Sending Spain: Climbing Catalonia – Part 1
By: Valarie Anderson, Stonewear Ambassador
Last year Louie and I took a trip to France to celebrate our honeymoon. We have the fortune of knowing two wonderful people who lived in France then, and now in Spain. Together Bruce and Alisa run Raison d’Art, a summer retreat for youth and adults. Their programs include Spanish language emersion, art, culinary, rock climbing, and yoga. We were invited out for a climbing trip as part of our honeymoon, and since we all got along fabulously, Louie and I came back for more climbing in Spain this fall!
Our first crag of this year’s trip was Sardernes. It is located in the North eastern part of Catalunya in a Espacio de Interes Natural (read: National Forest). The flat approach on a wide road follows the d’Escales River and routes begin immediately on the left.
We started on the left wall, a walk of about 5 minutes to Castell s’Espasa. I’ve never been on Spanish Limestone before and wasn’t sure what to expect from the many descriptions I’ve heard. In the Sardernes area long sections of climbing stretch high above a deep river gorge. As I soon discovered, limestone offers an incredible variety of climbing on each wall and each route. On the same route you can find spiny holds that stick to your fingers with prickly barbs, and slick eroded water treated feet.
After our initial introduction to Spanish limestone, we moved further down this wall to more difficult climbs. Bruce and Alisa picked out the best lines for us and happily shared the local’s beta. I sent Calandra, 7a+ on lead, first go. A longer line, a little steep at the end, and a quick send before the rain came. I really surprised myself the first day and felt like the trip was off to the best start possible. My mind was set on taking each opportunity to climb as a chance to reach my potential on this trip and the first day only stoked this fire. Everyone had a great first day of climbing, and sending!
Our second day of climbing we traveled to Bellavista. A short moderate to steep hike up to the wall ledge is filled with trail traverses, trees that hug the path, a small amount of easy boulder clambering, and ends with offering a spectacular view (hence bella vista or beautiful view). The wall feels a little more exposed, as you are perched up on a cliff band with a reasonably wide foot path.
I roped up right away, leading the first climb of the day, and placed all the draws. I tend to let my husband lead first, but it is good practice to place your own gear. I sent Blues is Here, 7a first go. It was a fantastic climb that begins with a tough boulder problem. The fun starts with your feet comfortably on a ledge and your hands on a round bulb at the lip of the overhanging bulge. Next there is a right hand side pull, tiny feet tucked up high, and a mono pocket for your left hand. Luckily I was able to get two fingers into the pocket, which made the long move right to a large crimp and then moderate jug a bit easier. After this section you really put your feet to work. A short nervous traverse left is complicated by slippery feet glazed by water dripping from above. Momentary dissatisfaction with the slick feet gave way when I realized that the water was also responsible for the glorious tufa climbing to come. The middle section of the route follows the back stepping, feet stemming, pumpy line of tufas that carry you near exhaustion. If you can keep your cool the top eases up a bit, with larger but sharper holds, some with prickly spines. A complete package in one route.
After two days of climbing, we took a much needed rest day. I didn’t realize how much it was needed until our second leg of the trip where the exhaustion really began to set in. Giving your body time to recover is vastly important. We chose to use this recovery time for a short trip to the Mediterranean.
Feeling restored we all returned to Sardernes the following day. We climbed on Cova Del Bisbe, which is the right wall and opposite the one we climbed the first day. We had to cross the river to reach the wall. There’s not much of a base to speak of, as the trees crop the wall closely and the base drops sharply away into the bushes. You kinda make camp where the flattest area is, and rope up on the sloped rock base.
After a solid warm up we all aimed high and sent harder. I climbed Lliure 7a+ and Louie sent the same right after me.
Lliure dished out a surprise ending for me. The beginning was gentle yet technical. The scoop it starts on quickly turns vertical. The steepness sneaks up on you before you know it. As I peered up at the last 20 feet I was sure the send was mine. Then all the features disappear leaving you with an exact sequence. I was hesitant to move quickly, not wanting to blow the redpoint. Right hand diagonal crimp, left and horizontal hold, feet high, and move for the jug on the left in one dynamic push. My first attempt I felt very uneasy, so I backed down before the toss. Now I was gripped. As best I could I shook out both my arms, staring worriedly up at the sequence. Then I saw a thin, vertical, crimpy flake. I was recharged, knowing I could squeeze my little fingers behind it. I used the flake to gain a few more vertical feet, and was able to see more options. It appeared I could shuffle my hands left across a slopey section to the jug instead of throwing for it. The send was mine, and I was so proud that I outwitted my own nerves!
Sunday in the afternoon we all four traveled to Pals. This Medieval town dates back to the 4th century. It’s know for its Torre de les Hores, Tower of the Hours clock at the town center, and the four square towers used for defense. One of the many pleasures of traveling in Europe is the ancient buildings still sturdily standing today.
Day 7 we embarked on our second leg of the Spain Expedition. The Lleida region borders Catalunya. The city of Tremp is at the epicenter of a crag explosion. Team Anderson headed out!
Until the next report on the second half of our travels…