Saturday, 30 October 2010

Food and drink and more food ... and maybe just one more drink, too


After living like monks in Montserrat (when in Rome, etc), it was time for some hedonism. You can read this as "a shower (preferably hot) and a meal cooked by someone else (preferably several courses)". Crazy stuff, we know.

We left Fred by a small train station about an hour outside of the city and caught the train in, as theft of all varieties is meant to be rife and we didn't want to risk all our climbing gear or Fred himself - this also meant that we had a night without Fred. (He didn't miss us at all.) We slept instead in a grubby but very cheap pensione in the centre of Barri Gothic, that satisfied our requirements for being secure, having hot water and being in a great location. 

Lunches were a Barcelona highlight. E10 lunch menus are everywhere - and they include at least two courses, a drink (wine or beer or whatever) and even a coffee. Bargain! And the highlight of the highlight? Chocolate and raspberry mud cake, served with balsamic vinegar icecream. Yes, it worked. Yum.

Not Gaudi himself ...
We also got some culture. We saw the Segrada de Familia before it was declared a proper church on 7 November, and were grateful to have paid a few Euros extra for a guided tour - which was extremely informative and, as there were only 3 people on it including us, enabled us to ask all our silly questions.

...but these guys were my favourites.

(On a side note, thankfully we missed the chaos that is El Papa in town!)

And we went to the Museum of the History of Barcelona ... which is underneath Barri Gothic, and goes under the city to the excavated remnants of Roman Barcelona (being cheifly a bit of city wall, a dye factory and a fish sauce factory ... we're guessing it was a smelly part of town).

Of course, we also went out on a tapas-bar-crawl. Starting with pulpo and beers, and ending with ... well, let's just say a lot of delicious snacks, frosty beverages and smooth reds many hours later. Highly recommended.

Friday, 29 October 2010


The city of Gaudi, in the country of tapas, rioja and the siesta. The climbing on nearby Montserrat isn´t too shabby either!

So life is pretty grand. We´ve been working hard on our lisps, our appetites for good food and wine and our mental headspace for limestone conglomerate rock (previously the ocean floor, and still moving about).

More posts to come ... we promise!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Montserrat - a taster ...

A friendly local climber took this shot of us climbing, and emailed it through, so we thought we´d share. It´s pretty rare for us both to be in the same image!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cavall Bernat - or, an unexpected 75th birthday party

L'Elephantet was all very well, but we wanted to climb something tall and pointy - something you couldn't hike to the top of - and it seemed obvious that Montserrat had more than enough options!

Cavall Bernat
Arriving at the base of our chosen pinnacle, we found we were not alone - there were a few other parties there, gearing up to climb the Normal route. In a combination of French, Spanish and English, they told us that they were celebrating 75 years of climbing on Cavall Bernat - it was on this day, 27 October in 1935, that the summit was first reached up the very same Normal route as this party were about to attempt.

Not wanting to get in the way, we selected a longer and more demanding route that went up and around the side called "Perez-Verges". Billed as "7b+, V obligado", we rightly assumed that pulling on draws was not cheating, but part of the deal. Well, at least for us on that one short crux section!

As usual in Montserrat, the conglomerate nature of the rock made for a few nervous moments, but the first few pitches went by without a hitch. It was a lovely day to be out in the sun.

And then ... (because, of course there is always a "and then ...")Well, as we got higher the wind got stronger. We changed plans, deciding not to go up the overhanging 7b+ section (hauling on draws or not) but rather to curve right and into the protection of a crack (onto a route called GAM, also 7b, V obligado).

This was met with loud shouts from our audience below. "You're going the wrong way! That's not Perez-Verges! That's GAM!!" We waved back and assured them that yes, this was a conscious decision based on the strong winds. We think, as they had the camera set up on a tripod, they were just disappointed not to get some shots of us on the overhanging 7b+!

It doesn't look like much, but the traverse under that bulge is damn hard - haul away!

We still needed to cross the 7b section of GAM, however. Mark monkeyed from draw to draw in the wind, and then Jen followed, cursing and swearing and regretting not having an extra few centimetres of reach. It wasn't elegant climbing, but once around the corner at least we were out of the wind!

Up the corner, and then a final pitch joining the Normal route ... and we were at the top! Mary sat there, graciously holding baby Jesus on her lap, admiring the view (and conveniently performing double duty as a rappel anchor ...)
Well that's one I've never rapped off before ...
Apparently some photos were taken of us on the route, and our names were marked down as having helped celebrate this special day. Great timing - we certainly could not have planned the day of ascent better.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


So first up in Montserrat was a multi-pitch route up L'Elefantet – a nice looking pillar near the monastery, with only a few minutes walk in, mainly looking fairly slabby and a max grade of 6a+ it looked like a perfect start.

L'Elefantet is almost dead centre - the lower peak, with its tip just breaking the hills above

Lesson 1 – Read the topo (Or not all slabs are the slab you want)

Up we went on cobblestones, and pockets that used to be cobblestones. Not the most reassuring of rock but an interesting texture and fairly easy to work up delicately. After the first pitch things started to look a bit unfamiliar - Jen was forced to downclimb unexpectedly to reach the next slab section. After a quick re-read we found we were actually a few routes over – but on a climb of similar difficulties/character – it just didn't top out tight on top of L'Elefantet – but just off to the left. Not a big deal. On we go.

Jen checking out the start of the proyecto...

Lesson 2 – Read the topo (Or proyecto is project)

After another slabby pitch (nice enough, for a slab) we had a choice – our topo suggested at this point that we crossed over or joined another line. We had a choice of a 5+ chimney or 6a slab. Not feeling like thrutching this early in the day we went for the slab. Then the bolts ran out. But that's ok, we had some trad gear on us and the topo showed it running up a nice few cracks. Great. Up we go. Some nice easy ground suckers us in until we get to the main crack section... In a great orange colour of rock we hadn't seen up close yet. It looks loose... but the topo showed it going straight up here, so layback away. Briefly. It's hard to layback when the edge comes with you as you haul. Not wanting to think what a loaded cam or nut would do to that sort of rock we quickly decided to ignore the topo and retreat to the easy ground way out to the right and run it out to a shrub above us.

Back on bolts? Use 'em all!

After a bush-bash through a gully to regain some solid slabs, we had to run it out again to get back on the main line and some shiny bolts. At least we missed the chimney, right? After some easy ground we topped out and celebrated with lunch of cheese and fig pastry from the markets at the monastery. Later that night we re-read the topo – apparently the crack line may have been the continuation of a project that is expected to take roughly this line. (We think. Our Spanish is a little basic)

Lesson 3 – Read the topo (or arbol is tree)

After a day over at Cavall Burnat, and a morning climbing over near the camping we thought we'd go back to L'Elefantet for another crack at the route we'd meant to do. We went straight to the bottom with no problems now we were oriented, and up some slabs to start - not so hard but only sparsely bolted. We rambled up quite enjoyably, listening to the intermittent cries of rapture from the monastery below – so much for monasteries being places for quiet contemplation.

Jen leading off on L'Elefantet, mk II

Until pitch 4, which deserved a special mention in the topo for something about “arbol”? But hey it only goes at 6a+, she'll be 'right. Pitch 4 turns out to be a lot steeper that expected (slightly overhanging), up slopey pockets - we're guessing it goes at least 6c free, which should be possible for us, but there are the remains of a dead tree at the base, and it wouldn't be fun to fall on it too enthusiastically. It didn't take long for Mark to decide to to use the tree as a foot hold or three and then higher up, to french-free his way up too. Wobbling further on he passed an unhung bolt, installed apparently just to taunt climbers already gripped from the first section of the pitch. Mark's sticking to the story that when the tree was alive it was much higher and included in the route at 6a+.

Jen coming up the final hard pitch

As the sun disappeared behind the pillars across the valley we fired up the final pitch (we thought). Again it was steeper than expected, but nice climbing on really solid rock. A couple of rambling pitches and a wandering rap lead us over the top and out the back of L'Elefantet.


After a day or so spent being tourists in the rain (Pont du Gard really is quite something, and does have an interesting museum too!), we skirted around Barcelona and instead headed straight to Montserrat just outside of the city. It was climbing time!

Looking back down at the monastery from L'Elefantet near sunset
This place is famous for its large monastery and the Black Virgin, an image of Mary responsible for all manner of miracles (apparently), and being conveniently close to Barcelona, it attracts a steady stream of visitors – however, some of these visitors are like us, and reserve their interest in the place solely for the conglomerate pinnacles that rise on the top of the Serrated Mountain.

We'd been told there was camping there … what we found out on arrival was that it was for tents only. Not for people sleeping in any sort of vehicular conveyance. And their facilities were likewise only for those who were willing to pitch a tent (even if you volunteered to pay!). Hmmm. However, the parking security were much more sympathetic and allowed us to park in the coach parking lot for as long as we liked – for what turned out to be a very small fee. Bargain!

And once this was sorted, it was just a matter of working out what to climb first …!

Sunrise hitting the crags above the monastery - viewed from just near our "campsite" in the bus carpark

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Random Cragging

So we're driving along in the rain and see a place to pull over by the side of the road. We stop to stretch our legs and notice the cliffs rising above the creek. Then we see the quickdraws on it …

Overhanging routes that are dry? Well, that's worth a quick attempt!

We managed one and Mark attempted two others. We don't know what sort of grade they go at, but let's just say too-hard-for-Mark!

And half way through Mark's hangdogging, our new Belgian buddies Tom and Evi showed up and dragged us off somewhere warm and dry for coffee and pizza. Considering the rain, a pretty fabulous day really!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Le Dièdre Sud

The last day of good weather before the clouds rolled in!

We'd seen this buttress on our first day in Orpierre – it's hard to miss – and hey, whaddayano, there's an easy route up the centre of it. Perfect!

Described as “following strong features all the way to the top”, the first few pitches were easy enough to find, and pretty enjoyable too. It starts (naturally enough) in a wide corner with interesting stemming moves, before opening out towards the top.

However, the fifth pitch was a bit of a surprise, being a completely unnecessary traverse across a rock face (with paths a metre above and below) – lovely moves, but perhaps a bit contrived! We then worked out that the final two pitches were actually on the face to the right, and not on the edge of the buttress as shown on the topo. Poor form Rockfax! You're normally so reliable, too!


What was on the edge of the buttress was the final pitch of Voyage, going at 6a … and that was a far more pleasant way to end the route!
Once up that last pitch, we had lunch on the top - our usual in France, of fresh bread and stinky cheese - before the rappels down.

Haute Provence

Despite the very cold overnight temperatures, it was t-shirt weather in the sun during the day and we made the most of three great days climbing in Orpierre and Sisteron. Well ... it was only briefly t-shirt weather! Cold mornings meant a slow start over tea and croissants, and once the sun hit the horizon at the end of each day, it was hot shower, warm clothes and dinner time.

Orpierre from above!
We can see why Orpierre is such a popular climbing destination; the medieval village at the bottom of the valley and the cliffs rising directly above – and Sisteron too, with the climbing overlooking the river and up to the castle on the hill. Very pretty! The rock is limestone and is solidly bolted, and the grades range from too-easy-even-for-us to too-hard-to-contemplate. Sure it attracts a crowd, but thankfully being there mid-week we managed to avoid it.
Jen at Sisteron
It was also for us a pretty social three days. We caught up with Hans and Richard, from Amsterdam, and also made some new Belgium friends, Tom and Evi, in the heated dining room of the camping site. Good fun.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Welcome to sunny and cold Orpierre!

You won't believe it, but this first proper stop on our trip in the south of France gave us the opportunity to check if the heating in the van still works.

Thankfully, it does – it was well below -5 on our first night. Chilly!

Note the socks!

And as Hans and Richard had already set up camp - complete with slackline - it was a warm welcome.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Pimping our ride!

Fred is now sporting an enhanced arse, and we no longer have multiple pairs of boots getting in our way. We have bought a Fiamma Ultra-Box!
Well actually, this is Mk II.

Despite following all instructions on how to mount the damn thing onto the bike rack, our first attempt to get this box onto Fred was not successful – we had only drilled and bolted on the top bolts when a massive crack appeared in the bottom. We don't know why it cracked, but cracked it did and cracked it was and so back to the shop for a new one … Thankfully the shop assistant was as surprised as we were, and the exchange was no problem.
Having this space does make life in a van full of climbing gear much more manageable. We now know that a T4 is not that big, when you have a hobby like climbing in four seasons.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Leaving the Dam

The party was epic.

The packing is hell.

But tomorrow, we're on our way. Well - hopefully.

Friday, 8 October 2010

A United Kingdom Reconaissance

To celebrate the recent unemployment of Mark, we decided a brief sojourn to England and Wales (with the trad rack, of course!) was necessary.

Sadly, we didn't have much time - so it was merely a day or so, here and there, chasing the sunny weather so we could get out climbing as much as possible. Two days at Tremadog, then another two at Gogarth, before popping up and across to the Lakes and finally heading down to Stanage. All washed down with pints of bitter and fish and chips for tea!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A History Lesson

What the Lakes didn't offer in terms of great weather and dry rock. it made up for in abundance with history.

Seeing a plaque by the side of the narrow, winding road we were on, we pulled up to discover a Roman fort ...

Apparently this place used to be home for up to 500 soldiers, and had a granary, offices and a fancy home for the bigwigs. It was surrounded by a stone wall (with four gateways, and a tower on each corner), and just outside it - there was a bathhouse! Complete with sauna, too.

And then later in the day (after our soaking, as discussed in Optimism), we came across a variety of stone circles. Why did they need several of them, all so close to each other?!

Although she's posing here, Jen did let the team down, as she could not be convinced to dance around them naked.


Def: Carrying two ropes and a full trad rack, with the aim of climbing at a crag 6km away with 600m in elevation to gain, when you're in the Lakes, the weather is "changeable" and it's already after lunch ...

Shortly after this photo was taken, the heavens opened and the wind became a gale. We were soon soaked.

The wind and rain didn't last long, but by the time it stopped, our desire to keep hiking uphill to find these climbs had somewhat diminished.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Lighthouse Arete

The view from the top
Rappelling down
First pitch, traversing out
Green but not slippery!
Up we come ...

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A day at Holyhead Mountain

It had rained in the morning, so we decided against a sea cliff - and there was a crag on the nearby mountain with a selection of fun (and easily accessible and escapeable!) things to climb. This was the view - looking out over the ocean.

Jen is still learning to lead on trad (after how many years?!), but Mark had placed the gear on this route, so she lead it whilst placing a few more bits of her own. A little scary, but Jen got to the top in the end.

Jen then dramatically dropped the grade and lead another route ... placing the gear herself (and lots and lots of it - just for practice, of course!). No dramas there - maybe trad leading isn't as scary as she thought?

Evening was approaching, but there was time for one more ... Mark's lead this time. And a great route, too!

Just in time for sunset from the top.