The North of El Cid
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A Classic Via Ferrata

The mountain range of El Cid is located between the municipalities of Petrer, Novelda and Monforte del Cid, it lies in a Northwest-Southeast direction and the Western part has unusual topography. A beautiful high plateau known as the Chair of El Cid rises up over the Medio Vinalopó. 

The Chair of El Cid appears as a rugged silhouette with steep sloping sides, the South, North and part of the East sides appear vertical. This topography and its proximity to towns like Elda and Petrer, which have a great mountain tradition, have made it a popular area for mountain activities.

There are two ways for mountaineers to get to the summit. There are footpaths through areas of great beauty that were once used for transporting coal and cattle or there are roped climbing routes which run up the walls of El Cid. The poor quality of the rock makes most climbers look for other more suitable and safe walls by which to ascend. Only bold climbers known as "very brave" and those who are comfortable with the exposure, attempt to scale its peaks. This was the case with José Navarro "Pipona" who, at the end of the sixties, left now forgotten and super-exposed lines in the corner of the shoulder, East of El Cid (very friable rock) that have never been repeated and in some cases the routes are in doubt. In fact, the climbing routes are indicated by the existence of nails from the sixties and seventies in cracks on the South and East walls. Today, the authors of this article are only sure of the existence of the route "club Alpino Eldense" opened in 1996 by Peine and Serrano on the South wall using parabolts. There are a couple of sports routes on the eastern most part of the same wall.

On the opposite face you can find the classic route on the North of El Cid, a route opened by some men from Elche, Rafael Botella and Juan Montesinos in 1970, repeated in 1971 by José Navarro and Maika and Manuel Bravo Castelló. This line follows the more shaded slopes below the Chair of El Cid joining systems of corners, aretes and overhangs and although easy (max. Vº) it was difficult to protect due to the poor quality of the rock that exists on the walls of the Mountain range of El Cid. The types of protection used were ‘tacos’, wooden spikes (the pitons of the time) and long metal pins with drilled holes, which were no more than modified pieces shelving hammered into holes and cracks in the stone blocks.

In same year 1971, Domingo Botella and Juan Manuel Maestre repeated it with a different start and the same climbers, in March 1972 began to reequip the classic of the North of El Cid, with its variation, as an "innovative" and different route for the time, it was the beginning of free climbing in Spain. These climbers proposed a safety line on the route, a divided cable fixed to the anchors that already existed and pitons, well before the mid nineties Domingo used parabolts. The line of this route tries to follow the easiest parts of the ascent to the Chair of El Cid by using this slope; it avoids the first dihedron at the start by turning diagonally to the right and avoids some other unimportant pitches in the middle of the route. This gave the route a grade of Vº to IVº+.

With the passage of time this route became known by its popular name of the "Cable of El Cid". The reason for this method of protection was according to Domingo, "to make the most accessible route for the greatest number of mountaineers". What he also emphasized was the enormity of the work that had to be done, if we think that at the beginning of the seventies it was only possible to travel by car to the "Casica del Forestal". From here to the start of the route was a one hour walk and then to the summit, an average of one and a half hours more and all this loaded with equipment. According to Domingo they took a year in placing the cable.

In January of the 2002, Leandro Irles replaced and added to the anchor points for the cable using resin and reorganised them into a more optimal layout, which would stop possible falls if a typical Via Ferrata protection system were used. The same year, a group of the EVAM (Valencian School of High Mountains) was formed in Petrer and began organising ascents as a sport activity, using a Ferratta security system and was a base for retraining guides in the methods of leading clients on Ferrata routes. 

This "re-equipment" popularised this classic once forgotten route and it became well climbed due to its accessibility, beauty, good protection and low grade, about a IVº+ is generally accepted as the grade whilst using the cable as a rope or the fixed protection for clipping a rope (which is not actually its objective). This changed the North route from one that was little climbed, to being a highly repeated route and sometimes by large groups.

But it is an error to think that the difficulty of this method of climbing is based simply on the physical-technical effort that it is required to complete it. This misapprehension and ignorance of other intrinsic difficulties of the mountain, i.e. climbing walls of several pitches with varying distances between protection, the friable rock, loose blocks, all types of solid objects being dislodged (or thrown) from the summit by walkers and vital holds that are unstable and disintegrate with use. All of this makes the Cable of El Cid a route unsuitable for beginners and for the groups of "climbers" at the weekends, who ascend in parties of three, four or sometimes more people.

This river of climbers produces an increased risk of accidents on the North of El Cid in addition to causing erosion (many repetitions produced deterioration of holds and a stripping of the vegetation of certain sectors of the route where it did not travel over rock), this has been justification for a revision to and the production of a revised route itinerary.

These reasons, among others, raised the concept of a different route, able to absorb the massive flow of people and to mitigate the environmental impact, while simultaneously increasing the security of the climbers. The intention was to maintain the itinerary as close to the original as possible, clean the zones where the blocks were loose and threatened to fall and where the rock was poor quality. If this caused an increase in the degree of difficulty, metal rungs for hands and feet were installed as well as reconstructing the approach route over the sloping areas below the zones through fields and pastures that did not show problems with erosion when used occasionally. Eventually, it evolved into a cross between a climbing route and a Via Ferrata, although it can be climbed with methods of protection typical for a Via Ferrata route you must be able to climb at a grade of at least Vº.

Likewise, with Colofón, the access to the route has undergone modifications to address the problems previously mentioned. The natural access to the start of the route was made via a steep ravine (gulley) of stones and earth, which was of poor consistency and channelled the rockfalls from the summit. At the end of a 2003 a new access to this route was made (the cable of the North of El Cid), it is already a part of the philosophy of the Via Ferrata, that the approach to the walls is made across some arêtes and a final abutment where the safety cable has been fixed along with more than 50 metal rungs. 

Jose Ignacio Amat, Leandro Irles

Recommendations for completing the route:

It is a route that has the possibility of loose and falling rock because the rock is friable for almost its entire length.

The summit of the Chair of El Cid is well visited and this increases the danger of rocks being dislodges by walkers (maximum care at week ends).

Although the route can be climbed with the typical protection for a Via Ferrata (climbing harness, double anchor and fall arrester), if you cannot climb at grade lV it is advisable to use a dynamic rope to protect yourself. For the same reason you may need to use climbing shoes in some sections.

The use of a helmet is obligatory.

In winter it is a very cold and wet area, the use of gloves on the metal rungs is advisable.

Respect the footpaths in all the massive, in the access as well as in the descent.

The route is more than 300 meters in length and 250 meters in height you need to be in good physical condition and familiar with open and high spaces.

Approach by vehicle: Leave the Alicante-Madrid motorway by the Petrer-Salinetas exit. Take an ash felted service road that runs parallel to the road to Madrid. This takes you to the parking in the "Casica del Forestal" the base of the Chair of the Cid. (See map). 

Parking: Park at the top of the "Casica del Forestal".

Approach on foot: Go up the forest path (northeast direction in ascent) until you find yourself below the North wall. Access to the route is by a small river bed that you find on the first curve after the track begins its descent.

Descent: Go from the North summit towards the South summit following the PR signs that will follow the West face to the parking.

Aparcamento – parking
Aproximacion – approach
Itinerario Via – Via ferrata
Retorno – descent route

Escalones - steps

Travesia de acceso - Access traverse


Escalones y cadena – Steps & Chain

Escalones y escalada – Steps and climbing

Pasos de escalada – climbing

Travesia de acceso - Access traverse


Many thanks again go to Gary Watson for this translation and to David Mora Garcia for permission to publish it and to Jose Ignacio Amat, Leandro Irles for the original article.