Brandy in Spain

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“Spain is wonderful! Nate and I have become the most active winos we know,” I said, slurring slightly, to our new Australian friend Matt.

While I was half-joking at the time that this would be the first line of the impending Touchstone Blog article, I knew that half-joking statements sometimes wind up being entirely serious truths, and there was no greater truth in Spain than that statement.

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My friend Nate Reed from Colorado signed on to the idea of traveling to Spain, although he had broken his hand 9 months prior to the trip in a skiing accident and was still on the mend, whereas I had neglected my training schedule due to a career change and wasn’t climbing too often. We were walking into the land where climbing dreams were born as two people recovering from physical and workload ailments, but we went in with the intent to have a good time, maybe do a couple of routes per day, and eat a lot of good food.

After a few days in Barcelona, a lot of delicious food and wine, and a visit to Sharma Climbing, we were ready to get out of the city. The main building of the Siurana campground doubles as a warm restaurant/bar, the camping is €7 per night and the meals are both good and reasonably priced (about €10). Siurana was mainly bolted by a man named Toni, who is often walking around the restaurant at night. He’s super approachable and is always good for a crag suggestion.

Every day we went to a new crag, and besides one dirty, chossy climb, we were always blown away by how fun each route was. We met Matt, a well-traveled Australian climber who quickly became a great addition to our dinner table, a hilarious group of Germans, some couples from the United States, and a lone man from Canada named James who I believe was once some sort of benevolent pirate.

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The town of Siurana sits high on the edge of a bluff that overlooks a lake, a larger town, the Spanish wine country of Mont Sant, and an endless ribbon of limestone that curls around the horizon. There are a couple of small restaurants with reasonably priced food and a stellar view of the surrounding area, as well as a lot of hiking opportunities for anyone wanting a more active rest day.

The climbing is excellent here. The movement is more on the side of delicate and technical rather than powerful and pumpy. We often warmed up on 5’s and 6a’s (5.7-5.10a) and worked within the 6b+ (5.11a) and below range. Having 5.9’s on the same wall as a 5.14 is not far from reality here, and climbing hard is not an uncommon thing in Spain. I was very impressed by how much humility and friendliness I encountered by all levels of climbers that I met. This is a pleasant reminder that egos in the rock climbing community are easily fueled, but should always be tempered with the fact that there are a surprising number of people in the world who will be warming up on something that can only be described as “stupidly difficult”…and they’re all going to be really supportive of whatever you find yourself trying.

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We said goodbye to Siurana after a week, parting for Oliana with an epic wine and ice cream feast that fit well into the entire magical experience of the trip. Two of my friends that I’d met in Yangshuo were also going to be staying at my friend’s house in Oliana, making for an unexpected, fun reunion. I claimed the 4th floor bedroom which had a huge bed and a quaint porch overlooking a cobblestone street and some surrounding hills; this was the most royal accommodation that I have had while on a climbing trip. I will remember it fondly on my next trip when I’m sleeping on the dirt in a thinning down bag.

We arrived the night of a local climbing festival, and the main event was a contest where competitors would be dynoing to a large jamón (Spanish ham). The first person to successfully hold on to the jamón would win the entire piece of meat as a prize. The festival commenced with a weird, drawn out infomercial about a bag that is meant to hold your poop while in the woods, followed by a movie about Spanish alpinists, beer and food, the dyno contest (yes, I DID make a bid for the jamón…let’s just say dynamic climbing isn’t my thing), and a reggae/ska band made up of a flute, oboe, and guitar.

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The next day we headed to the Oliana crag, which houses La Dura Dura, the hardest sport climb in the world, and acts as a playground for those looking to push their grades to 5.14 and beyond. The climbing in this area is generally believed to be a lot harder than most other places. While that isn’t a false statement (the area houses more 5.15’s in one bluff line than there are in the entirety of North America), it isn’t exactly true either: there are a TON of crags, and there were a lot of great moderate climbs at each one of these.

At the Perles crag, Nathan had his eyes on flashing a 7c (5.12d), which he did beautifully! I followed Nathan up the climb, and after falling off at nearly every bolt I reached the top. This was one of the most interesting climbs I’ve ever done, and one of my personal best. 

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Nate left the next day to return to Colorado and I stayed in Oliana. My friend Harriet and I went to a crag where her project was, and where she tried to talk me into a flash attempt. My tips had barely recovered from the 7c and I was fighting off illness, but I ended up flashing it! It felt AWESOME, especially after having gotten shut down on climbs ever since my arrival to the area. Harriet made some really inspiring progress, which made the day incredible all around! The next day was my last, so we went back to that same crag and had a great ladies session.

All in all, I think that Spain has the best single pitch sport climbing that I have ever done, and that when it comes to the grades and fun (most important!), this was the most successful climbing trip I’ve ever had.

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Here’s the ultra beta for climbing in Spain:

  1. Rental cars are fairly cheap. I used to book mine. Don’t buy an insurance plan until you get to the rental agency unless you can book a non-3rd party insurance policy before you get there. Plan on having at least $1500-2000 on a major credit card available so that there are no issues with your deposit. It’s only a retaining fee, but it does need to be available in your account.
  2. If you are going to Oliana, the car is essential. It is however possible to bus to Siurana, and once you get there everything is a fairly short hike away from the main campground.
  3. Red wine is “tinto.” Order a bottle! Nate and I drank about a bottle each per night and only saw improvement in our climbing. Is it a health drink? Maybe! It’s easily under €8 for a good bottle, so make friends with the Australians or Germans at the table next to yours ask them what they did that day.
  4. All of the places in this post were dominated by the Catalan language. Start with English, move to Spanish, and if you are flailing at Catalan pronunciation, keep in mind that charades is a fun and useful game to play in all countries.
  5. Jamón, cheese, and bread with tomato: BAM. Crag meal! Order 100g of jamón and 50g of cabra (goat cheese) from the deli, a baguette from the bakery, and some tomatoes/condiments at the grocery store and you’re set. Also, if you are in Oliana, seek out the chocolate-covered fried croissants.
  6. If you can find some banana colored linen beach pants that are reinforced somehow to deal with the wear of adventuring, you will fit in perfectly. Bright pants are the name of the game in Spain.
  7. If you are staying for under a month, don’t take on a project. Unless you are looking to do hard 5.12 and up, don’t sacrifice a lot of great climbing for just one route!
  8. Push yourself to try hard and always be supportive of others who are too! You might surprise yourself and you’ll make friends doing it.