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!!