Spain December 2008. Part 2. WARNING, reading this may use up valuable hours of your day.

19th Jan 2009

Batuka web

Well that’s about 5 days covered in the last blog, only another 20 to go! I will definitely try to be more concise with part 2 but then I always say that!

Having had a good few days with Ste, Rab Martin and Dave (also Neil, Ruth, Jules and Stu)- thanks guys- it was time to head to Reus airport to pick up my housemate Alicia. It was another nice day and getting to the airport was a straightforward drive. Also, it’s quite small which I like. I always find it hard going to big cities or busy airports when I’ve been used to quiet times in the countryside- it’s always a bit of a shock- and navigating on your own can be stressful (Kodo hasn’t quite got her head round map reading yet!). I haven’t gone in for one of these new fangled sat nav's so far, what’s wrong with a good old map opened out on the steering wheel? Works for me!!

Alicia had spent a month in Margalef in November so knew the area well, which was handy as I had no idea where we were going. We found a nice spot to park the van off the road; this turned out to be my second home for the next two weeks. It was great for Kodo to potter about carefree, very quiet and generally most pleasant.

Unfortunately, while Alicia was over we didn’t get the best of weather, it turned cold again and was quite an effort to get out of bed in the mornings, let alone go climbing. Also, the nights were long due to the time of year. But the first day was fairly pleasant and I was keen just to do some onsighting and sample the delights of Margalef. We headed for Raco de les Espadelles, which is one of the few crags that gets the sun and fortunately is one of the better crags there. We zipped up a load of routes and again I was pleasantly surprised by how I was climbing, all things considered. The routes aren’t massive but long enough to get into the climbing. I didn’t try anything hard but enjoyed all the routes I did and seemed to be moving well.

Next day was an enforced rest day due to dire weather, so Alicia showed me some of the other crags that I probably wouldn’t be climbing at on this trip- due to the fact that they get zero sun. But they definitely whet my appetite and I’d like to climb on them at some point. It was nice to have a walk and just be out in the fresh (wet) air. We then headed over to the Siurana campsite just to see what was going on there and hopefully get a hot choccy in the bar. Well they’d run out of the hot choccy but we ended up meeting a couple of Italian beekeepers from the dolomites called Christian and Renato. We couldn’t communicate very well but they were very friendly were kind of like father and son. They were also living in a van, like many other climbers in the area.

Next day was nicer and we headed back to Raco de les Espadelles and I had a good day because I redpointed my first f8a of the trip, a really nice route called ‘Transilvania’. I was starting to feel like a climber again. Until my trip to Indian Creek in October, I was struggling a bit with my climbing and motivation but I felt like I was really enjoying it again.

On the way back to our cute little camping spot, I got a text from the Italian bee keepers asking if we’d like to have dinner with them. Well what girl could refuse some genuine Italian grub? So we turned the van round and headed for Cornudella where they had hired an apartment for a couple of days to freshen up. It was a great evening, lovely to be warm and a nice encounter with two genuine gentlemen.

Next day was incredibly windy and very cold. I really don’t know how I managed to climb as it was grim- I think I was actually climbing in my duvet, if I could’ve kept my gloves on I would’ve!

It showed me that I can climb in the cold but I have to be very psyched for the rock and the routes. I think these days Britain in winter is just a step too far and I’m not psyched enough to climb the routes that are nearby. Obviously I will go out and potter every so often but part of why I like climbing is the physical challenge, so climbing an f8a in December is what I would prefer to be doing. Ok maybe it’s not as adventurous but it’s fun!

Poor Alicia just wasn’t into it and kindly belayed me but her body just wasn’t up for climbing and she was going home the next day to do an epic 75kms race. She’d come out for a five-day period and got two days climbing in- that’s commitment for you.

Once I’d dropped Alicia back at the airport I was truly on my own. Fortunately (and this is how things seemed to work) she had a friend Ali, who was living in Reus. I got in touch with him and he was coming to Margalef on the next day with a Norwegian guy called Steini, who seemed to be living on the Siurana campsite. They were cool with me climbing with them for the weekend- RESULT! After that who knew what was going to happen.

I probably mentioned in part 1 of this blog that this was the first time I had gone away on a climbing trip on my own. Obviously, when you go climbing you need someone to climb with and I’d always liked this to be organised beforehand, then you know your trip is sorted. So doing it this way, not knowing who I’d be climbing with was a bit daunting. I was desperate to climb and wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of twiddling my thumbs for days on end.

Also, you are at the mercy of what others want to do, which crags they want to go to. One has to just go with the flow a bit more and maybe not be able to be as prescriptive about your climbing.

Well I needn’t have worried too much. I certainly didn’t take any enforced rest days and the people I climbed with were great company. I did end up climbing at crags that I wouldn’t have chosen to go to and consequently they were almost like training days. I knew I wasn’t going to achieve any ticks at these venues, so I made the best of things by getting on routes that weren’t my style and essentially working my weaknesses- not a bad thing. So I would say on a trip like this, it was certainly true that not every day was productive in a ticking way. And maybe by the end of the trip I didn’t up with an incredible tick list, although I was happy with how it ended. It was a different but very enjoyable climbing experience, very much about meeting people, making friends and climbing with a slightly different attitude. I think I definitely gained something from embarking on this trip.

Anyway, back to THE trip.

So I met up with Ali and Steini and had an enjoyable few days climbing with them. Again the weather was very mixed- in the main, pretty cold. But one day I excelled myself in the ‘climbing in the cold’ event. There was no sun and quite a bit of wind, so it didn’t matter if we were at a shady crag. So we found a sheltered spot just opposite the river where my van was parked, which had a steep, long crag. This was perfect, especially as it rained later on too. Some of the routes at Margalef aren’t super long but this crag had longer climbs, which I prefer, so I was happy.

But it really was very cold and taking any layer off to climb was an ordeal.

To cut a long story short (you’ll be pleased to hear, I know I am rambling ridiculously now!), I managed to redpoint a very good f8a called ‘Doctor Feelgood’, first go. I dogged up it more just to keep warm, found it all ok then redpointed it next go. There was no way I was going to be able to motivate myself to climb again that day, so it was first redpoint or not at all. So I was pleased with that effort.

After, these few days, Steini said he’d be up for coming over to Margalef until I had to go home, which was in 6 days time, so basically the end of my trip was sorted.

He was trying to redpoint a very steep, short f8b+ on El Laboratori, whereas I was up for climbing up at Espadelles. So we came up with quite a good system of belaying each other on our rest days- it worked really well.

The last problem was; what was I going to do with my last few days??

I was happy with my two f8a redpoints and I wanted to try some harder onsighting but things just weren’t panning out that way. I think the main reason was that I wasn’t fit enough to onsight as hard as I wanted to because I just hadn’t been able to get enough mileage done (mainly because of the weather). So I thought I’d try and redpoint an f8a+. I had about 4-5 climbing days left, so enough time to get one done. Which was when I thought well why not try an f8b then? It was a bit of a gamble that I might completely waste the end of my trip by trying things that were too hard and not managing to do anything but at that point I was up for the challenge. It was time to step things up a bit!!

One of the nicest parts of Espadelles had a great looking f8b called ‘Batuka’. I had seen someone else trying it and the bottom looked very bouldery, not my style I thought but what the hell!

Well, I was right, it absolutely wasn’t my style. There were hardly any feet, I could barely hang the handholds and…it seemed beyond me. Oh dear, was this a waste of time?

If you don’t speculate you can’t accumulate, so I decided to do some speculating (Kodo gave me the nod, so I knew it was the right thing to do).

My next go couldn’t have been more different. Not only could I hang and use the holds, I was linking moves. In fact it went so well that I nearly did this whole first section in a oner and it had turned out that this was the crux.

Hmmm, this f8b was looking very possible, great! So no question of whether to carry on, the seed was fully sewn.

I had a look at the rest of the route and it was tricky and pumpy but doable, so it was all in the first four bolts. Unfortunately, there was a mono right at the start that was wet, so I was having to stuff tissue in it to dry it out, so it was unusable that day. Which was a bit of a worry, as this would add on some more hard moves right where I didn’t want them. Oh well, speculate to accumulate…

The weather was brightening up a bit too which was nice and helping the spirits and the bones. I took a rest day and belayed Steini on his project for the day. Although he didn’t want to start climbing till the afternoon, so it was a very chilled out morning in the nearly sun. I decided to try and wash my hair in the river. It was way overdue, so I heated some water up on the stove and managed to clean the locks satisfactorily. The cave Steini’s route is in, is home to a few very hard routes. So it provided me with great entertainment all day watching people swinging around on mono’s in a horizontal roof- ow!

Next day it was my turn again. I hadn’t slept well for some reason; I think I was very excited about getting back on the route. But I hoped it wasn’t going to make me feel too bad. I found it hard to get going and once I started warming up, realised that I felt utterly rubbish. I felt very despondent as it seemed today was going to be a complete waste. There was no way I was going to be able to get close to redpointing the route. The crux moves felt like the living end again, I couldn’t link any and couldn’t for the life of me repeat them the way I had been doing them the other day. Oh dear, it looked like I’d been having a random strong day and the random strongness had all but disappeared. I’m sure a black cloud appeared above my head at this point, I was in a right grump. The only upside was that the wet mono was now only damp and pretty usable. Just another hard move to add to all the other hard moves that I couldn’t do.

A friend and his mates turned up at the crag which was nice. It was Thomas from Denmark, who I’d climbed with in Indian Creek, so I distracted myself from my self-indulgent woes by chatting to him.

After resting, I gave it another bash, still felt pants but was marginally better; nevertheless a long way off. But there were a few hours ahead to play with, so I decided to get my head down and work it properly and just get it really wired. I focussed more on the upper part and completely changed a sequence that I’d sussed and it turned out to be a good plan. It incorporated a long move with some not great holds but it was a more direct way to do the top. It also meant I could clip a quickdraw that I had had to miss out. I’d fallen off the other day after missing the draw, taken a 30footer and nearly taken out the guy climbing next to me- whoops!

After another long rest, I decided to give it a proper redpoint go. It didn’t work out. I was almost getting through the crux but it just felt sooo much harder than it had the other day, it was very annoying. Time was ticking on, so I planned to rest again for a good chunk and then I would have time for one last go.

It was a pleasant day up there, lots of chitchat, some sun and great views, not a bad day at the office. The time had come to have my last go. Even though I knew I was under par, I was very determined to give it my best shot. So I pulled onto the mono and launched into the crux sequence- Nooooo, not again. I was off. I wasn’t even tired. I came down, huffed and puffed for a couple of minutes then had another go. I knew there was something left in my arms. Mono, launch, here we go again…Yessss! I’d got the hold. Oh my God, the next move felt way harder than normal, come on don’t blow it now and stop gripping so tightly!! I managed to do the next section to the shake out by the skin of my teeth but I was there. It was just a case of how long could I hang around shaking out and would I manage to recover enough to do the top half? I had time to mentally prepare myself for the next bit and make sure I knew what I was doing; as I’d only sorted out the new sequence that morning.

Anyway, you can probably guess what happened. It worked out great! Again I got through it by the skin of my teeth, the elbows were definitely up by my ears but there was no way I was letting go until I’d clipped the belay and I didn’t!

It was a great feeling to have done the route that day against the odds. I was utterly convinced that there was no way I was going to link sections let alone redpoint it. And it had only taken me two days, which was very satisfying. And even better, I still had two days left before I had to leave, so it hadn’t even been down to the wire, which is always ultra stressful.

So elated and relaxed, I watched a beautiful sunset while I trotted back to the van. Food, music and dreams of ‘Batuka’ followed…

Next day I was belaying Steini and wasn’t bothered about climbing. We had decided to go to Raco de Mesa, Monsant on my last day, so I wanted to save myself for the mega long routes on that wall. It’s somewhere I’d wanted to go for years and was very excited about the prospect. We drove there that night and got there in the dark.

In the morning we were greeted with amazing views and a very photogenic cloud formation, it was lovely. Finally, the sun was out and we were warm. My last day was going to be very pleasant.

I didn’t have much of a plan; I wanted to sample Monsant climbing, do some onsighting and maybe try something harder.

The routes were sooo long, by half way I was looking for the belay- phew; I’d get fit if I climbed more here.

Before long we were baking in the sun and for the first time, I was almost too hot, it was such a treat. After doing a few on-sights I thought I’d check out something very hard to see if it was maybe worth coming back for. A sort of medium-term project. There were a few f8b+’s to choose from and I didn’t know much about them, so took a recommendation from someone at the crag about a 50 metre route that had a 30 metre f8a+ start. It looked immense and it was going to be an expedition with a bit of jiggery pokery as I didn’t happen to have 100 metre rope with me!

So in the burning heat I set off. Phew, it took a while; like a good hour and half. The f8a+ was tricky enough on it’s own, then without a particularly good rest, you have to set off up what would probably be a sustained f8a. By the time I got back down to the ground, I was exhausted. Unfortunately, I’d optimistically left my clips in the f8a+ section, so had to have a rest then have a half hearted effort at redpointing it; needless to say it didn’t happen.

But stripping the route in the dark was a good end to my last day. And going up the f8b+ made me realise that the grade is a big step up and I was going to have to be significantly stronger and fitter to have any chance of climbing it.

Well, that was the end of my trip- finally I hear you cry- it probably took you longer to read about it than the time I spent out there! I know I know I do go on. From now on I really will try to adopt a more concise blogging style.

Anyway, the journey home was fine, although I was stopped a couple of times on the motorway by the French customs, I obviously have a drug smuggling look about me, or maybe it’s Kodo…

Then Christmas and New Year came and went in a haze of hankies and Lemsip. Not long after alighting at Dover I went down with the lurgy AGAIN.

Which brings me fairly up to date. Although I have already had more adventures, in fact I am in the middle of one at the mo, more about that soon…