Sunday, 28 November 2010

El Chorro!

We arrived last night in torrential rain. Not exactly an auspicious start, eh?

But today dawned bright and sunny … and that meant we could get our laundry done! Yay! (I'm sure you're all crazily jealous of our lifestyle now.)

And yes of course it also meant we could go check out the cliffs. El Chorro was one of the destinations we were most excited about before we left, so it's great just to have arrived here; and looking up to the Gorge, El Chorro is worth the hype. Jen isn't feeling the strongest at the moment, and is still having back troubles, but we headed up to Frontales and successfully sent a few low grade routes … including the beautiful 4-pitch Valentines Day.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Celebrations in Granada

The famous Alhambra and a culture of free tapas with your drink? 
A small university city surrounded by snow-covered mountains?
Granada really is quite easy to love.

And being someone's birthday, it was also a good excuse to celebrate.

Tile detail ...
... wall detail.
We woke up in our hotel (second and third nights not in Fred for over a month; feels quite strange), and headed up the hill to the famous Alhambra.

This is a complex of fortress and palaces, and town supporting these, dating mainly from the times of the Islamic sultans (13th century) and taken over when the Christians "reconquered" in the 15th century.

Lately it's risen to fame again as Romantic authors in the 19th century, such as Washington Irving (who is considered akin to a god in these parts), wrote about their beauty, and the mystery and allure of the court of the sultans – and tourism, and along with conservation and restoration, followed.
And even more detail.

The main palace, the Nasrid Palace, is truly stunning; from the fountains and pools, to the corridors and courtyards … and of course, the most intricate decoration carved into the walls and ceilings.

Intent on audioguide.

It's hard to describe in words what it is like to move between the airy chambers, as I am no Romantic poet, but each (and there were many) had a timeless elegance, a unique design and atmosphere and decoration that, whilst intricate, was never overpowering.

Shame about Charles V's renovation in the background, eh?
And it doesn't end with the Nasrid Palace, either – there are also the battlements and fortifications, the Moorish baths, the Charles V Palace … and, not to be forgotten, the extensive gardens and the summer palace of the Generalife.


In the afternoon? We decided to indulge in more local culture, and headed to an Arabic bathhouse … for two hours of soaking in hot and cold pools, followed by a massage. Very indulgent and extremely relaxing – perfect!

Being Friday (and of course, someone's birthday), we hit the town that night – delighted to discover that tapas is free with your drink, and with the size of the portions, it wasn't hard to have a full meal just by ordering a few beers or wines. Despite a steady drizzle of rain and cold temperatures, the bars and restaurants were packed with mainly locals also enjoying a night out and it was the wee small hours before we decided we'd had enough jamon iberico with our wines …

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Costa Blanca - a retrospective view ...

Our initial impressions regarding the population of the Costa Blanca were not wrong.
This was clearly proven by the local cuisine:

All-day-full-English-breakfast ...

... and fish and chips, with mushy peas!

But once you acknowledge that, like Gibraltar, the Costa Blanca isn't really part of Spain - you can really begin to enjoy it. And the climbing opportunities are extensive and varied - in both scope and quality, too.

We were at first hampered by a bit of bad weather and our need for a rest day, and lingered lazily at the Orange House (which really was a great place to stay, having a lounge like home and loads of recommendations and advice from its staff and residents). And our next excuse is the constant need to drive to the crag - which meant packing Fred up every day - and so we were consistently later on the crag than expected.

Our first route on our first day climbing, at Sierra de Toix, had both dodgy rock and dodgy bolts, too - but thankfully the area redeemed itself in the afternoon, catching all the sun that was going in a natural amphitheatre, on a hill over looking the sea. Apparently near by there is a newly developed sea cliff, the Pirates of the Caribbean area ... we've saved it for later!

The next day we headed to Echo Valley, a crag with great atmosphere, but again soft and loose rock ... making the five pitch route we chose, Through the Looking Glass, a bit more exciting for us than anticipated - although it was a great opportunity to use the trad rack, and the views were magnificent.

Then Jen twisted her shoulder somehow, and so in the interests of avoiding large amounts of pain, exchanged climbing for Voltaren and rest. As Mark now had a willing belayer, he took the opportunity to go on a sending spree. He started at the Monsters of Rock wall, working left to right and proving that not all 7a's are created equal, and then he headed up to Olta to be photographed on Tai Chi (it's compulsory) ...

... although he enjoyed the less-photogenic line of Tufa Groove more.

Mark even headed all the way up the pot-holed road to Bernia, just to have a crack at the thin tufa line of the Magic Flute ... We even set up the camera to record his onsight attempt (but, um, that's another story and no, you won't be seeing the footage!)

We've certainly left behind a lot of fantastic climbing in this area (Jen in particular ...), and we can definitely see ourselves returning. There's not only the Pirates of the Caribbean area, but routes on the Penon and the entirety of Sella that we've not yet been able to touch. Until next time!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Costa Blanca! Initial impressions ...

More high-rise buildings than surely are necessary - can they all be hotels for cheap package trips? And even more development going on, with sets of identical villas popping up all over the place and the constant roar of construction.

More Brits than Spanish. And they are mostly retired, and enjoy wearing matching tracksuits (leisure suits?).

The "International" aisle of the hypermarket, helpfully divided into nationalities, had a larger "British" section than "Oriental" section. And yes, "Oriental" was meant to cover all cuisines from Moroccan to Thai. And this really was a hypermarket - it sold everything from tyres, to laptops, to seafood so fresh it was still alive.

Oh, and it also sold a wide variety of hams for Christmas.

Can we fit one of these in the van?
But also ... a fat guidebook of climbs on those rugged hills just off the coast, or on the cliffs overlooking the sea. A super-friendly and relaxed climbers' refuge / hotel. And some warm weather and bright sunshine, too!


We all know that chocolate is an essential part of breakfast. Naturally.

But ... really?

As if one All-Bran chocolate variety was not enough!

Mark tried this one, and to his credit ate the whole packet.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Lunar Obsessions

La Luna from below

After a good, if slightly lazy, day on Pericondrio Tragal we decided to hit up one of the longer routes in the area – La Luna, a dramatic line of a fairly consistent grade, right up the centre of a very narrow buttress in the Maimona canyon. Details here!

Imposing walls well over 200m overshadow this great rock prow and it's well worth the walk in (all 30 minutes of it) to reach Plaza des las Catedrales – easily the most atmospheric area we visited in Montanejos.

We were congratulating ourselves on being up and at the crag before 10am, until we heard the gentle clink of carabiners... Apart from one couple we had seen a few hundred metres off, a few days previously, we hadn't seen any other climbers in action in Montanejos - until we picked this 8 pitch route to do and then we found them on our route. Bastards :). Maybe it won't be so bad, we thought – we still need to gear up, and they've already started so maybe they'll be well ahead of us. We'll just check them out.

We kept sauntering along keeping an eye on the guy leading off. As he fell off. Hmm. Falling off the opening move wasn't a good sign for the rest of the climb, but maybe it was a tough move and maybe his partner would be nailing the crux pitches for him. Hold on... A third helmet appeared out of the bushes. Damn - they were a party of three, and the leader still wasn't off the ground. So we gave up then and started looking for other options.

Nearby was another 8 pitch route (Obsesion- details here) which averaged out at around the same grade, although it had a couple of pitches 2-3 grades harder and wasn't quite as scenic as La Luna. But it didn't have a party of three on it, so off we went.

Swinging leads we dispatched the first few pitches, with Jen snagging one of the funnest sections across a short section of craggy (lunar?) rock. Then we hit the second hardest pitch which turned out to be face climbing, with good (if pumpy!) holds, and not nearly as bad as we'd feared. However, the rock quality from here was less than stellar, with quite a few loose patches. As the bolting was quite friendly, we figured we should at least be able to aid the crux pitch if we got stuck. A greasy, overhanging corner and through a short roof and we were past halfway without trouble, and another pitch had us tasting the top (and the lunch it would bring).

At this stage we started having doubts... could the topo really be right? Two more pitches? It didn't seem like there was enough cliff left to squeeze two more pitches in and there was an extra line of bolts there, maybe it should have been seven pitches with a choose-your-own-adventure finish? Mark wandered off (on the more straightforward looking line) to find out what was going on ... and was quickly shut down: the topo was right about that crux pitch... After a lot of tentative approaches and testing (and finding that extra two finger pocket) he finally wobbled his way through the crux, glad to find that the pitch was a bit of a one or two move wonder and backed off after that, but he was still pretty impressed with himself for managing to fight through it cleanly. Jen quickly cleaned up after him and led the final pitch. After lunch we rapped off pretty pleased with ourselves and wandered off home to Fred.

Happy to be on the route - Jen on P3.
But we weren't satisfied. We'd missed out on the prime line... straight up that buttress, in the photo above. So - we came back, with intentions of being the first on the route. We woke early and managed to hike into the base of La Luna a whole ten minutes earlier in the day to find... no-one. Well, a few mountain goats. Great, we could jump on La Luna.

Mark started on the first pitch, eager to see if their assumptions about the party of three had been right... and almost popped off. Maybe we had been too harsh – the first pitch felt very stiff for the grade. But up we went, skirting around the edges of some moonscape-like rock, which looked like it should have been a choss-fest, but actually felt quite solid. Swinging leads we dispatched the first few pitches, finally coming to the designated picnic ledge – complete with picnic bench. Really! 

It's one thing to bolt a multi-pitch route; it's quite another to add furniture ...
After a quick bite, Jen took the sharp end again for a scenic traverse out onto the centre of the prow, and we kept heading up, skirting round some nice overhangs and listening to the rocks falling across the valley, triggered by goats wandering carefree along cliff edges.

Jen traversing out - the grandeur of the Plaza des las Catedrales behind her.

Jen managed to get perhaps the most memorable (though definitely not the best) pitch of the day when we hit a band of rotten rock... and were presented with 12-15 staples to ladder our way to glory, but then we were back on solid rock and two more pitches of nice climbing led us through to the top.
Mark on belay, as Jen clips the staples.

All in all a great day's climbing, and the most memorable route and venue of the area … plus a few staples and a picnic bench.
Rapping down ...

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Pericondrio Tragal

The route ...details here.
Ah, Pericondrio Tragal! 
This is apparently the mega-classic of Montanejos; a route that must be done if you're in the area.

Mark preparing for the traverse ...

Sadly, many people have passed through Montanejos and have also felt it essential to climb ... and the passage of so many palms and soles has polished up the rock on the first pitch, making it a little more intimidating than the grade would suggest. Nevertheless, Mark lead this and then Jen did the second pitch, and we were at the trees.
... and Jen seconding, with the river below.

The guidebook tells us not to be tempted to leave the route there - and it's good advice. The best pitch is certainly the third as the route traverses far out onto the face of the enormous upside-down triangle - with views down into the blue water of narrow gorge. This was delicate climbing, requiring good balance to move feets and hands from one weakness in the cliff's face to the next - although when most needed, a jug to grab or a decent ledge to stand on (thankfully!) appeared. And although these jugs and ledges ensured it was not particularly tough climbing, the placing of bolts was far from generous - ensuring excitement for the leader (Mark - who of course stayed cool) and the second (Jen - who found it terrifying and spent most of it believing she was about to drop and swing).

And then it was a matter of a quickly heading up the fourth and final pitch (great moves on solid rock - Jen's lead), before the abseil descent.

A route that was definitely worth persevering through the start! But the "mega-classic of Montanejos"? Well, we thought that a route in another area of the region deserved that title ... but that's a post for another day.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A New Friend

We called him "Fleabag".

His turf is the parking under Montanejos' new bridge, which is the designated free-camping space for campervans. It's a jealously guarded space, and more than once we heard him doing battle with others who would try to steal the affections of the tourists.

Having this monopoly, and as he's very affectionate, he seems to do quite well for food without the need to bother any pigeons. Fleabag even got some chorizo out of us!

Sadly, he chose to stay in Montanejos rather than come travelling. Probably for the best, really, as we'd usually prefer to eat the chorizo ourselves.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Montanejos ... hot springs and limestone crags!

With a series of springs pouring out 25degree water right near town, and with more than 1400 routes, Montanejos seemed pretty perfect!


We also thought that it would be a great place to have a break from free camping, as there is meant to be a climbers' refuge there ... however, the place has been renovated and the price had dramatically increased. And so the climbers have disappeared, too.

So after one night there, we moved to the free camping spot across the road and under the bridge. Hey, with hot springs in town, who needs hot showers anyway?!

On that note, though - the air temperature wasn't really conducive to spending too long in a 25degree river. Once in the water, it was hard to get out - and we were wandering around more often than not in our down jackets, and climbing in thermal tops at least.

We spent a couple of days cragging, before hitting up some longer routes - but we'll post more about them later! We were pretty impressed by the diversity and sheer number of the routes - grades for all abilities, and single pitch crags to adventurous multipitches, and even a little bit of trad (although we stuck to the bolted ones this time!).

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Well, we are on the coast.

So it was time for a Sunday lunch of seafood.

We ate the second course (calamari!) too fast for photography, but you get the general idea.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

... but just around the corner!

Siurana is not alone as a climbing destination in the Costa Daurada!

Seeking some easier routes, we also checked out La Mussara right around the corner ... it didn't have the atmosphere of Siurana's campsite, not having a campsite or anything at all as the village has been abandoned for 50 years now, but it made us realise there are plenty of climbing options out there in Spain.

 We're going to need a lot longer in this country!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Siurana ...

We arrived here on the Saturday night of a long weekend ... and quickly realised that free camping in your campervan in the carpark, up near the castle, was de rigueur. The place was packed with local and international climbers, most of whom seemed to be sleeping in their vans - just like us!

Perched on the top of the cliff, Siurana is a very pretty and very tiny town and one of the last places to be "reconquered" from the Moors - the remains of the castle are still there. It's got a climber-friendly campsite, a shop selling local wines and olive oils, a fancy restaurant and B&B, and that's about it.

It has also got a lot of pretty spectacular vertical climbing, on limestone that almost looks like Blue Mountains sandstone ...

... well, if you look at it in the right light and squint a bit.

We had great weather and soon settled into a pattern of waking up late, having a lazy breakfast, before wandering to the crag and climbing until the sun set - then dinner and beers. It was a pattern that was hard to break!

We did one quite average multi-pitch - the first pitch was great, but after that the rock quality deteriorated - so concentrated mainly on pushing our limits on single pitch, sports routes and enjoying the views to the valley below.

The only downside with Siurana? Most of the climbs here are hard. Jen felt very chuffed by onsighting a bunch of 6a's (and leading one overhanging 6a+ with "only a few" rests ...) and while Mark was a bit more in his element, he still got spat off a few routes. Although we're both improving by all this climbing we're doing, if we could climb a few grades harder, we'd probably still be there months and months later ...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sunsets in Siurana

Some say this is the best place for climbing in Spain. For every day we were there, it certainly had some memorable sunsets.