On a cold November day last year, Spanish climbers and mountaineers Eneko and Iker Pou added a new chapter to the history of climbing. The beautiful, otherworldly towers of Montserrat, Spain saw the first free ascent of the six-pitch route, La Tarragó.
We spoke to Eneko Pou to learn more about their new ‘super-route’ with sustained technical difficulty, which he says shows the world just how great Montserrat climbing is.
Montserrat – close to Barcelona and not to be confused with the Caribbean island of the same name – has a climbing history that goes back to the beginnings of Spanish mountaineering.
The classic routes are often typified by slabs or vertical walls, but Eneko describes the Tarragó route as “futuristic in comparison”, following a sweep of overhang, the underside of a soaring tower of Montserrat’s strange rock.
And this is no little roof, quickly passed. Instead, it is several hundred metres of very steep rock, giving four hard pitches: one of 8b+, two of 8b and one of 7c+/8a.
Additionally, getting to the overhanging climbing requires two easier pitches, but these are not bolted, so climbers also need to be happy placing 'trad', or leader-placed, protection.
Although the grades of the crux pitches are within the technical ability of many top climbers, four of the pitches are stacked on top of each other and done in one push, which requires both great ability and stamina.
Eneko laughed when telling us about the ascent – as if all that hard climbing wasn’t enough, by the time they were ready to try the route in one push, he was only partially recovered from injury.
It would take them six days to nail the climb. “Winter was already upon us, and the north wind was cold,” says Iker. “For five days, we didn’t make it – mostly thanks to the breakage of a crucial hold on the penultimate pitch. But it turned out that the sixth day would be the day!”
The route was equipped 12 years ago by David Tarragó, a Montserrat local. The route was somewhat controversial when it was bolted, as it crossed some pre-existing aid climbs. The controversy returned after the Pous' climb.
The duo returned to the route in late November to re-climb and be filmed on the hardest pitches, but as they rappelled down they discovered that almost all of the protection bolts had been removed.
Who did this, and why exactly, is not yet clear. The Pou brothers say they are more sad than anything else that such a good climb has been, at least temporarily, lost to all climbers.
But Pete O’Donovan, an author of various guidebooks to Catalan climbing and expert on the area, told Red Bull Adventure that David Tarragó has already said he will re-bolt the climb.
The Pous are now focusing on their future Himalayan plans; on the controversy, Eneko told us they always try to respect local ethics and seek consensus. As to the future of the Tarragó route, Eneko said simply “we are not locals, we can not decide what to do”.
But one thing is for certain: it’s a great line. Says Eneko: “It is, without a doubt, one of the most futuristic lines on Montserrat.”
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