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Weekend one in Spain

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After deciding to chuck a 12 year professional career for something less taxing on the psyche and stomach lining (TR to be posted to the Café Senisitvo forum later), I decided to take my good friend TimL and his lovely senora ElenaLL up on their long-standing offer to come stay and go climbing with them in Spain. I couldn’t think of a better way to transition from old into new than to go far away and go climbing with good folks for three weeks. I flew in on the morning of Tuesday the 17th and by Friday I was mostly over jet lag and ready to go. Tim and Elena decided to take me back to a crag they had visited the weekend before, called Espiel http://www.aytoespiel.com/paginas.asp?pagina=escalada&cabecera=municipio.jpg&usted=Nuestro%20Pueblo%20--%3E%20Escalada, in the southern province of Andalusia. With a weather forecast of partly cloudy with a chance of showers, we hoped we’d dodge rain and enjoy tolerable temperatures that far south this late in the Spring.


After a long drive down and some serious traffic jams, passing many clubs (aka brothels, including one named Club Angels de Charlie) :lmao:we pulled into the bivvy site around 1:45 AM and threw out our bags for some sleep. Shortly after we arrived, the rest of our crew got there and we settled down for the night. As I lay in my brand new sleeping bag, I smiled in contentment to be back out under the stars again. At some point I awoke during the nigh to the realization that instead of putting my chocolate Balance bar in my shoes, it had some how fallen into my sleeping bag and had popped, leaving me sleeping with chocolate and peanut butter all over my back and arm. Yum. A quick and frantic shaking by headlamp got most of it out and I went back to sleep. Around 6AM I heard the tinkling of the welcoming committee and was awoken by a herd of sheep filing into the pasture next to the centuries old church about 100 yards away. Still a bit wonky from jet lag, I got up and took a short walk around to take in the beauty of the area. We had gone from the busy bustle of modern Madrid to bucolic rural Spain in a few short hours. Absolutely amazing. After a short breakfast, some fun with a friendly local sheep dog with a penchant for licking one’s legs and Nescafe coffee we took off for the crag. A 15 minute approach brought us to the first Sector (area) we would climb at that day, Pared de la Estrella.


The weather co-operated and high clouds kept what could have been brutally hot to a very pleasant 70-85 degrees- for the most part. When the sun came out, I got a full appreciation of how different- and direct- the Spanish sun is. We went with a large group of folks from the climbing gym that Elena trains with- an interesting introduction to how social, group-oriented (and some times loud) climbing is in Spain. Adding to the ambience were amazing wild flowers, the sounds of many birds, the bells from the sheep herds across the valley and the barking of what must have been a dog kennel or breeder (annoying). I also got a good appreciation for climbing on limestone- it tends to be slabby to start, then get steep, or just starts damn steep and then goes overhanging. And it is almost always very featured and sharp. For your convenience, most of the routes have their names written on the rock at the base, making finding the right routes a no-brainer. A little much in my opinion, but when in Spain... All of the routes we climbed were also equipped with a single snap-link at the top to lower off. While connected to both bolts, lowering off a single point still makes me nervous. Again, when in Spain...


After top-roping a pitch to get the feel for the rock, I jumped on the lead end of the rope and climbed the same pitch and managed to get up it with little trouble, somewhat gratefully clipping the chains of my first European Grade 5 (US 5.8 or so) called Psicosis de garrapata. Given that's the 5th pitch I have lead outdoors in over a year, I was happy. Then Tim took off for a solo of many of the shorter routes I would lead later that day, while Elena and I climbed amidst the chatter of the group. We then moved down the cliff to a bit for Elena and Tim to lead something a little more difficult and I followed their leads of No ve na (6a/6a+/5.10a/b) and Toloveo (6a+/5.10b). Interesting, polished, slab climbing to start mixed with steep jug pulling to finish. Super fun.


Keeping my leading momentum going, I jumped on the sharp end on some shorter slabbier routes (as I called them in my piedgeon Spanish- rutas de infantial- kids routes) and led Que noche la de aquel día (5) and Pacto con el diablo (5). Elena lead them also in fine style- if not a bit quicker than yours truly. Elena and I then jumped on a three pitch route called Encuentros en la 3ª chapa (grades V-V-6a/5.8-5.8-5.10a/b). I lead the first pitch, which started out slabby and then got VERY steep to finish. Big jugs and well-spaced/placed bolts got me through some of the steepest climbing I have ever led to a nice ledge and belay stance. I brought Elena up as I admired the views across the valley to green hills and olive plantations. With the river below, it reminded me of Smith Rock, or what I imagine Smith looked like in the spring maybe 15-20 years ago before the hordes of people and the pounding that has left it the crowded dust bowl it is today. Elena then led off and quickly dispatched the next pitch, accidentally kicking off a small block that landed where our group had been congregated not 20 minutes before. STEEP climbing led up past some interesting fossils to a nice belay stance below the final 6a pitch. With my feet throbbing from my too-small Miruas, I belayed Elena up the short final pitch, which took her a little while to suss out at the top and then lowered her to the belay. We rapped off and joined the rest of the group at the next sector, Huesitos, which much translate into need bigger balls or harder than I can climb, given the steep to overhanging nature of the routes there.


Many of the group where working their way up the harder climbs and I gave Tim a belay on his project, Los Kikis Del Kiriki (7c/5.12c/d). Overhanging climbing led to a bat hang rest out of a huge hole in the rock, where Tim shook out and prepped for the crux above. Tim told be he was going for it and I belayed him through the next section, where to the amusement of the whole group he began to yell at me to take in Spanish which I blissfully didn't understand until his voice went up an octave and he found his English and yelled Take, take take (I now know Pija means take in Spanish). After a short hang, he led through in true Tim style to the chains. I lowered him off and it was time for Elena's turn on her project, a 6c+ (5.11 c/d) called 7 Y Sin Scarala. This climb was a steep slab (the only part I got up), to thin, sharp layback crack into a stem in a dihedral, followed by a short roof to mantle and the chains. Elena took a few burns (and a nice fall) before she sent it on her 5th(?) try. Nice going. She was psyched. We then spent the remainder of the early evening climbing a few easier routes at the top of the crag- Elena sand-bagged us and we finished up on a 6a (5.10a/b) called Hijeros Del Viento in the company of a woman, her teenage daughter and their very friendly golden lab who kept stepping on the rope and fetching rocks, when not snuffling loudly and eating grass. Amidst a light sprinkle we packed up and headed to dinner with the rest of the group in the small town of Espiel.


After a brief stop and group rinse at the local fountain we spent some time looking for a place big enough to accommodate our group and fortunately found a non-smoking restaurant. I suspect we kept the waitress much busier than she expected to be and quickly worked our way through plates of bread, pitchers of cerveza, and large salads before our main courses. Tim and I were encouraged to order a regional specialty, which was jambon (ham), wrapped in steak and then fried. Deep fried as it turns out, as we both were surprised by the poo log-like pieces of deep fried meat and French fries that appeared. Fortunately, we could peel off the breading and eat the meat. By this point, both Norte-Americanos were about to fall asleep, and Maria, Elena's friend to my right, removed my fork from my plate in case I did actually go face down in it. By midnight, we were working our way through dessert and another regional specialty, a sherry called something like ha-veth which must translate into moldy grandmother shoes based on the taste. Then it was time to drive to the bivvy for some shut eye before the next day of cragging. We arrived to discover the same woman, her daughter, husband and the friendly lab already there. We exchanged greetings and gratefully crawled into our bags for some sleep. The rest of the group arrived shortly and then it was morning. Another light breakfast, sans friendly sheep dog, and we were back to the crag for another day of climbing.


After some route finding discussion, we caught up with the group at the Sector Espigon Derecho, which was a short and steep crag with 25+ routes squeezed onto it. Tim and Elena lead a few short bouldery grade 5 pitches (Las Tortillas and Ovinipresente) which I gratefully (and somewhat sheepishly) followed, as I was feeling tired. Given the number of routes squeezed onto this relatively short and small crag we had a good laugh about leading a traverse of all the routes, clipping one bolt on each and calling it the American In-Direct or the Marshall Plan (apparently the Spaniards have an old song about the Marshall plan and how grateful they were for it, as the group began to sing it when Tim, Elena and I arrived at the crag that day).


Tim took off again to go climb with the hardmen of the group, while Elena graciously stayed at the baby crag with me a few others, encouraging me in her special way to get back on the sharp end of a two bolt, grade 5- rig called Esa Misma which was super fun. I belayed Elena up a couple of pitches including her onsight of a 6b (5.10c/d) called La Canjia, which I later got to the first bolt on and then lowered off, unable to pull the sharp and strenuous moves above. Tim returned and I followed him up a fun 6a/a+ route called Di Que No, where my noise-making follow led him to remember an old nickname of mine, Grunt Truck. I then lead it in better style, which will go down as my first red-point of a 5.10b ever. Muy bueno! Satisfied I had lunch while Tm and Elena led and worked a few harder lines. I then convinced Tim to belay me on a couple of last routes for the day, finishing up on two 5’s, one called Equipando Bajo La Lluvia which featured the first bolt at uncharacteristically run out height of about 15-20’, and a final bouldery climb called A Saber. We packed up and headed back down the trail to the parking lot, admiring the views, the flowers and the luck we had had with the weather for the weekend.


After another group rinse at the local fountain, it was then time to find some food before the long drive home to Madrid, so we returned to the bar/restaurant from the night before for sandwiches, where I committed the cultural faux pas of ordering a chorizo sausage and cheese sandwich, eliciting a stern and befuddled look from the barman before I changed my order to a ham and cheese sandwich instead. Following some of the best coffee I have had, I settled in to the back of the car for the long drive through amazingly green countryside. Some nice breakbeats and Tim’s heavy right foot got us back to the city in three and half hours, where to the amusement of the folks congregated in the square outside Tim and Elena’s apartment we lugged an entire car full of climbing gear up in one trip. All in all, an amazing trip, wonderful company and a fantastic introduction to climbing on limestone. :rawk::tup:



Gear notes:

Lots of quick draws, a 70M rope and sandals or flip flops to belay in. “Pija” means “take” in Spanish , and “Cuerda” means “rope”, while yelling “ropa” means “clothes” and amuses everyone at the crag.


The Spanish think Clif bars are made especially for climbers and find that really funny. GU and energy bars are out, bread, cheese, ham , fruit, nuts and peppers are de rigueur at Spanish crags.


Mullets and man-pri’s are in among the guys, while the Spanish women like small tight clothing and generally look good in it.


Pics to come later.


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in between every major life transition, there needs to be a nice long climbing trip. It cleanses the soul.

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FUCKIN'A!!! Right on, FRED!!


One of these days i will have to take Tim up on his offers...I suspect that sumbitch is pullin' HARD these days...



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