Weekend Warm-Up: Heinous Limestone Climbing in “Orbayu Free Again”

All rock climbers have their own unique relationship with crimps. The tiny, fickle holds tend to elicit strong feelings. Sometimes it’s a fiery, fitful affair; sometimes, it’s a delicate dance. They can either make you feel invincible or inflict lasting damage on you. You either love them or hate them. Sometimes you feel both ways at once.

Watch Siebe Vahnee’s relationship with very small, very sharp pieces of rock play out in The North Face’s Orbayu Free Again. In it, he tries to repeat the notorious Orbayu (8c), an exacting six-pitch crimp fest in Spain’s Picos de Europa.

The line attracted attention when the indefatigable Iker and Eneko Pou authored it in 2009. Orbayu is an alternate start to the easier classic Mediterraneo (6b). The Pou brothers, well-known for their reputation in developing hard rock routes, originally spied the possible line during a romp up Mediterraneo.

Two months later, they had a bold new route with sparse protection and heinous holds. (Skip to 5:35 to watch the Pous repeatedly take massive whippers during the first ascent!)

Fast forward a decade and some change and enter Vahnee and his climbing partner, Ignacio Ulero, as they begin their campaign for the route’s seventh ascent.

Limestone rock jocks will love the action — navy water streaks striate the rippling orange wall, and Vahnee climbs with relatable difficulty. He thrutches, pants, pedals (Do I see Elvis leg at 11:35?), screams at the meager holds and composes himself over the route’s big runouts. 8c, he says at the film’s start, is near his physical limit, and it’s clear he’s not sandbagging.

If you’re into a COVID-19 backstory, you’re in luck: Orbayu Free Again has one, just like basically every video created during the last two years. The editors keep it light-duty enough to be unobtrusive. Still, it’s not incredibly engaging.

Strengths? Mountain goats. A cool-looking cliff. History and context by the Pou brothers, who are treasures of the sport.

Picos de Europa, Spain. Orbayu takes roughly the centre line of the formation in the middle, called Picu Urriellu. Photo: TMP – An Instant of Time


Most of all, though, this one’s best kept simple: By far, the best parts are the good old-fashioned Peter Pan rope dancing by manly rock climbers at the top of their game.