After Christmas every year we usually have a bit more time to dedicate to what we most like doing- climbing. We were thinking about possibly going back to Patagonia, but opted to save that for a better time. We want to go on an expedition in the spring and so we thought the best option would be to stay near home and train, and save up energy for the expedition.
Once again I chose to go to my beloved Margalef. The plan was clear- try and get as fit as possible as quickly as possible. After several months of travel with little climbing, the urge to climb up rock was very strong.
This time however, the planned spring expedition meant that training would really be the order of the day, so, on every day that I was not climbing I would go for a run or hike with Gusa.
We were joined by a number of great friends in order to try and get the most out of ourselves be it climbing, or bolting new projects. Vicenç, Renaud, Gusa, Víctor, Carole, Adrian, Etien, Baldiri, Pata, Daniela, Ricardo all came along creating a great atmosphere, as usual.
The “star” sector for this year was Espadelles which hasn't stopped growing. The tireless Vicen, Renaud, and Adrián didn’t take a moments rest, so we almost always had a new route to try to onsight.
The weather in Catalonia was not the best however, with high humidity and an unpleasant wind. Despite this we were able to climb almost whenever we wanted to.
We slowly got ourselves into shape, and the short-term projects we had set for ourselves came together. In Gusa’s case (Gusa accompanied me most of the time), he ‘scent a good handful of grade 8’s.
Regarding myself, I didn't do half badly either, managing to ‘scend a number of routes which I had outstanding like Pal Norte (8c+/9a), Pal Oeste (8c+), La vía De Oscar (8c+) (first ascent), Abstinencia (8c+) (first ascent), Si lo sé no vengo 8c (first ascent), Total Hero (8b+) (first ascent), Bongada ibérica (8b+) as well as a good list of onsighted 8a+’s and 8b’s.
My trip to Catalonia is over for now, but given that we are reaching the level of fitness that we want it is time to start dreaming about the project that has stopped me sleeping for a long time…
Following my third trip in the last four years to the crag in Valencia, something has become increasingly clear to me- Chulilla is among the 5 best crags in Spain right now. Inexplicably, and despite the number of sectors, routes of up to 60 metres, and a spectacular climate, it remains relatively unknown both within Spain as well as outside the country. Going by my three trips there I am going to try to review a personal top 10 of the best climbs I have done there. I am only going to do one per grade, so many marvelous routes of the same grade will be left out.
Magnetorresistencia (6b+). Sector: Oasis. 40 m of continuous climbing on a system of arêtes. A physically and mentally tough alpine route. Highly recommended.
El Ramallito (6c). Sector: Muro de las Lamentaciones. 40m. A fairly straightforward crack which gives way to crimps and small holds in the upper section. Essential.
Plan Z (6c+/7a). Sector: Oasis. 30m of continuous climbing on crimps and coral. A classic route to onsight for people at that level. Highly recommended.
El Muro de las lamentaciones (7a). Sector: Muro de las Lamentaciones. A feast for the senses on this 35m slab of crimps and tiny holds on perfect, blue limestone. Unmissable.
Sendero Sinuoso (7a+). Sector: Oasis. 40m of varied climbing with the crux near the belay. Highly recommended.
Cantalobos (7b). Sector: Pared de Enfrente. 20m of sustained, hard climbing, on an unusually intense, punchy route for Chulilla. Highly Recommended.
Gran Dinosaurio Blanco (7b+). Sector: Cañaveral. A jewel of a 45-metre route with the crux in the last metre. Unmissable.
Súper Zeb (7c/+). Sector: Pared Blanca. 40m of overhanging slabbed arête. One of the most technical routes I have climbed in Chulilla. Many metres of suffering for a most gratifying end. Highly recommended.
Los Caminantes (7c+). Sector: Chorreras. Spectacular 50-metre route on technical tufas. The second half is espectaculares de chorrera técnica. La segunda parte es legendary. Unmissable.
El Bufa (7c+/8a). Sector: El Balconcito. 40 metres of sustained climbing with the odd tufa, but mostly crimps with the crux near the end. Unmissable.
El Agente Naranja (8a). Sector: El Balcón. 40m of crimps on orange rock. Very complete. Unmissable.
Well that’s 11 in the end! I hope that if you haven’t had the chance to climb in Chulilla you will have soon.
A special thanks to the people who are opening new routes in Chulilla. Their selfless work is building a spectacular crag.
First Free Ascent of La Tarragó (8b+/240m) in Montserrat (+Video)
Thursday, 19 December 2013 11:15
When one puts a lot of enthusiasm, determination, and effort into the pursuit of a goal, one can make dreams come true. This is what we felt on the 5th of November when we succeeded in making the first free ascent of the route called Tarragó which was opened in 2002 by the climber of the same name with the help of Raúl Ballesteros, Dani Fernández, Xavier García, Toni Castelló and Ana Valero, and pronounced an “extreme” route by its opener who suggested that it may be a 9a (although he had never had the chance to try it), and that 12 years had passed since it was opened without any ascents. The reason for all this is the 200 metres of overhang on conglomerate rock which is very unstable in certain places and with a high grade throughout (almost all of it is about grade 8) as the route winds up the banana-shaped rock to reach the summit of the wall named Diables. It is very unusual, though no less attractive, that in a place like Montserrat, where vertical climbing predominates to find an alien like this.
In reality, the Project was an extremely interesting one as for more than a decade, this route of sport climbing ilk, opened from below on parabolts fairly closely spaced but with a significant psychological handicap due to the crumbly rock, no one had risen to the challenge of freeing it. If you add to this the excitement we felt in climbing a hard route in Montserrat, the cradle of Catalan climbing, and a place where many of the country’s best alpinists, the project was perfect for us to give our all on.Tarragó was a line to put Montserrat on the international climbing stage in the 21st century.
Our relationship with the route began in September when Iker freed and on-sighted Directa de la Amistad in the Aeri sector of Montserrat in the company of Adriá Solera. Adriá told Iker about Tarragó. So Iker and Adriá climbed the route as best they could, which was possible, although it would need to be conditioned and cleaned (remove loose rock, clean holds etc.) for several days before attempting to free it. The second attempt came with another Catalan friend- Baldiri Martín, with whom Iker continued to try pitches and clean the route. The third was done alone, as Iker spent a whole day alone, mallet and brush in hand, polishing it so as to leave it ready for our attempt to free it. The fourth attempt came when Eneko, who is almost recovered from his knee and shoulder injuries, joined in. On that fourth attempt, we didn't reach the top, but tried it up until the penultimate pitch, as we continued to discard loose holds.
Even on the first contact the verdict from the eldest of the Pou Brothers was clear- very overhanging route, very ahead of its time, only for really strong climbers with a strong foundation in sports climbing. Just the opposite of what Eneko felt up to after a summer of injuries, recovery and little training.
When we finally both got there together October was already drawing to a close and winter was upon us, as was the north wind and the cold (Tarragóis on the north face of theDiableswall). We had de get a move on, but despite being really close we didn't achieve our objective after five days (30thof October). Freeing the route remained out of our grasp due to a crucial hold breaking on the penultimate pitch which is also the hardest.
It turned out that the sixth day (5th of Novembre) would be the day. Jordi Canyigueral had arrived to start filming the ascent as witness. Another day of cold and freezing wind made the whole ascent very delicate, but it didn't’t stop us from succeeding in making the first free ascent of Tarragó.
There was much back-slapping and hugging at the top, as with any successful completion of a tough project. We were very pleased indeed, as we had dedicated many days and a lot of effort but we had succeeded. In the mountains this combination doesn't always result in success. We also thought of Adriá and Baldiri to whom we owe a great deal in the undertaking of this project.
We have finally completed an epic route in Montserrat, something we owe to ourselves and to all our Catalan friends who support us so much affection.
The numbers for the route (repetitions anyone?) would be like this:
Pitch 1: 6b
Pitch 2: 6b+
Pitch 3: 8b
Pitch 4: 8b
Pitch 5: 8b+
Pitch 6: 7c+/8a
Senselessness Settles in Montserrat
The only addendum to this project is that we were unable to complete the filming of the route in the days after the opening. Other work commitments made it impossible for us or for Jordi to stay, but we knew that on that route we needed to film something cool. The line deserved it, and we wanted to share the climbing of Montserrat with the world. We weren't be able to do so until 20 days later, on the 25th of November, on a freezing day (the temperature was between -6ºC and 0ºC), and with work out of the way we began to film again from the ground up. But we were met with several nasty surprises: First of all we, and as Eneko climbed the second pitch carrying loads of rope- a parabolt which had been removed and pushed inside its own hole rendering it useless. But that was nothing compared to what we found further up- On the third pitch, which Iker was to lead we found that the bolts had gone. All of them. There is nothing to clip into on the whole pitch. There is no way to continue up. The route has ceased to exist. There is nothing more to say. Iker’s face said it all. In the midst of profound surprise and disappointment we went down.
On the 26th we walked to the Summit of the Diables in the hope that the “bogeymen” didn't have time to remove the entire route, and that we may be able to film certain parts at least. We still believe it would be worth it to film something nice on the route. But our hopes evaporated as we threw the rope from the summit. The entire route has disappeared. There is no Tarragó on Montserrat. Someone has decided to murder the dreams of future climbers. Despite all this, we try to film some of the overhanging sections as best we can to show the true dimensions of this route.
The truth is we do not understand any of this. We have always believe in consensual decision-making, in the same way that we believe in tolerance and mutual respect. That places us in opposition to unilateral decisions which those few take and which can affect so many. We have dedicated our whole lives to activities in the mountains, and the commons sense which nearly 40 years of life has given us has taught us that in life as in the mountains no one possesses absolute truth, and the person who believes they do is mistaken.
We feel it is a great shame. It is a shame that people can be so intolerant, that they can lack so much respect, that we can’t do our job, that other climbers will not be able to feel the excitement we felt and that they cannot dedicate themselves to the route.
The mountains are freedom, and acts like this only serve to snatch freedom from others.
We would love to know the supposed reasons for removing the bolts on this route; but whatever they may be we already know that few or none can justify that, almost 12 years after David Tarragó opened it and in the moment that during the very moment that we found ourselves immersed in its adventure, someone smashed it all.
We have always tried to set an example in our endeavours. We have always done it in each one of our climbs by opening new routes with impeccable ethics- cams, and nuts before pitons, pitons before bolts. Were we have used bolts, we have used the fewest possible, on big walls we have always opened the route from below and have risked a lot to free routes without artificial means…
Following this maxim we, the Pou Brothers, have given the best of ourselves in Montserrat, as we have always done- with the best of intentions. If some people believe that acts like this they will destroy the future they are wrong. The future continues to wind its way, time passes, people come and go, and no one is important enough to influence it.
We will not enter into a debate which we feel the local climbers need to find a solution to. Nor will we enter into sterile controversies. As always, we prefer that the climbing in Montserrat speaks for itself.
Because of the circumstances of life, my second climbing trip to Africa was to do some bouldering. This summer a few friends organized a trip to Rocklands to which, very gradually, more and more people began to sign up to. I had not made a bouldering-specific trip for a long time, but Rocklands, in South Africa, is one of the best places in the world for it.
The truth is that I was not in great shape for the trip out as a number of problems had separated me from physical activity during 40 days (I have been away from climbing, running, mountains, my bike etc for such a long period for many years). We dedicated the first week to sightseeing near Cape Town. This city has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful in the world. We strolled down its Victorian streets, went up Table Mountain, visited the Cape of Good Hope national park where we saw Ostrich. We also saw Whales at the fishing town of Hermanus and Penguins at Boulder Beach.
After that first week we headed up to Rocklands, where we would spend the following fifteen days.
Everything I had heard about this place was as nothing compared to it in reality. I have never seen so many kilometers of boulders as far as the eye can see. Fontainebleau aside, which is also very extensive, this place is huge. Many sectors (about 7 main ones), and all great. The rock is very good and in general the climbing is very physical with clear entrances with large surfaces. During those fifteen days we scarcely re-visited any sectors, and being such a large group with many different levels of ability we enjoyed a great atmosphere. The scenery is not dissimilar to some desert areas of Utah, with a lot of rock, and small shrubs with very few areas of established woodland.
The area itself is Afrikaner, with homesteads spread out over huge territories, but little population. The white families maintain administrative and economic control over the land. We always felt safe, despite South Africa being considered one of the most dangerous areas in the world. We did not feel it to be so.
The conclusion is clear- despite my not being a boulderer per sé, I have visited many of the best places in the world for bouldering and this is, without doubt, one of the best.
Go and visit now!
Group photo (left to right, and below to above): Saida, Eneko, Malo, Dalila, Leire, Diego, Ander, Gusa, Iñaki and Sare. Rubén and Sara do not appear, although they were with us.