A couple months ago I set off on my much anticipated (by me) trip to Spain. Catalunya is by all accounts the new ‘place’; if you wan’t to climb hard then you have to go there, because that’s where all the hardest climbs and climbers are. So my expectations were pretty high for the area not just for myself, and for the most part I was not disappointed.
I turned up at Siurana just as it was getting dark, and stayed there only 3 days in almost non stop rain and wind. Not what it said on the tin. Fortunately I ran into Alan Pierce, whom I’d met at Ceuse and we made our way to the Cova Gran, Santa Linya in search of dry rock and some of the world class climbing we’d heard all about. Santa Linya is huge, littered in 9’s, and pretty f***ing steep, and it was here that I met up with Mark Busby who helped me out loads here (Cheers Mark!), and then managed to climb my hardest route yet, Rollito Sharma, 8b+. It used to be considered 8b/+ until a hold at the crux broke making it a bigger move to the good tufa above (unless you’re name is Yamada Wataru and you can casually squeeze a half pad pinch in a 45 degree overhang after having done ~20 moves, weigh up your options before flicking to an undercut and going at last up to the good tufa where you carry on to climb to the lip of the cave!). It was nice to be able to climb this route with less effort than I expected, twice. I guess that shows that a bit of hard work and a good base of routes from previous trips can really make the difference when it comes to breaking into a new grade, these things don’t tend to happen on their own, and even though it might seem that I didn’t have to much that much effort on the route itself, although there was definitely some effort put in, especially in the moves leading up to the crux throw, I have been training for this kind of thing for the last two years and in the past year I’ve climbed a lot on a rope so had the necessary ground work done. All I had to do really was learn the sequence and the rest took care of itself. No mental battle on this one because I hadn’t appreciated all of this, and that helped, it meant I could just climb without worrying about success or failure, and that is when I climb best.
After a while there, however, the coldness started to get into our bones and we decided that a change of venue was on the cards so we drove down the road to Bruxies, Terradets, after spending a welcome couple nights in a hostel in Ager – tent living around the 0 degree C mark can really wear you down. The climbing in Terradets is some of the nicest I’ve ever done, if not the most interesting, it is all on very skin friendly holds and has some really nice flowy tufa moves with pretty obvious sequences for the most part, however the routes are all pretty similar so it can be boring in a way. Here I succeeded in completing my other goal for the trip, to onsight 8a, in the form of Bon Vitage, which I did after a day trip to Tres Ponts where I flashed my first 8a, Mitres Modern. These two days were one of my best two climbing days ever, and Mitres Modern was certainly one of the trips highlights in terms of quality of route and effort put in. I would have liked to spend more time in Terradets ideally but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my trip there so I moved down to Margalef with Cailean and Hannah and then eventually Siurana. These areas took up the last few weeks of my trip but by this point I was pretty tired and didn’t climb very well.
I find it interesting, though, that in these last few weeks of the trip I was, on the whole, unhappy with my performance during the trip. This was largely in part due to my performance at the time affecting my view of the trip as a whole, but all the same, it is ridiculous that I had achieved my main goals for the trip and more and yet was still not satisfied because I had not climbed hundreds of routes, and because I hadn’t climbed quite as many 8’s as I would have liked, even though my average grade was significantly higher than other trips, as was my base onsight level. It is perhaps one of the most unprofessional attributes of a large percentage of all climbers; to have this ridiculous mentality that you should get a personal best every session, and that you should be on top form 12 months of the year. It is impossible to do this and yet for many people, including myself at times, it is something they try to achieve. This approach and attitude is not exhibited in any other sports that I know of, certainly not at a professional level, and for the most part, not at all. If you want to perform at your best at any time then you have to be comfortable with being below 100% for some of the year, this is something I always knew but perhaps didn’t accept fully until this recent trip to Spain.
In many ways, then, this trip could be seen as the most successful trip of my life; I achieved my goals for sport climbing for the year, I learned a lot about myself and that in life you can’t be at your best all the time. As a place though, Spain did seem to lack something which did not feel missing in my trips to France. This could have just been the less than ideal circumstances I found myself in at times, and it could have been the weather and the cold as these definitely made things harder at times. Even with these things considered though, Spain is definitely different to areas in France I’ve visited like Ceuse, Gorges du Tarn, Loup, and St Leger. Perhaps it is an acquired taste because it did grow on me as the trip went on, even as my climbing performance deteriorated, and that says a lot. I certainly preferred some areas more than others, the set up varied quite a bit as did the rock, and these really affect how I view a place. Santa Linya for example, has quite good climbing in terms of the moves you do and it is also a brilliant feature, however the rock quality there is not nearly as high as some of the other places I visited.
Spain then is something new with lots to offer. There is, most likely, something for everyone there. Now though I’m having a little break from sport climbing because it was all getting a bit too ‘possible’ in a way, the moves anyway. Towards the end of the trip I found myself longing for some properly hard moves that I could barely conceive of doing, those moves where everything has to fall into place just to catch a glimpse of possibility, but more on that another time. For now, I’m getting stuck into a bit of bouldering training and will be trying to get out in the county to try a few problems I have in mind, hopefully the weather will play ball so that I have chance.