Spain Part 2: Cobblestones & Milestones at Montserrat

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Montserrat climbing

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Barcelona! What an incredible city full of life, people, culture, food, history and so much more. It has to be one of my new favorite cities of all time and we just scratched the surface. We will get into Barcelona highlights in a future post, right now I want to focus on climbing.

First, I want to tell you about a real gem, Montserrat. From a distance, Montserrat looks like a multi-peaked jagged saw tooth mountain, which lends to its intricate rocky maze.  As you approach and drive up the windy road, you can see that hundreds of rounded, cobblestone towers, domes and cliffs create this beauty of a climbing destination. Besides the climbing, Montserrat is also a very popular tourist stop and once you reach the parking lot at the end of the road, you’re ripped from your dream-like state of amazement. The touristy stuff is pretty obnoxious and it seems to go on for a mile full of cars, huge buses, people and souvenir stands. Don’t let this deter you. Press on past the tourist stops, and you will be rewarded just as we were!

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

We were aiming for the sunny tower in the middle of this photo.

The reason for the tourists; nestled on the hillside about 1000 feet up from the base but beneath the towers is an old Benedictine Abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Our goal, however, was to sample some of the moderate multi-pitch climbing that it is world-renowned for. We only had a few hours of day light so we had to move quickly, hiking up the narrow valley past the abbey. The hike to the base of the route was literally one stair case after another winding up between these towers. It was absolutely beautiful and provided wonderful views of the surrounding area. We were aiming for one of the more prominent summits, Gorro Frigi, and the Stromberg route seemed like a good choice. At the base of the route, we quickly geared up while admiring the colorful cobbles we were about to climb. The rock was gorgeous, and we were eager to test out these cobbles. Mike took the lead while I took out the camera.

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Stairs…

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lots of stairs!

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The stairs eventually turned to trail as we neared the base

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Pitch one up the sea of cobbles

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Trango was representing in Spain!

 

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Mike starting the second pitch. The Monastery is in view nestled in the rocky canyon below.

Sport climbers remembering their rope management at the belay

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Pretty amazing view of the abbey

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Final pitch

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Janelle taking in the summit views.

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Mike next to the summit cross

The climb was very casual, super fun and the views were tremendous. I loved the Catalonian conglomerate cobbles and definitely want to go back! Doing a mutli-pitch climb as a couple is very rare these days, and not something we do with kids in tow (well, not yet anyways).

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Hazy air on the way down made for a cool photo highlighting the pillar we had climbed

We finished before dark and headed straight into Barcelona during rush hour. This was a completely fun and terrifying experience on it’s own. However, with Mike’s defensive, confident driving and maneuvering, we made it to the hotel in one piece. It was time to  head to the Sports Engineering conference in Barcelona, but I don’t want to waste any time getting to the most exciting climbing day of our entire trip! Therefore, we’ll describe Barcelona and the conference in more detail in our next post.  Instead, here’s the exciting conclusion to our Montserrat climbing….

After our first taste of Montserrat, we knew we would need to go back during this trip. The relatively easy one hour drive was perfect for an early morning out on the rock. We left Barcelona before dawn one morning and were rewarded with an incredible sunrise on tall towers above us. Mike had a spring in his step while I hobbled along on my bum ankle. I could tell he was psyched! Today was going to be a great day!!

 

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Gorgeous view in the first morning light

I want you to hear it straight from Mike…this not only was a great day, it was one for the Anderson history books!! Here’s Mike to tell about his incredible experience, and reaching a goal he has had for years and years!

I came to sector Guilleumes at the recommendation of Jonathan Siegrist aka JStar. It wasn’t covered in our guidebook, so we got some sketchy beta at a local shop in Barcelona and hoped we’d be able to find it. On the way to the crag, I had a wave of psych come over me as I watched alpine glow on the cliffs above and just thought about how awesome it was to be here in Spain.

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More morning light making the cliffs glow. Check out that cool thumb rock too…the Caval Bernat. There’s a long multi-pitch climb on that tower we wanted to do, but the hike was too much for Janelle’s hurt ankle. Next time!

When I reached the cliff, I was instantly impressed because it reminded me of my favorite home crag, Smith Rock, but with slightly steeper walls full of pockets and edges. It was extremely inspiring. I did a warm-up (Catximba – “Bong”, 11c) and got on what I thought was another 12a (Diedru – “pipe”). After a little climbing, it was clearly a little more than I bargained for. I realized I was on an 8a (Bolita Moruna), not a 12a (7a+) so I decided I would save it for an onsight. I kept going until the climb got a little too hard then I climbed down.

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La Catximba (“bong”), 6c+ (11c – though the polish made it feel WAY harder 🙂 ). A nice warmup, covered with cool flowstone.

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Higher on Catximba.

After belaying Janelle, I got on the 8a (Bolita Moruna) again, gunning for the on-sight. I felt very smooth and strong, the climbing came naturally to me as I cruised from pocket to pocket. I had trained for this a long time. I reached the crux section, shook out and thought about the moves. I figured out a sequence and went for it. I had to trust some pretty polished feet but I did it and stuck the moves. From there, it was just  managing the pump through some small but positive pockets. A short tufa took me to the chains and I was very psyched to get another 8a onsight!

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At the chains of Bolita Moruna, 8a (13b) after nabbing my second 8a onsight of the trip!

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Mike celebrating his on-sight of a “Grade 8” route at Montserrat.

Now, I had to decide go for another 8a or push myself and try for an 8a+ (one was located just to the right.) Though I have come close a couple times, I have never on-sighted an 8a+ (13c) before, and it has been a goal of mine for years. It was one of my goals for this trip, but there is always the risk that you blow it and wreck the remainder of your climbing day. I took a moment and decided that “I would only live once” and this was my opportunity, so I went for the 8a+. The route looked really cool, following a solitary gray streak from top to bottom with small pockets reminiscent of France. This was what we came to Europe for!

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Rastafari, 8a+ (13c) follows the prominent gray streak up the center of the photo, then up over the roofs to the left.

The route had no draws, and little chalk, so this would be the real deal…no crutches…I didn’t even have a guidebook description (not that Spanish guidebooks have descriptions anyway 🙂 ). What I would have given for a Smith Rock/Alan Watts-esque  play-by-play run-down with accompanying crux-by-crux topo map? In retrospect, this was the perfect situation. No info, and no preconceptions!

The pocket sequence at the start was much harder than I anticipated, and I had to really go for it on some small but positive pockets, making long reaches . I also thought I would be able to get many rests in the opening sections but I was wrong. I had to manage the pump, stay relaxed and pace myself. At the end of the long grey streak, I reached a roof at about  the 2/3 height and was able to shake. To my horror, this is where the real business began! Over the roof I was instantly slapped in the face with hard moves. Long lockoffs to small pockets with bad feet and over-hanging. I had to do a hard mono move with my right hand to reach a good pocket. I stuck it though (yeah hangboard training!), then I got a horizontal crack that I thought would be a great rest, but it turned out to be very slopey. I milked it as best I could for a long time. This climb was taking forever! (maybe an hour to send it?) I was starting to worry I would flame out, but I tried to remain calm and optimistic.

I climbed above the poor ledge and was instantly in panic mode. The holds were too small and I could not see them because there was no chalk. I climbed into a sequence that I was certain I would not be able to do, and thought I would certainly fall . However, I was able to down climb enough to get a good heel/toe cam in the horizontal crack that allowed me to shake enough to recover. I had been here in Spain long enough that I was FINALLY able to recover at rests.  I shook again for probably ANOTHER 10 minutes. I had enough back and had stared at the wall long enough that I had an idea of what to do.  I pulled up on some good pockets with bad feet.  Above me, but a long way away, was a tufa under cling. I reached far, as far as my tired little toes would let me, and I was able to grab it! I was thrilled! I pulled up my feet and locked into the under cling.  I clipped, and was able to shake a little. I moved on, did a couple slopey crimps and slabby moves with decent feet. I was able to reach a sinker pocket…finally something GOOD to hang on to! The angle was rolling back now, so I knew I had it in the bag at this point, but I kept my wits about me. I climbed deliberately to the next bolt where the angle eased significantly. From there it was cruising to the chains. I let out a whoop, clipped the anchors and was totally stoked! My first 8a+ onsight while hanging the draws and with no chalk to boot!

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Whoot! He did it!!! He really did it!

Two climbers from Spain showed up right after Mike topped out. We needed photos of this climb and luckily, they agreed to belay so I could take a few photos.

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Mike “re-enacting” the final moments of his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c). A new milestone for him.

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Another action shot of Mike “re-enacting” his on-sight of “Rastafari” 8a+ (13c).

This day was one for the record books! After Mike’s onsight of the 8a+, he went on to onsight another 8a, “Xilum” making the grand total 3 – 8a’s in one day!!!!!!! Probably his best sport climbing day yet. There was something in that Spanish air of Montserrat…maybe a little magic? It was very magical it was the years of dedication to training, focusing on his weaknesses and setting goals that sealed this deal!

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A local climber, Guilleme, trying “Xilum” 8a (13b). This is the third 8a Mike did that day. Doesn’t this remind you of Moonshine Dihedral at Smith Rock?

 

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Super psyched…what a day!

Coming soon…details of our travels in Barcelona, and the Sports Engineering Conference, complete with VIDEO of Mike’s presentation on hangboard training with the Rock Prodigy Method and RP Training Center. For now, enjoy these teaser photos….

 

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Scooters and motorcycles dominate downtown and seem to be the preferred mode of transportation. Watch out pedestrians!

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Local school

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Downtown soccer field

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Mediterranean Sea with beautiful toasty brown beaches

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Tight streets

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Incredible buildings like the Cathedral of Barcelona

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Mercat La Boqueria

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So, Spanish eggs don’t need refrigeration 😉

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The not so “secret” secret Iberico jamon was EVERYWHERE!

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Cool exotic fruits

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Seafood and sea-critters I didn’t know one could eat

 

 

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