|Vista from Berga with Montserrat seen in the distance|
Apart from visiting some of the premier climbing destinations in Europe, I have climbed at smaller local crags that are closer to Barcelona. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ok, so I admit this is actually a very well-known crag, as it should be. Montserrat is a mountain formation that is a 30 minute drive from Barcelona. Anyone who has seen it will agree that the rock formations are, simply put, strange. There are a bunch of spires that rise up from the ground in unique shapes. Instead of your typical mountain profile that has a pretty consistent and well known images, Montserrat’s northern profile reminds me of the bottom layer of some chipped shark teeth. Like its appearance, the climbing at Montserrat is unique. It’s mostly done on what here are called “patatas” (which literally translates into “potatoes”) which are just pebbles and other conglomerate rock that is mixed in with limestone. Typically, the climbing is thin and very hard to read. However, with more than 5000 routes Montserrat evidently has something for everyone; there are massive overhung walls, pocketed vertical faces and, of course, some placa infernal!! (killer slab). In general, the warmups at Montserrat can be a little bit brutal because they are just plain weird. In fact, me and a friend had a joke that all the warmups should be named “la rara rara”, which translates into “the strange strange.” (inspired by the name of one of the hardest climbs in the world, “la dura dura” which translates into “the hard hard”). I remember getting on a 6b in vermell and standing on my feet the entire time, struggling to find any sort of hold.
Montserrat was the first place I went climbing in at Spain (literally the second weekend I was here). Since it was January, I went to the South side and climbed at a sector called “Vermell del Xincarró”, where I would end up climbing at three times over the course of the winter. I will always remember the first climb I ever did in Spain, a 6a (or 6a+.. or something.. evidently I won’t always remember its grade) that took me forever to finish because I had such a hard time reading the route-glad that all of the climbing in Spain isn’t this hard to read (aka: chalked up pocket-line in margalef or giant jug-haul in Rodellar). Vermell was also home to my first 6c onsight and really the first line I climbed without doubting myself or letting my fear totally control my climbing. Mega props to my friend and strong-ass climber Chris who put me on some hard stuff (for me anyways) the moment I got out here, he definitely didn’t leave any room for me to not try hard. It was also hard to not push myself when everyone else was warming up on my harder projects. One of Chris’ good friends, Francesca, was also there and was climbing a muerte, sending climbs in the upper 7’s. It was awesome to climb with such a strong female climber, which I would soon learn there are plenty of. Francesca actually runs the refugio at Rodellar and is one of the nicest people I have met here; she definitely is perfect for her job. I also enjoyed having her cute dog sit in my lap during the ride home. Chris is allergic to dogs which made it so I could have all of the dog-cuddle time to myself. If you know me at all, you know that I was quite happy to let that dog sit on me for the entire ride home.
I actually ended up returning to Vermell in early June where I was able to onsight a 7a. It was interesting and encouraging to go back to the very first sector I ever went to and see that yes, I am improving, both mentally and physically.
I also went to “Supositori” which is another crag on the south side of Spain. I can’t say much about this sector because I only climbed there once, and it was absolutely freezing so I only did two routes. However, the first route I did was a 6b+ (I think…), which at that time was not exactly what I would call a warm-up (it barely meets that standard now). It was cold and I was a bit nervous so when I reached the anchor I tried to clip it off of a bad hold even though I saw that there was a decent jug just a move away. The move was committing though and I was pretty far from my last bolt so I clipped off of a not-so awesome hold. As I was pulling the rope in my hand my foot hold broke and I took a pretty big whipper due to the extra slack in the rope. I remember free-falling and looking at all of the slack that had to get tightened, just thinking “Joderrrr”. I also remember that as I was falling the wall was pretty uncomfortably close to my face, since it was a slabby climb. But I was fine and finished the climb with two good lessons : no pasa nada if you take a big whipper (in fact it’s kind of fun) and always clip from a good stance.
Berga is a town around 110km north of Barcelona that is home to a handful of sectors the style of which I was told was a mixture between Montserrat and Margalef, which sounded like it would fit me perfectly. I went to Berga two weeks after not doing any climbing, inside or outside, because I was spending the time traveling with my mom, who came to visit me at the end of May. Together we went to Sevilla, where I hadn’t been yet, and it was probably one of the most beautiful cities I’d seen in Spain. We spent our time eating tapas, drinking good coffee and wine and watching some baller flamenco performances. Strangely, the highlight of that trip for me (besides the Flamenco) was seeing Plaza España, the cities most important plaza. In fact, I liked it so much that I’m going to completely switch topics here to describe it-
Usually plazas in Spain, and in Europe , are either overly ornate or overly flooded with tourists and shops aimed at said tourists. Plaza España was neither of the two; it was built to host an exhibition in 1929 so the architecture is not so much super intimidating but rather is impressive and simple; it just seems like a veyr important building, not as if it was crafted by angels. This is probably why they filmed a scene from Starwars here. This plaza isn’t in the center of the city but rather is located in the middle of their biggest park, so instead of a bunch of restaurants and kisosks selling postcards what surrounds the park is mostly trees and grass (okay, with a few kiosks). What I enjoyed the most were the painted tiles that added color and life to the plaza. The main building is in the shape of a half arc and at the foot of the stairs that lead to its first floor there were tiled paintings depicting an important moment in the history of each of its 50 provinces. The paintings are in alphabetical order
er according to each province and start at the left most side of the plaza. They are colorful, decorative and are accompanied by an explanation of the historical context of the piece. However, for whatever reason these explanations disappeared after the first 20 or so pieces… I guess the latter half of the alphabet just wasn’t important. There is also a canal that cuts the plaza in half over which goes an impressive bridge, also covered in colorful tiles. Of course, as usual there is a giant fountain in the middle of the plaza. If you’re in Sevilla, definitely go do some people watching for awhile and spend some quality time staring at all of the painted tiles.
Okay ,I realize that was more than a small sidetrack but it was just that nice of a plaza that I had to mention it. (I really dig plazas…) We also went to Toledo and Madrid and I had the pleasure of showing her around Barcelona for a few days. However, all of this traveling meant two weekends of no climbing. So, when my mom left Saturday night I was sad to see her go but also took the opportunity to go climbing on Sunday, which is when I had the opportunity to go to Berga.
To drive to Berga you go right the north side of Montserrat, which is more impressive and dramatic than the south side.. which to me slightly resembles melting ice-cream. Once you get to the town you drive uphill for awhile until you reach the crag. I was quite surprised by the natural beauty of the area. Once you get to the top of the hill you have a great view of the valley below which is covered with green trees. I was told that during autumn all the trees change color and the view is even more breathtaking. You also have a great view of the northern profile of Montserrat, which really is much more unique than any other mountain range I’d ever seen. Also, if that isn’t enough, there are 2-3 small waterfalls that make the vista even more spectacular.
The first time I went to Berga we started in the more bouldery sector (AKA the sector with the shorter routes) because the longer sector seemed a bit wet and we wanted to wait for it to dry a little bit. Unfortunately, I have no idea what either sector is called. After doing a really strange 6b we got on a 6b+ that was a lot of fun. However, in the middle of the route it started to hail on me. I finished the route quickly and we got the hell out of there, having only done 2 routes each. It was unfortunate because the lower crag looked much more interesting to me; the routes were longer and it looked like it was a more featured wall in general.
I returned to Berga a few weeks later with my Spanish friends Roman and Laia as well as with my American friend Colleen who was traveling through Spain for 6 weeks with the main purpose of going climbing as much as possible. This time we went straight for the lower wall since it was dry. Though it was dry it was pretty much freezing and the first route was half in the sun and half in the shade, so my left hand, which was constantly in the shade, was totally numb which made for some painful and not super great climbing. Luckily it warmed up a bit and the sector was soon totally in the shade. At the end of the day I had also climbed a great 6b+, Dimecres de Patum, which featured some awesome stemming, a weird polished 6c+ that I fell from and didn’t bother trying to redpoint because it was not super enjoyable, Amic Trait, a 6c+ that was much better and that I onsighted, and Diedre Suprunaman, an overhung 6b+ that also had some stemming in it (Diedre generally refers to a dihedral that you stem). Overall, my second visit to Berga was much more successful than the first.
So, in addition to the amazing well known climbing you can find at places like Rodellar, Margalef, Siurana, Tres Ponts, Oliana.. etc. there also exist a lot of other smaller crags-but not necessarily worse- crags sprinkled throughout Catalunya and Spain in general that are worth exploring if you have the time. If only I could just take one of them home with me..