Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Siurana Sunshine

Although I knew I wasn't feeling quite right about my climbing, I hadn't realised exactly how low my psyche had got until I spent 3 days in Spain with the two Daves, Mike and Alicia. What I can't work out is whether it was the place, the company or a combination of both which restored my psyche.

The crew had set up base camp in Cornudella and were dividing their time, it seems, between Margalef and Siurana. While I'd missed much of the excitement, there were still projects on the go, yet to be sent and plenty more to be found. I went out on a flying visit with no expectations of myself which was quite liberating. Usually on trips I find myself building up the pressure to climb something harder than I've ever climbed before, or at least as hard as I've ever climbed before. But since most of this year has been full of things which are a distraction from climbing, I figured that such an attitude was only going to end in tears and disappointment.

Mike on 8a+ at Cova Boix (I think?)

While I was very much looking forward to returning to Siurana, I was also very conscious that the last time I was there Caroline and I had already spent 10 weeks climbing constantly. I was certainly at the top of my game then, and I worried a little that Siurana was really going to kick me into touch. Only a few weeks earlier I'd been very close (oh so painfully close!) to redpointing Law of Gravity (the 7a+ version - I can't reach the 7a version) at North Berwick. But since last year I reckon I had lost touch with what 7a and 7b felt like in general, let alone on Spanish limestone and mores the point, in Siurana. It strikes me now, writing this, that this proved to me how much I (and quite probably others) rely on grades to keep us steady in measuring both our progress and our current ability.

There are so many debates on grades; just check the forums on UKClimbing. It gets boring reading other people's nitpicking and petty quibbling about the grade of some new route, whether it's E8 or E9, E10 or E12, 8b or just 8a+. But, unless climbers bother to grade things justifiably, it is very hard to maintain some idea of how well one is climbing. In fact, there might as well be no grading system at all, since the point of a system is to provide a means of measurement and why measure how hard something is, unless the intention is to also measure an individual's progress or achievement by it? As an aside, I would rather the grading be done by concensus in a public forum, and I don't mean an internet chat forum.

Team Margalef

Anyway, I digress. I had no idea whether I'd be able to climb 7a in Siurana, so the most sensible option seemed to be to abandon all expectations, and go for the bolt-to-bolt, climb-in-the-sunshine options.

Happy days. It worked! Siurana is a beautiful place, and I had forgotten how pretty that part of the world is. I really enjoyed being back there. It was just as cold, just as sunny, and just as inspiring as it was a year ago. With only 3 days to climb, I was happy to tag along with the others and climb whatever was available. We started off in Margalef.

The trees in Margalef itself were a beautiful colour in the late afternoon winter sunshine

We had only spent one day in Margalef last year and it was hot. So hot, Dave refused to climb until it was almost dark! OK, not quite, but you get my drift. This time, not so. It was very chilly in the shade, but pleasantly warm in the sun. While Mike and Dave R headed to Dave's project at Laboratori, Alicia and I went to the dark side and pretended to warm up....on 6c. I say pretended to warm up, because it was baltic! I had brand new shoes on, hadn't climbed for a week, hadn't climbed outside for 6 weeks, and we picked 6c as a starter for 10. And I went first. With all those excuses I think I did very well. I even fell off and didn't scream, which is quite an achievement for me. I can only assume that my lack of expectations for the trip extended to completing routes and falling off! Anyway, the 6c went first redpoint, having decided that I was simply too cold to to anything other than bolt-to-bolt on the first try. Next up was (for me) an onsight of a 6b+ route that Alicia had done earlier in her trip. See, my expectations were so low, I can't even tell you the names of the routes!

Alicia ticking her project

Next up was Alicia's project - the 7a+ tufas overhanging the valley road. It was a lovely looking route, which she cruised easily first time, although I am told she'd had a bit of time working it before I arrived. Her ascent looked pretty effortless to me, particularly after it threw itself at me! Spanked. Well and truly. It was nice to be in the sun by this point, so I was warm enough to warrant an attempt. The first move is like that cold shower at 6am - a bit of a slap. Standing on a precariously placed rock atop a very unconsolidated conglomerate bank, there is a tiny left hand crimp under the mini-roof, and a long reach over the top for a jug. Feet are just about on the kickboard above the bank, but for me (and Alicia I think) the next move is to cut loose and swing a right heel up, cross over with the right and pull. Hard. Yes, it's a grunt move. In all honesty it wasn't that hard. I easily had the strength to do it. The problem was the lack of stamina to get beyond the 7th move.

Reaching for the 4th clip on the tufas

So I fell off. Ah well. For the sheer satisfaction, it was probably worth doing that move several times more. But that wouldn't have got me to the top of the route! A few (vaguely impressed, ego-stroking and very welcome) oohs and aahs from Dave and Mike, and suddenly I felt like the Old Pretender, slightly ashamed that I couldn't deliver what my had been promised from the starting block. Still, it was fun. Thus my first Margalef project was born. I haven't climbed tufas like that before. They were pretty powerful and two days later I worked out a very different sequence from Alicia's. It'll go next time. With a bit of training.

La Rambla

The following day we headed to the valley crags of Siurana itself. In celebration of ticking her tufa project the day before, Alicia had proven her capacity for consumption of rotten grapes and had a hangover. But today we were destined for Mandragora, that fabulous orange streak visible in all her glory from the road up to Siurana. Caroline and I had looked but dare not touch last year. Today, Alicia, took her hangover up to the crux and decided enough was enough. So I followed her up to that point, clipstick in tow, and managed all the moves, with a little bit of thought and re-try, up to the first belay. I had been slow, and the crowds were gathering so I forewent the opportunity to explore the upper section.

I really enjoyed it. The crux section was hard, on very tiny crimps, and polished!! I guess this is Siurana, so 7b is the warmup route. No wonder it was polished. Having said that, we moved round the corner so that Dave could have a look at La Rambla. He later told me that that too has some polish on it, probably due to Dani Andrada's 300 redpoints!

7b was harder than I remembered it being, but with a bit of stamina training, Mandragora might go too next time. Project number 2. I've also added this to Caroline's tick list (if she has one) although she won't know that until she reads this ;-)

Mike's damaged skin from Margalef's sharp pockets

I can't write about this trip without mentioning Dave's last ditch attempts at his 8b+/8c(?) project at Laboratori, Margalef. To avoid the circus of local families there on Saturday and the heat of the day, he resorted to turning the car headlights on full beam. Unfortunately, this meant having the engine running.... thereby filling the Laboratori ave with diesel fumes!

Cool enough to climb, but too dark to see! Mr Redpath in the zone.

Four flights and two days travelling was definitely worth it for three days climbing. I came home psyched to climb more and more. I'm not sure I'm so psyched for the training involved, but maybe aiming for anothter spring trip to Siurana might spur me on further.

Team Margalef, high on diesel fumes at Laboratori!


Caroline said...

mmm it would seem that I have a project then. Excellent, never really had one before so lets start on a really hard one shall we!! ;0)

Dave Redpath said...

Hi Emma, I'll be up for going back for a week in months Feb-April. Thinking training an a medium length trip might be best to focus objectives. These long trips turn out to be too relaxing ;)