usually very well marked on the approaches and also, but not so much, on the returns, it is not necessary to carry a powerful headlamp. A small 100-lumen headlamp would be more than sufficient for almost all circumstances.

In the event that we foresee finishing the climb after nightfall or, we hope that you do not need to do so, you have to go through the dangerous and bad experience of rappelling a route at night, yes, a more powerful headlamp will be useful, but we understand that these are unpredictable circumstances and, a priori, improbable.

Other Essentials

Don't make the mistake of climbing in Ordesa without a topo or guide book. You won't have shiny bolts to keep you on route and, on many occasions, the pitons you see will be from parties who go off route or unadvisable alternatives. Also find out the way back to the valley floor, even if it is quite obvious.

Carry enough water. Put half-liter soft flasks in your shoes that you are going to wear hanging from the harness, it is a good trick to always have water on hand (you can drink directly from the soft flask without having to open any cap) and once emptied, it neither weighs nor takes up space.

In addition to chalk and a chalk bag if you need them, don't forget the sun cream. The heat and ultraviolet radiation of the alpine conditions can be harsher than the climbing itself.

Don't forget either, if you don't trust your skills or your fitness too much, alightweight aider or a "panic draw" to get through the moves or clip a piton from a lower position can come in handy.

Etriers or aid ladders are sometimes necessary and other times welcome.

We hope that you have found this article interesting, that you have enjoyed reading it, that it has motivated you even more to go climbing in Ordesa. Be sure to visit the Barrabes online store for all your gear needs.

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