Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Some Scots Getting Pumped in Spain

As I sit down to write this, my trip to Spain of the last few weeks is becoming a memory and the engrams from weaving between the twisting tufas of Terradets are dying down. Sam and I had started out by picking us Nic and Ross from the Siurana campsite and went onto Margalef for a few days. The verdict from us on this venue? Good but not great fun, due in a large part to the cheese-grater pockets that shredded the sides of our fingers. So we were glad to head northward, past Lleida and onto Terradets which I knew from past experience had a complete lack of sharp pockets.
Terradets: Top Tufa Terriority

Last year, I had spent about a week here, climbing at Les Bruixes crag, a 20-35m high crag, liberally splattered with tufa systems and roofs with helpful jugs. Having on-sighted most of the 7c +s and a few of the 8as on this wall, I was keen to return here to see if I could notch my OS level that little bit higher: 8a+. Feel free to accuse me of grade chasing and of being a typical sport climber; obsessed only about the number. These are true facts but reaching into new levels of climbing requires improvements on many different components of personal ability: strength, technique, fitness, sequence reading, poise and psyche to name the obvious candidates. So for me, progressing through the grades is also about learning how to improve as a climber.

Ross on Orient 7c+
But before I go any further, allow me to introduce Dario who we met on our first night at the Terradets refugio. At just the right point in our trip (we had run out of people we could think of to slag off and were about to start on each other…), Dario walked off the train: this biscuit-eating skinny Italian Stallion who had more energy than the three of us put together, kept us entertained with his high-octane sense of humour and numerous games of chess in which he mostly beat everyone. Even more annoyingly though, was that after telling everyone he had not climbed for two months, he spent the rest of the week on-sighting 7cs and 7c+s and doing a few 8as second go. By the time we left, Dario was also pretty fluent at swearing in English…
Dario on THE line of the crag, Latidio del Medio 8a

The long routes at Les Bruixes seem to require a certain rhythm; going as fast as possible on steep sections is important but tempered by the absorbing nature of climbing and internally calculating directions of leverage on the many tufas. This isn’t flat, 2-D follow-the-dots-wall climbing: knee-bars, hand-jams, toe torques, bridging, heel clamps, lay backing and heel-toes all come into play on this crag. While the lads were getting to grip with this style of climbing with varying degrees of success, I started throwing myself at the 8a+es.

Showboating on the OS attempt of an 8a+, Pity I fell off a few moves later, eh?
After a few days of failures and redpoint efforts; my first breakthrough. Trecking, a long 8a+ that, unfortunately last year, I had accidentally wandered onto the last two bolts from a neighbouring route. So despite on-sighting the first sustained 25m, I knew what to do on the sting in the tail move at the top. Not an onsight but definitely not a redpoint either: does this ascent lie somewhere in the murky realms of a flash? Nevertheless, an absolutely fantastic endurance route on amazing rock and exactly the kind of climbing that I love, lowering off with turgid forearms.

Trecking 8a+ , is this a legitimate flash?

Another couple of days later (and more onsight failures), just as I was running out of 8a+ routes, Nic suggested I try Millenium which he was going to dog up. I had avoided this route as it appeared less steep and cruxier than all the other routes. Nic dogged up placing the draws whilst I occupied myself listening to my i-pod and taking in the view. Later, after a shaky start, a technical crux section on a slab, a roof with a final sting in the tail I was soon clipping the chain feeling somewhat unpumped and deflated. Surely an 8a+ onsight should be a total fight? This route would probably be 7c+ if it was at Malham (or 7b+ at the Anvil…) and yet a quick look at the 8a.nu website indicates that most people think it is 8a+…maybe I should just take the tick without all this quite British modesty. Perhaps it is soft touch but I will be happier with a proper 8a+ onsight.

Sam on a "warm up" route at Santa Linya

The last couple of days climbing were spent avoiding the rain and thunderstorms, either at Sector Regina (in the valley opposite Les Bruixes and well worth checking out if you climb 7c+ to 8b) or at Santa Linya (probably not worth bothering with unless you climb above 8b!). Now, back at home, it's dull, grey and feels colder than when I left; still I dream of that perfect onsight when I am slapping for holds, getting pumped out of my box and barely having enough energy to clip the chain.

The three midgets and Sam copying Dario's one legged Italian Style