From the northeast, El Cavall Bernat is the unmistakable freestanding spire dominating the top skyline.
A historical summit, the scene of the most important achievement certainly in Catalonia by the mid 1930’s when Josep Costa, Josep Boix, and Carles Balaguer climbed what is known now as the Normal route on 27 October 1935.
Great exposure and fantastic views from the most distinctively prominent of the 900 some spires in Montserrat.
With around a dozen routes to do, a number of these classics, El Cavall Bernat has something for nearly every rock climber. Routes vary from hard (8a+) to relatively moderate (5b) and are from 7 to 3 pitches in length. The easiest route to the summit has to be short Via Normal at around 5.8 in difficulty, while there are longer classics in the 6c/7b range (Punsola Reniu and Puigmal) which can also be done as “obl” type routes in the 5b/A0 and 6a/A1 range if one isn’t up to the grade.
There are three main approaches to the Cavall Bernat, depending on the location of the intended climbing route and how much scenery one wishes to soak up.
1) The least sweaty (and most expensive) is to take the funicular (inclined cabled rail lift) to Sant Joan and hike the popular trail towards the tallest peak in the area: Sant Jeroni. Cavall Bernat will appear across the valley. Hike slightly past it, then, cut back downhill and follow the climber’s trail (marked with yellow) to the base on the southwest side. 30 to 45 minutes.
2) Hike from the main Monastery to the north up a narrow valley. Endless concrete stairs, past turnoffs for Sant Benet and Gorros, lead to a trail along a streambed in a wider valley. The Cavall Bernat will come into view from this trail on the right. Follow a climber’s trail to the base on the southwest side. Should take around an hour.
3) Trail starting at the antiquated Monestir de Santa Cecília (Refugi Bartomeu Puiggròs). Park car in the paved lot, hike back downhill a short ways and take the obvious trail up the hill to the main “Cami de l’Arrel” trail (the GR 172 which is marked with white and red).
Go towards the obvious spire. After around 25 minutes, pass by a trail leading uphill to the right and a few meters later a climbers’ trail leading to La Festa del Paca (the northeast side) appears as a loose gully/stream course.
Passing by the Cavall Bernat’s due north side, as one heads to the east, a wider rocky dry streambed appears, noted by a large, smooth tree branch blocking easy access (and a crossed white and red “X” on a rock on the left side of the stream course). This trail is marked at its beginning with a single red “dot”. Hike up this steeper, semi-loose trail and before long, the first of many fixed climbing ropes on low angle slabs appear. Follow the ropes and intermittent trail up to the upper western shoulder of Cavall Bernat.
Approach time is around 45 minutes to an hour depending on how much enthusiasm for the fixed ropes one has. The beauty of the approach from Sant Cecila is you can see the Cavall Bernat almost the whole way, and, it’s obvious.
For routes on the shorter, south and west side (Via Normal, Pérez-Vergés), any of the above approach routes would work.
For routes on the north and east sides, the approach from Sant Cecilia would be the most efficient. The other approaches would work, but would require a descent of the slabs (fixed ropes) to gain the lower elevation base on that side.
The get down:
The standard descent route comes down on the short side of the spire. Rappel from the statue (!) on the summit (or from the two glued-in pins) in the direction of the flat valley to the southwest. This rappel is nearly 30 meters from the statue (bit shorter from the glued-in pins).
The final belay anchor for the last pitch of Via Normal is used for the next rappel which leads to the base of the main spire (passing by the memorial plaques) in almost exactly 30 meters (with very little if any rope to spare if using a single 60m rope). There is an intermediate anchor on the steep face above the memorial plaques in case a rope shorter than 60m is employed. Appears to be a hanging station and its helpful to gain a view of it as one passes right by it on the way to the bottom of this rappel.
From the base of the main spire, climbers routinely down climb to the notch with the single oat tree (Cavall’s Tree), then down climb easier terrain from there, or, a belay/rappel could be done from the bolt anchor to a small ledge and a walk back to the base of the ridge (start of the Via Normal).
From the base of the west/south side, any of the three approaches previously mentioned could be reversed back to a car. One could also make a nice loop and hike in and return via a different route.
The Cavall Bernat is a true gem of the Montserrat mountain and the showcase attention grabber when viewing from the north. The free standing spire features long 7 pitch classics around its north face while the original "Normal" 2 pitch route climbs a corner section on the southern face.The Punsola-Reniu route, first climbed in 1971, follows a 230m (750ft), fairly direct line up the NE face. Completely re-equiped with generously spaced bolts, the line goes free at 6c (5.11b) or aided at 5b-A0 (...[more]Browse More Classics in International
Although near the Gorros formations, the Cavall Bernat is on the North side of the narrow valley separating it from the other towers and with its history and prestige should really be an area of its own.