El Ojo Critico in Ordesa repeated by James Pearson
British rock climber James Pearson reports about his repeat of El Ojo Critico, the difficult multi-pitch trad climb ascended in Spain’s Ordesa National Park by Josune Bereziartu and Rikar Otegi in 2007 and repeated previously only by Unai Mendia and Iker Madoz. Belayed by Caroline Ciavaldini, Pearson managed to onsight the difficult trad climb and, equally notable, the crossed the Pyrenees by mountain bike.
We’ve been here for just over 1 week, climbing on the very impressive routes and enjoying the spectacular scenery but we’ve actually been away from home a lot longer than that… it just took us quite a few days to get here. Instead of using our car or van to drive here like normal, we thought we’d try something a little different and travel by public transport in as straight a line as possible, and finally by mountain bike over the Pyrenees!
We did this for 2 reasons, the first being the environment, the second, the pace of life. Caro and I are aware of how much we travel, and how much the CO2 emitted damages the planet we’re trying to explore. We already offset the carbon from our travels by planting trees, but wanted to start exploring other ways we could reduce our impact, or better, stop the damage before its already done.
This trip has been our first attempt at a real climbing trip with an environmentally conscious approach, and whilst its far from perfect, we’ve learnt a lot about what works, and what does not and is at the very least a step in the right direction. The second reason is tied into the first (isn’t everything linked anyway) and is a response to our feelings that life is passing ever more quickly. In an age where everything is instantly available, we’re loosing our ability to be bored, to “really” ask questions (instead of just googling them), and to get lost.
We hoped that by taking out time, and opening ourselves to uncertainty, we’d make the travel just as important as the destination itself. With that mentality you can enjoy a real adventure on your own doorstep, perhaps eliminating some of the need to travel to the other side of the globe.
On to the route… We chose El Ojo Critico because it seemed to fit perfectly with the spirit of the trip, or should that be we chose to travel in this way because it seemed to fit perfectly with El Ojo Critico. El Ojo Critico (The Critical Eye) was opened in 2007 as one of the penultimate steps on their journey towards the mountains, and the definitive experience of their love affair with the Ordesa National park. After repeating the hardest existing routes, and free-climbing some of the un-climbed artificial lines, Josune and Rikar realized their dream of opening from the ground up a cutting edge trad route, with no bolts and minimal fixed gear, on one of the most impressive and important faces of the park, The Pilar de Cotatuero.
I’d read about this route years ago and it always struck me as an impressive achievement. Hard Trad multi-pitch routes are rare, especially ones with no bolts at the belays! They take an uncompromising approach to climbing a wall that not many people are prepared to make, and their seriousness is far and away above other bolted hard multi-pitch routes, even ones with much “bigger” grades!
I’d read some of Josune’s reports where she mentions the numerous sections of poor quality rock, and have to admit I rather arrogantly disregarded the fact. Sure, there might be a few loose holds, it’s a big wall after-all, but I’m British, we know how to climb on all sorts of bad rock, with shitty pro… how bad can it really be. Well, the answer is if I’d known how chossy it would be before hand, I’m not sure I’d have even set off! El Ojo Critico climbs through some of the steepest, loosest, scariest rock I have ever seen, and I was climbing in the Faroe Islands last year! There is not one pitch where you can relax, not one moment where you can chill out and click into autopilot. You are constantly testing, checking and assessing the rock, hold by hold, move by move, for fear that if you don’t this thing could very well kill you!
Sitting here typing this I’m smiling to myself at how overly dramatic this must sound, but its true. There are so many moments in that route where you are way above your last crappy piece, wedged in between or balanced on top of some giant detached block, wondering just where exactly your rope is passing, and how many of those edges and corners are exactly as sharp as they look!
Ordesa is without doubt an adventurous climbing area, and climbing even the most frequently visited classics is not for the faint of heart. Opening new routes here required commitment, dedication, and courage, and what Josune and Rikar achieved with El Ojo Critico is right up there, in my opinion, with some of the most pure and impressive trad achievements.
Although I’m proud of my ascent of this route, I’m not writing to talk about that (I think I probably only on-sighted it because I was too scared to fall off!), but to celebrate the achievement of Josune and Rikar! What they did back in 2007 took a clear vision and nerves of steel, and I for one take my hat off to them.
I also take my hat off to Unai Mendia and Iker Madoz for their 1st repetition of the route last month. Their ascent must have been even more adventurous than mine without any chalk to follow. Thanks especially go to Unai for the updated topo of the route. I couldn’t have done it without you!
Last but not least, thanks go to Caro for the belay on the day, the constant encouragement, even when I looked pretty hopeless, and for not loosing your cool when I looked like I was going to drop a big block or two on you. Caro also seconded the entire route, bar one move in the 8a, clean, wearing a big backpack full of water and snacks for me. She was so concerned for time that she didn’t want to go back to have another try (it’s pretty epic to lower off this route, especially on that crazy steep pitch), but I’m sure she could have done it too. Good job for me she didn’t as even like that we topped out at nightfall, barely found our way off the top of the crag, missed the last bus out of the park and had to hike all the way back to town! Yeah, I’ll remember that day for a long time to come…
by James Pearson
Link: FB James Pearson, onceuponaclimb.co.uk, Instagram Once upon a climb, La Sportiva