My trip back to Spain started off in a rather rocky (pun!) way to put it delicately. After a very stressful last week of school that involved studying for final exams, frantically repairing all of my apple products that conveniently decided to break at the same time, and shoving random items into my backpack and calling it “packing” I showed up at SFO , ready to put the stress behind me and start on my epic spanish climbing adventure.. part deux.
That worked out as planned for maybe 6 hours, until I got into New York. Due to a snowstorm my flight was delayed for 2 hours which made it inevitable that I would miss my connecting flight. I didn’t think this would be a big problem, though, assuming they would just put me on a different flight. The flight was fine until the very end, when a large amount of turbulence as we landed made me nauseous, and I threw up (too much information?- sorry) When we landed the pilot got on the PA system and told us that we wouldn’t be able to get out of our seats for 30 minutes because he had to wait for some other plane to take off before he could park. So, here I was, sitting after just having vomited. I rang the stewardess and showed him the bag, which immediately illicited a defensive reaction that consisted of him putting his hands up and quickly spitting out “I’m not authorized to take that” as if I was holding nuclear waste. He also kindly informed me that “unfortunately” I had to stay in my seat and could not go to the bathroom. He did run to the back of the plane and give me about 3000 napkins and a giant garbage bag. I assume he felt so bad for not letting me get up that he thought if he just gave me more napkins it would be okay. Better than nothing, I suppose. I took 2 napkins and the bag and waited patiently, feeling really bad for the nice Irish woman I had befriended sitting next to me. When we were finally able to get up (20-30 minutes later) a wave of a nausea hit me again and I quite legitimately struggled to get out of the plane without vomiting. I rushed (more like stumbled) past the stewardess wishing me a nice day and puked in the garbage bag in the connecting tube between the plane and the terminal- it must have been a wonderful parting image for everyone behind me who was leaving the plane. As soon as I walked out there were about 10 employees all helping everyone who had missed a flight but my priorities were to find a bathroom. Finally, once I got myself all cleaned up and sort of presentable I found the guy who had my boarding pass who asked me, in a rather accusatory tone, “where I had been.” I just looked at him and took the boarding pass.. which put me in Rome AFTER my flight from Rome – Barcelona was taking off. This obviously wouldn’t work so after running around Heathrow airport going to 2 different terminals (if you’ve ever been to Heathrow you know how terrible this is.. it’s like going through a small, badly organized futuristic village where there is no empty wall space, just advertisements) before a nice worker in a bright orange vest told me that really everyone had been telling me to go to the wrong terminal and I had to go BACK to my original terminal.. I finally found the stupid American airlines booth and waited for 1.5 hours with a crew of my fellow angry flight companions. I seriously think the people behind the counter thought we were going to jump over the counter and start attacking them because they kept on calling in their managers saying we were “very angry” and were “yelling at them.” Well, no shit. Anyways, long story short I ended up sleeping on the floor in Rome that night (by “slept” I mean dozed off for 10 minutes until some part of my body ached in pain from the tile floor.. repeat cycle for 4 hours) and finally got to Barcelona, more than 48 hours after I had left for Spain. If there is a hell, I imagine it would be something like this – – being stuck in airports and never being able to leave. Like the movie Groundhog Day, but in an airport-no sun, just fluorescent lighting and ads for cologne.
I was exhausted. I called my friend Laia and explained the situation to her and how I really badly just needed to sleep. That day, Laia was my catalan saint- she told her mom I was coming to their apartment and when I arrived there was a bed made for me to sleep in and even a warm bocadillo (sandwich). I passed on the bocadillo until later because I was too tired to even consider picking the thing up. When I woke up I was able to stumble to Plaza Catalunya to get my telephone configured, but that maybe 2 mile winding stroll through tourists felt like a marathon.
That night I made plans with my friend Chris to meet him tomorrow and go rock climbing. The next morning I felt re-energized and was more then ready to leave the world of airports and big cities and go find refuge at some of my favorite (and some new) limestone crags. My “base-camp” was Chris’ apartment in Cornudella de Montsant, a small town 40 minutes outside of Reus in Tarragona in the county of Priotat. Cornudella de Montsant just happens to sit right below the Serra de Montsant and the Prades Mountains and is surrounded by lines of limestone cliff lines and climbing areas like Siurana, Montsant and Margalef. Mention you have climbed at these areas to any fanatic sport climber and he/she will probably instantly turn green with envy. The social structure of the town itself is quite unique and interesting. The county of Priotat is known for producing some of Spain’s best olive oil and wine (and therefore some of the best olive oil and wine in the world) and the locals are generally farmers, harvesters, producers etc. (or just really old people who like to take morning strolls along the highway.. generally positioning themselves in the middle of the highway. But when they smile at you and wave, you can’t feel angry). However, because of the area’s insane concentration of world-class sport climbing areas, the town is slowly being populated by international and local climbers who rent the (very) cheap apartments for a few months until they leave, replaced by yet more climbers. This makes sense when you consider its location- a 10 minute drive from Siurana, 20 minutes from Montsant and 40 minutes from Margalef – distances that made this American rock-climber, used to driving up to 2 hours for day trips- quite happy. It was definitely a cozy place to call home for the next 3.5 weeks.
So, what did I climb over these 3.5 weeks? Here is my basic “tick-list” of sends.
- Lots and lots of 7a’s. (5.11d) Notably, I on-sighted 6 of them. Before this trip I had only onsighted 2 7a’s. My training had paid off and I breezed through a bunch of 7a’s at Montsant and Siurana. Some of my favorites were Rata arraconada, Purolitic and Bufa, all located in the Raco de Misa in Montsant. I also enjoyed Viagraman located in the El Pati sector of Siurana. If you are looking for 7a’s to onsight, though, I definitely recommend hiking up to the Raco de Misa and just ticking off all the 30-40m excellent 7a’s that are sprinkled throughout the sector- great routes to on-sight.
- I on-sighted two 7a+’s , (5.12a ). I hadn’t on-sighted any 7a+’s before this trip, so I was particularly proud of this accomplishment. Both the 7a+’s I on-sighted were at Raco de Misa (hmm.. apparently I’m good at climbing 30-40m pocket pulling slightly overhung routes..). La terra promesa is a 36m 7a+ that really only has one “crux” interspersed among lots of good holds and opportunities for resting. I think the whole route took me 40 minutes because I rested at every opportunity, not wanting to blow the on-sight. Dents i ungles is a route that seemed to have considerably less traffic. This route felt like a more “legit” on-sight go because I had a much harder time with it. Both routes are excellent. I also flashed Crosta Pànic at El Pati in Siurana, which was one of the funnest routes I’ve ever done. It starts off with your typical, technical Siurana slab and leads to a small roof that is littered with huge jugs. So, in the same route you climb very technical face and then end with very physical movement, throwing between jugs on a 45 degree overhang. I’ve never climbed a route quite like it before- definitely memorable. Managed to pull this route off on my first day of climbing, which was rewarding.
- I red-pointed two 7b’s (5.12b), both of them on my second go. Before this trip I had done 7a+ and my first (and only) 7b+ (Penguin Lust at Donner Summit) but had a 7b gap. The first 7b I did was Amb pal no dona pal in the Espadelles sector of Margalef. I tried to flash this route but fell near the top at what ended up being the crux for me. The route started off with some very physical moves as you work your way over a sharp overhang into a still overhung (yet less so) face filled with the typical pockets of Margalef. There are some good rests but I never was able to get much back at any of them. Of all the routes I sent on this trip, I fought the hardest for this one. Every clip was a battle and I felt as if I couldn’t have been closer to falling. Nevertheless, I clipped the anchors (and notably came up with my own beta near the top, ignoring the advice of some other climbers because it didn’t work for me.. which isn’t always easy to do) on my 2nd go , on what was at that point my 3rd day on in a row of rock climbing. This was a very satisfying send. I also red-pointed Silverado at the crag of “Arbolí” that is less well known (and consequently less trafficked) than the other surrounding areas, but still boasted the same rock quality. Silverado is a much more technical, slabby route that requires a pretty different skill-set than Amb pal no dona pal asks for. You have to have good finger strength and really trust your feet. There were quite a few moves that even Chris (5’11.. something like that) had to really reach for … so for me it was essentially impossible to do without hiking my feet up on what felt like basically nothing. Being able to do two completely different 7b’s- both on my second go- gave me some extra confidence and made me feel like a well-rounded climber rather than just someone who can pull down hard on some pockets.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a climbing trip if I didn’t fail on something. For me, the route that first comes to mind is a 7b+ in Espadelles called Chute Emocional. The route can basically be summarized as a pocket-pulling power endurance beast. The first few moves are long but feature really positive holds until you get to an excellent rest and work your way upward to a very overhung face where you encounter the crux of the climb – several long throws into shallow pockets. I tried this route a total of 8 times over the course of three days. During my first five or so goes I fell going into the crux, trying to cross into a crimper when Chris gave me new beta that involved a longer move but into a much better hold. This beta seemed to work better for me and on my last day trying the route it seemed like I would get it. I tried it a total of three times that day. On my first go I fell at the usual spot, but on my second go I got further than I ever had before, powering through the crux into the good clipping hold. Now all that was left was the section between the last bolt and the anchor where everything gets a little bit thin but the angle of the wall eases up. I thought this part would be a breeze but I was in for a surprise. Once I got to the good hold I realized I really had no idea what to do at this section because I never really gave it more than a second thought, assuming that if I were to fall it would definitely be at the crux below. So, I really didn’t’ remember the beta I had sorted out for this and blew this go, not putting my feet in the right place and pumping out going for the wrong set of holds. This was pretty heartbreaking so I rehearsed the upper section a few times until I had this part down solid. There was one key foothold that I needed to use that would allow me to push my body in closer to the wall and make better use of the holds without wasting so much energy. However, even after rehearsing everything the upper bit felt much harder than I remembered and I was scared I would fall here again just due to pure exhaustion.
I had a nice long rest as I belayed my friend on his project and just as the sun was setting I got on Chute Emocional for a third go. This route is very tiring for me and so when I got to the first rest surprisingly fresh I felt as if perhaps I had just enough energy left in me to send the route. I relaxed and took a really long rest, waiting until I couldn’t get any more energy back. While resting I had a spectacular view of the rolling cliff-lines below me in the valley as the sun was setting revealing dramatic tones of purple and pink in the sky. The sheer number of developed (and undeveloped) faces in just this ONE sector of Catalunya was daunting, exciting and a nice reminder that even if I don’t get Chute Emocional, there are plenty of other world class lines to try. I remember this moment distinctly and I felt particularly grateful to be in the middle of this limestone feature with a view I otherwise wouldn’t have.
When I finally carried on I executed everything very well and got through the crux to the good clipping edge. But- I suddenly felt much more tired than I had felt earlier. My feet cut as the rope was in my hand to clip which gave me a quick scare, but I was able to focus, paste my feet back on the wall and make the clip. Afterward I robotically executed the beta I had rehearsed below. Every move felt hard and my elbows kept on creeping upward, even though I was trying to force them down (when you climb with your elbows above your shoulders it means you are exhausted and don’t have much energy to spare… or that you just have terrible technique). I pushed through and got to the very last two bad holds before the clipping jug. My arms felt absolutely drained of energy but I mustered whatever ounce I had left and propelled myself toward the jug. I touched it – – but fell. I fell at the last jug (large hold) right next to the anchor. It was the very last move of the climb- I couldn’t have been closer.
I hung off the end of the rope but didn’t feel too sad about falling. This route was probably the most physically exhausting thing I had done in a long time and it felt good to push myself to my very most physical limit and fall, not because of bad beta (though I’m sure I could have been a little bit more efficient) but more because I just didn’t have the power. These are the kinds of routes that leave you feeling sore but happy the next day – and the kind of routes that get you stronger. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of lowering off of a route completely destroyed, basically feeling like you might vomit. I swear, it’s a good feeling :). You can’t measure yourself physically if you don’t fail when giving it your all. You always should have a roof to break through, a hurdle to overcome…
In the middle of the trip, I went to Barcelona to spend Christmas with my friend Laia and her family. I was welcomed into their home and was treated like family. Laia’s very welcoming, warm and kind mother cooked us all a very traditional series of Catalan dinners (“feasts” is more like it) for Nochebuena (Christmas eve), Navidad (nadal in Catalan, or Christmas) and St. Esteve (26th). I don’t think I’ve ever eaten more food in a series of three days in my entire life. Literally we would only eat one meal the entire day, because it was so big that I didn’t need to eat at all during the rest of the day. Of course, each meal ended with loads of traditional chocolates, or turrones, that are delicious concoctions of egg, honey, almonds, egg whites etc. Laia’s mother would not take “no” for an answer when you asked for a reduced portion of anything. At one point she gave me an entire chicken stuffed with prunes and pine-nuts. I didn’t get through the thing but it was delicious. I also had canolis stuffed with pig brains, (when I asked for just “one” she scoffed, told me I was all muscle and bones and needed more fat, and then proceeded to serve me 4..) and escudella, a traditional Catalan soup– among many, many other dishes. My American friend Becky who I got close with while working at The California Aggie came from Valence, France (where she is working as an au pair) to also partake in the festivities, and to see Barcelona. On Christmas day Laia’s family, Becky and I went to go see a Catalan magician who based his entire performance on Michael Jackson- it was actually pretty cool. During those three days I basically served as a translator and felt like the entire time we were in some far-fetched comedy about an international mixing of people during the holidays. I even got some socks as a gift from Laia’s mom! (When you only brought whatever clothes could fit into your backpack, two pairs of socks was the best Christmas gift I could have asked for ) It was a nice, slow relaxing 3 day break in between weeks of hard climbing. I needed all those calories 😉
Toward the end of my trip, though, I started to feel very tired. Every day I climbed a bit worse and felt a bit less motivated until, on my last day at Racó de Finestra in Margalef, I got shut down on a bunch of 7a’s and 7a+’s (albeit they were HARD) and I just didn’t feel motivated to try anything very hard. The weather was amazing and we were the only ones at the crag- I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. The only thing that was missing was my own motivation. I guess after 3 weeks of climbing I was getting a bit burnt out. This happened a lot sooner than I was expecting it too and I think I will likely modify my training before my next trip to include a bit more tapering off to encourage a longer period where I am climbing at my best (though that all sounded like I actually know what I’m doing.. my training is all a bit experimental to me). I went into Barcelona the day before my flight and had a very nice day eating my favorite Spanish food, walking through one of my favorite cities and hanging out with my favorite Spaniards. But, the next morning, I was quite ready to leave.
My journey back home was a walk in the park compared to my experience getting to Spain but, of course, I was tired from the trip. The very next day I went back to school and found out I had quite a bit to catch up on.
I also returned home with a strange sensation- I didn’t feel like rock-climbing. Put it simply, I didn’t want to go to the gym or even go to a crag. For someone who basically has thought about climbing non-stop for the past year, this was a strange- but welcome- feeling. So, I decided I would take some time off to let my body recover from my trip as well as to re-assess my motivation. My left ring finger also felt a bit strained (nothing serious, just sore) so I thought it would also be a good idea to give it some time off. It’s a nice moment when you realize your body and your spirit are asking the same thing of you. So, instead of going climbing that weekend I spent a day trying to catch up on work (but really what I did was stroll lazily through downtown Davis doing basically nothing productive… it was nice) and another day doing a really nice 13 mile hike through Point Reyes- which was just what I wanted to do. But, during the week I found it really hard to get myself motivated to do much of anything. I kept on waking up with massive headaches and taking 10 times longer than normal to run simple errands or finish homework. I’ve been having all kinds of existential thoughts about my life etc. that seemed to come out of nowhere. I’m not 100% happy at Davis, and I’m not 100% happy climbing hard in Spain… so I really still am searching for that balance in my life that creates a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Obviously this is pretty much everyone’s life goal (or should be) so I’m not expecting to find it just yet. I suppose I’m just nothing to myself that it’s been on my mind a lot more recently.
However, going through a cyclical pattern of both motivation and strength is natural and, quite honestly, I like it. It encourages trying different things, allows you to spend some time reflecting (by writing really delayed blog posts instead of doing your statistics homework) and it also signals to me that I tried really damn hard because I most definitely am in need a break, emotionally and physically.
Almost two weeks later (when I wrote those, though I published about a month later) I still feel a bit beat down. What I would really like is a vacation from my vacation, but alas the five courses I’m taking this quarter make that kind of hard. I’ve decided, though, that I will run my first half marathon in April so I will start getting busy training for that. I also have a very minor finger strain (as mentioned, left ring finger. Minor A2 Pulley strain), so I’m going to be taking at least a month off, probably 5-6 weeks. It’s a super small injury but I want to make sure it heals up 100%. Plus, a break just sounds so appealing right now- time to try some new things and revisit some interests I’ve always put on the back-burner because I’ve been busy climbing.. and relax! I feel no pressure to be strong right now after such a successful trip. The plan is to start climbing again in early February, and start a training plan in the beginning of March to be fit for May. Since then I’ve gone hiking, cycling, birding, played my piano more.. etc. It really is eye-opening how much stuff you can do when you’re not climbing all the time!
(but don’t worry.. I’ll be back, stronger than ever ! )
Some photos from my recent, more local trips 🙂
Really though what I’ve enjoyed the most is using my new binoculars I got for Christmas (thanks mom and dad) to go out and do a bunch of birding-because really , beneath this exterior that I try to maintain of a mediocre sport climber.. I’m a 90 year old British woman who just wants to drink tea and go look at finches.
Hasta pronto, WordPress