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Kilometers of untouched rock in Northern Spain
Photo by archivio Denis Urubko
Alex Txikon at Mallos di Riglos
Photo by archivio Denis Urubko
Mallos di Riglos
Photo by archivio Denis Urubko
Denis Urubko, Alex Txikon and his partner
Photo by archivio Denis Urubko
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Denis Urubko and his discovery of vertical Spain


Kazakh mountaineer Denis Urubko and his trip to Spain, an intense tour with talented Spanish alpinist Alex Txikon to reach the Vielha Festival on time...

An analysis of history shows that modern Spain was shaped by its northern province, those which lie in the folds of the Pyrenean mountains. It was there that the Basques, along with their Iberian neighbours, stopped the Arabian expansion. And it was from here that, at the end of the VIII century, the Reconquista began. It was then that the Basque kingdom, which throughout time often changed name and capitals, started to expand and take possession of the south, east and west. And so the north dominated, fed and welcomed. In Pyreneans people lived happily, enjoying their constant crops and abundant herds.

For many years I have considered the northern part of Italy a climbing paradise, however after having visited the Basque country I've begun to change opinion. At least, I've become less categorical. In particular when, driving with Alex Txikon, we crossed the first foothills, delightfully absorbing the new panoramas. Improbable rock bastions replaced the views across sweeping green hills. And, beyond the splendid warmth, a magnificent mountain chain appeared on the horizon- the Pyrenean peaks rose into the sky like snow-covered blades.

- Alex, look! - with delight I hit my friend on his shoulder – It's incredible!
- Yes, big mountains, you are right…
The car turned around the next bend and sped on towards the next hillock.
- See that castle on the hill. Have you ever been there?
- And there's another one. There are lots of castles here!

The road took us north. Somewhere up there, on border with France, lies the ski resort Val d’Aran. We had to get there by 13.00, yet it was already 14.00 - we were late on all accounts. Once again we received a call from Itziar Alcibar, the manager-organiser of festival, and Alex felt justified to push down on the accelerator… it was breath-taking. Justifying ourselves to this clever, strong-willed woman would prove difficult. We were late, full-stop.

- There walls are enormous Alex! Look, that one's overhanging and two hundred meters high!
- Chris Sharma… do you know him? - I nodded affirmatively - He lives here. He left America, found a Spanish girlfriend, and they now climb together in this rocky paradise.

We were late because Alex has decided to jump off one of the Mallos de Riglos rocky towers located in northern Aragon, and after woken at 5 am, we had raced like mad up the motorway to have enough time to rush from Bilbao and stop off at Riglos. At the hotel we had hastily had breakfast with Carlos Suarez, then we sped up the trail. A quick run past prickly bushes, like chamois jumping over red rock. My friend was nervous… just a little, but his eyes were red. As if he adrenaline pumped all the way to his throat…

I'd got involved with this improbable bundle of energy called Alex Txikon just a few days beforehand. We'd me once before at Broad Peak Base Camp, then I'd crossed the Karakorum glacier in the midst of winter... And now, with almost no time to spare, we scurried between the alpine peaks and rocky bastions, from Reynosa to Arrigoriaga, from Dima to Riglos. How lucky I was!

Txikon took me to the route, Suarez climbed with me, many others treated me to coffee and wine, joyfully clapping on a shoulder, asking me about how things were going. "Denis! Hola! Where shall we go? Give me five!" And so I began to "touch upon" mountaineering in the Basque country, in Cantabria with its Picos d'Europa, in ebony-strong Navarra, in Aragon with its delightful panoramas. I didn't want to leave.

- Tomorrow… tomorrow Denis we'll get a paraglider - muttered Alex with a twinkle in his eye.
- And?!
- And we'll fly! I'll teach you.
- How many times have you flown before?
- Just once! - smiled Txikon - But it was fantastic!

Yes! One must live life to the full. The hot Basque blood pulsed in his head. It seemed as if he was taken in by its rhythm and power. All those thoughts, feelings, moods… ah! I remembered all the wild fun in these lands. Hitting a ball with a hand... sometimes without bandages against a stone wall … Chopping huge logs with an axe. Racing from bulls down the streets of Pamplona. Shouldering hundreds of kilos of cobble-stones - more than once! Only incredible people are capable of such tremendous achievements.

As so there we were. Racing through deep canyons at 140km/h. Beneath two-hundred meter high rocky walls. Below mountains and their crests that rose to improbably heights above us. The road wound its way upwards. The car screeched at each turn. And I, as I sat there, I thought about the local climbers such as Alex Txikon, Juanito Oiarzabal, Eneko and Iker Pou, Inaki Ochoa, Alberto Innurategi. About what it was like to live and express all the soul's immenseness, like the Pyrenees that rise out of this plain. Yes, this is northern Spain!





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