A mere 2 weeks after my 11 day adventure through Spain I set off for Portugal with Jason. Before coming to Spain Portugal was never on my “must visit” list but I figured since it’s so close, and since I may not ever end up there again, I should go check it out. Of course, if possible, I wanted to sprinkle in some climbing throughout the trip. By seeking out climbing in all of the areas I travel, I find I get to explore places that I wouldn’t find in a guide book, and, well, I get to go climbing! This makes the sight-seeing a litte more bearable because sometimes (or all of the time) I get a little bit tired of going to museums or seeing my 1000th cathedral of all time.
So, after researching Portugal I found that one of the best climbing spots to go to is Sagres, which is on the Algarve coast on the very southern tip of Portugal. We had booked our tickets so that we could fly to Lisbon and into Porto, neither of which were anywhere near Sagres. But, after reading more and more about it we decided to take the plunge and rent a car. (and by “decided” I mean we debated the topic until the last possible moment )
|“Little Yosemite” sector in “The Chamber” in
Sagres. Check out that 6a+ crack and the
chimney start of the 6b+ to it’s right!
When we got to Lisbon the weather was really bad. It was raining, windy and the clouds looked quite menacing. After a bit of a logistical adventure (we could not find the rent a car people.. anywhere) we finally found our rent a car (Fiat Panda… so European) and drove to Sagres immediately. I hadn’t driven a car for awhile, since my foot surgery in November (a little bit afterward), and I was pretty nervous about it because before the surgery my foot would hurt quite a bit while driving. Since I was the more experienced stick-shift driver, I drove the entire way.. with no pain :). Before this point I was convinced the surgery had worked and had cured my ailment but I still hadn’t tested my foot while driving (seeing as how I have no access to a car in Barcelona) so I was super relieved and happy when I was able to drive for 200 km without any pain. This was also my first time driving a car in Europe, but by the end of the trip I was a total roundabout European driving professional. (or at least less people honked at me by the end of the trip). We chose a route that took us along the coast of Portugal (and which also conveniently avoided all toll roads). Driving gave us a good chance to see quite a bit of coastal Portugal in a short amount of time. The entire area (the Algarve coast as well as north between Lisbon and the Algarve coast) was beautiful and also decently empty (the terrible weather may have contributed to that)
|The epic binder at the bar Dromedario in Sagres, Portugal
with an infinite number of topos!
By the time we got to Sagres the rain had stopped. We grabbed some dinner (fresh Mackerel? yes please.) and went to explore the beach. The rocky sea-cliffs were well featured and we were both aching to find some bolted routes on the faces. Unlike Spain, however, sport climbing in Portugal is not really publicized. The best way to get topos in Sagres (and basically the only way) is to go to a bar in town (Bar Dromedario) where, evidently, there are topos you can take pictures of or copy down. We found the bar (with the help of a cute German surfer) and when we asked for the topos (croquis, in Portuguese) the bartender gave us a fat (at least 3 inches) binder that was completely full with topos and print outs. We were like kids in a candy store; totally giddy, we started to flip through the pages, take photos and copy down topos into our journals. We made up a plan for the next day (our only day of climbing in Sagres) and left the bar, feeling like super cool kids getting topos in bars in random towns in Portugal after driving along the coast in our Fiat Panda; you know, no biggie.
It was at least 10 PM by now and we drove back to the top of the sea cliffs we had been to earlier. There was camping across the way but we decided earlier that we would just park the car and come back to this area after dark so we could bust out our sleeping bags and sleep literally along the coast. The night was decently warm and we fell asleep underneath a sky filled with stars while listening to the sound of crashing waves- not something you get to experience when living in a city like Barcelona.
Day 2- Sagres climbing!
|our super sweet ride.|
We woke up in our luxury suite hotel (aka right next to the dirt road above the sea cliffs with damp sleeping bags) and before eating breakfast went on a run around the area to explore the beaches a little bit better. Afterwards, using our super fabulously drawn topos that we got form the bar, we headed over to where we thought a sector of climbing was called The Chamber. Using our excellent outdoorsy skills, we managed to find the area- AKA we found some rocks that were bolted that seemed to be in the right location. The only problem was that it was a bit more difficult to figure out the grade of the route that you are climbing since all you have is the literal order of how the grades progress from left to right. There’s no nice picture in a Rockfax guide that lets you identify the routes by visual features. We did have a drawing, however, of the secotrs that included some key features such as a chimney. Besides the local fisherman (who unfortunately seemed to really enjoy trashing the area) we were alone, trying to use the bar topos to identify what route corresponded to what grade. Basically, it was the most adventurous sport climbing I had ever done. We found some bolts and figured out (more or less) the grades of each route. Since the routes are literally right above the water (see photo) there’s two options: you can rap down (there are rap rings) and then the belayer can come down adn attach his/herself to bolts on the bottom and the climber can lead. Or, you can simply rap down (or if possible make an anchor from the top of the climb directly and get lowered down), make an anchor, lower all the way down and top-rope it. We opted for the latter because above all, we wanted to climb as much as possible in this beautiful place that, most likely, we would not return to. If toproping was the way to do as much climbs as we could (since we only had 1 day of climbing here), then we would toprope. The experience was actually quite euphoric. As I got lowered down from the I gradually entered my own microclimate where I couldnt hear anything besides the ocean beneath me and could not see anything besides the rock in front of my own face-I felt completely as if I were completely alone. When I started to climb soon nothing else existed for me besides my own movement on the rock. I have had this feeling a few times before leading when I became so focused on the climbing that everything else in the background melted away. I have asked myself many times why I climb and I have never been able to think of a single, concerte answer. Though I still cannot say for sure why I flee every weekend to go climbing, I think the possibility of having this sensation is a large motivator. Most of the time it doesnt happen and I just have fun challenging myself and being out in nature with my friends, but when it does happen, it is the best experience I can think of. I had never really had it toproping before because I suppose toproping sometimes comes with the connotation that you are not really climbing. But, I suppose because of the circumstances of the location, in Sagres during every single climb I found myself in this focused state of mind, or rather after I finished a climb and reflected on it I realized that I was climbing as if nothing else in the world existed, completely in the moment. I wont forget that feeling for awhile.
|Exploring beaches near Lagos.|
The climbs themselves were quite good. After climbing all day and re-analyzing our beautifuly drawn maps we realized we had actually climbed in a sector called Little Yosemite, which when considering that the second climb we climbed was a crack and the third featured a chminey, made sense. I also climbed a 6c in a different sector that was basically a route that had an obvious line through a series of what I like to call “fake jugs”´- aka deep, large holds that look like they should be amazing but are all pretty much slopey so you cant actually grip anything and you end up getting super pumped anyways. During that climb the sun was setting and the light was perfect. It was also the longest line and so the sense of solitude and focus was heightened even more. After a good day we ate some more fresh fish and slept under the stars again. This time, though, we slept closer to the road because the night was much more chilly than the previous one and we used our Fiat Panda as a wind block, meaning we could not venture much past the car. So, we did ger woken up quite early (4 or 5 AM) by the arrival of fisherman who gave us some strange looks but did not bother us. In the morning we packed up and hit the road for Lisbon, taking a different route so we could see something new as well as stopping in Lagos for a few hours in the morning to see its famous beaches.
DAY 3- Lagos- Lisbon
We took a different road up to Lisbon (so we could see different things) and along the way drove along some gorgeous fields filled with different color flowers and littered with a bunch of egret (I think?) nests. Most of the nests were built on top of man-made platforms that were obviously put there for them; it’s always nice to see a community that is actually making efforts to preserve its wildlife! Eventually we made our way to Lisbon (and I got to drive along Europe’s largest bridge to get there) and after a massive car-washing effort at their gas-stations and a near freak -out because I thought I lost my wallet.. we returned the rental car with no problems. We got into Lisbon probably near 7 and, with the recommendation of the front-desk worker at our hostel, we found a great, cheap restaurant. Travel tip: whenever you are faced with the option of eating somewhere that looks really nice, but is kind of empty, or somewhere that looks like a hole in the wall but is full with people speaking the native language (aka locals) go to the latter option. We sampled some more fresh fish; I got the grilled sardines that I heard are amazing in Portugal and Jason got some grilled cod. We also got two glasses of red wine (that were pretty good despite the fact that they came from a box) and some olives. The food was great and we only paid 9 euros each-win. Then we went to a pastry shop nearby with the intent to sample some of Portugal’s famous “Pasteles de nata”. We knew that the best, and original, ones are sold in Belem, but we thought we needed to try some other ones to make the comparison more just (though we never ended up having time to go to Belem). They were pretty good but Jason’s eye caught something even more magical-Quijada. They looked like your average pastry but when we bit into them they just melted in our mouth and the rich aftertaste literally obligated us to go in and buy 2 or 3 more.. each. If you are ever in Portugal, you must try these little nuggets of happiness.
|Lisbon with their version of the Golden Gate bridge
in the background.
After refueling we decided to walk around Barrio Alto, the neighborhood our hostel was in and the neighborhood that evidently houses most of the nightlife in Lisbon. It was a Saturday night so the area was bursting with life-we even heard some Fado leaking out of restaurants but didn’t want to pay the money to actually go in and watch so we just listened contently from outside. Already Lisbon did not have the usual “European” city feel to it. It seemed a bit more grungy and had a little bit more originality. The city is covered in some really cool street art (some that takes up an entire building), the squares have more trees and a lot of the buildings were completely decorated with painted tiles (almost moorish) that gave the city a different feel to it.
DAY 4- Sintra
We wanted to spend an entire day in Sintra, a town 30 minutes away from Lisbon by train that has a beautiful forrest dotted with a 10th century moorish castle, amongst other things. The coolest thing about Sintra is there is granite near the castle that is bolted! We thought we might as well check it out since it’s supposed to be a gorgeous day-trip form Lisbon and , well, when else do you get the chance to climb right beneath a 10th century castle? We arrived there just fine (after getting a little lost trying to find the train station) but when we got there it was a bit of a journey to find the actual climbing routes. We were following the guide of some online blog about climbing in Portugal that wasn’t written in the best English and also looked like it was made about the same time as the internet in general. Needless to say we got super lost and I’m pretty sure we trespassed at least once in our futile journey. However, after 1-2 hours of walking around we finally found the crag and it was pretty filled with climbers. There was one route we definitely wanted to do that seemed super easy (it is a V+) and that topped out right below the castle. Sintra features granite slab which we should be good at because we are from California, home to granite slab, but which we are not so great at since we have been climbing in Spain, home to overhung limestone. Generally I don’t like slab too much- you always feel super sketchy, do crazy balance moves and instead of your forearms getting pumped your calves start to cramp. Slab climbing is all about keeping your mind in check and praying you don’t fall so you don’t cheese-grate down the wall with your face. Alas, I digress..slab climbing CAN be fun, but I didn’t want to try anything super hard here. On the way to our cozy V+, however, a route caught my eye. It looked sweet and Jason and I checked the guide to see what it was. According to the print-out images which we got off of some blog from 2005 (Portugal really needs to get a good guide book printed out ) the route was a V+- sweet! I wanted to do the route so we stopped to do it, figuring we would finish it up quickly and then be on our way to the other route. I should have realized when I could barely do the second move that this wasn’t a V+. In fact, to do the move I had to go under a tree which put the rope over the tree (long story) and then, to get the rope to go the right way I had to put myself in direct to a bolt, untie, fling the rope over, and re-tie. Still, I went for the route. It wasn’t “run-out” persé but the bolts were definitely a little bit further than I would have preferred..especially on a slab. After doing some kind of heady balance moves I got to a point where I couldn’t even get my feet up to try the next move. I was in between two bulges and had to get over one of them while pulling on basically nothing. I tried the move 3 or 4 times and then, with the anchor in site, decided to bail. The next bolt was decently far away, my feet were killing me, and I didn’t really want to huff and puff my way through a move on a route i wasn’t particularly enjoying. After lowering off in shame we found out that the route was not a V+ but a 6c+… 6c+
|Right before bailing on the 6c+ from hell|
granite slab is pretty much my limit so I felt a little bit better. After that 45 minute adventure we decided to go straight for the V+. We couldn’t really find a trail, and the only one listed on our print-out literally said “hidden-trail” so we sort of just bushwhacked and boulder-hopped until we got there. It took us awhile but we finally found the route- huzzah! It was already around 7 PM and I honestly had no idea when the buses stopped running back to Lisbon; we also didn’t know how to get back, assuming this “hidden trail” would become more evident on the way back. Against our better senses we climbed the route as the sun was lowering in full knowledge that we didn’t know when the last bus left for Lisbon and, more importantly, didn’t know exactly how to get off of this boulder field and onto a trail. The route was pretty decent, nothing too special. We didn’t do it so much for the actual movement as for the unique setting. As soon as you get to the anchors the moorish castle walls rise up above you and you have a great view of the other mansions and castles dotting the landscape. I stopped to take pictures from the top, Jason was casually waiting and when I finished (Jason went first) we began the process of getting back onto the trail and out of the forest. First, we had to figure out how to get off of this boulder. To get on it we had to some sort of sketchy V0 boulder problem, but getting down , as usual, proved to be more tricky. We vetoed trying to down-climb because the other boulder that we would be aiming to lan
|view of the castle wall from the top of the route|
d on was literally a ramp, so falling would induce some possibly serious consequences. So, Jason lowered me down to the rampy-boulder that we used to get up onto the base of the route and then, with my body serving as a counter weight, he jumped off and lowered down. We made it… to the boulder below our boulder. At this point we probably had 30-45 minutes left of twilight, so we got moving…sort -of. We hopped around from boulder to boulder, slowly descending the boulder field trying to make out some sort of trail. At one point Jason did a sketch move to get off of a boulder onto some solid ground, almost slipping. It was barely possible at his height so for me to get down we had to bust out the rope and wrap it around a huge rock so I could use it to help me get down. It was dark at this point but thankfully I had my headlamp. We were stil stuck in this maze of sort-of ground sort-of boulders… we ran around trying to find our
|The setting sun obviously didn’t stop me from
spending my time taking photos
way down, trying to find anything that seemed familiar. In total darkness getting down off of these boulder fields would be pretty stupid, even with a headlamp, so for about 15 minutes I think we were both a little bit panicky and a little bit certain we would end up sleeping out there. Luckily, at probably the apex of our freak-out mode, we found a stone wall we had seen before and a trail. We followed it out to one of the main tourist areas and to a parking lot. Huzzah! We had succeeded. We laughed about how dumb we were whle taking out the map to figure out which way would be the fastest to get into town. Unfortunately, there was really only one way we could take and it wasn’t particularly fast. To get to the train-station at Sintra we had to walk down a windy road, through another town and finally into Sintra. It took about an hour, which after the day we just had, felt like an eternity. We made it to Sintra around 10:50 and luckily there was a train departing for Lisbon in 10 minutes. We sat down on the train, totally beat-down, starving and our bodies full of cuts from bush-whacking everywhere. We passed out and when we got into Lisbon went and bought some food from a bazaar that was luckily still open (it was Sunday). My dinner- a can of tuna, crackers, and some muesli, a pretty desperate way to end a pretty desperate (but awesome) trip!
|Jason, happy to have caught the train back to Lisbon after
our adventure in Sintra