Even though I’ve taken a ton of buses over the years I’m quite a weakling when it comes to motion sickness especially on the narrow and windy roads in the mountains, so I listen to plenty of podcasts to pass the time when I travel. I’d been listening to an interview of Yosemite big wall hard man, John Middendorf. He designed the A-frame portaledge and when he was younger he would pitch his tent in the wettest, most uneven ditch he could find. He never wanted a comfortable night because he thought he’d become soft for the big mountains. Neither Marine or I were in that mindset of suffering our way through Catalonia, but we got it anyway.
The Arctic winter winds and rainfall that would make any Cape Townion salivate made us abandon Siurana and make the hour long journey to another pretty well known place, Margalef.
It’s known for being steep, staunch and home to some of the hardest routes in the world like Shama’s First Round First Minute, which is far shorter than expected after all the wide-angle videos of it. It’s like high-ball kind of height.
We arrived to a deserted campsite that sits in the middle of the town and resembles a parking-lot more than a real campsite , but we were both happy to get out of the rainy dust hole of Siurana and into a place where the weather looked more promising and the climbing more pleasant.
We woke to a cold, cloudy overcast sky, but it was definitely climbable so we raced off. My flu wasn’t getting that much better, so I pounded an ibuprofen and we hiked up from the turquoise lake that a number of the world-class crags look over.
We found a warm-up crag. A funky technical slab, sheltered from the full intensity of the wind. The rock looks like some disgruntled Spaniard took an AR15 assault rifle to the walls, creating beautiful two finger pockets everywhere. The slabs were interesting and got us thinking. After a couple of routes we were warmed up enough to engage some more impressive lines. We moved to a crag that was steep and powerful. 7b+/7c is where I felt the real aggression and appeal of the area and I got my ass kicked and realized that I really need to hang -board more. The nice thing about going to Spain in the off-season though is the lack of crowds. If you’re willing to deal with the cold and bounce around to sunnier crags, you are bound to have a lot of fun. That being said, give yourself a lot of time (something we didn’t have).
The rains came and that afternoon and we returned feeling satisfied and thirsty for a hot chocolate and some dry clothes. We browsed the guide that night having settled into a cozy corner of the communal room at our campsite. We dried our shoes and socks at the wood-burning stove and filled our bellies with warm drinks. I took my final and maximum dose of flu medication for the day and stumbled back to the tent. I felt bad, but we had a limited time and I thought I’d recover on our way to the Ecrins Ice Festival.
That night we settled down into our sleeping bags and the rains began. I feel like I’ve camped in some pretty hectic spots but I’m pretty sure even John Middendorf would have been worrying about drowning that evening. Thunder and lightening illuminated our bewildered faces as waves of icy rain and hail attempted to penetrate the fly-sheet of my little orange tent that had survived so much up to that point. The nylon groaned and screeched under the water pressure, but we tried to joke about the storm. An hour into the debacle we were getting wet and our inflatable mattresses were just keeping us above the layer of water that was coming through the seams and zippers.
The storm lasted into the early hours of the morning and we barely slept. The crags lay in a fog that morning and we were expecting another 2 days of heavy rain. So we packed up our stuff to check out Barcelona for an extra day.
I was pretty disappointed with the weather and only getting 2 days of climbing was definitely annoying. We packed up the drenched tent and rolled up our soggy sleeping bags. We did, however, get a taste of some of the juiciest climbing I’ve ever experienced and having someone to joke off the hard times was definitely what saved the experience.
I’ve learned a number of things: 1.) Catalonia has crap campsites and a van/camper or renting an apartment is a clever idea. 2.) Spanish isn’t that useful in Catalonia. 3.) Don’t go in Mid-winter unless you have a car and expendable time.
Next stop, ice-climbing in the Alps. Stay tuned.