Monday, 31 December 2007

Home Sweet Home

"I know of no sweeter sight for a man's eyes than his own country" so said Odysseus, relating tales of his native Ithaca. Homer has a point, I think. The best part of going away, for me, is coming home. Coming home after 3 1/2 months away has been quite an experience.... and I haven't got as far as the office door yet! Having thought about very few things while we were away, it has been a shock to remember how phrenetic my "usual" life is.

Dover harbour - darker, colder and wetter than we left

Since September brain power has been concentrated on what there is to eat, where to sleep, what there is to climb and whether or not it's going to rain. That's not to say I've thought exclusively about these things, but I'd left behind the everyday paraphernalia of washing, washing up, phone calls, post to open, deciding what to wear, worrying whether my hair is a mess (ok, so I didn't worry much about this before I went away or while I was away, but suddenly now it seems important!) etc etc. Revolting as this may sound, we even stopped worrying about how often we showered - everything we had with us was also unwashed. Alarm bells only started ringing when we realised that everyone we met smelled of washing powder....

The luxuries of home are as luxurious, if not more so, as I had anticipated: my own bed, a hot shower and clean clothes. My tan is fast washing away as a result; I have had it pointed out to me on numerous occasions already that it might not be tan after all, it's just dirt! On the flip side, I've realised exactly how little "stuff" one needs, even to lead an exceedingly comfortable middle class existence. I've started to clear out various cupboards, signed up for eBay and Freecycle, and am trying very hard to avoid post-Christmas sales (reasonably, though not entirely, successfully).

For those of you who like statistics, or who might be thinking about a similar trip, here are some numbers:

We were away for 93 days during which we drove 5264 miles, climbed 155 sport routes and tackled 160+ boulder problems. We climbed for 71 of those 93 days.

We spent 9 weeks in a tent, 5 nights in hotels, 4 nights in a gite, 1 night in a refugio and 15 nights in the wendy house.

The whole trip cost me £1802.12, which includes bank charges and commission.

Caroline ate 2.75kg of Nutella and bought the entire stock of rice cakes from Intermarche in Laragne. We have eaten unprecedented quantities of butter, rice and potatoes, made our own chips, sampled some strange cheeses and not poisoned ourselves once. We've had 3 hangovers between us and drunk our way through about (I reckon) 250 teabags.

It cost us £168 in petrol to drive the 1654 miles from Finistrat (near Benidorm) to Edinburgh (including one night in a Formula hotel) using the toll motorways through Spain and France. The tolls cost us just under 140 Euros.

We climbed indoors yesterday. That was a shock. I feel like a complete fraud saying that I did 7b in Siurana when I got spat off 6b at Alien Rock. I have no strength at all, I feel weak as a kitten, which seems daft having spent so long climbing outside. My excuse is that I haven't been climbing steep stuff outside, and all the lead routes at Alien Rock are overhanging. I forsee a lot of training in 2008......

Diff climbing the drilled wall near Torello

To sum up, I should have done this trip years ago. It has been a tremendous experience and we've had a lot of fun. I would do it again tomorrow without hesitation. There have been highs and lows, but it's all part of the fun. It's hard to maintain the motivation and enthusiasm to climb every day for so long, when the usual home comforts are missing. There is no prosaic routine to put the exciting things into perspective. I also found that being surrounded by like-minded climbers makes it far easier to explore one's limits, to push oneself and to attempt things that one might otherwise shy away from. In other words, it's difficult to generate all your own psyche! I am rapidly coming round to the idea that everyone should take some time out from whatever they regard as normal. Removing the clutter of things we take for granted (hot water, bed, clean clothes, to continue with the theme....) has given me a better idea of what is important to me, has put things in perspective a little more. "I can see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that blind me. It's going to be a bright bright sunshiney day."

Chilling out in Font....happy days :-)

Dave Mac on A Muerte (9a) at Siurana

I'm gradually catching up with the routine stuff I've been evading for three and a half months, including adding photographs to previous blog posts which had none, opening a mountain of post and washing all the clothes I took with me. It's nice to be back in my kitchen, and I promise I'll make some more brownies soon. I know you've been missing them! I'm now looking for the next challenge, which might be as simple (!) as moving house. In the meantime, if anyone out there is thinking about a long trip I've only one thing to say.

Do it.

Happy New Year :)

Friday, 21 December 2007

Driving Home for Christmas

Believe it or not, there was SNOW on the Costa Blanca hills on Saturday night. It rained heavily and some of the tents at the Orange House looked like those little floating puffy lifeboat shelters. Fortunately, we had picked a well-drained spot. Having run out of psyche for sport climbing, we thought we would head north to Albarracin. But when Sunday morning dawned cold and everything was wet, we sacked it off and decided to come straight home on Monday. Albarracin would have been pretty chilly.

Heavy frost and -10 in Lyon

We left the Orange House outside Benidorm at 11am on Monday in warm sunshine. Our journey took us through torrential rain in northern Spain (the hills west of Tarragona, towards Siurana, were covered in snow), past a mini tornado just south of Barcelona, bitter chill in Girona, thick freezing fog in Lyon, cold dampness in Calais, and salty road spray and low winter sunshine in the UK. We attempted to maintain a Mediterranean climate in the car by turning the heater right up. Then we bought some cheese and the car started to stink. So we turned the heat down and ate the cheese. Unfortunately, the damage was already done and the smell of camembert lingered on.

Heading north...

Tea on the road at Saint Quentin, 90 miles south of Calais

Travel weary on the Calais - Dover ferry after 2 days' driving

As the temperature dropped, the price of petrol rose as we travelled northwards, and we are horrified to see that it is now more than 100 pence per litre here in the UK. In Benidorm we paid 1.12 euros per litre (which is about 81 pence). The car was washed clean by the rain on Saturday night, and two days' driving through France and Spain left it a little dusty but not too bad. The shortest leg of our journey, through the UK, has left my car black with grime, the windscreen washer empty and the wipers squeaking!

Thick fog on the M11

1654 miles and 32 hours of driving later we are home.


Continuing with the cheese theme, once we were in the UK we willed Radio 2 to play Chris Rea's "Driving home for christmas", but they didn't.... what irony that they're playing it now as I write this. The best things come to those who wait.....?!?!?

Clear skies and winter sunshine heading into Scotland

The Pentland Hills finally come into view. The last few miles seemed to take forever...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Little Britain

The Costa Blanca felt like little Britain when we first arrived, but last night the electricity pylon next to us exploded and all the lights went out. It´s taken all day to (partially) fix and suddenly we are wishing we were back in the UK where things (appear to) work. It´s gone chilly again (unseasonally so, apparently - again) and we are ready to come home. Although it´s nice to sit in the sun by the pool and under a palm tree, right now I would happily swap this for a hot bath (or just hot water that lasts more than 1 minute) and my own bed. We have concluded that all we need is a week´s holiday from our trip and to come back refreshed and strong and ready to climb Everything and Anything.

A rest day...chilling by the pool this morning

So, more 7b action started with a route called Oceano at the Wild Side, Sella. It couldn´t be more different from Gurungos: steep, juggy and polished. The moves are simple: reach up, grab jug, pull hard. Nothing technical or difficult about it. Not my style at all. I´ve done all the moves on a top rope but I still can´t link them all in one push. The bolts are very spaced and I haven´t even tried to lead it yet. Bong put it very well when he said "It´s not an inspiring route." He´s absolutely right. I want to do it, because it´s different from what I usually enjoy and, although it might seem like making a rod for my own back, I will always at least try to rise to the challenge. I could do it with a bit more practice and a lot of stamina training. Questions are, is it worth it, and do I have time? Answers: no, I don´t have time.....but I´m not sure that answers the first question of whether it´s worth it. I´m not sure that it is, but I like to finish what I´ve started, so maybe I´ll come back in the Spring and have another bash at it. Here is Iain flashing Oceano, with complete composure:

We have had many discussions about good holds and bad holds, and what constitutes a "mono" and a "two-finger pocket". I thought this picture might highlight some of the differences between climbers. This is my index finger and Bong´s index finger. So what is a mono for him is a two finger pocket for me. Hurrah for pixie fingers!

I can´t reach the big holds, so it´s a good job I have small fingers with which to use the little ones.... all swings and roundabouts really.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Oranges and Lemsip

We're now at the Orange House, on the Costa Blanca, a lovely spot and a haven of Britishness amidst the happy-go-lucky chaos that is Spain. It's warm and sunny, although the evenings are chilly (but not as chilly as Siurana). We've spent a couple of days being anti-social and sitting outside because when we arrived the Orange House was infested with the lurgey. Fortunately, the affected (and infected) inhabitants have now either departed(!) or recovered (natural selection, I guess) and we are now able to enjoy sitting inside in the warmth!

The climbing here is very different from Siurana - so far, we've only climbed at Sella on grey slabby limestone, with lots of water pockets to tuck fingers and toes into. This is very sore on toes, but very good for those of us with pixie fingers! There are many more routes showing polish than at Siurana, and Sella is much busier than Siruana. We had become accustomed to having the crag to ourselves, and there is a little bit of me which is slightly put out to find that the 10 routes on either side of us are all occupied, and (heaven forbid!) all by Brits! Having said that, it's a nice change being able to chat to everyone without feeling embarrassed at my appalling Spanish language skills. We have many more places to explore here, with many different colours of limestone. The grading definitely seems slightly softer here than at Siurana, although it's difficult to compare them since the climbing (in our grand 3 days' experience) is very different.

The good news is that Caroline has now flashed her first 6b. The bad news is that my faithful shoes have finally gone through at the toes. I hope they will last another 3 weeks, although I have visions of tiny blisters on the ends of my big toes (which has happened before). Maybe we will have to go shopping! (We haven't done that in a while!!) I've lost a lot of psyche after a superb final week in Siurana but Caroline seems to be compensating for this more than adequately. She's definitely on a roll, and we will have her redpointing 7a before she can count 30 elephants. We have some new friends here, Victoria and Paul, who have also achieved personal bests in the last 3 days. (Thanks for the use of your laptop, Paul!). Will has also achieved a personal best today.

Caroline attempting to onsight 7a - La Cosa - only the crux defeated her

I had a bizarre experience yesterday. During a failed attempt to onsight 6c (Dingo Boingo), I heard a voice calling my name from the other side of the valley: Emma! Hello? Who's that? Gary. Gary who? Gary Jones. I nearly fell off with surprise! Fortunately (for me and Caroline) I didn't fall off, but I did bail on the route early because a) it was hard b) it was very hot and my fingers were very sweaty and c) the conversation on the ground below me was more interesting than tiny water pockets above me. Gary and Cristina - lovely to see you both and thanks for the treats! Cristina, I hope you get many happy hours of climbing from your new shoes! It's all here waiting for you...

We're looking forward very much to all our visitors next week. Anyone else want to join us? The more the merrier!


In spite of my cavalier approach to climbing goals for the season, promises of 7c by Christmas etc, I don´t think I really believed it would ever be possible. Pipe dreams, I thought... but if you don´t believe it, it won´t ever happen. So having done 7a+ on a third redpoint, I thought that maybe Dave´s suggestion of 7b wasn´t so unrealistic after all. We had several discussions over which route to try and concluded that Gurungos, on Campi qui Puigi at Siurana was probably best, despite the comments about it in the Rockfax guide ("not one for the nervous..." - ha ha ha!). Granted, it seems to be (by concensus, not by me!) hard 7b, but having worked the moves, taken 7 falls off the crux move whilst just doing bolt-to-bolt, it went second redpoint on Tuesday.
Tea - makes you strong!

Pulling the top rope

Clipping the first clip - a boulder problem start on very sharp crimps

Since we were leaving Siurana on Wednesday, I really didn´t want to leave it unfinished, so on Tuesday Campi qui Puigi was Last Chance Saloon. It´s a long route, 27m, with a fingertip-scraping bouldery start, followed by a short easy section to the bottom of a flat vertical wall with small crimps (crux). Above that is a small overhang with some good holds and a bolt above. The top section is supposed to be easy, but frankly, holding it together up there was almost as hard as the crux. The sequence on the top section is not obvious, and I did it a different way every time. The big holds appear to be spread liberally across a rough, sharp and bumpy expanse of blankness, with the odd small, not-so-good hold hiding away. Fortunately, my pixie-sized fingers were able to make use of the small holds to get me across the blank expanses between the good holds! Phew!

Flying lessons off 7b...that's a screaming face not a laughing face

Some cunning redpoint tactics included a down climb to a ledge from the clip before the crux. First redpoint went well: up to the 4th clip and then down climb to the ledge, long rest ("look mummy, no hands!"). But then the crux move went a bit wrong, and ended in a proper scream several feet lower than where I wanted to be.

The crux move - catching the tiny triangle with one finger

It´s awkward to catch a tiny sloping triangular crimp with one finger, nudge a second finger onto it, and then pull hard. I needed to lunge for this one off a small left hand crimp (sorry, that´s a terrible word but I can´t think of a better one - that´s how it felt anyway!) because it was a long way up. Apparently tall people keep their feet much lower on better holds, but that just wasn't an option for me. Second redpoint nearly went wrong when I almost forgot to put my right foot out on the small smear in order to reach up for the aforementioned sloping crimp. There is always that little bit of amazement when a hard move like that is successful. I almost didn´t know what to do next. I guess that´s where the "practice" kicks in.

Then you get both hands on this big ledge...

...and shake out above the crux

Top out - higher than 27 metres will ever get you!

Thanks to Dave and Caroline for patient belaying, to Dave for the loan of his psyche and to Diff and Dave for the pictures. I had a brilliant week with you all and the climbing doesn't get much better than this for me!

Now we are on the final leg of our trip, on the Costa Blanca, there is still time for my "7c by Christmas" pipe dream to become reality. I think it's unlikely, but you never know until you try...

Sunday, 18 November 2007


Just a quick update on my 7a+ project, Delicatessen. Third redpoint today (when the route was in the shade) I finished it, keeping a cool head (for once!) and making sure I took every opportunity to rest. I fell of the first redpoint (so I guess that´s almost progress in itself!), and was shaking so much on the second attempt that I had to pull on the gear. It´s all a mental battle rather than a physical battle, and sometimes it´s difficult to tell which is hardest.

The third clip....the easy bit is over by now

Quick shake out before the crux sequence begins

So, Isadora next, or should I try something a little less brutal?!

It also seems to have warmed up a little today so I hope tonight we will not be freezing again.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Cold Deli

Siurana might have lots of sunshine but it´s bloody freezing here now. We think it might have been as low as -4 last night, and it was certainly down to 2 degrees just before sundown this afternoon. We had no idea it was going to be this chilly here. Climbing in the sun is definitely the order of the day (except for Dave Mac who still seems to be able to climb in the shade). Although we aren´t camping at the moment, our wee wendy house isn´t exactly insulated against the cold. Imagine a garden shed, the sort you can buy in B&Q, with windows and a door and a balcony, and then put it on stilts (to ensure maximum cold air flow under the floor), and then make it a bit bigger. It´s about15 feet square I reckon. We are wearing duvet jackets inside until the sun comes through the window and starts to warm things a little. The weird thing is that there is no frost because it´s so dry here. However, we have a mountain of tea bags, and a big pan to heat hot water, so we can have tea, even if the milk is frozen.

Outside the wendy house

Inside the wendy house

Climbing wise things are going well. The current project for me is a 7a+ called Delicatessen, a classic route here apparently. I can see why. It has some very cool moves. I´ve done it twice clean on a top rope, so tomorrow is time to start leading it. I won´t deny that I´m a bit scared of falling off, but maybe that will mean I hang on a bit longer....long enough to get to the top maybe. My air miles are not building up very well so far, but I think that means I´m still climbing well within my limit. If you´re not flying, you´re not I have been told. After this one, I might be persuaded to have a go at "Isadora, dones estas?" at 7b (or hard 7b, according to Keith). It looks pretty tough to me either way, so we´ll see how many air miles I can accumulate from that.

Caroline and I went to Arboli today, which was very pleasant (if chilly), and had the whole place to ourselves. Siurana was heaving with weekend climbers and visitors so we did the right thing by getting out. We just did several very nice 6a routes and came home while it was still light.

On the down side, my re-soled Athena´s are very very thin at the toes. If anyone has a pair of Evolv Athenas, size 5.5, that they´d like to send out here, please let me know! I´m dreading the day they go, although I have a couple of other pairs of shoes with me. None of them are as positive and comfortable as my Athenas.

Lynne, if you´re reading this, I hope Vilanova de Prades is warmer than Siurana. Drop me a line sometime and I´ll bring some Edinburgh coffee to Aberdeen. Safe journey home and happy climbing!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Se miapaga la baldufa

I don’t know why 7a is such a magic number for me, but it is. I guess 7 is a magic number for many reasons which is why it strikes a chord. Se miapaga la baldufa is a short 7a on Siurana’s Valley Crags. Having gone bolt-to-bolt up it on Sunday, I wasn’t sure I was brave enough to redpoint it properly. Dave has been telling me I just need to fall off more, so falling off this one, albeit not very far, was definitely progress and much less scary than I thought it would be. I tried a toprope ascent too, but that was difficult – it’s much more overhanging than I thought. Lowering off, I found myself about 10 feet from the bottom of the wall. So leading it was the only way forward…

The route takes a line up a corner for the first two bolts, steps right around an arête to the third bolt, and then heads up a wall on a series of small (and far apart) ledges to a big overhanging flake. There is a (very welcome) bolt in the middle of this block, and a huge pocket to pull off above it. From here, there is a strong move for an undercut pinch, a high left foot over the lip and a long cross-through reach left for another jug next to the sixth bolt. More long moves on good holds lead up to the penultimate bolt, and from here is another reach out left for a small crimp which gives a tenuous pull into the final flake on the right, at the top of which are the chains. All in all, a lovely route, but quite powerful for me, and with some holds that are a bit too big for my pixie-sized hands to grasp comfortably. Since it is a lovely route it is also fairly polished….almost as polished as Orpierre!

After two attempts on Sunday my fingers were sore. The holds are all chalky and polished but have some quite sharp knobbly bits on it. I’d also climbed two 5+ routes and two 6b routes, but was quite psyched for the 7a. I’d done all the moves in order to put the rope up, so the route was at least possible for me. It was just a question of how many attempts it would take.

On Monday I was keen to have another shot. Dave put the clips in as a warm up and showed me how to get a good hands-off rest on the overhanging flake with a knee bar. I’d never done a knee bar before and it took a while to get used to the feeling. For those who don’t know what a knee bar is (I didn’t until pretty recently!), it’s a matter of jamming your bent leg into a space between the rock and then trying to straighten your leg so that the pressure on your foot and the top of your knee holds your leg in place. From this you can then use your body tension and leg muscles to hold yourself in, while taking your arms off and giving them a good rest. The idea is that your legs are much stronger than your arms and that your arms can always use a rest! I had no idea how much pressure I needed to put on my leg to hold myself up, so it took a couple of shots to get the hang of it. What a fantastic move! I have a corker of a bruise on my left leg, but I am sure that the rest allowed me to finish the route.

Keith at the crux, missing out the knee bar

The first redpoint got me to the knee bar in one go, which was much better than the day before. The second redpoint got me as far as the last bolt, and then I couldn’t find my feet high enough to reach the crimp out left. The frustration of getting so far and falling at the last hurdle was unbearable. Yesterday was quite chilly and Caroline must have the patience of a saint to keep belaying in the cold. Third time lucky, and the route was mine. It was a bit of a fight at the top, but I was very relieved to clip the belay.

I don’t have any pictures of me on the route (since Caroline was belaying rather than shooting camera; I’m pleased she wasn’t trying to do both!) so I was going to put some up of Keith instead but the internet connection here is so flaky it won´t let me upload any pictures. As with so many things in Spain, it sort of works and sort of doesn´t....ho hum.

So what’s next? I don’t know where to start….

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Siurana Sunshine

We are now in Siurana, a beautiful spot at the top of a (very steep) hill south west of Barcelona. We had a slightly stressful journey here in that Caroline wasn´t feeling well enough to either drive or read the map, so I had to do both. Driving in Spain isn´t quite like driving in the UK. We thought we had gripes about French drivers, driving and traffic, but we have come to think of the French as actually ok. In Spain there is no logic to their road system. Junctions have been designed and built by people who have caught the sun, had at leat 7 beers for lunch and were out clubbing last night until 7.30am. Anyway, we are here now, and my post about continental driving will have to wait for another (rainy) day.

The climbing in Siurana is pretty hard, but I still think it´s easier than Orpierre. But we have others to climb with here, which must have improved our psyche to do stuff. We have a nice wee garden shed to stay in (which has a hob and a sink!), and there are supposed to be hot showers (although everyone except me seems to have experienced the hot bit). We have also found a WASHING MACHINE. Yes, we have clean clothes, and don´t smell quite so bad as we did. This is a good thing, since we now have company. Previously, it´s just been the two of us, so we didn´t mind much. It´s amazing how small things like clean clothes can bring so much joy and excitement.
I´m conscious I haven´t posted any pictures recently. This has been quite difficult since many internet places don´t allow you to attach a camera, or the connection is too slow to upload the large pictures my camera takes. So here are just one or two which Dave has re-sized for me on his laptop:

Caroline nearing the top of a 6a at Can Marges in Siurana Village Crags

This is the view from the refugio at Siurana

Caroline on 6a at Can Marges

Dave Macleod on 8a Un Rato at Sector Puigi Campi (??) - sorry, I´m in a hurry. The others have gone to bed!

Dave on the 8b+ at Margalef ....yes, in the dark!

Kirsty, Caroline, Beth and me on the marina wall in Barcelona. Who´s who??? :-)

Apologies for the scrappiness of this post and the bad formatting. I´m in a hurry. Hope to post more pics another time, and if not I´ll augment all these posts with pictures when I get home.

Adventures of a Little Megane

Our first venture out of Siurana in the car turned out to be more adventurous than we bargained for. Four of us (me, Caroline, Dave and Keith) headed for Margalef, a beautiful quiet valley with more climbing than you can shake a clipstick at. We found the right crags and had a great day’s climbing on pocketed conglomerate. I think the highlight of the day for me was onsighting 6b again, even though my feet came flying off at the top. [As an aside, I’m finding that the real sense of progress and improvement for me is coming not from climbing harder grades but from keeping my cool on routes that are well within my limit. I am still struggling to fight the panic that wells up when I’m standing above the bolts and can´t see the next hold. If I can keep that under control the route is all the more enjoyable. Progress is much slower than I had anticipated and hoped, but at last there is progress.]

Having watched Dave redpointing 8b+ with impressive smoothness, we headed back to the car in the twighlight. It started fine, but did it’s usual jerky stuff until it warmed up....except it didn’t warm up and the jerkiness didn’t go away. We drove all the way back to Siurana (which is about 25 miles of roads akin to Lakeland passes – Hardknott springs to mind) in second and third gear and a state of heightened anxiety. No phone signal, no laybys, no light, no people, no houses. This truly felt like the middle of nowhere. The car was "chugging" and losing power and I was increasingly worried. The car has become like my home, even though I’m not living in it. It’s the one bit of stability and continuity as we have moved around. The fact that it was sick was very unsettling.

Fortunately, we had invested a considerable sum of money in AA European Breakdown Cover. It seemed extortionate at £175 for a year (which we needed because our trip is more than 90 days), but now that I’ve had to use it, it seems like a bargain! The call centre was very helpful (once they had finished freaking me out by suggesting our cover was invalid because we were staying out longer than 90 days – she didn’t see that we had "long stay" written on the policy!). They arranged to tow the car from here to the Renault garage in Reus.

After a Spanish 45 minutes (aka 90 mins) the car was loaded onto the back of a tow truck by a greasy Spanish truck driver in expensive (looking) shades. Keith very kindly came with me and the car since he speaks pretty good Spanish and I don’t. The drive down from Siurana in a tow truck was almost as scary as the 13 hour bus ride I once took from the mountains in Chachapoyas at 3000m to Trujillo on the coast, in Peru. The driver spent more time looking at his two mobile phones than at the road. I don’t know which I was more worried about: us or the car. Fortunately, he wasn’t going very fast.

The two signs inside the tow truck left us in no doubt what kind of truck driver we were dealing with. My only regret is that I didn't get a picture of the man himself.... I'll leave that to your imagination.

Watching the Renault people manoeuvre my car inside the garage was torture. For starters the chap kept climbing into the wrong side of it (since it’s a right hand drive rather than left hand drive - at least he found it as funny as we did). The problem was simple – a busted spark plug coil – and took less than two hours to fix, and we were able to drive back to Siurana ourselves. The car is now fine, and it was cheaper to fix here than it would have been at home. An epic day, which I don’t wish to repeat. Many thanks to Keith whose translation skills were invaluable and a huge comfort. Cheers Keith!

Friday, 2 November 2007

a tout confort

Having written last about all the things we missed while camping, we have now moved to the luxury of gites and hotels.....and I´m not quite sure that I am absolutely, entirely happy about it. Suddenly, I feel cooped up in a box. We have spend near enough 7 weeks outside, and now I have to sleep inside. Sure, it´s warm, it´s dry, and in fact it´s very nice, but I do miss the fresh air. We will enjoy it for a short time (especially the hot showers, running hot water and non-freezing toilet seats) and then we return to our canvas (er, sorry, nylon) shelters for a while longer.

We left Orpierre regretfully, in glorious autumn sunshine, as the village was closing down for the winter. Beyond 31 October, there is very little there, not even somewhere to stay, unless you happen to own a flat in the veille village. We really enjoyed our time there, and will almost definitely return at some point. I have some unfinished business with a 7a called Les bruits des nuages, and a couple more 6c technical things I want to try.

We arrived in Vingrau, just outside Perpignan, in the most violent wind I have ever encountered with sunshine. It was very sunny, but the wind was gusting at about 90kmp. The feeling that yet again the Titanic had sailed without us descended as Vingrau appeared closed and empty. A little further down the road in Tautavel we found that the lÓffice de Tourisme is only open from 1 July til 31 August. The boat had definitely sailed. Still, the Tourist Office directed us to the museum, where the grumpy old bag directed us at the Mairie´s office, where an even grumpier older windier-bag huffed and puffed here way about photocopying a list of gites. The first was full (with what?? the village was completely devoid of human life) and the second was more promising. The chap looked as though he´d smoked enough fags to win a world fag-smoking competition, and asked us whether we wanted two beds or one! Yes, we were pretty surprised at that two. While Caroline and I are very good friends, we suggested that two beds would be preferable if it was possible (yes, my French will now stretch to saying that.). We ended up in quite a nice room, with a bathroom and separate toilet and two single beds, which appeared to have mattresses with springs but no padding. All this for 40 euros a night. Ouch. Still, it was actually very pleasant..... until the announcements started.

Tautavel appears to have a Brave New World-esque way of informing residents and tourists what is going on. There are loudspeakers permanently hooked up at various points around the village, including right outside our window. First there is the Village School Fete music (trumpets, jingly jangly morris men type stuff), and then the woman from the Mairie´s office (surely it must have been her) announcing in a very School Maám sort of way that Mass for All Saints will be celebrated at 18.00hours on WEDNESDAY in the Church at Tautavel. There was also something abotu a lost dog and some other nonsense that we vaguely understood but were so flabbergasted at the concept, we didn´t really comprehend. This happens twice a day.....we think. We left.

The climbing at Vingrau is extensive and on very hard grey sharp limestone. It wasn´t polished, but it was so windy we got blown off. The following day was beautful, if still a little windy, so we wasted it by sitting on a wall having a 6 hour breakfast and sunning ourselves. Lovely.

The refugio at Vingrau, recently rebuilt and very secluded

One more thing about our gite. There was nowhere to eat in Tautavel. Everything was closed. So we ended up cooking rice in the trangia on the floor in the gite, and praying that the smell would not reach the nose of the smoked proprietor. It made me nervous doing something that I knw might get us thrown out of the room, but looking back on it, it was quite funny. It was a bit like getting caught smoking behind the bike sheds at school (or walking on the roof at school, which was what I did, since I don´t smoke and the bike shed at school was open sided). So we did eat. And we drank wine.

Vingrau's suntrap basin where the grapes grow juicy

We are now in Barcelona. It is utter madness after the tranquility of 7 weeks in the countryside, where busy meant there were more than 4 other people at the crag. Already I feel a bit grubby but not the same sort of grubby as we felt camping. That felt like clean grubby (yes, I know this is utter nonsense, but it makes sense to me - I hope you will understand!). Barcelona is exciting, bright lights, lots of food and suddenly a language I don´t understand. I was just getting to grips with French and then we came here. I feel totally at sea. My spanish is limited at the best of times, and most of all when I really need it. This week has not been climbing filled, so apologies to those of you who were hopìng to hear of exciting rock expeditions. Next week we are in Siurana, where the climbing fun will really begin! :-)

I´m out of time now, so this will have to wait. Apologies for the lack of photos too. Internet cafes don´t seem to provide any way of plugging my camera in.

Trust everything is well out there.... we still feel a little isolated, but our hotel here has BBC News 24. Hurrah!!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

7 weeks in a tent

Well, ok not quite 7 weeks in a tent, but 6 at least! We have learned a thing or two during this time, one of which is what we miss and what we don't. It's amazing what you can live without if you don't really need it.

Accoutrements for camping

Things we miss most (in no particular order!):

1. Bed
2. Bed
3. Hot water
4. Emma missed pizza until she found that the wee shop in Orpierre sells it in Emma-sized slices!
5. A toilet seat that doesn't freeze....yeah, let's not finish that sentence.
6. Bed
7. A table
8. Caroline misses loud music and dancing naked around her living room (things you learn about your friends; eh?! E.)
9. Clothes that at least look like they have been washed
10. Bed
11. Emma misses Paul more than anything
12. Caroline misses her Mini more than anything

Hanging out at Orpierre's Prince d'Orange campsite

For those of you who are interested, we don't miss work. For others of you who are interested, it has been down to -3 at night, and Caroline found ice on her sleeping bag the other morning. The days are warm (if we stay in the sun) but the nights are bloody freezing. Climbing wise Orpierre is a wonderful place to just be, climbing or not. Best so far is my clean onsight of 6b. I have also decided I can't be bothered with very long overhanging juggy 6b routes, which just freak me out and knacker my arms for the rest of the day. Give me something short and technical any day. My fingers are feeling a bit stiff and achey, which is a bit worrying, but a bit of rest might help. Caroline just likes stuff she can get up (her words not mine!).

Frosty tent

There is some re-evaluation of objectives going on, since this sport climbing malarky is a lot harder than I remember it being. Let's stick with doing whatever is fun, interesting and do-able; the grades can go hang for now. They're in danger of spoiling my trip.

Gros bisous a tous (I think my French is improving...?!)

Monday, 8 October 2007

Missing: Font Magic

Since it stopped raining and the sunshine returned we haven't stopped climbing. We've been to Bas Cuvier, 91.1, 95.2, Gorge aux Chats and Diplodocus. We've climbed every day abd we have sore fingers and tired arms. But still we're missing something. We haven't found the Font Magic. Something isn't right. We're not cranking hard on steep stuff; we daren't. We sem to spend all our time trying to trust feet on edges and smears which have been polished to glass. You could almost put your mascara on using them as a mirror.

Yesterday I lost the plot. Nothing was inspiring, everything was slabby (and polished of course but that seems to go without saying), and covered in sand (how does all that sand get ontop of the boulders??). I wanted something with edges, crimps and pockets to pull on, anything that felt hard rather than just freak-out, death-slide scary! We've struggled (mentally) with everything highball for fear that feet will just slide off. It sounds a bit pathetic, but neither of us wish to see the true nature of the French health care system. We did the whole yellow cicrcuit at Diplodocus today and I realised why my arms are so tired. I am over-compensating for unreliable feet. No wonder I feel my climbing is deteriorating

In amongst all this mental chaos, I did manage a nice roof problem called Le P'tit Toit at 95.2, ahich ends in a big rock over onto a very shiny heel hook, reaching (a long way) for a sharp crimp. The book says it gets 7a+ but I'm told one key hold has been "improved" (not by us!!) and therefore it gets probably only 6c. Still, it was a good problem. We met a nice group of folks from Bristol and recommended it to them. They had several good shots at it, but to no avail. When I had my first go of the day and topped out (that was the first time I'd done the last move, although I'd got the sequence wired for the rest of it), I think the big strong boys were somewhat taken aback that a pixie like me could do what they couldn't. I was just as surprised, although dead chuffed with my little self, but as my friend Keith says, you have to believe !! It works.

The first section of the roof

The shiny heel hook; cranking hard having got the crimp

In these long cold dark evenings, while we are sitting outside we have had many conversations about why I can do some things that Caroline can't and vice versa. There are 3 bigs things we hit on:

1. you have to WANT to do something
2. you have to BELIEVE you can do it
3. you need small shoes

Caroline is now the proud owner of a small and shiny new pair of Anasazis. I am working on the Wanting and Believing. Caroline believes that judging by the state of her knees, she very much wants to get to the top, by hook or by crook, one way or another!!

On the domestic front, we are now two very grubby young ladies. Camping is fun and easy, but everything gets dirty. We know it must be bad: all the French people we meet smell very nicely of washing powder. We have a wee robin who comes to sing to us over breakfast every morning, and the acorns are still falling. It's like a drop zone for acorn-sized paratroopers. I'm surprised my car doesn't have more dents in it. And let's not even mention the spiders....

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


One grey and damp evening, we retreated to our tents, everything looking as it should. Except, that is, that my tent was trying very hard to look like Caroline's. Maybe it is feeling too disguised, being green and all.

But lo, next morning, we find we have been visited!

We are puzzled.... maybe this is a sign that our 2 euros in Notre Dame only bought us a day and a half of sunshine (with 50 cents for the candle)? Is this our Guardian Angel? Are we losing our sanity? Please tell me you can see something too....!

Rain vs Psyche

It has been wet since Sunday and we are very despondent. Please send us something cheery - unless it's something about how good the weather is back home. We don't want to know. I always wanted to come to France as a child, because I thought it was always sunny. Apparently, I was wrong. Very.

We resigned ourselves to wet days being time out to rest and grow skin. But then yesterday we went to L'Elephant (when it stopped raining) and today we went to Bas Cuvier (while it was still raining). Now we are psyched to climb and it's ALL SOAKING WET!!!

L'Elephant does indeed look like an elephant - it's an eerie place where one gets the feeling that the rocks get up and move during the night but return to their original position by first light. We did manage a 5b traverse, but very, very tentatively since everything was wet and slippy. Very frustrating. Fingers just slide off with no warning, which is alarming. Rather than risk injury, we looked but didn't touch.

This morning it started to rain just as we got in the car, so since no trip is a wasted trip, we went on a recce mission to Bas Cuvier. Wow...... it too is weird, but I don't think the rocks move there! We ran about like excited children, wanting to climb everything, but even those things which are overhanging were so damp, fingers just come sliding off them. ARGH!!!

This is just condensation on the wall under a massive roof.

For those of you who know that strange Scottish weather phenomenon, it's like the haar, only warm. There is a thick damp mist hanging over everything just now; there is no wind, and only intermittent rain, but everything is soaked. I feel almost asthmatic the air is so thick with moisture. The warmth alo breeds lethargy, which hasn't helped either. I've no idea how long it will take to dry out, but I am feeling that our time is limited and we were just getting into the swing of things. Ho hum.

There are lots of these plants around. Does anyone know what they are? The berries look like they would make nice juice, but they're probably lethal so we haven't tried them!