I am writing this blog post from probably my most luxurious location yet- sitting on the bathroom tiled floor at the Ceuse campgrounds, right in front of the trashcans – unfortunately my charger can’t stretch past the trash and outside. Ceuse is a cliff band in the South of France and has been called by many as the best sport climbing destination in the world. It also comes with a bit of history as it houses the first 9a+, (5.15a) climbed, called Biografie or Realization whose first ascent was done by Chris Sharma. But, stories of my travels in france (which have just started) will come a bit later. (as a mini-preview, Ceuse is amazing but it’s kicking my ass!) Before I crossed the border, I took a week long climbing trip with my friend Chris Jorde to the Basque Country.
Now, Chris merits a much more involved introduction than the casual one I just gave him. Before I came to Barcelona I wrote on the forum of mountain project.com, a climbing website, that I was going to be in the area for roughly half a year and was looking for climbing partners and a good gym to train at. Chris, a fellow Californian who had also studied abroad in Barcelona for one year and was back for another, responded and told me to come check out the gym he trains at, called Freebloc. I met up with him during my first week there and from then on we climbed to ether pretty frequently. By climbing together, I mean I belayed Chris on his epic projects (the guy has climbed 8b+, or 5.14a, people.. more to come on that later ) and he put up with me getting way too nervous about falling and climbing with terrible technique until I started to actually grow a pair and take falls. Chris also introduced me to Freebloc, an old apartment turned climbing training gym, where I met a number of really fanatic Spanish and international climbers, some of whom became my close friends. Basically, i have Chris to thank for my success in finding and involving myself with the local Barcelona climbing community. Thankfully, he’s also a super chill guy and probably the most motivated rock-climber I’ve met. Luckily, Chris is also a student so we both had a similar schedule; AKA we had the summer off. So, we planned a roughly month long trip- 1 week of climbing in the Basque country followed by 3 weeks in Southern France- sounded pretty ideal to me.
In the Basque country we only climbed at Valdegovía, an incredible but pretty small sector in the province of Álava. When we started our trip things were already looking up. First of all, Chris took his Peugeout to the shop and we actually had air conditioning now! Well, we had air conditioning that would turn on only when it really felt like turning on and would make a squeaky noise whenever it was on… it worked great for about an hour and then it would stop working, only to come on at full blast in random intervals throughout the trip. So basically, we were either really hot, comfortably cool for about 2 minutes, or freezing our asses off but too scared to touch the damn thing in fear it would turn off and be broken forever. Also, I burned us a bunch of CDs so we could listen to something other than Spain’s favorite radio stations- MAX FM or FLAIX FM., which are pretty terrible at times. Although the CD player would never take the disc on the first time you tried.. after a handful of times, and with a little bit of pushing, it would actually begin to play the CD. So, things were looking up! We had sporadic air-conditioning, music that would eventually begin to play, and neither one of us had work to do- win!
|View of “Campa” sector|
When we got to the town of Valdegovía it was a bit mistier and colder than we would have liked. Also, the free guide we downloaded from the tourist office wasn’t quite as detailed as one would desire. Basically it led us to a tourist office that was closed (and that we apparently almost got locked into) and there were some paths which vaguely indicated tha the climbing was a 5 minute approach behind the town. So, we set off in the general direction.. but after about 10 minutes of walking we didn’t see the crag. With a little bit of doubt we tread forward in the misty air and after about 15 minutes of walking a large field suddenly presented itself in front of us. Walking through a gate the scenery changes pretty suddenly; you move from a dirt path to a beautifully lush grazed green field, which a small stream runs right through the middle off. A band of featured limestone stretches along the edge of the field and offers short to moderately long routes. We had arrived at Campa- the most famous sector of Valdegovía. Walking a little bit further in we were met not with other climbers but with a herd of cows- aka the reason the grass was grazed so well. Of course, there was also a nice oak tree in the center of this field that seemed like the perfect spot to go take a nap under or read a book. The whole scenery is quite idyllic and seems like it could have been the setting for some of those really once pastoral paintings. Basically, Valdegovía is the perfect place if you want a short approach (though it is 3x longer than that suggested by the guide. and uphill, it’s still very very easy) and a really perfect spot to chill at. I mean really, what other crag features a freaking grass field? Usually when I sit down at Rodellar or Margalef to eat something or just hang out I’m siting on some sort of uncomfortable protruding rock that my body starts to get ingrained into. However, I digress- Although it was cold and misty we were psyched on the location and we had been sitting in the car for 6 hours so we got on our harnesses and started to climb.
|Hiking back to the car|
We warmed up on some 6b+’s which were short and decently hard for the grade… honestly I found them to be easiest the first time I tried them and then they just got p regressively harder and harder for me. Then we tried a 7a/7a+ called Metamorfosis which was amazing; a great pocket \y/steepish route which, after the crux, leads into a nice dihedral-ish thing where you get to do some fun stemming. I fell on this one and planned to try to red point it the next day. Since we arrived at around 5 PM we only did about 4 pitches that day and then headed to the camping that we had read was very close by called Angosto camping. When we arrived around 9 PM we were surprised to see that it was basically full of RVs and a bunch of kids. In fact, I think we took the last spot and were one of two groups with tents. However, we came on the Friday of a three day weekend so it was to be expected. The campsite is nice; it has a bar and a decently stocked store but it is pricey, 6 euros a person + 6-7 euros a tent. After pitching a tent we decided to go into the nearby town of Espejo to try to find some grub, a bit too tired and lazy to cook anything. We first died the typical local Spanish bar that was completely filled with senior citizens and didn’t seem to have anything besides patatas to eat. So, we followed a sign we saw with a knife and a fork that indicated the way to a restaurant called La Kabaña. I’m not sure either one of us expected to get the quality of service of food that we got in this random restaurant literally in the middle of nowhere in the Basque country. We walked in and the modern decor was the first thing that tipped me off. We both ordered a sort of Beef Kebab thing that came with patatas and quiche. The waitress was extremely attentive and gave us some really good bread and dip as an appetizer. When the meal came, we were both really impressed. The kebab looked delicious and instead of using a skewer to hold it all together the chef put it on a sprig of rosemary, The french fries, made out of potatoes from Valdegovía, were absolutely delicious and the small serving of quiche was also good. The waitress also gave us another large helping of some good vino tinto (red wine). Afterward they cleared our plates and didn’t bother us as we sat and talked for awhile longer. The best part?- With bread, two amazing dinners, and two cups of wine, we only paid 11 euros each- it was definitely the biggest gastronomic surprise I’ve had dining in Spain. If you are ever in the area, definitely go out of your way to eat at this place, they treated us quite well.
We both passed out had that night, our heads full of excitement and our bellies full of really good food. The next day we were at the crag by noon and on my 3rd intent of the day (4th total) I sent Metamorfosis! I was having some trouble remembering my beta even just after lowering down and made a mental note to try to focus a little bit better the next time I get on a project. At least one of my failed attempts was a fail because I switched my beta on the upper crux without even realizing it. I would give the route a 7a+ though some people give it 7a, though I imagine that these people are tall men who have big hands- there were some reach moves on it for me! Next up was the route just next to Metamofrosis, which was a 7b called Nostraladamus with some desperte hope I tried for a surprise flash but fell in the middle of the route on a move that wasn’t hard but was a bit hard to read. Thankfully a local basque climber who was on the route next to mine was giving me some beta and helped me figure it out. It was a nice route but I never actually ended up getting back on it.. basically because I got obsessed with another 7a+ and 7b. After 6 or 7 pitches we called it a day and headed back to camp, where we literally cooked in the dish-washing area because it seemed like there was no picnic table area that we could use … this is definitely more of an RV camp. Then, with our heads down low of slight embarrassment, we slipped behind the bar and ate outside on the terrazzo, the two obvious americans eating their pasta with tomato frito, chorizo (Señora Julia chorizo, to be exact) and verduras. No regrets, that meal- like any another camping meal- was awesome. Chris also got the attention of some of the kids staying there who I think were mesmerized by his blonde hair and American accent and would always yell “California! how are you??” when he walked by.
The next day I got on another 7a+ called El Legado, which was another short 7-8 bolt route but this time there really was no easy section. In the middle there is a big move (which was awesome) which leads to a section of bad slopers and crimps until you clip and to get over a ledge you have to pull on the most horrendous sloper- the cause of most of my falls- until you get to a nice scooping jug that you can rest on until you get to another good golf you use to clip the anchors off of, which are located right above a ledge. I awkwardly went to the left instead of the right at this part during my first go and put my entire leg onto the ledge. I proceeded to fucking battle with getting my leg down and clipping for about 15 minutes while I Desperately grabbed onto some really shitty slopers. It was quite embarrassing and I’m pretty sure Iw as a bit of a laughing stock that day- but I finally did it and then worked out the very obvious and easy beta for the ending.. :P. My second go was quite good but I fell at the last hard move, and my next two goes were pretty bad, I fell again b eacsue I forgot my lower beta… evidently I have this issue quite a bit. I tried it a total of 4 times that time until we called it quits. After 2.5 days of climbing we were ready for a rest day.. and when you’re in the Basque country what better place to spend a rest day than at San Sebastián, the province capital and one of the coolest cities in Spain. So we left a bit earlier than usual that day and drove 1.5 hours to get to San Sebastian. Once we finally found parking (at some random local garage whose prices we weren’t exactly sure of) We headed to our hostel, took a nice hot shower… and then went to a pinxo (“tapa” in Basque) bar hopping. See my San Sebastián blog post for more details about this half fail half successful outing.