Monday, October 27, 2008

Tarragona region - La Mussara, and Montsant

This w-end i finally went South instead of North - and still found many things to do! The first day, with my newly found partner Rafael, we explored La Mussara crag in the very picturesque Prades range. Only 1000m high, these pequeñas montañas are perfect for autumn or winter climbing - with views to the sea on one side, and mountain feel to them on the other.

La Mussara is a high quality limestone crag of up to 100m high, with a variety of bolted or not routes available. We went for Hercules Incuarteable route (from 100 best of Cataluña book, old faithful), which is actually completely bolted, long, and roofy. It reminded me a little bit about the Gunks with many horizontal crack-o-roofs to pull through. We also did a somewhat easier, also bolted route on the left there.

The next objective was to try Rif, a harder, and less bolted 4-pitch, ¨perfect crack¨route. I managed to (with many rests) lead the first 5+ pitch, we failed on the secon (6a+) and never reached the upper ones. This route will have to wait for an improved trad-head! But the start was very nice - here is Rafael following the end of the first pitch:

The second day we decided to explore Montsant range. From afar it tricked me into thinking about it as a limestone crag - but as we figured after the approach it actually is as conglomerate as it gets, with pebbles pouring from under your feet with a vengence!

We went for the rock of Falconera (picture above) having in mind the Somm d´Estiu route from the same 100 best book. However we started with Gerard Artiges route on the left (where the shade appears in the center-left of the picture above). Again, after the first 2 pitches we bailed on the third pitch as the bolting got very scarce for our liking. Here is Rafael following the first pitch:

We finished the day with some relaxed cragging at Siurana - although not that relaxed given the rather hard grades we found. But the big old bolts and quality limestone compensated for the hardship! For those looking for topos of Tarragona region, especially Siurana, please have a look here in the "otras zonas de escalada" chapter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Terradets and Os de Balaguer

This w-end we tried to climb in another new location - Terradets. A 500m limestone wall 10min from the car? Everything is possible in Spain - and welcome to Terradets! The Begasses wall (picture below, some detail here as well as in the Terradets topo) is very impressive - and you literally drive into it while passing the canyon before Terradets dam on the Tremp road. On one side, there is Montsec de Ares (Terradets climbnig walls are its left end), and on the right side the Montsec de Rubies (Vilanova being the climbing location there). Yes, sorting out Spanish namings for crags is not exactly easy!

Unfortunately, the forecast was right this time, and it rained, poured rather, the whole day of Saturday. We hardly could even hike, and explored various coffee offerings at the Alberg-Refugi de Cellers (the cheapest sleeping option 10 min from the walls at 12.5 per night and plenty of topos to explore), the Llac Cafeteria, and differenct cafes and bookshops in Tremp instead. Here is Cathy in front of the Regina wall, another impressive monster just behind the Begasses wall:

Sunday was more clement, but only time for sport climbing remained. We thus chose a conveniently situated sport crag in the canyon close to Os de Balaguer village (different from Alos de Balaguer, where there also is climbing!). It is a very good crag with various grades from 6a and up. Here is a climber on a 6b+ we tried, although i found this one harder than other 6bs there:

And another climber on another route, giving nice perspective of the whole canyon. We enjoyed ourselves as the grades were not exactly very hard and fitted nicely with our style. Definitely a place to come back to!

(Yes, the game is - find the climber! in the previous shots...) View of the Montsec d´Ares chain from Os de Balaguer village on a less rainy day. Autumn is coming!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I also managed to visit Andorra for the first time last w-end. It reminded me of another hilly country - Switzerland. It is a pleasant location - some say overbuilt, but that is only the perspective one gets from the valley floor. View of the capital, Andorra la vella, above from up above.

Andorra is the sixth smallest nation in Europe, after Malta, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, and the Vatican City. It has also the highest life expectancy in the world (Wiki) and a very interesting history of how to stay independent for over 800 years with such neighbors as France and Spain encircling it from all sides. Just to keep your interest - its official rulers are both, the bishop of La Seu d´Urgell (yes, the climbing paradise) and Sarcozy!

Otherwise it is also known as tax haven with no income tax - and a ski paradise in winter. Its own native population forms only around 30%, the rest are residents from mainly Spain and France. It manages to strike a balance with all these heteroclit groups and prosper! Its national language is actually catalan - it embodies the independence the Spanish Cataluña has been trying to gain for so long. Overall an interesting refuge for mountain-lovers that want to live in the heart of Europe, close to both, Barcelona and its beach, and Toulouse and France´s industries.

Pared Bucolica, Obaga Negra, Alt Urgell

This w-end, despite the unfortunate weather forecast, we decided to sample the limestone of Pared Bucolica, in the neverending mine of rock, Alt Urgell. We chose Balsame del Tigre from 100 best of Cataluña for our route, hesitating with the easier alternative, very popular Tera de dinosaures (topo here). There is a nice overview of the whole wall here.

The approach is only 15 min and the scenery is very nice in spite of the road and the tunnels not that far away. The route is a very nice 6-pitch climbing - best being the first 3 pitches, and a hard cruxy 6a+ roof (me trying and finally failing to do it on lead below) comes on one before last.

As we definitely did not have enough after this, we went further down the road to sample the Obaga Negra sport climbing (topo here). It has a very nice collection of vertical 6a-bs just perfect for the girls :) We worked a couple of projects, and have to come back to finish one of them! Below myself on the final lead of Sense Pile:

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


The next day we went to the village of Perles, passing through another climbers´ bar that covers the near-by crags (Narieda, Perles, Col de Nargo - most of Alt Urgell stuff). This bar is called Tahussa and is located in the center of Col de Nargo village, serving awesome pan con tomate y queso (bread with cheese, Catalan way of having a sandwich in the morning).

Perles is a very high quality crag with mainly one to four pitch routes on classic grey limestone. One has to pay for the popularity - it was full with French, Andorrans and Spanish throughout the day. The topos can be found here. We started with the classic Amistades Pelirrojas that runs up the furthest crag to the left on the overview picture below.

It is a very nice 4-pitch route at around 6a, slab to vertical, suiting perfectly girls´ style. Here is Cathy enjoying herself:

Next, we went for the neighboring 4-pitch Puta de Mosques, with a harder first 6b pitch and very good two 6as after - the cherry on the cake being the traverse under the impressive roof. Here is Cathy following the second pitch after onsighting the first 6b:

And the roof traverse looks exactly like a postcard:

We finished the day with pleasant cragging at the bottom of the cliff and i even managed to find a ride back to Barcelona with engineers from the Spanish Antarctic Station!

St Llorenç de Montgai

This w-end turned out to be a perfect climbing w-end - clear weather, reasonable temperatures, new places, beautiful scenery - and a good partner. What else to want from life! (oh, yes, maybe a car...)

The first place we visited were the crags close to Montroig - Montsec range (overview above). This is a very relaxed climbing area, with a 3 min approach, not many other climbers around, and high quality limestone.

I also discovered the concept of a climbing bar in Spain - apparently most locations have their own hang-out spot, where the local developers would bring topos of routes. As there are dozens of topos, many of which out of print or out of date, that is the place where the most up-to-date information can be found.

However, there are a couple of challenges associated as well. First of all, to locate these bars is not always easy - they are usually normal bars (sometimes the only bar in the village), hidden off the big roads and not necessarily close to the crags in question. Oh, and guidebooks do not always mention them (i.e. 100 best Cataluña book). The only way to get there is by following a local. And second, the topos available are usually home-drawn art works, more valuable for their artistic quality rather than helpfulness.

After visiting such a bar, called Mirador del Lac, in St Llorenç village, we decided to stay with the originally planned route, Isaac Gabriel, from the 100 best guidebook. Despite the 3 min approach we managed to first get on the wrong start, but finally found our destination and deeply enjoyed this beauty and the view:

The route is rather short (5 pitches), which allowed us to check out a sport crag from the Salvatge Oest de Cataluña guidebook, close to the village of Alos de Balaguer. We tried some routes there and headed up to Alt Urgell for the next day´s adventures.