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