Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Spain! Coffee, pockets and Chorizo.

Just over 48 hours ago I was sat by the side of the road, sunnies out, vest on and basking in glorious 20 degree Spanish sunshine. Now I'm rugged up back home, down jacket firmly fastened up and listening to the wind and rain completely lash it down outside. Quite the change and a sudden shock to the system!

Anyway, that aside, Espanya or more specifically Catalonia, is finally ticked off of my places to visit. I have been to the mecca of sport climbing in Europe, albeit only a small sector, and have seen the light! I have always known climbing abroad is where it is at, but this trip has opened my eyes even further to just how much there is to do out there.

Margalef is a dreamland and a true climbers paradise. The amount of rock is on an unprecedented scale and situated in some of the most beautiful countryside you could wish for. It was everything that I imagined and I already cannot wait to get back.

I headed out with my friend Karl Smith who runs the only climbing wall over in Shropshire, Newport Rock, and has many years of climbing experience all around the world. I was super grateful to him for offering to come out with me and essentially be my belay gun and chauffeur for a week!

It did almost turn into a disaster however with our visit very unluckily coinciding with some of the worst and most torrential weather on Spanish record. For the first 5 days of our trip it did nothing but rain and rain and rain some more. I could have literally broken down and cried. For the whole winter in the UK I had put up with this nonsense and had finally gotten the chance to escape to what should have been 'guaranteed' wall to wall sunshine but instead been firmly hit, bang in the face with the very thing we were trying to get away from. Unbelievable. Out of the frying pan into the fire so to speak.

Not what we had in mind...

All that rock, all those amazing routes I had heard about and wanted to climb for so long were suddenly right on the doorstep but they had turned into full raging waterfalls. To say it was torturous would have been putting it extremely lightly.
We tried to keep the faith as best we could. Drinking endless amounts of coffee and tea, visiting cafes, eating nice food and spending a lot of the down time on the Internet.

Spanish lunch! Muy Bien.

Despite all the dampness we did still manage to get out most days and search out the odd piece of dry rock. In fact the very first day the trip could not have gotten off to a better start. We quested up to the beautiful crag of Espadelles, nicked named the 'mini Ceuse' which is not hard to see why! 
The crag sits proudly, high above the valley below and offers some truly stunning routes up and down the grades. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, my eyes flicking from one sector of rock to the next. Scanning through the guidebook, locating all the must do routes.
It was a tad chilly but I decided to dive straight in at the deep and quickly set off up a classic 8a, Transilvania. Within a few minutes I was clipping the chains on my very first 8a onsight. Not bad for a warm up and decent way to kick things off! Sadly that evening the bad weather came in and thus began a frustrating few days.

 Moody afternoon spent wandering around the ancient city of Lleida.

We spent the first week staying at the pleasant retreat of Els Tres Pins. A small hotel situated in the centre of the village of Margalef itself. Having a solid roof over our heads, food cooked for you every night, free Wi-Fi and just somewhere to chill and hang out was pretty nice. Not that I don't enjoy dossing in a tent and sleeping bag but having that bit of luxury is a definite bonus.
For the last few days I moved just around the corner into the Refugio. The 'true climbers' hang out, the hub of the village and a constant hive of activity. To be honest I have to say that I enjoyed the scene here so so much more. Their super relaxed and friendly attitude, excellent modern and clean facilities, coupled with being surrounded by like-minded people virtually 24/7 makes for a brilliant vibe and atmosphere. You can go and leave when you wish, cook your own food and all for a seriously great price. I would highly recommend it to anyone. Check out their Facebook page here :) Thanks for a quality stay chaps, we'll be back! Gracias. ;)

Here I hooked up with Alex Barrows and Nic Duboust and spent the remaining days trekking around with them. Barrows is on a mission to climb his first 9a. The stunning Chris Sharma line of Era Vella up at La Catedral sector. Excited to hear that he is making good progress and I am confident that the lad will succeed! Venga youth!

 La Catedral!

 Barrows gives us the lowdown on the 9a breakfast...

Cooking and food - my next biggest passion outside climbing!

Eventually the sun returned and boy did it feel good. I took my beanie off for probably the first time in about 5 months! Just laying out in the sunshine with that heat beaming down on your face was pure bliss and we quickly forgot the dark times experienced a few days prior.

I had written up a list of routes as long as my arm. Some I had wanted to try for years and others that had been recommended by various folk. I quickly realised that it was going to be an impossible mission, especially considering the dodgy conditions, to even get close to ticking half of them!
The ones I did manage to get through though were all absolute class and it would be tricky to single out any one of them. However at a push I would have to say that my two proudest sends would have to be the uber 'must do' and slightly cliche classic, Photo Shot and the mind blowingly good Sàtiva Patàtica. 

 El Laboratori

The Lab is perhaps one of Margalefs most famous and recognisable sectors. This is the home of the short, the gnarly and the mono pulling rigs that many people would most associate with the area.

To get a quick sense of just how steep and intense this crag is then take a look at the rad video below of Iker Pou repeating the desperate Sharma route 'Demencia Senil' 9a+!

Photo Shot sits just to the left of this famous testpiece and was a route that I had dreamed about climbing for a long long. Seated firmly at the top of my tick list. The whole idea of climbing at a perfectly located roadside crag, on sinker pockets had appealed to me for years and I was itching to get involved. 

Easy to see where Photo Shot gets its name...
Ben Heason showing the way here one winters day a few years back. 
©Andrew Stripp

I'll admit that I had vague ambitions of attempting to give it a good flash go. I knew all the required beta and was fired up to execute. Sadly I ended up blowing it which was slightly frustrating as it could have quite easily gone the other way. However I sucked it up and boshed it out a few tries later. I lowered off into the middle of the road and sat there for a while enjoying the moment after finally realising my little dream. 
Thanks to Andy Stripp for the use of his cool photo of Ben!

Sàtiva is entirely the opposite style of climbing. Being a long 30 metre, pumpy juggernaut fest up a perfect crag on pristine rock. Clipping the chains on this represented my second true onsight of an 8a sport climb and without a doubt one of my proudest and most memorable routes. 
Below is a list of my best ascents from the week, while nothing too special or hard they were all brilliant and considering the rain I've come home fairly pleased with how it all went. 
Having not travelled abroad and visited many world class places as some people, these ascents have given me a tiny taster of just what I might be capable of in the future. 
The UK can be decent, but these foreign countries are where its at! Especially if you want to truly test your abilities and scale some fabulous formations of rock.

El Ball del Tríceps - 8b
Photo Shot - 8b
Transilvania - 8a (Onsight)
Sàtiva Patàtica - 8a (Onsight)
Dando Brea - 8a (Onsight)
Dr Feelgood - 8a (Flash)
Telemaster - 8a (2nd go)
Maligna - 7c+ (Onsight)
Aeroplastica - 7c+ (Flash)
La Corva de la Felicitat - 7c (Onsight)
Esquerre Espinazo - 7c (Flash)

The final headwall of Sativa.
©Alex Barrows

The Future

On my very last day I got to belay the future of British climbing. The young Josh Ibbertson. At only 10 years old he has already climbed 8a on a recent trip to Margalef over the winter period and with that became the youngest ever Brit to climb the grade by a good two year margin!
I watched him totally cruise up a short 7c at The Lab first go. Very very impressive to watch! It is great to see such a psyched family all climbing together and full of motivation for being in the outdoors.
Josh and his younger brother Jack are both ones to watch without a doubt.  Their extensive knowledge of the climbing world and psyche is quite astounding for lads of such a young age.
Enjoy the rest of your two weeks in the sun guys and catch you back here soon!

Josh cranking down hard on his first 8a, Innuendo up at Raco de les Espadelles
©James Ibberston

It is so rewarding when you can plainly see that those improvements in your climbing come from a direct consequence of putting in all that time and training at the wall. I love training and pushing my body hard but I have to admit that sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to bust out another lap of my circuits. Sometimes you really cannot be bothered to drive out in the bad weather on a cold blustery winters morning and spend the next foreseeable few hours pulling down on plastic on your own, when all you really want to be doing is climbing outside.
However, when the weather does finally improve and you do finally get to head outside or jet off on an adventure to foreign lands, it is all so worth it and you will thank yourself for that extra bit of effort you put in.
I kind of feel that personally I could have pushed the training a little harder this winter, but what is exciting for me is that if my climbing can improve by this much from the amount of hours I did actually put in... Then how much can it improve in the future, with maybe just another extra 10% of effort... Exciting times for sure and I am psyched to have finally been able to test myself and my abilities, however briefly, on a very small selection of some of Spain's classic routes.

The harsh nature of Margalefs pockets begin to take their toll...

It would have been so very very easy to have stayed in bed Monday morning, had a leisurely breakfast in the sun and headed back out to the crag! Just one more day even. But you could keep on saying that forever and still not be content. Such is the way of this climbing life!

I'm stoked for the season ahead. Projects, more trips, seeing those gains, but most of all having fun! I had barely been back on home soil an hour before already looking at flights for my next adventure. We'll see where that takes me but fingers crossed it'll be soon!

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