Don’t get me wrong! The Tapas and Tufas in Spain are pretty amazing as well as prolific! However, there was so much more in the climbing world, the history, the culture, the parks, the food and the people. How do you sum up a whirlwind nine days in Spain? I’m not really sure you can but I know how it goes, other people’s trip photos and stories can get a touch boring. I’ll try not to bore you with painful details but I might fail!
As the traveler, everything is new, exciting and your senses are stimulated to the max. The sights, sounds and even smells are burned into your brain and the dream-like state of ignoring your day-to-day obligations is something you don’t want to let go of. This trip was no different except for the fact that we were kid free!
Kid free did not come without a price. I’m quite certain the most stressful part of my trip planning was writing lists of contacts, schedules, this club, that practice, pick-ups, drop-offs, snacks, meals, maps, activities, etc. all created to give the Grandparents help and guidance with the kids here at home. Packing was the simple part especially with my mantra, “Less is more plus a credit card!” Oh yeah, don’t forget to notify the credit card company or sign up for the global plans on our phones. These details about fried my brain and gave me little to no preparation for the actual trip.
Insert Mike! This is when the team concept in a working marriage is so valuable. When I was taking care of the pre-trip kid preparation, he was researching crags, must-sees and do’s, restaurants, routes, hotels and all the in-country items. Somehow, all the “i’s” were dotted and “t’s” were crossed!
With a relatively short travel window mixed in with official business, precise planning was key. We wanted our nine days to be jammed packed. I really do have to give all the planning credit to Mike; he was our leader, planner and tour guide. I was the navigator and tourist along for the ride relieved knowing the kids were taken care of back home.
Our plan going in was pretty ambitious. We wanted to check out Rodellar, Terradets, Monteserrat, Siurana, Margalef and any other crags along the way. These areas are all within a 3 hour driving radius of Barcelona, our hub. However, we learned that driving the mountains of Spain was time consuming and we wanted to actually climb, not just drive. We dropped Siurana and Margalef from our list mostly due to the hot weather of September and their out-of-the-way coastal locations.
After 3 flights, one rental car and a 2 hour drive, we found ourselves checking into our first hotel in Huesca. This tightly compact village was clean, quaint and cozy. The buildings seemed glued together sharing walls and the streets cobbled not lending to any dirt, grass or weeds. We felt like we were on a spy movie set! I was thrilled to be there but I have to admit, I was out of my element. My very limited Español did not help while staring at restaurant menus expecting something to look familiar. With our broken Spanish and the local’s broken English we were successful in getting our first meal and a sigh of relief came over me. We were here, we were in Spain…this was no dream!
Climbing Destination One: RODELLAR
After finding out that nothing is open on Sundays, including grocery stories, we relaxed and settled in for the hour drive to Rodellar. This less than straight road was a wonderful introduction to the gorgeous countryside, small villages, olive orchards and an unlimited supply of limestone that can be found in Spain. Beautiful gray, orange and white limestone cliffs lined the hillsides like garland and I was quite certain we would run off the road looking at it. The village of Rodellar is nestled atop a multi-fingered canyon which is also called Parque Natural de Sierra y Canons de Guara. We stayed at the Kalandraka Refuge de Escalada which sits on the rim above this gorgeous limestone canyon.
All the climbing was within hiking distance and in good ol’fashioned Anderson style, we woke up at sunrise to get early starts. This is not the norm in Spain! The only people who wake up early are the business men and women in the big cities who are eager to get their café con leche and croissants!
The climbers, we started to see them trickle into the canyon at lunch time.
Rodellar is visually stunning with huge caves, long routes, and cliff line after cliff line. Each bend in the river opens to another crag and the most stunning feature was The Delfin. A climbable arch with stunning views and a few wild goats watching us crazy climbers! Many of the cave routes were reminiscent of Rifle with big blocky holds and few pockets. The big difference was the addition of tufas! These petrified drips of limestone goo formed vertical tubular holds in all sizes and lengths. Many reminded me of extra-long elephant trunks glued on the wall. We were intrigued by tufas but quickly realized just how hard they are to read for the novice tufa climber. This made onsighting very difficult but we did start learning about the hidden holds and occasional kneebars tufas provided. I definitely struggled the first few days and wish I could only blame the jetlag. I was strong from training but jumping into a new world of steep, powerful, tufa climbing was humbling for sure. It was going to take a few weeks to get used to this place and we did not have two weeks. I had to remind myself that this was a recon trip and not necessarily a sending trip.
—Mikes Rodellar Viewpoint….he made no promises about boring you with details! HA!
Rodellar is an amazing crag, with several lifetimes of rock. Its popularity is well-deserved! A little ACT/SAT quiz for you: Rodellar is to __________ as Indian Creek is to splitter cracks ??? Of course, the answer is, TUFAS! We made a point to hit all of the classic tufa routes, while also taking time to challenge ourselves with routes at our limit. We had agreed that we wouldn’t camp out under a project…we would climb new crags and new routes each day, so on-sighting was the name of the game. There was definitely a learning curve, and adjusting to the jet lag, so my performance ramped up slowly over the first few days. We hit many classic crags: Surgencia, El Camino, Ventanas, Gran Bovida, Pince sans Rire, and Café Solo.
Here are some of the highlight climbs:
Ironman, 12+ (This was my best onsight of the first day)…a classic vertical tufa line with a rare face climbing crux that suited me well.
Leo, 12- Another classic tufa line.
El Corredor de los Muertos, 13b (Reminiscent of a Red River Gorge endless jug-haul. I came close to the onsight, but was stymied by my lack of tufa experience, still a tremendous route!)
Kalandraka, 13- My first international 5.13 on-sight! A killer vertical tufa line with a deceptive thin crux. This was a newer route, so not as polished as the classics.
L’any que ve Tambe (12d) – One of the world’s most classic sport climbs, a series of absurdly ginormous tufas. It’s the most polished route I’ve ever climbed, but the holds were so good, it didn’t matter.
La vara de Florentino (13a) – This was a glorious moment for me, as an international crew of Germans, Canadians and Spaniards were all throwing themselves at this route. I casually slid into the que, and on-sighted it! It is a wonderful climb with interesting, powerful boulders separated by pumpy rests. At the top, I had to make a blind huck for the finishing jug, and I stuck it!
Pince Sans Rire:
Pince Sans Rire (12c) – Translation: “Pinch without laughing”, and it was hard to do. This was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. Everyone told us that “it doesn’t get in the shade until about 4:00, so you have to wait all day. Not the Andersons! We woke early, hiked into the canyon by headlamp and warmed up quickly enough to send this rig before sunhit. We had the entire canyon to ourselves, and when the sun did rise, it beautifully accentuated the tufas on this wall. It was a great way to end our visit to Rodellar!
All-in-all, Rodellar was a whirlwind. We visited a ton of crags in a few days and tried lots of routes. We didn’t rest as much as we normally would because our priority was climbing volume over pure performance. Nevertheless, I was able to on-sight three 13a’s, and several 12+’s, and came close on three 8a’s (13b), but didn’t quite crack that nut. It would have to wait for the jet lag and some rest….
It was very important to us to utilize not only our climbing days but our rest days. Rest days were our opportunity to see parts of Spain, learn about the culture and try new food. There would be no sitting around “resting” on our rest days! We woke up early one morning and drove to National Park called Ordesa y Monte Perdido. Along the way we made a quick stop in Ainsa to walk through the historic medieval town center. Walking up the narrow, cobbled, hilly streets to the church on top of the hill was so cool. Come to find out, these tight knit villages where the norm out in the country.
The road winded up the hills passing adorable little villages always marked by the church steeple found on the highest point. The rocky cliffs grew bigger and bigger as we entered the Ordesa y Monte Perdido. We found the parking area and opted for the “classic” hike, where we were treated to numerous waterfalls along the way. The canyon was tremendous and the limestone cliffs thousands of feet above lined the canyon like a castle wall. Most of the hike was in a thick dense forest but each waterfall view point was spectacular. We eventually got high enough to get out of the trees and really enjoy the incredible valley and mountain top views. Having twisted my ankle hiking around Rodellar the day before, it soon became a game of correct foot placement to prevent making it worse. Luckily, with a newly purchased brace, this ankle would go on to be an annoyance but not hinder my trip.
After a 10+ mile hike and a quick stop to see the local village of Torla, we raced down the road to the Castle de Loarre! Located out in the country past agricultural fields of Loarre, Spain, the Castle de Loarre sat built on a rocky outcrop of limestone on a hillside with incredible views. Construction on the castle began in 1020 so it’s been around a few years and is in amazingly good shape.
The main purpose of the trip was for Mike to present his hangboard and training research at a Sports Technology Conference in Barcelona, but we were able to fit in some leave for climbing as well. So after Rodellar, we headed towards Barcelona for the conference, but stopped by another world-renowned sport crag on the way: Terradets. Few climbers at Rodellar had even heard of it, which just goes to show how faddish climbers can be. In it’s prime, Terradets was THE crag in Spain, but now Rodellar is the hot new crag, and the younger crowd has moved on. We enjoyed Terradets, and its solitude, immensely!
Terradets has several crags, but the premier crag is Paret de les Bruixes; an unbroken cliffline, gradually transitioning along a ¼ mile from vertical to about 25 degrees over-hanging, with a small cave at the end. The rock was immaculate limestone, reminiscent of the Blasphemy Wall at the VRG, but with the occasional tufa drip. The climbing was much more our style, and the morning shade it offered better suited our lifestyle. This was our 4th climbing day out of 5, so we were tired, and only planned on a short day due to this fatigue, our need to get to the conference, and the fact that our hotel had a free breakfast buffet that we needed to sample before it closed at 10:30. The quick stop was definitely worth it! We learned that we loved this cliff and definitely wanted to come back.
We woke early, as usual, approached the crag by headlamp, and set an alarm for 9:30, at which point we would have to decide if we were going to race back to the hotel for the buffet, or keep climbing. My goal for the day was to on-sight an 8a. We started on some slippery 11s (the guidebook had warned that Terradets was “getting polished”, but in our opinions, it was nothing compared to Rodellar!) I did a stellar 12- called “L’Ansia” that climbed a 30m gently overhanging wall that started with intricate tufas, and ended on long lockoffs between crisp, one-pad edges. It left me psyched for my day’s goal: another try at an 8a on-sight. (You have to realize that in Europe, because of French grades, the 8a grade is that significant milestone that all climbers aspire to, much like 13a in the US, but I would say it’s even more important in Europe. I have on-sighted many “8a’s” in the US, but I really wanted to do it on their soil.)
I picked my quarry, “Millenium” based on an alluring photo in the guidebook that showed beautiful brown limestone reminiscent of the best rock at the VRG. With little else to go on, it seemed like a reasonable metric. Apparently many others like the route too, as it was pretty polished. (One problem with constantly gunning for 8a’s is that, because it’s a milestone grade like 13a, many climbers are seeking that tick, so the routes are very crowded and/or polished). Millennium started with a very powerful boulder problem through some hand-sized tufas. I had to read the sequence well, and try hard! This is always tricky to do on-sight because you are trying to ration effort, but sometimes you HAVE to go for it. You try to finesse as much as you can, and use intuition to decide when it’s time to “go all-in”. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes you try again. This time it worked. I was able to shake out on some moderate climbing, thinking (wishing?) that I was through the crux. I eventually rolled onto a slab and got a good rest, but was suckered out left on some sucker chalk. I soon realized that I had another crux in my way…a slippery slab crux…my specialty! I rested until my calves started to weaken, then went for it. I had to really trust my feet on holds much more polished than I’m used to. Our visit to Rodella paid off in that regard! I used some pitiful crimps, rocked onto terrible feet, and stuck a nice tufa to the right that ended the slab crux. I felt hopeful, but a roof loomed above…would this be the crux?
I was able to get a nice shake before the roof, and could climb up and feel some of the holds. It looked like I might have to do a long dyno, which is a nightmare on an on-sight, especially being so high on the route, after having invested so much to get there. The end of the breakfast buffet was looming, so I had to hurry J. I got up under the roof, and too my surprise, some undercling crimps and high feet allowed me to reach over the roof statically to a decent rail. I clipped the last bolt, then emptied my tank with some long, powerful lockoffs on more crisp edges which took me to the chains! I had finally bagged my European 8a!
I left a Trango Phase biner on the chains as my offering to Spanish climbing (and as a tactic to get back to the buffet faster) ad lowered off in bliss! We rushed down the trail, with Janelle walking as quickly as she could with her weakened ankle, and sped off to the hotel, a mere 3 minutes away. The buffet was definitely worth it, as we were able to try a selection of local foods without committing to an entire entrée. Our favorite dishes were the Chorizo and Eggs (cooked perfectly), and the interesting cured meats made of who knows what. They were salty though, which always hits the spot after climbing!
After stuffing out guts, we headed on to Barcelona for some engineering, sights and more food!