Monster trip to Spain!

1st May 2015

Lu and Ben Jonathan G and T Rope washing The boys First croissant 8a plus

Sitting here at my desk in Sheffield tapping away on my computer (with cold fingers) feels slightly odd, as I’ve just returned from over two months away in Spain and France, living in my van. Just sitting on a proper chair is a little strange, let alone being in a house again with water on tap so to speak!

Needless to say, the trip was fantastic. Inevitably there were ups and downs at times, but overall I had a fantastic time. 

Left. Myself and Ben Heason on our last day In Chulilla

I want to write a ‘short’ blog about it (is this possible for me? Not sure!) because I should be packing for Kalymnos, where I am coaching for the next week. I leave at 7am tomorrow and would like to get something up about my here goes! Below. Birthday pizza from the drizzle...with a balsamic drizzle

The last time I was away in Spain was 2009 (has it really been six years?) and it was a dream trip in all ways, especially as it culminated in my climbing my hardest redpoint, Kalea Borroka f8b+ at Siurana.

Well, this trip hasn’t had the same big redpoint numbers and has possibly had more ups and downs, one of which was turning 44-REALLY?? It was a horrible wet day in The Gorge du Tarn but ended well due to the miraculous appearance of a random pizza van out of the mist. Wow, pizza and red wine have never tasted so good!

Anyway, what has been great about this trip is the fact that I seem to be onsighting very close to, if not the same as where I was before my shoulder injury. This was something I had no idea would be possible again and to feel that onsighting f7c+’s and f8a’s is where I’ve clawed my way back to feels fantastic. I had a few little niggling injuries that occurred whilst away, finger tweaks etc, where I had to rest up more than I wanted to but overall, I can’t complain. 

I visited quite a few places but in reality stayed put at venues if they were good and the weather was playing ball. Some places I only spent a few days at but Chulilla, Tres Ponts and The Gorge du Tarn were the crags I spent most time at. But I also visited Margalef, Santa Linya, St.Llorenc de Montgai, Bruixes & Regina in Terradets. Margalef was the venue of bad weather (the only rain I had in Spain!) and injuries. So spent about a week there but only had four climbing days of which a couple I was recovering from tweaked fingers. I’d tried an f8b just to see if it could be a potential project, it turned out to be f8b+ in one of the guides and my fingers agreed. After spending three weeks at Chulilla climbing vertical stamina routes, my fingers weren't quite ready for the brutality of Margalef's pockets, so I had to rest. It was strange because Margalef had been one of my fave venues on the 2009 trip but this time, I couldn’t wait to leave. 

Left. My Jonathan Livingstone Seagull moment on the ferry going to Calais...


I had never climbed at Santa Linya (the BIG cave), so was quite psyched to check it out, especially because it was dry. I was lucky in that Tom Randall was visiting and turned out he didn’t have a climbing partner, so we hooked up for the next week. In terms of partners, the trip worked out pretty well. In Chulilla, I had arranged to climb with Tommy Chammings and then Ben Heason. Moving up to Margalef, I climbed a little with Bob and Mia (a couple from Sheffield on a year long trip with their whippet Ludo; see image on left of Ludo and Theo keeping warm together. These two guys had become firm friends by the time we were all at The Gorge du tarn). But then Adrian Baxter from London turned up, which was fab, so we climbed together in margalef and I belayed him on the incredible imposing f9a, Era Vella. What a piece of rock, it looked desperate! Then once I was in Tres Ponts, I was climbing with Nick Bullock for the whole of April. We also had Rich Kirby with us for some of the time and he seemed to have a great nose for van doss spots. This for me was the best part of the trip, finding a great place to park the van up, off the road and suitable for the dog. I haven’t properly mentioned but I had my Little Man with me, Theo (pronounced Tayo). Left. Now that's what I call a Gin and Tonic, Ben and myself got quite partial to these! Maybe this is the secret to onsighting f8a's? If only...

Anyway, back to Santa Linya. Totally not my style, steep and burly but after vertical Chulilla and wet Marg, I needed something to wake my weedy muscles up! I tried a fantastic f8b 'Ruta del Sol' here but unfortunately just as I got interested and was considering it as a project, the weather improved way too much and the route was too hot to climb from 1pm onwards, not ideal. Also, there was one move I couldn’t do and if I’m honest would probably need to spend two months on a campus board before I could do it. So that got sacked off and I moved on further North.

Tres Ponts which is very close to the border with Andorra, turned out to be the crag that just kept on giving. I was very disappointed to find when I first got there, that a significant proportion of the best routes were all banned and they had been one of the main reasons I’d gone there. There is some rare plant growing on the crag and all the bolt hangers have been removed. So it seemed like I wouldn’t want to spend too much time here but I think Nick and I stayed for about two weeks. It was a combination of great climbing, lovely doss spots and great routes that just kept appearing. I did some pleasing onsighting here, f7c+’s and f7c+/f8a’s...that annoying slash grade and redpointed a couple of f8a+ very quickly, first or second go. In fact they didn’t feel a million miles off being onsightable for me, if I was just another level up, so that was an interesting discovery. But the highlight of Tres Ponts was a route that took me three days to do, in fact the route I spent the most time on on the whole trip; the hardest f8a in Spain (in my opinion, haha!). It’s a route called Rauxa and it took me eight attempts to get through the crux roof, oh the joy when that happened. You get to a massive juggy rest after this and then there is yet another hard section that is extremely blowable near the top. Well, at this point, I was seeing stars. Something must’ve been going on with my blood pressure and I was literally spinning and trying not to let go of the massive jug. I just kept thinking, hold it together, you’ve got to do this route so Nick and I can finally leave this crag. and go to France! Thankfully I did manage to do it and although it was only f8a and I didn’t particularly like some of the climbing (the holds were quite sharp), it was probably one of my most memorable routes of the trip. I think when you put so much effort into something, the grade becomes irrelevant and the experience is more an emotional thing. 

Left. Due to the dust in Chulilla, everything got dirty. So before leaving I decided to clean my rope and the river and bridge combo provided the best washing machine effect! Drop rope in river, river washes rope, hang rope on bridge, sun dries rope-great!

I think my favourite onsight was on my last day once we’d moved up to The Gorge du Tarn. Although we were now well into April, we left Spain with full on sunshine and got to France in full on rain. And this seemed to be the theme therein. Pretty chilly yet also too hot at times and also quite a bit of rain dodging. Fortunately, Nick and I managed to time most of the rain to rest days and went on a ‘four day on’ period at the end to make the most of the good weather. So back to my favourite onsight; as I just said, fourth day on and feeling weary. Had blown a f7c+/f8a onsight the day before so was feeling a little down on always want to finish a trip on a I wanted to try an f8a called Les Aisles du Desir, which has a f7b+ start that I had done about 12 years previously. So I thought I’d do the f7b+ bit and see how my weary arms felt. The clips were in the whole route (luckily for me, thanks John), so I had nothing to lose really. So I did the f7b+, felt surprisingly ok and carried onto the f8a bit. What a fantastic route! Just such incredible climbing. I’d onsighted Pyromania a few days before, which is a fantastic f7c+, that I thought was unbeatable but Les Aisles was on a par if not better. Just amazing holds, great climbing and so long! It’s about 50 metres and you get a tricky section, then a rest. Then another tricky section, followed by a rest. To be honest, this style of climbing is my bread and butter and suited me down to the ground. I had made it to the last bolt with out falling and got to yet another tricky bit which seemed very blowable. So it took me a few attempts to work out how I should climb it, there was some tooing and frowing going on, luckily Nick was a patient belayer! Suffice to say, I worked it out. Even though I say so myself, it was a really cool sequence that involved an unchalked hold but it just happened to be in the right place for me and the sequence went like a dream. Then it was just a case of ignoring the long Gorge du Tarn runout to get to the belay- hooray. Another f8a onsight. Although, technically it’s not a true onsight as I had done the f7b+ start before, so I have coined this style of ascent an ’Onslash’. It’s a combo of an onsight and a retro-flash. But I did do a true onsight of an f8a in Chulilla which was great and I also flashed one there, which somebody gave me the beta for the crux sequence.

Left. Nick and Rich chilling out before another hard days climbing at the magnificent Tres Ponts.

So all in all a fantastic trip that just seemed to fly by in a bit of a blur. You always think at the start, I’ve got so much time and it just creeps away from you. It was great meeting Bob and Mia during their year long trip but I think the same is happening for them time-wise, although they had a year, they now only have about four months left and are having to be quite focused about what they do with the rest of their trip.

Left below. Last day of my trip driving home and I finally have my first croissant...with coffee, yum!

As I said previously, they have a whippet called Ludo, who turned out to become very good friends with Theo. They are the most unlikely combination but seem to feel very comfortable with each other. This was very gratifying for me because I had been so looking forward to going away with Theo, sharing my days with my Little Man and enjoying seeing him living the outdoor life but after a week away, it became clear that it wasn’t for him! Apart from his bromance with Ludo, he hated every other dog he came across. It was a real worry for me at first because he was very aggressive and I had to muzzle him and tie him up, which was rubbish for both of us. The muzzle didn’t stay on but the lead did. He had to be tied up at most crags and to be honest he seemed happier that way. It was a shame because he couldn’t just potter about as I had envisaged, which meant he didn’t get much exercise. So by the time I got to Tres Ponts, I was taking him on walks before and after climbing. This was slightly inconvenient at times but to be honest I kind of enjoyed it too. I do really like walking and we went on some great little adventures here and there and met some interesting characters along the way. See right!

So ‘Asbo’, as Theo has now been renamed disgraced himself on numerous occasions but once I’d learnt to manage it and my climbing partners were kind enough to help out when I was climbing, it wasn’t too bad. And fortunately, his generously proportioned and gleaming gnashers didn’t do any major blood was drawn. ‘Sigh’ dog politics...

So, the sadness is of my memories of Kodo, the Zen pupster, who just seemed to revel in our van trips away and I had had the same hope for Theo. But for whatever reason, it isn’t his thing and I would have to think quite hard about taking him again.

Left. Bob Smith redpointing 'Priez pour nous' f8a+, a great route at Tennessee, Gorges Du Tarn. I redpointed this one too. It was steep!

Right, I really must go, packing for Kalymnos and 30 degree heat, hurray! 

When I’m back, bring on the UK Summer and hopefully I’m gonna hit the trad in a big way this year. I hope I can maintain the good stamina base I now have and maybe some of those routes I never managed to get on previously, will see me tying on at the base of them this year...

Below. Van life and all it's nice bits.

Climbing stats:

f7b+: 10 onsight, 2 flash.

f7c: 9 onsight, 2 flash.

f7c+: 7 onsight, 3 redpoint.

f7c+/f8a: 2 onsight.

f8a: 2 onsight, 2 flash, 4 redpoint.

f8a+: 3 redpoint.