I never would have guessed that an island in the Atlantic, off the coast of Africa, has incredible vie ferrate – the cabled climbing routes more normally associated with the Dolomites and the Alps. But Gran Canaria has several vie ferrate that give interesting, hard climbing on volcanic rock and which take you through wild country with stunning views of mountains and sea. Two of the vie ferrate on this Spanish island have even been listed in the top ten in that country and I fully understand why.
I’d not heard of the vie ferrate on Gran Canaria until I started researching the island as a place to go on honeymoon. However, it’s not that surprising that I’d not heard about these vie ferrate as I can find little information on them in English. I suspect they may be hardly known about outside Spain. That’s a situation that needs to be corrected so that more people can enjoy them.
Comparisons with vie ferrate in the Dolomites
The vie ferrate I have the most experience of climbing are in the Dolomites in Italy and it’s pretty inevitable that you compare anything new with something you’ve tried before. The Dolomites are also seen as the home of vie ferrate and the model for what came later, so it’s worthwhile being aware of how Gran Canaria gives a different experience.
In particular, the vie ferrate I climbed on Gran Canaria have a different construction from the Dolomites and this affects how you climb them. From photos I have seen, I think that this style of construction is fairly common in mainland Spain, but I’m happy to be corrected on this.
The cables on these vie ferrate are probably half as thin, if not thinner, than the cables used on vie ferrate in the Dolomites. They are also not attached to the rock by the giant pins used in the Dolomites. The cables are instead attached by the sort of bolts that are used on sport climbing routes and this maybe why these cables are quite slack.
Both the slackness and thinness of the cables make it harder to hold on to them if you want to haul yourself, hand-over-hand, past a difficult section of climbing.
I don’t have any reason to believe that slack, thin cables make the vie ferrate on Gran Canaria any less safe, but they are do give them a different character to the vie ferrate of the Dolomites. This just adds to the already strong characters of the two vie ferrate that I had a chance to try on Gran Canaria.
Via Ferrata La Guagua
The Via Ferrata La Guagua (pronounced wah-wah) is big, bold and utterly brilliant. Set in the rugged scenery of the edge of the Parque Natural de Tamadaba, it gives a full mountain experience combined with views of the Atlantic Ocean. The Via Ferrata La Guagua is reported as being the longest via ferrata in Spain. I can believe it, as it’s at least twice as long as any via ferrata I’ve done in the Dolomites. In its 600m of ascent there is, at the very least, 500m where you are clipped to the cable doing top-quality climbing.
The starting point for the walk in to the Via Ferrata La Guagua is Vecindad de Enfrente, a neighbourhood of the little town of San Pedro in the North West of Gran Canaria. San Pedro is about three kilometres inland from Agaete and sits in the bottom of a barranco (canyon) at the point that the barranco’s walls rise up into mountains.
How to get out of San Pedro and onto the path to the Via Ferrata La Guagua is not very obvious. The best thing seems to be to park near the bridge that crosses the (most likely dry) riverbed that runs along the bottom of the barranco. From here, go uphill on a straight road that passes a white-walled school on your left and passing a sign saying “camino real Tamadaba” on your right. Keep following this road uphill onto what looks like someone’s driveway and as it zig-zags between houses and becomes a path. Periodically there are white arrows painted on walls and rocks to show the way.
This path makes its way up a broad ridge that gradually levels out before it heads straight towards the mountains. Somewhat strangely, this path has street lighting in its early stage on the ridge and the black power cable that connects the lights is a good indicator of whether you are on the right path. The path leaves this ridge to climb into the back of a mountain bowl below the peaks.
Although my wife and I didn’t find the thirty-minute walk to the start of the Via Ferrata La Guagua challenging, we did find actually locating the start of the via ferrata a bit a difficult. At the point where the path takes a sharp right turn, there are a pile of large boulders under which a stream trickles. The Via Ferrata La Guagua starts about 30m above and behind these boulders at the base of a broad rock arête. The easiest way to get to this is to continue up the path for about 10m and then go diagonally left to climb over rocks and scrubby plants. If you can’t spot the via ferrata cable as you do this, try aiming for a black water pipe running down the mountain – the via ferrata is to the left of this.
Once you are on it, it’s easy to see why this via ferrata has been listed in the top ten vie ferrate in Spain. Apart from giving a huge amount of climbing in its incredible length, the Via Ferrata La Guagua involves a variety of interesting climbing that is often exposed, sustained and a bit technical. The compact, hard volcanic rock gives consistently good holds. In the places where the route goes up rock with fewer features, the Via Ferrata La Guagua has stemples punched into the rock to climb on. It seems that the people who built the Via Ferrata La Guagua tried to keep the interest up (and make the climbing more challenging) in these stemple sections by having the stemples (and so the route) sometimes wander around the rock. This makes the stemple climbing less like going up a ladder and requires you to think through your sequence of moves.
Something else that makes the Via Ferrata La Guagua interesting and fun is that it feels like exploring a wild terrain. As you get higher, you move through different types of terrain and going around each corner or over each rise feels can bring something new and interesting, be it strange rock forms or a challenging bit of climbing. Getting higher and higher the views of Agaete, Puero de Sardinia, the Atlantic and the surrounding mountains open out more and more and become increasingly stunning.
In its lowest section, the Via Ferrata La Guagua is essentially following a rocky ridge. Care is needed on this part of the climb as some of the rock is a bit loose and there is the odd passage without cable that requires you to scramble or walk over loose rock and scrub.
The character of the climb changes when you get to a wire ladder on the outer edge of a large overhang. This is the point where things get a lot more serious and strenuous.
The ladder ends with a 40m vertical wall of rock that you have to climb by a series of stemples. This is just the first of a several long, steep rock faces climbed by stemples that drift around the rock. Several of these sections involve pulling and pushing yourself over small overhangs. The occasionally wide distances between the stemples makes all of this stemple climbing harder. I’m 6’3’’ and I often had to stretch for the next stemple or work my feet higher in order to stand up for the next hold. My wife, who stands at nearly 5’7”, found these sections awkward and strenuous, but certainly more interesting.
Between these long stemple sections there are traverses and slightly easier climbing, including a couple of slab sections where you climb hand-over-hand using a chain. The rock in this area is often ochre and grey as well as involving weirdly shaped caves and pockets.
It’s after traversing along such a cave and climbing its edge on stemples, that you get to an optional detour that takes in going through a vertical cave and over a wire Burma bridge.
Carrying on using more stemples brings you to the final section involving some unprotected scambling and easier terrain. A final stemple climb of a corner leads to the top on some earthy, rock slabs just outside the pine forest on the top of Montana de las Presas.
In both the ascent and the descent, there are stripes of yellow paint on rocks to mark the way. Unfortunately, these are not very big and are sometimes fairly widely spaced. This means you sometimes have to look carefully to find them and it would be very hard to find your way if the cloud came down.
Once at the top, you follow these yellow paint stripes up through bushes and into the pines and eucalyptus trees until you reach a plateau on Las Presas. Continuing to follow these yellow paint stripes leads to a concrete drainage channel running roughly east to west. This provides a useful expressway through scrub to a dam, which you then walk cross.
What happens next is a bit up for debate. The guidebook Vias Ferrata; Las 50 Mejores de Espana suggests turning right after the dam and basically following the stream bed / water channel running from the dam. This looked a bit too steep and rough for my wife and me and so we didn’t give it a try.
My map showed a trail heading right after the dam and then curving northwest around Montana de las Presas before turning north to descend a ridge. We tried this by turning right down a track running past the dam, but found this ended abruptly after a few minutes. A short, well-worn path ran downhill to another concrete watercourse and so we followed this. This watercourse did traverse around Montana de las Presas and had clearly been used as a path before. It also got us to the ridge, but part way along a well-maintained north-south path that I wouldn’t have minded picking up earlier and which might have been the proper route.
The path then winds down a rocky ridge with brilliant views of the coast and wonderful volcanic rock formations. It reaches the crest of Montana Bibique and a takes a right turn at a junction to go south and descend back to the path used to approach the via ferrata.
It’s on this stretch that the path passes the stunning Cuevas de Berbique. This is a honeycomb like collection of caves dug by the Guanches, the original inhabitants of Gran Canaria, as a grain store. It’s an unusual sight and the final treat on an amazing mountain day.
The Via Ferrata La Guagua is a serious undertaking that requires good mountaineering and climbing skills and a level head. The sheer length of this via ferrara means that it requires a fair bit of stamina.
In the guidebook Vias Ferrata; Las 50 Mejores de Espana there is an estimated completion time of three hours, although it took my wife and I four and a half hours including breaks and stopping to enjoy the scenery.
This guidebook grades the Via Ferrata La Guagua as the Alpine grade MD (Muy Dificil, or Tres Difficile, TD, in French). Using the grading system often applied to Dolomites vie ferrate, I’d give it a 4C. In this system, the number represents a technical grade on a scale in which 1 is easy and 5 indicates highly technical climbing. The letter represents a level of the seriousness involved that takes into account the commitment involved, accessibility, escape routes, the fitness required and dangers. Although the Via Ferrata La Guagua is only half an hour walk from a town, it’s long length, lack of straightforward escape routes and end on an isolated mountaintop make it serious.
The isolated location, difficulty of the climbing and length of the route mean doing this via ferrata requires careful planning around equipment. The north of Gran Canaria has the potential to be cool (including wet) or hot and you need clothing for these eventualities. My wife and I did this climb in a humid 28C heat and were dripping sweat. We really needed more than the two litres of water we were carrying each. Obviously, realising the challenge climbers have in balancing the need to have enough water on this route with the need to travel light, the builders of the Via Ferrata La Guagua have set up a couple of containers to collect water draining off the mountain. It’s debatable how safe this water is to drink (I didn’t try it).
Via Ferrata Baviera
The Via Ferrata Baviera is a relatively short via ferrata that is made longer by the need to do a multi-pitch abseil (rappel) to get back down it. This via ferrata is located among the striking ochre and grey volcanic rock buttresses and pillars by the small town of Ayacata in the centre of Gran Canaria. It climbs the front of a giant rock fluting before diving into, and then up, the dark gully to one side of it.
The Via Ferrata Baviera has great views of the pockmarked rock buttresses and towers around it. It ends on the edge of a secluded pine forest with the smell of wild lavender.
The negative points of this via ferrata are the severity of the climbing, that there is too much unprotected scrambling and that there is a set of poorly thought out abseil anchors.
The Via Ferrata Baviera is about half a kilometre outside Ayacetta on the GC60. There’s a dirt layby with space for a few cars just after the junction of the GC60 and GC600. Park here and then walk a few minutes west on the GC60 (taking care because of the passing traffic) and then strike uphill through almonds trees and bushes for about five minutes. There is a rough path most of the way up until about five metres from the cliff face, where it becomes a matter of finding the easiest way through the bushes to the rock face. I suggest using the photo here to find your way to the start and to get a sense of the route of the via ferrrata.
The climbing, particularly at the start, is hard. Not fun hard like the Via Ferrata La Guagua, just hard. The rock has few neat holds and many of the holds are small. The rock is also loose and friable it’s fairly easy to dislodge something.
After some effort in the lower section, the climbing gets a bit easier as it gets less vertical and goes up a series of slabs. The route then traverses into the shadowy gully and goes up this gully by a rounded arête. The cable then ends abruptly, only two-thirds of the way up the route.
The rest of the ascent is undertaken via unprotected scrambling up the gully on often rounded holds. This scramble includes a squeeze through a gap under some boulders followed by a scramble up to an area of broken slabs on the edge of a pine forest.
This is a beautiful, tranquil place with good views of interesting rocks. It’s great to stop for a while. However, it still felt to me a little like this via ferrata had ended too soon. That feeling didn’t take account of how long it would take to get back down again.
A multi-pitch abseil is required to get down the Via Ferrata Baviera. I knew this in advance because I’d found an online video showing people abseiling down. However, looking around at the top of this route, I couldn’t find the first set of anchors and my memory of this video was not good enough to figure out exactly where they were. Now that I’m back in the UK and have looked at this video again, it seems to me that the first set of anchors are reached by turning right at the top of the via ferrata and following the edge around. It was in this area that I looked for these anchors, but I clearly didn’t go far enough along the edge to find them.
Also, after having seen the route first hand and now looking at this video again, I wonder about the length of this first abseil and whether I could have done it on the 60m rope (doubled over) that I was using. As it was, my wife and I gingerly did the difficult and worrying down climb back to the cables and abseiled from there down to the next set of anchors. These were to the right (if facing in) of the broad arête to which the final section of cable is attached.
The anchor points on the Via Ferrata Baviera are painted in orange to make them stand out. They are mostly bolts with maillions. However, there is one anchor made up a maillion attached to the main via ferrata cable and, separately, to the rock by its own cable and a bolt. Getting to these anchors on the descent requires a short traverse out of the gully, which you can protect for most of the way by reattaching yourself to the via ferrata cable.
It’s very important to know that a 60m rope, doubled over, is not long enough to abseil from the penultimate anchors to the final anchors. My wife found herself about 3m above the final anchors and at the end of the rope when she abseiled down. She was forced to clip her lanyards to the cable, remove herself from the abseil system and down climb a few metres in order to rig the next abseil. As the final abseil was about 20m, this is just poor design on the part of whoever built this via ferrata. It’s has the potential to be a fatal design hiccup for an inattentive climber who doesn’t knot the ends of their abseil rope.
It’s also hard to see how a climbers abseiling down wouldn’t get in the way of climbers coming up on the lower section of this vie ferrate. In addition, there are a few loose rocks on this lower section that it’s easy to knock onto someone below you either with your foot or as you pull the rope down.
It’s really this abseil and the hardness of the climbing that gives the Via Ferrata Baviera it’s challenge and its interest. You certainly need a variety of technical skills to do it well. Although the start is in easy walking distance of a village, there are no escape routes before the end of this via ferrata and the end is a bit isolated.
It’s for these reasons that I’d give the Via Ferrata Baviera a 4B grade.
I’ve not been able to find much information in English on these vie ferrate and the other vie ferrate on Gran Canaria. The information that is available is predominantly in Spanish. This made my planning difficult, as my Spanish is terrible. Thankfully, if you are like me, a lot of the information that is available includes photos, maps and videos that give a reasonable indication of what is involved.
The guidebook Vias Ferrata; Las 50 Mejores de Espana has information on the Via Ferrata La Guagua and the Via Ferrata Primera Luna, both of which it puts in the top ten vie ferrate in Spain.
If anyone knows of any other sources of information, or has done vie ferrate on Gran Canaria, I would be really interested to hear about it.
Doing vie ferrate carries a variety of risks and is dangerous. Don’t set out to try these vie ferrate unless you have the skills, knowledge and equipment to do them properly. There are a few tips on this blog about how to do vie ferrate safely, but they are just tips and not a substitute for knowing what you are doing in the mountains and making good decisions.
Have fun and be safe.
UPDATE: 8 May 2015; I’ve heard from a couple of people that some of the vie ferrate on Gran Canaria have been undergoing maintenance and have had their cables removed. The most recent information I have (thanks Stephen!) is that Jesus Beita has have its cables removed, but that La Luna is ok. However, I have also heard that Baviera was without its cables a few months ago. Unfortunately, I can’t find out why this work is being done and when these vie ferrate might be open. If anyone has up to date information, then I would be very interested to hear.