Saturday, 6 April 2013

Still snowy?

I've been on a few winter-sun sport climbing trips to Spain in the last few years, always to Catalunya, always in November or December.  By the end of a week I always come home feeling keen and confident, ready to tear up the local crags, only to remember that it's mid-winter in the Highlands and you just have to take what you can get.  So, this time Nick and I booked a holiday to Chulilla in Valencia in late March, in the hope that our return would coincide with the start of Spring and the pre-midge trad season.  The success of this plan is yet to be seen, as our arrival home has been greeted with continued cold weather, morning frosts, and more snow in the forecast, but we did manage a great short trip.  I've climbed with Nick a few times at home, mainly at our local suntrap of Moy, and knew that we climbed at a similar standard, so it was great to go out with someone who was going to be keen to try the same routes.

Chulilla itself is a wee Valencian village tucked into a hillside above a huge meandering limestone gorge.  Back in the 70s and 80s it was a real destination in the European sport scene, providing loads of long, technical wall climbs, but for one reason or another it fell out of favour and people stopped going.  Perhaps peoples tastes changed for shorter, steeper routes?  Regardless, in the last few years it's had a renaissance, with locals equipping loads of new routes and re-equipping the old ones, and the gorge is starting to echo with the clamour of climbers from across Europe again.
The view from the refugio

Our mates Rich and Lee were already out when we arrived so they were able to give us the lowdown on crags to visit and routes to try (or avoid - the new guide still uses the old school grades for the old school crags, beware!).  Like us, they were staying in one-time World Bouldering Champ Pedro Pons' nice new refugio El Altico, which is stunningly situated, looking out across the gorge.  Nick and I spent most of out time trying to onsight and flash routes, with a couple of specific projecting sessions thrown in, and ended up climbing almost exclusively at the three sectors called El Oasis, Pared de Enfrente and Sex Shop (not sure why it's called that...).  I think, for once, my attempted preparation for the trip paid off a little, as I seemed to be climbing better than I have done before - perhaps the long pitches are quite forgiving for the grade?  Regardless, it felt great to have the confidence to just step up to routes and try them, rather than going through the regular mental turmoil.  Highlights for me were the long 6c crack El Diagonal, the horrid-looking but amazing climbing 6c Presiscrack, flashing the lovely techy 7as Plan Z and Top of the Rock, onsighting the 7a Super Furry Animal, which has it's tough tufa crux right at the end, and redpointing the superb 7b Dale Duro Negro.  Nick did this last route on his first redpoint, but I had to plump for second go after falling from the very last move of it's 35m length on my first go.  Punter!

Nick's arse emerging from a resting hole on El Diagonal.

A very small-looking Lee on a very long looking El Ramaller, 7c+
A week has already passed since we got back, and between work, the cold and family commitments I've not been able to make use of my Spanish stamina.  However, a very early start this morning saw me at the Ruthven boulder as the sun came up and I finally dispatched the horrid grovel-fest that is Barry Manilow, the 7A+ mantel that I've been trying on and off for ages, and I was home by eight o'clock and ready for a day of family fun.  Result...