Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Sun-seeking in Spain

The start of this year seems to have been dominated by all things which stop me climbing. Work, mostly. When an organisation loses a key member of staff it is bound to have an impact on those left behind. But I hadn't anticipated it would involve such an escalation in workload. Never mind. It has and longer term maybe it will be good for my career. I hope so!

Amidst the piles of paper and frantic phone calls I found time to say yes to Bong's suggestion of a trip to the Costa Blanca in March. I looked forward to it all year, every week promising myself that this week I would start training for the trip. I blinked and we were on our way to the airport. So much for training. Feeling ill prepared for anything hard I resolved that this would be a sun-seeking, mileage trip, a chance to chill before another busy 4 months.

There is a lot to be said for adjusting one's expectations. Despite my early resolve I spent the first couple of days feeling inadequate, despondent and almost ashamed that I was struggling on so many things I had found so easy in the past. We did two days at Sella, where I've spent a fair amount of time and done all the easy routes and most of the semi-easy ones. On this trip, the harder routes felt out of my league. Eventually I picked myself up (metaphorically speaking) and top roped A golpe de pecho (7a+). I'd looked at it previously but have no idea why I hadn't tried it. The bottom section looks blank and thin, but in fact it was pretty straightforward. The crux, reaching over the bulge on some small and far-away holds was less straightforward and I'm not sure I cracked it in any kind of repeatable or sustainable fashion! I seem to remember bringing my feet up ridiculously high (to the point where my hamstring was pinching painfully) and only just being able to reach the right hand side pull. It would have been good to go back and do a bit more work on it, but as luck would have it, we didn't return to Sella this trip.

After 2 days at Sella, we headed for Gandia. Nice move. Already tired, we opted for brutal, overhanging, tufa-pinching in direct sun! Sweet. We certainly got our years' supply of vitamin D. We also go bitten by some sneaky things with sharp and grubby teeth. My arm swelled to at least a third bigger than it's usual size. I didn't feel a thing until it was too late but it was scary enough to warrant a trip to the pharmacist who sold me a tube of steroid cream that was 500 times stronger than the same stuff available in the UK!

Anyway, we finally got to go through the Tube! So easy and yet so exciting! After 2 days of chilly semi-greyness it was nice to see some bright blue sky.

I'd not climbed with Amanda before this trip, but I think we made a very good team. While I maybe have more experience of sport climbing in Spain, Amanda is infinitely fitter and stronger than me. A wonderful cool-headed climber.

Pepestroika 6b - hanging on to the hanging dong.

Having done the tube route we opted for a long-looking 6b+ called Asquerosa coincidencia. Amanda went up first, looking very smooth. Some of the reaches were enormous. Amanda has a longer reach than I do, so I watched carefully wondering how I was going to grow the extra 3 inches I would need to make some of those moves. About 3/4 the way up Amanda (after a good fight) decided one move was going to defeat her. So I went up next, bolt to bolt (ish). I too struggled on the same move but being slightly fresher from having the clips in already (thanks Amanda!) I got through it. Thereafter the rest of the route turned into a desperate epic! I suspect it was a mind over matter problem and having crossed a line in my head that this was hard and I wanted it to be finished, it seemed to be an eternal battle just to stay on the rock and work out which way to go. I am not ashamed to say that having crossed that line I pulled on gear and stood on bolts, anything just to get to a point where I could lower off safely. It got harder and more run out, and there seemed to be a bit of bushwhacking necessary at the top (which makes me think I went the wrong way). I haven't been so glad to come off a route in quite a long time! So, no pictures of that route, unsurprisingly!

Day three was a rest day and day 4 we went to Olta. This was a new crag for me and I'd heard much about this route:

Amanda on Tai Chi - possibly the most photogenic route I've ever been on. Although the crux was pretty sketchy and I was pumped as anything by the time I got to the jugs at the top, this was a fantastic route!

This is the kind of route that freaks your mum out! Penon de Ifach and Calpe in the background.

For some reason I don't seem to have any pictures of the following two days in Echo Valley. I'd only been to Echo Playa once, in October 2008, when we did many of the easier routes there. This time Bong and Jonni were keen for Monsters of Rock and Bands of the 80s. Lots of jokes abounded about doing George Michael and Led Zepplin in the same day as Judas Priest and Motorhead. While Bong and Jonni moved on to Monsters of Rock, Amanda and I did the easiest 6b in the world: Swing Out Sister. A lovely route but very soft at the grade, particularly in comparison with New Order to it's left which had us shredding tips and flailing around for quite a while.

We'd left the others doing easier routes at Echo Playa, so Amanda and I had the crag to ourselves. I noted with interest my reaction to the boys not being there. Suddenly things were calmer and I felt more at home and more able to concentrate on what I was doing. While it's lots of fun to climb next to people who are really psyched, I find it hard to climb as well as I can. The banter between those two is hilarious and I really enjoy their company, they are two of the best people ever to have on climbing holidays. But it proved to me that there is time and place for everything: sometimes it's good to spend some time on a route, enjoy figuring it out and gaining the satisfaction of completing it in one go; sometimes it's good to just throw yourself at any and every route, not caring whether you've "ticked" it, not caring whether you cheated or not, just enjoying climbing with your mates.

On the morning of our last climbing day I heard something I thought I would never hear. Bong said he was too knackered to climb. I was stunned. Actually, what happened was that I cricked my neck yawning and stretching in bed that morning and it was really painful, so much so that I suggested to Bong I might not be able to climb. His instant reaction was that he didn't think I should and that I might do myself more damage if I did. That was odd in itself. The later admission that he was too knackered explained it in full!

Rather than sack it off totally, we headed to the Altea Hills. What an epic to get there - the guidebook says go past the security guards without attracting their attention. Er... not easy when there are barriers across the road! Having felt a bit like jailbreakers skirting past and sizing them up as opponents, we discovered that they were very approachable, very helpful and directed us straight to the crag! It was a nice looking bit of rock too. Shame that it was 6 feet from a new building site with bolts that had certainly seen better days!

Would you climb on these? Thought not.... The routes looked like good fun but I wasn't so keen on tackling anything with bolts that looked like they might just slide out. With the housing developments encroaching ever more on the climbing space, I can see that this nice wee crag might just get blasted out of existence one day and end up as the floor of a swimming pool.....which would be a great shame.

So instead, we went to Toix and did multipitch!! Wow, what excitement. We paired up and picked our routes. Gary and I took the adventurous option of 4 pitches of 5, 5+, 3(!) and 4+. The climbing was pretty straightforward for both of us, but I must admit to feeling grateful for it when I realised I was about 20m up and had only just reached the second clip! Airy is one word for it! We ploughed on and inevitably found we'd left the route-finding brain cells in a sealed jar at the bottom of a rucksack back in the car. So what should have been a pretty straightforward 4 pitch route turned into 5 pitches, a ridge scramble, 3 abseils and a walk off!! It was probably a bit hairy but actually I really enjoyed the adventure. It wasn't hard, it wasn't beyond our means, but it was definitely exciting! This little red word next to one abseil point just summed it up really:

Just as we got back to our bags, removed tight shoes from hot, sweaty and sore feet the rain began to fall. Pitter patter. Perfect timing. And a pretty cracking end to a great holiday.

Encroaching development...where will it stop?