The Espolón de los Franceses to Peña Vieja is one of the great classics not only in Picos de Europa, but also at national level. It is a route with about 1000 m of elevation gain of which 650 m consist in climbing and the rest of a couloir followed by an arête up to the summit. Although its grade is not very high, it is necessary to move quickly over mountain terrain. Do not underestimate it, it is not uncommon for roped-parties to have to bivouac on the route.
The climbing itself is very nice and quite intuitive. You'll find some pitons along the route and at some belay stations, but in general it is a rather unequipped route. The landscape with the green Puerto de Áliva in the background is beautiful:
The ridge is not to be underestimated, it takes a long time to cross it. You have to move from one side of it to the other to find the easiest itinerary, it never exceeds grade IIIº, so if you go along a more difficult section you are likely to go wrong. Once reached the ridge:
- Climb it up until you come to a small gap that prevents you from passing. It is possible to downclimb a few metres to the left of the ridge (in the direction of the summit). We will arrive at what is known as "El Vivac".
- From here scramble up the right side of the ridge on a slightly sloppy terrain until getting back to the ridge about 100 m further on. We will find another small pillar ahead.
- It can be avoided by making a big detour to the right along a small ledge at the start, and then climbing back up to the ridge.
- Now it is time to climb up a short, simple but aerial section until we reach a patch of pinky rock (there is a small chasm) where the verticality disappears.
- Once again, to avoid a pillar it will be necessary to make a long detour on the right side of the ridge. This time a little less obvious, over small loose stone steps to get back to the ridge.
- Climb it up for a few more metres until reaching a large boulder that is tied abseiling (it is possible to downclimb the right side - III+).
- Finally, about 100 more metres of easy climbing lead us to the top.
In terms of timetables, as a guideline:
- The climb up to "Los Gendarmes" should never take more than 7-8 hours.
- The ridge should be covered in less than three hours.
- It is important not to dawdle, as fatigue and hours in the sun can take their toll on the top.