The magic of Catalunya- Part 1!

11th Oct 2012

Us two at St Engracia Bottle Colores Train track Girls clothing contrast Lu Colores Lu belay

I am now back from a week cragging in Catalunya, Spain and to say the trip exceeded my  expectations would be an understatement. Everything was fabulous about it; the weather, the climbing, the accommodation and the general vibe. Having had such a long layoff due to my various injuries and breaks, this made the coming back so much sweeter. Although the trip was just another week sport climbing in Spain, it felt like so much more than that. By the end of the week I felt like me again, I remembered why I loved climbing so much and what makes or helps me to tick properly as a person. Having not felt this for a long time, it was especially nice to recapture these feelings and to know that there is a lot more to come.

We arrived at Barcelona to TORRENTIAL rain, the like of which, Sheffield would be proud. It was a little perturbing, especially in our tired state due to the 2.30am start. Even though we arrived at 10am, there was no sight seeing to be had, so we drove to our accommodation doing our weekly shop (where we found awesome water bottles for 1.50€, see picture, very proud!) on the way and collapsed in our lovely little apartment at Casa Mauri (see Alex crashed out on her bed!). It was probably for the best that we didn’t go climbing this day, as we rested up for the onslaught of climbing to come, I was also starting to feel like I was getting a cold, so was dosing up with Lemsip.

The next day dawned beautifully and the downpour of the previous day seemed like a distant memory. Being sun loving Brits, we were both keen to go in search of some sun, so we opted for a crag called Collegats, which is conglomerate and gets the sun all day. Mistake number one! Lovely as it was and even though we’d slapped on sunscreen, by the end of the day we were both suffering somewhat from sun exposure. Our pasty bodies just weren’t used to it and our heads were feeling the effects- so we vowed to climb in the shade from then on. Especially as hotter, better weather was forecast- bring it on we said!

Collegats was a good place for me to start, plenty of low grade good quality f6’s, with plenty of featured rock for hands and feet. Initially I was happy to top rope the routes Alex was leading, as I was a little unsure of how strong my (now fixed) broken leg would be. And not knowing at all how my forearms would cope, I didn’t want to get in any sticky situations on my first day and scare myself. But here’s a tip; what we discovered on all the seven crags we climbed at, is that the bolting is exceptional. The bolts are very reassuringly spaced and you would have to be trying very hard to fall any large distances. Once I discovered this, I did do some leading at the end of the day and enjoyed the sensation of being on the sharp end and climbing again. All in all it was a good venue to start at and I was in seventh heaven that I was climbing again at long last and in the sun! Although the headache and slight queasiness wasn’t great but it soon wore off, typical Brits abroad.

Next day we went slightly further a field to Camarasa. A lot to choose from here, we opted to go to a sector featured in the guide called La Selva, with an unlikely looking f6b+ called Viagra. I didn’t know if I’d be up for trying this grade yet but would decide when we got there. It was a good destination, sheltered and cool with some great, longer routes in the f6’s. Alex started on a 25m f6a+ that looked great, It seemed like a step up to start on that grade but I was feeling ok, so went for it. It was fine, so the next route up was Viagra. Alex went first and did a great job on it. Me next, I was feeling this might be a step too far: a long, pumpy f6b+, second route of the day, would my arms be able to cope? Well, there was only one way to find out…get on it! So I did and it was great, I felt like I was climbing well, even though my usual strength wasn’t there, I was able to use what little I did have as well as possible. We carried on climbing in a similar vein and even did a route in the sun at the end of the day, which was a treat and not too hot. I was starting to feel like a climber again. I still knew how to climb but just had to adapt my style. As I still wasn’t sure what my left operated shoulder could do, I was being a little careful with that. But also what I was finding was that I was really noticing my height, or lack of it, a lot more than usual. Being 5’2” is never going to be an advantage in climbing but I now know just how important it is to as strong as you can be if you are small. And this is what I tell women a lot, if you are short, you just have to be stronger, there’s really no way round it if you want to climb harder grades. So for me climbing at the moment in my weakened state, has really rammed this home. I was just really struggling all week to make moves that normally I wouldn’t have noticed so much, quite an interesting process to go through.

For our third day, we decided to climb a longer route on the wall of the Terradets gorge; Paret de les Bagasses. I’ve driven past it so many times and was quite excited to get a chance to climb a route on it with Alex, who is just as keen as me for multi-pitch action. A route called Colores caught our attention, a seven pitch f6b+. The pitches worked perfectly, in that Alex got all the hard ones when she was leading. It’s strange to write that as I would normally want a chunk of the action but in my present state and feeling pretty chilled out, I was very happy for Alex to be the rope gun on this route. And now I’ve actually climbed it, even more happier! What we didn’t realise was that the wall is essentially a steep slab. Slabs have never been my forte, I’ve had a few nasty experiences on them and being short, this is the most unforgiving medium. Also we were both really struggling with sore feet. I was especially bad because my feet just weren’t used to being crammed into rock boots and they had got pretty sore and bruised from the first couple of days. My supposed ‘comfy’ boots just weren’t comfy anymore. I think to be honest my feet have probably expanded somewhat after their extended period of rest and it was a bit of shock to be shoe horned into small boots again. We started in the shade, which was a blessing but by pitch three the sun had crept round. Luckily the wall slightly steepens, so the feet weren’t do anything too minging but that certainly didn’t stop me whinging, as I was in agony. The second pitch was f6b and Alex led this very well, I was very happy to be seconding, as I thought it was tough climbing and fairly old school bolting too. But that’s what you get on these big walls developed in the eighties, at least all the bolts were new and chunky.

Going back to the start, we had read a description of how to approach the route and got a little terrified. It sounded completely illegal and like you were taking your life into your own hands when attempting it. When we actually got to the approach, you can see from the pictures that there was a train tunnel you have to go through; we had visions of it being a kilometre long with high speed juggernaut trains belting through and missing you by inches. Well fortunately, the tunnel was very short and no trains were in sight, so this was a relief. But also it was quite cold (about 9 degs), so I was togged up with many layers, a hat and some gloves. By the time we got to the bottom of Colores Alex was stripped to her bikini. I literally couldn’t believe that she was that warm but again you can see the pictures for proof, and that’s how she climbed. By the top I dared to take my jumper off. How can two people feel the heat so differently? I hate being a wimp!

Anyway, apart from the slabbiness and possibly going the wrong way at the top (the 6th pitch, the f6b+ didn’t feel anywhere near as hard as the lower f6b) and the sore feet, it was great! No it really was, it was lovely to gain some height, it brought back memories of the Verdon and the walk off was fun. But we were both thankful that the next day was a rest day, as our feet really couldn’t have taken anymore…

A sample of the local wildlife at Collegats.