We wanted to spend some time in Spain in November, not to escape Wallis’s autumn because Wallis’s weather is always good and you can climb there all year long but because we wanted to listen to some Catalan language, rub our tongue against orange limestone and have our topo stolen by Daila (because she is our 2nd favorite woman climber after Lynn Hill). The genial idea was to take 2 weeks off to have enough time to justify rest days and maybe explore Castellon. However shortly before departure as the clouds of work were gathering on the horizon, my 2 weeks came down to 1 week, or 9 days if you belong to the full-half-glass-minded kind of people and if you leave on Friday night…
Thus we leave at 7 pm on Friday from Sion strictly forbidding the copilot to fall asleep. We drive as swift as possible with our 70 japanese horses and stop in the suburbs of Montpellier. The “1ère classe” hotel welcomes you with a screen instead of a reception desk but has the advantage not to get stuck in the mud overnight (see before last episode). Rooms look like the interior of a space shuttle with the smell of cheese scented plastic. The car entrance door does not open even after typing the right code three times in a row and shouting our best “joder”. Finally we sneak in behind the white buses of a group of French people with charming south-west accent and faces straight out of the “Les Visiteurs” movie (before the time travel).
The next day the sky is low and the hotel surroundings as joyful as the hotel room. We have breakfast in a supermarket bakery calculating the astronomical number of baguettes sold per quarter of hour and we head further south to les gorges du Tarn. While crossing the plateaus of the Massif Central, the car thermometer oscillates around 4°C, the sun is shy and the bugniomètre sees the climbing comfort zone getting slowly but surely away. However after plunging into the deep valley, the sun breaks through the high clouds and the temperature rises. The road is narrow and sinuous and drives through a couple of charming little villages. A river with green glittering waters flows below the road and impressive cliffs shine like gold over your head. The access to most cliffs is forbidden because birds are naturally angry and it is funny to read in the topoguide that the first climbing sectors were not visible from the road not to attract non-indigenous climbers.
Les gorges du tarn
The valley is quiet at that time of the year. You only hear birds or insects being busy in the bushes and from time to time you catch the shout of an invisible climber pulling a rope or taking a fall. We climb major routes until dawn, which is early, and then start to find a place to stay overnight. The nicest and closest place, held by a couple of retired Brits, is fully booked with 5 Italian climbers… All others answer the phone or the door bell but are closed because the season ends in September. Finally we have the great honour to be hosted by Madame d’Espinasse in Mostuejouls right at the border between Lozère and Aveyron. She sends us to “Chez Petit Louis” to eat a truffle omelet so that she has time to make the beds because she did not feel like doing it after the attacks in Paris. We climb another day in this silent and bright all-size pocket paradise and we hit the road again towards south. In Perpignan warm wind blows through the streets and one learns to beware of hot Tajine olives. On Monday morning we make sure that the Spanish-French border is open despite the “état d’urgence national” and we urge to Barcelona to pick up the Davoser mafia i.e. Andreas and Dave aka Brutal and Davy Crockett.
Le trésor du zèbre
Près du nid de la veuve noire
That happens to you if you get bitten by the black widow…
We cannot miss the two buddies sitting at Café di Fiore swallowing cappuccinos and chocolate croissants, first because of Dave’s mail including airport map, name of the café with the warning that there are two of them, one on the 1st floor and one on the 3rd floor… and second because of the massive duffle bag/backpack lying next to them. Steph and I start to get nervous when mentally comparing that volume of luggage with the space available in our already half-full tiny Suzuki.
Packed until the top
When Dave hears what we, the Broccolo team (see next episode), have for picnic, he urgently orders a couple of ham-cheese Panini’s and there we are, ready to rock Montgrony tufas (pronounce mongroign). The car is packed as tight a Nadal’s string when we get stuck at the car park exit barrier because the machine does not accept the folded ticket on which I have been sitting the whole time (of course the payment machine had accepted it…). I am not able to move back because I have no rear visibility and we are only saved by the guy reading out loud our plate number through the microphone who either was able to check that we had paid or just had pity on us. A few curves later we are in Montgrony a beautiful south facing promontory at 900 m above sea level, west of Gerona and close to the French border. Older easier routes are not easy anymore i.e. they are partly polished but there are a number of jewel routes and new sectors are being equipped. Steph had heard from Spanish guys met at the Gallery that there is a monastery on top where you can sleep and where they serve you wine at breakfast (or he confused Mass and breakfast).
The court of the monks
The monks have all quit, maybe to become climbing bums (why should it always be the other way round?) and there is now a small inn in the old monastery building. But lack of luck it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, just when we were there. Thus at the end of the day we had to drive back down to the valley not without first checking an abandoned, roofless and humid hut and asking farmers for shelter. On the first night in Campdevanol we enter a bleach smelling place with a flipper and a bunch of dusty people sitting around a table. The owner turns out to be an eternal globe-trotter who has learnt English in India and an enthusiast cook. Nicely decorated dishes come one after another on the table until we are full.
Dave is lovin’ it
We watch videos of village kids training in the local gym (the dusty people are the proud parents) and we start to figure out that climbing is a popular sport in Cataluña when on the way back we see a public climbing wall below a bridge. One the next evening, on the advice of an old woman in a grocery, we drive 20 minutes on a dirt road until we park in front of an old farm dating from 1784 which is now a family agriturismo. The building is beautiful and decorated with taste throwing you 200 years back in the past. We are able to negotiate that the evening meal is served at 8 pm instead of 9 pm since we are starving, especially Andreas who has gone for a 30 minutes footing in the dark to compensate for the cigarette he smoked with Dave (who after begging Andreas to buy some tobacco has finally resolved to do so…).
The castle before the time
That must the phantom of the castle
Les vacances de luxe et de grimpe combiné c’est pas possible? Louis demontre le contraire
Louis joining team sunny side for once
We climb a last day in Montgrony, team “southface” (never stop enjoying) climbing in the sun (spreading magnesia though ;-) and team “perfect conditions” having picnic and taking naps in the sun but pinching like there is no tomorrow in the shade. In the afternoon we drive south to Siurana enjoying the low-angle lights of winter thrown on the Catalan backcountry. It is either a flat landscape of highways, orchards and pig farming making you breathe with the mouth or a hilly landscape with winding roads, pine, almond and olive trees and fog in the valley bottoms.
The dream team enjoying the sunset
Sunset over Siurana
In Cornudella de Montsant the hostel we stayed in 2.5 years before is of course empty because it is the only place that we have booked in advance. The village is pretty quiet even though the community parking lot is full of climbers’ cars and buses, one of which has even an outside hangboard built at the rear. We discover the Arboli sector which is to Siurana what Oltre Finale is to Finale. Once there we realize that we have left 3 out of 4 water bottles at the hostel. We start looking on the map for a nearby house. We find one 200 m away uphill. There is 1 chance out of 10 that it is inhabited and 1 out of 100 that 10 dogs bark at us when we enter the property but we are lucky and we get water from a couple much friendlier than their pack of hounds (whose job is maybe not to be…).
The 7b+ crack testpiece
Brutalement dure cette 7a
The making of… taking the picture was almost as hard as climbing the route
Dave in Siuranella
The southface team does some mileage two days before we drop them in Reus on our way to the barber. We spend a day in Montsant with a couple of Austrian climbers and part of the BD team. On that day girls are stronger than guys, of which Daila puts her hands on the back of her neck and makes holes in the air with the most grace (even though Steph does not like her voice?! and by the way does she even have floor heating at home? (see next episode;-)
The girl with the windy hair is not Louis
In the evening we watch the derby Real-Barça in the local pub which for the occasion looks like a classroom with lines of tables and chairs. All the village inhabitants plus some climbers are there with older people drinking beer on the front rows and kids drinking soda at the back. The barman comes every now and then to the front next to the large flat screen to conduct the Mexican wave?! On my last day the weather is cold, and the warm-up is tough. Steph drives to Barcelona to replace his belayer/climber buddy who is getting slowly tired with Rafael who is waiting at Café di Fiore. The quiet Mediterranean guy looking like a travel guide writer and sleeping in the same dormitory is in fact an American dude called AJ and he will climb with Steph and Rafael for the rest of the week.
does this count as selfie or a bad setting up?
On the way back from the airport Raff and I decide to make a short cultural bleach before the dreary life of a climber on holiday. In Taragona, a Unesco World Heritage site, while strolling around in the city on the quest of finding food, we found a rarity in particularly in spain: A vegan restaurant, a thing I never seen before. As a prospective however unknowlingy member of the brocolo team (see next episode), I was in heaven and well prepared for a week of hard work on the rock.
The temperatures of the next few days show only a few degrees above zero, now definitely the bugniomètre indicated sun shine climbing. On the way to Siuranella, talking of a famous Oberwallis climber that had a blattomètre of his own predicting -4° as the ideal temperature, we pass a car with a Wallis license plate, only to find himself climbing a few minutes later. Apparently there is a point in a climbers life where one has the impression of having done everything that was possible (well he did). The logic consequence is stopping everything and starting a new hobby such as base jumping. I wonder if I will attain that stage one day… now it is definitely not yet the time. The ticklist for the next few days was endless, and when one project was done, 10 others were already in mental preparation.
one of the nicest 7a around
Raff marvels at Montsant
With the arrival of the BD team, things changed. We were observed from the skies, taken pictures of by a free solo climber (Nothing special for Hazel), Raff and AJ got spoiled to a point where they expected to be cheered up by Daila or Barbara to pass the crux of their route. BD not only sponsored all the top climbers but also toilets, not the be confounded.
Maybe it was the huge amount of ginger that we were eating all day that motived us to climb even on the perfect rest day with 4°C and 50km/h of wind. We discovered another sector in Montsant, again taking advantage of the somewhat wind protected climbing wall. Raff was on fire, climbing for the first time conglomerate.
Raff warming up
Feeling save with AJ (a lawyer in the US) on our side, we were ready to attempt the cargol (a snail), a long ride combining two pitches on a thin edge up a tower. After having seen Barbara Zangerl on the route, who made it look like a piece of cake (or better say a leave of spinach, because I suspect her to be part of the Brocolo team as well. She is surely dreaming of cake) we knew all the methods, at least for the first 5m…. the remaining 45m cannot be very different. After an hour of debating our attack plan, I set off to a long journey, steep and airy, with sometimes a basejumper feeling due to the elasticity of the rope. Seeing 3-4 quickdraws passing by in a glimpse, I started to be concerned, since on the way up, they didn’t seem so close to one to another… After all I got to the top, setting up the photostudio for the second climber.
Steph moving like a snail on the Cargol
AJ pulling like there is no tomorrow
Finally, it was time to get back to reality. Done the 10h nights, the moaning of aching fingers, shoulders, feet, ect… Done with the terrible spanish radio hosts, loving to talk pretty much nonsense…. Done with with the glamour feeling given to us by the climbing stars…. Done with the not so glamourous feeling of hairy climbing bums looking like Jesus after 40 days in the desert… Done with the aperitivs enjoying a most incredible sunset… However not done with the 30 pack of beers we inherited from Dave…
Hasta la vista, we will be back!!
More pictures on my site.