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Viva España

Submitted by sonso45 on 2009-07-08

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by M. Rangel

By Manny Rangel

I have enjoyed the numerous articles and photos published about climbing in Spain for a long time. I spent several days there a couple of years ago but only managed to climb a few routes in Rodellar and one in Riglos. Rodellar has become a popular destination due to its hard sport routes protected with modern hardware on steep limestone. Riglos, populated with huge towers of limestone conglomerate, has some routes that hold fast to the school of thought that protection is secondary to ability. The leader-must-not-fall ethic is still alive there! With so many areas and diverse styles of climbing found in Spain, you can find any number of ways to challenge yourself. I had to go back to see and feel more rock. I wanted to climb some of the classics that shaped Spanish climbing.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of climbing in Arizona with Marc Vilaplana while he was on an extended road trip in the western US. He lives near Vic, just north of Barcelona, in Catalunya. With the tough economic times hitting globally, he lost his job and had some time off. With all that time to spare, he agreed to show me some of the areas I saw on his blog.

When I arrive in Barcelona on May 26th I rent a car for a trip on my own to Siurana. Marc can’t join me for the first week of my trip; he has family duties to attend to. While there, I climb with Patrick Cabio, Natalie, Loic and Ludo of St. Ferreol, France. They operate an adventure company, Le Bivouac, in southern France. We climb at sector El Pati, home of the first 9a/5.15a, La Rambla. Fortunately, the rock is quite varied and we climb easier routes nearby. Here is a photo of Natalie flying off a 7c/5.12d:

Loic led this fun and relatively easy route, a 6a around the corner from sector El Pati:

The rock is superb limestone with pockets, edges and anything else you can find on limestone. The bolts are generally beefy and confidence-inspiring, allowing you to go for it. I meet a few other folks and have a great time at Camping Siurana. I find out the new guidebook is almost finished and will cover nearby areas as well. Good thing, because visible across the valley is Monsant, another awesome area. I do not get to climb there because it’s too hot and there is a lack of partners willing to suffer.

On a rest day I drive to nearby Margalef, an area of many limestone conglomerate crags. The climbing is on pockets left when the pebbles and chunks fall out. It’s a short drive through some beautiful scenery from Siurana, which alone was worth the trip. I took photos of Marta and her husband, Felipe working on Dr. Feelgood 8a/5.13b:

I also get to spend time with Greg Collum and his family in Cornudella, the village below Siurana, at a festival and wine tasting. For six euros you get a bottle of wine, bread, snails and mountain rice. I’ve never eaten snails and I’m not too thrilled, but it’s very tasty and the crowd of people is just fantastic. Here are the local chefs preparing the snails with lots of brandy. Here, local chefs prepare snails with lots of brandy.

Greg Collum, developer of many routes in Tonsai, Thailand and elsewhere around the world, enjoys some of those same snails:

Finally, I meet Marc in Barcelona and we drive north to the Pyrenees for a visit to Ordesa, Spain’s first national park. The nearest town is Torla, a touristy village with a climbing shop and a cheap hostel, the Atalaya, where we find a dorm for 10 euros and a kitchen to prepare our tasty rice and veggies.

Ordesa’s routes are impressive and big, at least 1,500’ tall and capped by huge unclimbed limestone walls. I feel as if I am in the Rockies of Colorado. The route we have come to do is the Rabada-Navarro on the Gallinero, a large buttress of calcareous rock, a very hard limestone that looks like sandstone.

Here’s the buttress as seen from the descent:

Most of the route is blocky and ledgey, protected by traditional gear such as nuts and cams supplemented by old pitons. Here’s Marc following me on the first third of the route:

Our plan is to do the direct variation (6c/5.11b), which takes a straight line, instead of the original route, which makes a long traverse right then back left on easy terrain. The crux is an overhanging seam with some pitons. Occasionally it opens for fingers and with some stemming. It goes, but it’s definitely a strenuous pitch. The pitch finishes with a rightward traverse about 30’ to a tree. Marc pulls through cleanly and when I get to the unprotected traverse, I do to, thus avoiding a bone-crunching pendulum. Very committing and wonderfully scary, I just wish someone had pounded a bolt in there somewhere. Above this we finally get to a nice big ledge below the finishing wide pitches where we enjoy lunch. Visible behind me is the waterfall we walk next to on the descent:

Marc takes off on the last hard pitch (5.10+) above our lunch ledge. After this, all we have to do is some clean chimneys and a 4th class pitch to the summit:

We top out and march our way down, sometimes within a couple of feet of the 1,500’ escarpment. Our walk takes us past a lot of unclimbed rock as it descends next to the huge waterfall. After an illegal and late night road-side bivvy we head to Riglos to climb some of the great towers (called Mallos). This small town lies on the flanks of 1,000’ walls of conglomerate limestone. It is stable and well worn due to its popularity and ease of access; it has been a climbing destination since the 1950s! In the village, you have two choices for a place to stay, the recently opened refugio and El Puro Bar/Hostal. Reservations are strongly suggested. If you need to bivvy, you can do so discreetly at the base of the Mallo Pison; since camping is not allowed you can’t leave a tent. We climbed the Visera , El Puro (a 500’ pinnacle stuck on the Mallo Pison) and Fire Spire:

The first day we climb Fiesta de los Biceps 7a/5.11d, 850', eight pitches, on La Visera. This route requires climbing quite a distance between bolts on every pitch, sometimes up to 20’ apart. You have to feel comfortable going for it. Fiesta was recently rebolted with new hardware; I might have let my partner drag me up it if it was protected with the original spits (self-drilling bolts, which are one inch deep).

Marc is just pulling into the start of the overhanging portion of the wall, note how far the coiled rope dangles away from the wall:

Here he is in the middle of the three most overhung pitches belaying me off a very large protruding tongue of rock:

The Fiesta de los Biceps remains a challenge to the end. The last pitch is a tad runout and route finding is critical to bypass the last bulge, especially since you do the moves quite a ways past the bolt. It’s nice to top out this long-standing dream of mine. The view is stupendous with the Gallegos River. Farms and vineyards catch my eye as I belay Marc.

Next day we climb El Puro (The Cigar), a 500’ climb on the left side of Mallo Pison capped by a three pitch tower. You have to love approaches that require sandals. I stop to shoot Marc as I run the first two pitches together:

I’m grabbing more big holds as I pull onto the next to last pitch, which is the crux. Look closely at the holds, they really are good, solid and easy to grab:

The last climb we did in Riglos was the Rabada-Navarro, 6b/5.10c R, 1100’, 11 pitches, on the Fire Spire. Some of you older folks may remember the first really great sticky rubber shoes that were the forerunners for our modern footwear, Boreal’s Fire boot. It was named after this spire. It was first climbed by Rabada-Navarro, the prolific team that perished in 1963 on the Eiger North Face. They used techniques like shoulder stands back then and this explains the location of some of the fixed protection. Unless you use that technique, you end up doing some fairly committing climbing on this route to reach the fixed protection (sometimes original homemade 1950's era). The line wanders back and forth along the southern prow of this 1,000’ spire, as it threads its way around some of the bulges. It’s not easy to follow and we are lucky to have along Armand Ballart, prolific first ascensionist and Spanish climbing magazine contributor. He has climbed this route nearly 50 times. When he found out where I was from, he asked to come along because he’d "never done the route with someone from Arizona." We were lucky to have him with us. Here he’s belaying Marc on another runout search for protection:

I can’t say enough about what a nice guy Armand is and how comfortable he was on the route. He’s traversing along quite a ways looking for a way around yet another bulge; note the approach shoes:

We lead in blocks and I get the more straightforward finishing pitches. Armand says, “These pitches go mostly straight up. Look for the pitons.” And so I do, literally. A tad fazed by the ancient and spacey protection, I end up off route, looking for protection on a bulge. Armand looks up while chatting with Marc and informs me I’ve passed the anchor by about 20’. I respond that I can’t downclimb (my last rusty shallow piton is beneath me about 10’ below the bulge) so I forget about fiddling with protection. Luckily my forearms holdout and I find the first bomber anchors at the end of the route. Yay! Marc follows and gives me a big smile; he’s wanted this route a long time too:

The route is visible on the left skyline of the Fire Spire. A proud line that I will cherish forever, I was glad to have Armand with us. I may return for it, but then again, maybe this time once is enough.

The weather turns cloudy and spits a bit of rain on us, causing us to change plans. We abandon a trip to Picos de Europa and the third classic Rabada-Navarro route on Naranjo de Bulnes, because we don’t want to wait out storms in the mountains. Instead, Marc suggests his favorite area, Montrebei/Paret de Catalunya, a limestone crag a few hours away. Only one route is totally bolt protected and it was opened ground up. The others are protected traditionally by nuts and cams and some pitons. On some routes the pitons are removed and you are required to bring a selection for those lines. Marc chooses a line with pitons left in situ: Latin Brothers, 7a/5.11d (or 5.8, A1), 1600’, 15 pitches long. Marc copies the topo, available at the local café in Ager, where we eat some tasty “burguers,” a nice change from the ubiquitous ham sandwiches. We arrive at night and I see a huge line of cliffs shadowed by starlight above our camp. Next morning, Marc leads on and after a 20-minute walk we are racking up at the base of this west-facing wall. It begins a bit bushy and quickly steepens. Marc and I finally clear the easier ledgey bottom:

The line has a few traverses to link crack systems. The crux is a thin finger crack on rock that looks like the worst on the route so far. Marc fires it cleanly and as I follow, I note my initial impression is wrong. The rock is sound and has been cleaned sufficiently. The next pitch is also hard, an uncharacteristically wide, smooth crack, which narrows to a thin hands move onto a steep face. I don’t get it clean, but I put in an effort anyways. After that it’s a cruise. The climbing continues to get more relaxing as we near the top.

Marc following with the river below:

After climbing at another area, Vilanova de Meia, where we run up a five-pitch sport route, La Taca de Romescu, 6c/5.11b, 600’, Marc gets a call from his friends to meet them at a festival in Berga called La Patum. We quickly descend the 500’ wall and sadly walk away. I’ll have to come back; the rock is some of the best I’ve climbed in Spain.

However, La Patum turns out to be quite a party. Giant statues of ancient kings and queens, flame throwing leaf-covered imps showering the crowd with fire and a nine foot fire-breathing dragon (it poked its fiery head into the tavern I was hiding in) made this a highlight of my trip. I would go back for that one:

The last area we visit is Montserrat, a mountain known by most people for the monastery on its flanks. Just north of Barcelona and an easy train ride from town, it is a very popular and spectacular area. Generally, it is divided into southern and northern areas, the latter being shady and climbable in summer. After looking at our options for longer routes we settle on Cavall Bernat, a 900’ tall pinnacle (and Lotus on Paret de l’Aeri just left of the antennas in the photo) dominating the northern skyline:

We choose the route Puigmal because it has an overhanging “crack” splitting the center of its northern aspect. The route goes up the left skyline:

Marc knows I like cracks of all kinds and this one has some qualities I enjoy: wide and overhung in spots. I agree to give it a go. We kind of ignore the finishing pitches’ grade (7a/5.12ish or A1). It is a warm afternoon when we begin our approach in the Refugio Santa Cecelia. When we arrive at the correct gulley, we chug up slabs, some with fixed lines to a tree-lined crack. We stop just short of the first anchors so I can belay in the leafy shade and Marc takes off up the wide crack. Easy enough, we cruise up a couple of pitches until the business, an overhung crack that protects well with #3 and #4 Camalots, plus a ratty sling wrapped around yet another puente (bridge) that protects the final moves over the bulge. I sack-up and land on a small ledge after some hard 5.10+ moves. Since I don’t read Catalan, Marc chose the rack based on the guide’s recommendations and we did not bring the C3s. As I stand on the ledge, several feet above the ratty sling, I look for protection in the “crack” that is really just a groove, and find nothing I expected. I mutter some unrepeatable phrase about moms and sex, start to freak out and recall that I am not gonna downclimb. I get a grip and look for alternatives to the perfect C3 placements in the piton holes. As I look around, I spy a couple of nut placements between protruding rocks. I get a couple of DMM Wallnuts jammed solidly. This slows me down a bit as I really don’t want to test the conglomerate’s vaunted reputation. Marc easily fishes the nuts out and gets to the belay with no problems:

The final two pitches have some very difficult sections, which we both aid through easily. I note the small pinches and tiny knobs that you would have to use and place it in my “way-hard” category. I get the final pitch and pull on a few bolts as well.

Topping out is fun, and the descent more so, since we miss the correct gulley and descend too far right. Getting to the Refugio is a relief – food and beer with a gorgeous view complete the day.

After resting a day we return with Papi, a friend of Marc’s that I met in Indian Creek a couple of years ago, to climb Lotus, 900’, 6b+/11a, 8 pitches. This approach is thankfully shorter. After three weeks of climbing and hiking, I’m starting to wear out a bit. Still, the initial approach involves hand over hand cable pulling for a few hundred feet to reach the base of the route proper:

Papi has already climbed the route and he’s only along for a good time. Unlike Puigmal, Lotus is a totally bolt-protected line, although the bolts are a bit far apart. In fact the bolts (and rock) on this route are quite good compared to some of the others I’ve clipped on this trip:

I lead one of the higher pitches, a hard 5.10 with longish spacing between bolts, and drop the ropes so I can get a staged lead shot. I want to show the nipple-pinching, thin face moves required to move from bolt to bolt. I’m not sure if the mental focus to get by is shown but you can see that the sheared off face is thin and steep on this shot of Papi leading:

The route finishes with another overhung crack protected by pitons and even older bolts/spits, which my friends were kind enough to save for me, the visiting American, from the land of crack climbers. If I had only liebacked the thing, I would have gotten it cleanly but being the scared Americano, I try to find secure jams and ended up hanging a bit at the lip until I see the sequence and just pull through to easy ground. It’s a fine finish to a great route. I highly recommend it for those of you wanting a representative route in Montserrat. Of course, Papi and Marc both pull through with no problems:

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Catalunya and Aragon, two provinces in Spain with some awesome and accessible rock populated with great people. Almost all of the rock I climbed or photographed was limestone or limestone conglomerate. Sometimes the protection was old and picturesque and other times it was bomber even by USA standards. Camping is an issue since there is virtually no free camping anywhere. However, reasonable accommodations are easily found. Some of the other areas I didn’t climb, but visited on rest days await my return. Places like Pedra Forca and Montgrony just spoke to me, and they said, “Come back.” I finished the trip with my two sons, Estevan and Emilio, who I met in Barcelona. We flew to Mallorca and spent some time deep water soloing and lounging about the beach. But that’s another story.

Trip Beta: Camping Siurana is fairly cheap, with a bar and restaurant on the premises. Greg Collum has a great house to rent in Cornudella De Montsant (town just below Siurana and Montsant) and he can be contacted by email: Refugio Atalaya is a great place to stay in Torla. Free camping is allowed in Ordesa above certain elevations. Just prior to reaching the branch trail leading to the Gallinero in Circo de Cotatuero is a hut that sleeps four comfortably (bring all you need); Summitpost Summitpost has some info. Riglos has two places to stay: Refugio de Riglos has a bed in a dorm and breakfast for 18 euros, and El Puro Bar/Hostal has rooms with or without food. The owner, Tono, a UIAA guide, can be reached by email or phone:, phone number: 974 38 31 76. Guidebooks are generally in Spanish but some guides are available in English at and Rockfax.

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23 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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Great trip report and article. Awesome photos, Manny!
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looks fantastic!
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5 out of 5 stars I love the pictures. Looks amazing.
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5 out of 5 stars Great article. Great pics! Thanks for posting this.
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OOOOOh Manny, I like un chingo the way you tell us about your trips. That one is not a exception. It inspires to me for going to Spain and climb some classics routes no only sport ones. It would be great if we share pitches, including al pinche Jaime.

great job dude!! a muerte!!
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Vamonos! Te espera Espana, Emilio!
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wow. i think i know where my next big trip is going to be!!!
Fiesta... looked great
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well done! thx-M
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5 out of 5 stars Great TR, Manny. I'm jealous.
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Everything except Ordesa is in Catalunya. It's almost "Visca Catalunya!"
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JMVC, you forgot Riglos is in Aragon! Curt, I'm trying to get a trip back in the fall.
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Nice Manny, looks & sounds like a great trip-pics are very well done, vivid & excellent color. -Catherine
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Manny, great meeting you, hope we get a chance to climb together in the fall. For info on climbing in Spain write to me at - Greg
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bad ass,when i grow up to be a real climber i want to do are great.
but wheres the women!!-chris
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5 out of 5 stars thanks
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5 out of 5 stars What a great run down of your trip. Nice job and congrats on accumulating that much vaca time :).

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agreed, awesome rock and awesome people in Spain
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wow thanks that was really cool- reglos always called me-the europa conglomerate supposingly like utah's maple canyon, where there are bigger river rocks and less mortar, you'd not want for a bolt and mother earth the ground -closer by
thanks for bringing spain home to dream about
a little different than i thought
i am jealous too
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Looks like you had an awesome trip. Thanks for posting the TR.
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Really nice photos--I've climbed at all the places except the one in the Pyrenees, and most of the routes. Fiesta di Biceps is incredible--one of the world's signature routes--a horizontal overhang of about 100 meters. Now I need to go to the Pyrenees.
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for great beta about Montserrat climbing (in english) check out:
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I think you should turn this into an article and submit it to Rock and Ice. They'd do a good job with the photos and it'd be nice to have a trip report done by someone who climbed < 5.13s (for a change). I'm serious: submit it!
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fantastic TR! thanks for taking me along!
I gotta get to Spain!!

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