Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The blog that time forgot.

Winter embraced us early this season, taking the PNW from indian summer bliss, to months of classic drudgery, with abundant rain, and brown leaves, sodden-- cloaking the ground like an autumn memorial.  

Post summer break had been a much needed respite for myself, and this transition left me pining for more trips to the mountains and crags.  But like a switch, our endless streak of sun blurred into endless days of rain. Reluctantly, I eased my grip on climbing, shifting gears once again.

This change coincided seamlessly with the onset of another academic quarter.  As the days trickled by, I became absorbed in the diurnal cycle of study, learning all about the power of kinematic equations, and the complexity of human anatomy.  From classroom windows I would gaze out through water streaked glass at dark skies, recalling the fading memories of glory days gone by.

It was early November, late in the evening,  and Friday as I recall; it had been a long day filled with class and an evening shift at Marmot.  Tiff picked me up at work.  As we exited the shop she said abruptly, "let's go to Spain", amidst the deluge and blearing horns of Bellevue traffic.  Golden trumpets erupted in my mind as I saw visions of Spanish tufas, rest days spent wandering old european style villages, and vistas far removed from the familiar.  Nonchalantly, I said, "alright", while a wave of smile slowly rolled across my face.

Within the week, we had purchased tickets to Barcelona and procured lodging, and the world seemed a little brighter in my universe.

Despite the rain, I desperately needed to get into shape.  For anyone familiar with the Seattle climbing scene, when the fall season is over, its really over.  With Smith Rocks inconsistent at best, and 6 hours to the South, the inside of the climbing gyms starts looking realllly good.

Much to my stoke, at this time the Vertical World offered to sponsor my training, and for that I'm psyched and truly grateful.  The Seattle gym offers walls that are much taller than any other gym around; and training endurance here is possible.  After many winters spent in Seattle, hobnobbing the circuit of gyms, I have found a place to train for outdoor routes.  At the VW, movement matters.  There is texture when you need it.  But more importantly, the route setters take time to meticulously incorporate footholds instead of them being an afterthought.  My hat goes off to Tyson and his team of genius setters.

For five weeks I trained furiously.  The days leading up to Spain were packed.  During finals week we moved all our stuff into storage, with the plan of finding alternative housing options upon our return.  As we boarded our flight to Barcelona, I already felt spent, but happy to have made it through the previous weeks turbulence.

20 hours later we checked into the Medium City hotel near Sants Station Barcelona.  I hadn't slept in 26 hours and my eyes were bloodshot.  After a two hour nap, we dragged ourselves out of bed and met up with Greg Collum.

Greg lived for many years in Seattle and is responsible for scores of desperate first ascents at Index.  Living in Spain now, he owns a wonderful house in Cornedulla de Montsant that he rents to climbers.  For anyone visiting the areas of Siurana, Montsant, and Margalef, his house is perfect, and little more than a stone's throw from Siurana.  Greg graciously went out of his way for us, providing us with information on places to eat,  directions, and insight that would serve us well during our holiday.

For us, grin, Catalunya was the perfect December escape.  Every morning we would walk down to a little cafe and have coffee and a chocolate croissant.  Daytime high's averaged 60 Fahrenheit, the perfect tonic for two rain weary Washingtonians.

Most of our climbing days were dolled out in Siurana, 15 minutes away.  This sport climbing venue has a long-standing history and tradition for crimpy vertical climbing, much like Smith.  Looking for something of less familiar stock,  I wound up trying Kale Borroka (8B+).  This gorgeous route cuts a steep wave-like roof of orange limestone and stretches almost 40 meters to its anchor.  During my second day I went up and took a look, finding reasonable sequences, and perfect endurance climbing.  It was love.  Unfortunately, it was love also for many other climbers.  Resultantly, some days I could only squeeze in one or two tries.

But, I'm pretty stubborn, and my persistence eventually paid off.  Most of our climbing days were filled with rope stretching 5.11's which gave us plenty of variety and mileage.  Of course, we reveled in the sunshine, every minute of it.

I so love this.

Main street in Cornedulla de Montsant

Farmer's market in Cornedulla.

Raco de Misa, Montsant

Mom, I'm only joking here.
A nice hike with Raco de Misa sector in the far distance.

One aspect that we both really enjoyed was the National Park of Montsant.  The hiking and climbing are both fantastic.  Two of our days were spent up at Raco de Misa, a tall wall lining the mountain top, riddled in pockets.  I'd highly recommend this to anyone who like to get a nice hike, view, and climbing destination in one package.

Also, if you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, be sure to stop by the quaint town of Cartoixa where El Rebost de la Cartoixa can be found.  We both ate a 3 course meal for around 10 euro each.  It was delicious.
The olympics grounds, Barcelona.

This is the view from our rental house in Cornedulla de Montsant with the church in the background.  The lights of Siurana can be seen in the far distance.

After ten days, Tiff had to fly back home for work, leaving me solo.  We drove our rental car back to Barcelona on Christmas Eve and did some more sightseeing.  

The subway made getting in and out of the city a cinch, and we only wish that we had such infrastructure back home.  Though we're huge proponents of riding the metro around Seattle, it can be hard to trade a 10 minute car ride for 40 minutes in a bus.  

The next morning I woke up alone.  For seasoned travelers this is probably no big deal.  But, honestly, I was nervous about navigating my way back to Cornedulla.  We had an easy enough time getting lost with one of us driving and the other one looking at a map.  With just me, I decided to memorize the directions.  Here's some advice, if the rental guy asks if you want the GPS thing, just say yes.

With a hardy buffet under my belt, I checked out of our hotel and hit the road, which thankfully was mostly barren.

Having arrived safely back in Cornedulla, I had another ten days in Spain before my flight left.  At this point, I had still to wrap up Kale Borroka, though I had managed to get past the crux only to fall off afterwards.  I wasn't feeling any serious pressure.  I've long since abandoned the feeling that I absolutely have to finish every route I start.  Yeah, I've got projects all over North America that I'll never send.  But, I was optimistic that I might finish this one yet.

For the remainder of my climbing days, which amounted to roughly 4, I climbed with some really nice guys from Slovenia, Zan & Gregor, Lucas from Austria, Markus from Germany and many others.  It was so inspiring to be around such an international group of climbers.  Within a couple more goes I finished off Kale Borroka.  A wonderful route and my 14th route in the 5.14- grade.  There's a great video of Alizee Dufraisse climbing it here

Gregor almost 8b onsight.

     The day before New Years I went back to Siurana.  Having finished my project and feeling in good shape.  I decided to have a look at another 8b+ called Migranya Profunda.  Alex, an exceptionally gifted (shorter) climber had done the route the year before.  So, I decided it might be possible.

Within 20 minutes I had done all the moves to the 5th bolt, which comprises the crux.  I was psyched. But, there was one really, I mean really long for me move to the left.  I had done the move once, but on the second try disaster struck.  While using a deep left drop-knee I went too far and my knee suddenly imploded.  It was gunshot quality.  People 100 feet down the cliffside could hear the ricochet.  Needless to say, I blew out my MCL and spent the remaining five days on Greg's couch, while I awaited my departure date.  I read 3 books and watched Greg's entire library of movies; so, it could have been worse.  

Two months later, I've just had my second day back in the  climbing gym.  Doctors say that the MCL will be better in another month and that there is no torn meniscus, so that is a relief.  On a positive note, I'm almost done with all my pre-requirement coursework, and am looking forward to applying to PT schools this next academic year.  

With that I'll say adieu, and leave you with a parting shot of one of my favorite places.  Looking forward to finding some new adventure on these old walls, Index.