This spring, from March 26th until May 14th, Touchstone climber Ethan Pringle headed to the Spanish of Oliana for some of the incredible climbing. Pringle crushed the sport routes on the steep rock and wrote a bit about his trip for the blog.
So… Oliana! First off, I was supposed to leave Spain on April 30th with most of our American crew, but I decided extend my trip for two extra weeks to climb at Oliana, and Walker did the same. Unfortunately it rained for like four days straight right before we moved from Magalef to Oliana, so a bunch of the cliff was drenched when we got there, but it dries relatively quickly.
The one route I wanted to do most during out last two weeks in Oliana was the 9a+ Sharma route ‘Papichulo’. I’d worked on it a little bit in April during a ‘weekend trip’ from Margalef to Oliana, but hadn’t invested much time into it yet. Still, it felt like something I might be able to climb relatively quickly if I discovered all the best beta and lucked out with the conditions.
But Papichulo was soaked after that rainy spell so I decided to put my draws on a route I’d belayed Chris on the first ascent of two years previous, a route labeled the “Maroncita Extension”, checking in at 8c+. I had also gone up this extension once after having done Maroncita (8b) on my previous trip two years earlier, just to check out the moves, and I was instantly inspired by the uniqueness of the climbing and the beauty of the line. Maroncita itself is probably the best 8b in Oliana, maybe one of the best in Spain,featuring big fun moves between good holds that get you pretty pumped, but without many good rests. The ending of Maroncita isn’t very obvious though, as the holds just seem to get smaller and smaller and there isn’t really a big, obvious hold to clip the anchors from, though there is a pretty decent knee-bar that I wore a pad for.
It felt good to have Maroncita so dialed after a few laps on it that I could climb it without getting very pumped at all. Above the anchors is the crux boulder problem of the extension: from a slopey crimp-rail, you have to get your feet really high, grab a really small three finger gaston thumbdercling, then stand way up and do a huge stab to a spikey, slopey rail… then you have to bump even further to the better part of the rail and match. The moves after that get easier but you could easily fall if you were too pumped… fortunately I didn’t. I fell from the Thumbdercling moves a few times, then after about six tries on the route, on a cold and windy day, I stuck that move with authority and confidence and went to the top. It felt great to do such an improbable boulder problem so high off the ground after so much climbing!
After the Maroncita Extension I was ready to start trying Papichulo again, but the temps warmed way up and Papichulo is impossible in hot weather because of all the super textured crimps and pinches- it needs to be cold- so I decided to throw in the towel on Papi for the trip and just bang out some other slightly easier routes before leaving. I didn’t feel too bad about not trying Papi any more… I wasn’t really in love with the route as much as I should have been on a route I would potentially invest two or three weeks into.
I decided to try to redpoint a route Joe Kinder bolted, but was first climbed by Sharma. Joe Blau (8c+) has seen quite a few repeats in the short two years since it’s first ascent (maybe 8 people including Joe himself, and basically an onsight by Adam Ondra). It links into the top of Papichulo, so it’s basically an easier start to Papichulo with bigger holds and slightly easier, more fun moves. At first Joe Blau felt really hard but it was like 80 degrees in Oliana at that point so everything felt really hard. I put a few working burns on it and quickly unlocked the best sequence for me. I kept refining my beta on every burn and after a few days of hot and humid weather, a fresh high pressure front rolled in and cooled things down.
Walker dispatched Paper Mullet (8b+) on the first cold day and the next day I gave Joe Blau a couple of honest red-point burns. On my first go of the day I still felt a little stiff and not very warmed up (it’s hard to warm up for the pure power endurance routes at Oliana!), and I ended up falling about mid way through the crux when my right hand was too pumped to hang onto this slopey side-pull pinch. I realized that I needed my right arm to be less pumped on those moves since most of the bad holds are with that hand. On my next try I felt much better on the opening boulder problem, more confident and relaxed, and the cold breeze was keeping my skin cool and sweat free. I focused on my breath and on shaking out my right arm as much as I could in the bad knee-bar rest before the crux. I climbed as smoothly as possible through the crux section, continuing to shake my right arm and ended up skipping two bolts in a row without even really noticing it. The crux didn’t even feel too hard and I finally came to the dyno that marks the end of the most of the hardest climbing. I caught the dyno with ease and continued to the juggier holds up higher. Even though the route gets easier after that section, you could easily still fall higher up because though the holds improve a lot, the moves are still big and none of the rests are stellar.
There is one final slab crux at the top, but I had it so dialed in at that point it didn’t feel too bad and soon I found myself pulling onto the final slab and clipping the anchors! I felt pretty satisfied and happy I’d climbed my second 8c+ in ten days, this one I’d finished in about the same number of tries as the last. I was also a little sad because it was such a fun route to climb on, and I knew there couldn’t be many other routes at Oliana of that difficulty that could be as much fun! On Monday, May 13th, out last day in Oiana, I wanted to finally try a route I’d been watching people (including Walker) try the whole time I was there- an 8c called Fish Eye that many strong men and women have compleated, but one that still hadn’t seen a first try ascent (although Ondra climbed it first try after having not been on it for like three years or something… of course). I hadn’t ever tried the route before so I figured I should at least give it a good flash attempt even though I didn’t actually expect to do it. The route suited me well, featuring some powerful but mostly straight forward boulder problems with good rests in between and good feet to stand on, but it’s LONG- about 45 meters total. Walker sprayed me down with the beta as I went, getting higher and higher through more and more cruxy sections, but getting exponentially more pumped as I climbed.
I knew that there was a hard vertical crux at the top with some bad crimpers, that came after about 40 meters of climbing. When I arrived at this crux I was so pumped, but determined to hang on with every ounce of energy I had… unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough and I pitched off from the wall just below the last bolt… Gaaahh! So close, and yet so far… I figured out some beta different from Walkers that felt a little bit easier, but on my second try that day from the bottom I messed up the beta just a little bit and pumped off again.
I was totally fatigued after that, but the route was so fun that I gave it yet another attempt from the ground and this time I didn’t even have the energy to do a hard tension crux half way up the wall that I’d gotten though on my first two tries… That night we ate our last dinner in spain and drank heartily, knowing that we wouldn’t be back for some time but also knowing that we would definitely be back someday. After cleaning up the apartment, packing my bags and taking one last shower, it was almost time to “wake up” again and drive to the airport, but I couldn’t really sleep from the anxiousness of imminent international travel, so instead I downloaded almost every Enormocast podcast and queued them up on my iPhone. A few hours later Corinne, Walker and I were all piled into the little black rental car (nicknamed ‘Pera Negra’), speeding towards Barcelona and listening to a hilarious interview with a Mr. James Lucas. We laughed a lot on that drive, partly out of insane deliriousness and partly out of James’ one liners.
We watched the sunset as we pulled into BCN, feeling a mixture of regret to be leaving the climbing mecca of Catalonia behind, and readiness for the start of the next chapter.