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Higher Calling: Adventure in Valencia, Spain

Spain's little-known Valencia region beckons the mountain-minded adventurer with dramatic topography, sun-drenched hiking and biking, and sumptuous end-of-day feasts.

Bernia Ridge looks like it was ripped out of the Dolomites and planted on this hilltop above Spain’s coast. A jagged scrawl of razor-sharp limestone juts up to 400 feet high and stretches for nearly three miles. On my final day in Spain, José and I are joined by his climbing buddies, Laszlo, a Hungarian Frank Zappa lookalike, and Czechs David and Jan. We’ve come to make the technical traverse of Bernia, a full-day adventure that’s a rite of passage for locals.

A cave entrance at the ridge’s base reveals the most unlikely karst formation I’ve ever seen: A tunnel three feet in diameter bores about 100 feet straight through the ridge. Crab-walking, we inch toward a tiny circle of daylight at the far end, at times contorting our bodies to avoid dunking our hands into the shallow puddles littered with sheep dung.

We scramble onto the narrow ridge, then walk and crawl for the next four hours along its undulating, fractured spine. On the steepest sections, we rappel down short cliffs; at the crux, we belay each other across a 30-foot tightrope walk.The awesomely exposed fin is barely wider than my shoe.

Standing atop Bernia, with the Ponoch, Puig Campana, Sierra de Aitana, and other now-familiar peaks visible in the distance, I’m awed yet again. I’ve crammed a summer’s worth of world-class adventure into a week–and all of the scenery, incredibly, is unknown back home. And I’ve only scratched the surface. Before leaving, I’m already scheming a return visit to investigate the hundreds of rock-climbing and canyoning routes, not to mention an out-of-the-way restaurant where–according to José–they serve a really great paella. And likely some vintage Merlot.

Michael Lanza gained five pounds during his weeklong adventure in Valencia.

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