Challenger year


As I'm writing this, I'm on my last leg of hideous paperwork for my British residency application. Or as they like to call it, "process of naturalisation". The Home Office doesn't intend make it easy for us foreigners to call this dear island a permanent home. 2016 was a crazy year, a lot things changed. We questioned the sanity of this world. A paradigm shift year, for the worse. Personally, there were very good things in it, like getting married and climbing some cool stuff. But in general it was a challenger year. Work dried up right after Brexit, it was a good kick in the arse to change things a little bit and diversify in the type of work I do. And the results started to show, it looks I might be designing single malt whisky labels very soon. Oh please let it be Tallisker! The shortage of my usual projects has had an effect on my climbing as no longer I can pick and choose when I work. First world problems hey? But life is still good. I might not be doing so many long haul trips in the future, which is all the same, as what I'm most psyched for is right here at home in the UK.

Climbing is always a good escape whatever gong-show is going on in the world. Three weeks in Spain over Christmas is bound to give a sharp focus in life. Visiting family, friends and climbing with my loved one in the sunshine really shows me what life is about. Which is having fun, be kind and enjoy the ride. Our trips over Christmas are always a bit of a whirlwind, juggling climbing with seeing family, friends and of course feasting on my mum's meals! This time we had the added "fun" of doing some improvements to the van, which need some extra insulation on the back doors. Oh, and the joy of getting my ID card renewed, so the Home Office can sit on it for six months for my residence permit application without impending my climbing trips by sitting on my passport instead. (You can tell I love bureaucracy...)

We started the trip with Oliana as it's only an hour's drive from my folks. I've never been to the Contrafort the Rumbau (the wall that everyone now calls Oliana) but climbed a fair bit in my beginner days around all that area of Alt Urgell. Finally I had a chance to sample the famous wall everyone rages about it. We were blessed with two days of scorching sunshine which we enjoyed very much. We did the easy routes up to 7b, with an amazing flash from Viki of "Placa Ferninand" (7b/+). When the fog rolled in it turned baltic.

Can't beat the scenery of El Alt Urgell, Lleida. Here Nate on "Red Bull L1" 7c+, Oliana
Amazing effort from Viki flashing "Placa Ferdinand" 7b/+
Spanish chap on the boulder problem of "Mishi" (8a), Oliana

With fog rolling into Oliana we moved camp to Santa Linya. And indeed, as we hoped, the crag was basking in the sun. Wasting no time I got the clips on "Opium", a 7c I spied on my last visit. It seems to be a popular route and right up my street. Despite having a good burn, I could do the crux on that day.

What always let's me down on trips is the lack of fitness, I can't go for very many days before I need to take a few days off or climb tired. Not being a very patient person on trips, I've become good at climbing tired, and as you guessed, the results are hardly impressive. So when I tied on to the rope again the day after for another go at "Opium" it became obvious that it was going to be a fight if I wanted to send that day. My body wanted a break, the pathetic being that I only had 3 days climbing so far!

My attempt was poor, still perplex by the crux. I realized I might just have one more good shot, so I spend a good half hour figuring out the crux sequence until I had it completely dialed. I went to belay Viki on "Spanglish" (7a+), and inspired by her amazing send, I tried a bit harder and got it done next attempt.

After Santa Linya and the Xmas celebrations over, we moved camp to Margalef. We started with gorgeous weather and getting re-acquainted with the crag and its sharp pockets. With did a bit of mileage before getting stuck in on projects. I had "Les Artisans" (7c+) in mind amongst other things, but this one seemed to be the least busy. Viki picked a desperate 7b (which I eventually couldn't do either...). After the glorious days of sunshine, the fog also rolled in and never lifted again during our stay. We took a rest day to wait and see, but we woke up the day after again with freezing fog. We just joined the rest of the Espedelles population wearing multiple down jackets and try to get some climbing done. I've been making progress on "Les Artisans" but not enough to cut it. I kept falling off the crux and only manage the redpoint crux move a couple of times. Fresh from a restday I had a warm-up go and then a proper go. I fell off again and I had a bit of a strop and took the draws out. I thought I would be better spending my time doing some climbing rather than doing some falling. At which time Heather Florence and John Roberts showed and keen to have a go. I gave them the beta and Heather put the clips back in. After John's attempt, I got psyched again and tied in for another go. This time I put up a fight and everything went well. I was glad to have done it on the last day of the year. After that, I put on every single layer of clothing I had a relegated to belay Viki on her project. After a few goes we just bailed and ended up back at my folks for the 12 bells and Cava to celebrate the new year.

Matthieu from Switzerland making light work of "El Oferton" 8a
Another shot of "El Oferton" 8a
A better view of the incredible pocketed rock of Margalef. The route is "Les Artisans"
One of the most popular 8a's, Transilvania.
John Roberts fighting the challenging conditions. The fog kept rolling in and sometimes it just stayed there for days. We eventually bailed to sunny Montgrony.
The eventual send of "Les Artisans" (7c+). In my previous attempt I fell off and stripped the route in a huff. All I needed was a bit of pysche from John Roberts and Heather Florence, who put the clips back in, to give it another go.
Pulling my try hard face. This was the move that kept giving me trouble on "Les Artisans" 7c+. I didn't send it on this go, it took way longer that I thought it would. But the reality was that I was a lot less fit and strong that I thought I was... but loved the journey of eventually getting there.

Fed up with dealing with sub-optimal conditions I suggested we go for a safe bet and head to my beloved Montgrony. This is a crag that is close to y heart as it was one of the first hard crags I visited aged 16 or so before skiing took over my life. In the new guidebook there are a lot of smaller crags that look absolutely prime. We decided to check Les Saleretes, it looked sunny, just off-vertical and festered with crimps. And no people. Bingo! By then we were pretty worn out so we just battled it out on 6c's, 7a's and 7b's. Viki came close to send another 7b but no cigar. We also had a couple of days in proper Montgrony, just to remind ourselves how bloody hard the old-school grades are there. Still, a magnificent place that is.

The Saleretes is a slightly overhanging 30mts high wall near Montgrony. A real suntrap and a good escape when the fog hits the valleys.
The Saleretes wall, Montgrony
Viki working one of the classic 7b's on the Saleretes wall
Carlos dispatching the fingery and technical "Misèria i pols" 7c+ at Saleretes, Montgrony

So, looking onto 2017, I'm feeling very positive about it. I hope to keep exploring this wonderful island as my priority, just in case come two years time Mrs. May decides to kick us all out (by now, anything is possible...) I would love to session Malham this spring, something I never done before and finally put to bed "My Piano" as well. In Red River Gorge I have my eyes set on Bohica (8a), a pending subject from last trip there, we just have to see if the training will pay off. Another pending subject of mine is to check out Supercrag in Scotland. There are other things that I'm thinking about, but I would make a fool of myself letting them out here. I can't help but feel all giddy and excited thinking about all this anyhow...

Ten Thousand Hours

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