“There’s a bit of rock by your waist that you can get your foot on.”
“Right” I shouted. “Then what do I do?”
“Er, I dunno. Go up?” Sometimes, my cousin’s advice is priceless.
My cousin and I were in sunny Barcelona taking full advantage of the glorious sport climbing routes that you don’t seem to get in Britain. Everyone’s still into the traditional way of rock climbing with involves lots of really heavy and expensive gear, five layers of clothes to keep warm and flasks of tea. Now I love tea, but there’s a time and a place for it. When you’re hanging off the side of a rock thinking about which route downwards is going to hurt the least the last thing I want to hear is “do you take sugar?”
For those of you thinking ‘what is he on about, surely all climbing is classed as sport?’ I’ll quickly explain. The traditional way of climbing (or trad) involves a naked piece of rock where the climber goes up and puts their own gear in, then hooks a rope to it. This involves a lot of time a) trying to find a hole big enough to fit your piece of kit into; b) trying to find said piece of kit dangling from your waist and c) having faith that it will take your weight if you fall on it. To add to the excitement of being twenty meters off the ground, you’re doing all this with one hand as the other is clasped to the rock preventing you from falling off. It’s not fun; I don’t care what the purists say!
Sport climbing is much simpler. Someone has already put the gear in the rock for you, all you have to do is pop a quick-draw into it and go on your merry way. (Hint – always give the gear a tug first before going on your merry way, you know, just to make sure it’s not loose).
So anyway, now I’ve cleared that bit up, back to the climbing. We’d stumbled across some fantastic routes just north of Barcelona. The sea was in the distance and the sun was setting slowly. As we got to the foot of the rock, we said hello to a couple of Canadians who had just finished some routes and were packing up for the day. We got chatting, comparing places we’d been climbing earlier in the day and what was worth a go at this particular place.
“Try this one” one of them said. “It’s a 6c but a forgiving 6c”. At the time, that was just about our limit grade wise. We decided to warm up on a few easier ones first and then attempt it. The warm ups were fairly straight forward and didn’t cause us any problems. The forgiving 6c was forgiving enough apart from one move which had us both stumped for twenty minutes each. When I attempted it, the move involved getting my left foot wedged into a smidgen of rock about waist height whilst I stood on an edge that was half the thickness of my skirting board. My right arm was somewhere above my head gripping what can only be described as ‘not-a-lot’ and I was frantically trying to find somewhere to hold with my left hand. I was stood above my last piece of gear so I knew that if I fell, I was going to fall a long way. After twenty minutes of faffing around looking for a comfortable way to ascend, I resorted to brute strength and ignorance. I pushed with my leg, pulled with my arms and clipped in. The rest of the way to the top was easy!
After we both finished the route (coming up with our own solutions for the tricky bit), we called it an evening and went back to the hotel. We’d read about another area we wanted to climb but seeing as it was getting dark, we decided to tackle it the next day.
When the next day arrived, we went in search of the place we’d read about and marked on our map. It wasn’t easy to find but using my best Spanish (Habla ingles?) and a bit of ingenuity, we found our next climbing den. The place was a bit overgrown with ferns and palm trees and it didn’t look like it was used much anymore. Some routes had fallen down but the ones that were left standing seemed pretty safe and solid. We set about climbing them. We had a good morning and had the whole place to ourselves.
When I think back to those long, sunny days climbing in Spain, I keep telling myself I should go back and do it again. We climbed during the day and explored the city in the evening. It was a formula that worked, and it worked well!