I had a story published in the October 2013 issue of Climbing Magazine about a trip last Feb/March to Spain. Here is a snippet, the entire article has now been posted online by Climbing Magazine.
|'86 Foweraker-Serl 5.10 A2 |
'13 Herrington-Sorkin 5.12-
The West Face was first climbed in 1986, just a few months after I was born. In a week of high-alpine drama, the BC-based team of Don Serl and Greg Foweraker claimed the FA of the line (2,000' 5.10 A2) while the Washington-based Fred Beckey and Jim Nelson arrived literally the same week to vie for the FA, and settled for the 2nd ascent. In the intervening decades, the line had seen a single repeat, as another Canadian team had tried to free the line, but suffered a big July snow storm on route which left the wall soaking. Nevertheless they described the West Face as better than Half Dome or Lotus Flower Tower.
Madaleine Sorkin and I were inspired by these reports and flew into Mt. Bute in Mid August, landing on a tiny spot in the glacial moraine below the West Face. After scoping the route and deciding to bring ice axes, puffy jackets, but no stove or bivy gear, we set alarms for early the following morning. After a short glacial crossing, Madaleine led the first block of pitches, which featured some runout corners and poorly-protected closed seams, linked by unlikely face traverses that prevented several near dead-ends. I took us up a major corner system in the middle of the route on world-class granite, good protection, and enough wide climbing to keep us warm as the weather began to deteriorate. After climbing three-fourths of the route, we had yet to see pitons or slings from the pendulums used by prior teams. Madaleine took a pitch of steep thin corners, which leaned hard left and we hoped this was the line. Unsure if she should commit to a strenuous sequence above some small pro, she up-and-down climbed several times before shouting that "If I can't commit this time I'm lowering off and we'll try something else." Fortunately for us, she onsighted the pitch (5.12-, maybe .11+ if scrubbed and inserted into your local McCrag or the Index Lower Town Wall). I swung through and lead out more steep 5.11 terrain, finding amazing face holds on an overhung arete between the two corner systems that other teams had pendulumed between. Here I saw and clipped an aid bolt from the '86 ascent, proving that we were indeed on route. As I belayed Madaleine up and realized that only a couple pitches remained, I noticed that the entire valley floor had filled in with a dense cloud layer, and the surrounding peaks were beginning to disappear into clouds as well. The glacier below was
hidden from view and our hoped-for vies out to the fjord of Bute Inlet were not to be. A couple more pitches got us to the summit up excellent 5.10 terrain and we topped out amid rapidly deteriorating conditions. Despite having ice axes, we opted to forego onsighting the glacial descent in the dark, and in a cloud. We immediately began rappelling the route, and spent the night in a perfect cave bivy which had been employed on the FA by Serl and Foweraker. (Hotel Ser-Aker, room service extra ) We stayed warm for a few hours moving rocks and staying active before eventually settling in for a shiver bivy high on the wall.
The first rain drops fell on us just seconds after throwing our rappel ropes the following dawn, and it proceeded to rain for the better part of the next week, with the longest breaks being just a few hours at a time. But the remainder of our descent went smoothly with lots of "go-for-it" rappelling employing the full length of our 70m lines and rope-stretching reaches to minimize leaving gear. One of my anchors was described by Madaleine as "the sketchiest-looking thing she had ever rapped off of" which says a lot considering she once fell 50' after her anchor totally failed.
After enduring many tent-bound days, we hiked out following the Galleon Creek drainage to the west, aiming for saltwater at the head of Bute Inlet. Don Serl, who wrote the guidebook to the Waddington Range and knows more abotu these mountains than anyone, described this valley as a "legendary bushwhack" and related spending 7 hours to fight their way through 2 miles.
|We used the single big loop to haul on part of this pitch|
|Following up more excellent corners mid-route|
Our odyssey of escape entailed numerous close encounters of the arboreal kind, a miraculous log jam that allowed us to cross the rain-swollen river, and a miserable night spent huddling in the mud beneath a sil-tarp listening to the rain, retching and dry-heaving of a sick partner. We also walked beneath two separate huge walls, each similar in height and width to the Chief in Squamish or bigger- one of these was in upper Galleon Creek Valley, the other in the Teaquahan River Valley (the second valley encountered on the red line, our route out.)
|Chopping a bollard back on the snow|
|Our escape as we hiked from East-West.|
Homathko Camp and estuary (float plane pickup) just left of the map.
In Squamish, Madaleine and I climbed Northern Lights, the Shadow / University Wall, and did some cragging at the newly-developed Quercus Cliff. Our 2-hour stop by the Quercus Cliff (literally as we left town) resulted in a chance encounter and afternoon climbing with Senja Palonen, Kelly Franz, and Katie Holm, the team of 3 who had been snowed on while attempting to free the West Face a few years ago, and who had shared photos and cheered us on. It's a small world, and a good one.
|I used my woodsy skills and a jetboil-turned-flamethrower to get a small fire going on the hike out.|
I then burned a hole in my pants (was not wearing them at the time) and it began to rain. Again.
The value and rewards of these kinds of experiences are only peripherally encompassed by the stats of a series of technical pitches climbed and rappels made. I find the emotional legacy impossible to describe, but in trying, I can only allude to the reductive nature of such adventures in distilling ourselves to the rawest essentials of what makes us function, and the knowledge of how we will fail and rise with these challenges. Thanks to the Mazamas Club of Portland, Oregon for an Expedition Grant to help fund our trip. And thanks to the prior teams who climbed this route and shared beta and support!
In July I made my first trip to BC's Bugaboo Provincial Park with old friend Nate Farr. We didn't venture onto the Howser Towers or the more remote East Creek Basin, as nearly every day's weather called for some amount of precip. I was impressed with how well-organized and managed the scene at Applebee Campground has become, thanks mostly to BC parks' upkeep and climbers' good wilderness practices. The camping had spots to hang food, metal lockers, posted weather forecasts, well-kept outhouses, and easy access to the big East Face of Snowpatch Spire and the South Face of Bugaboo Spire. For climbs on these features, you only need tennis shoes and a light axe or trekking poles. I never put on my crampons. If you are only doing routes that you'll rappel, bringing big clunky boots will keep your feet dry, but will obviously be a pain-in-the-arch for the steep 3hr hike in.
|Divine Intervention, Snowpatch Spire|
Divine Intervention Topo
We climbed the Sunshine Route on Snowpatch Spire which had lots of fun meat-and-potatoes crack climbing. I was glad Nate talked me into bringing along two #4 camalots and a #5, and I was glad he did for the last pitch.
After a couple mis-starts, we did some lost-on-Snowpatch route, to the left of North Tower Direct and right of Flamingo Fling. Several pieces of antique booty guarantee that the line was not new, but still really good.
Sendero written description
Include a double set from blue alien to #2, with a single #3 and #4. No RPs. Numerous red C3 cams if you have them (or at least triples in the red and yellow C3 sizes, the crux thin crack is very shallow in spots.)
|The immaculate West Face of Colchuck Balanced Rock - climb #1 of the day. |
Garrett Grove Photo
I always try a big car-to-car day around the time of the summer solstice, and this year I lured my friend Max Tepfer to come up from central Oregon and join me for a 4-climb linkup in the Stuart Range, close to my home in Leavenworth.
Max is a Smith Rock and Trout Creek crusher who stays in cardio shape guding clients around the Oregon Volcanoes. He had 1 day off work between guiding at Smith, so he was psyched to try for a big crazy day. He was literally in the area for 30 hours, 22 of which were spent climbing. He commuted 6 hours each way to make the day happen, and was onsighting nearly every route.
|Tom Moulin crushing Velvet Tongue.|
Pic from Jerry Handren's excellent guidebook.
|Allison in Riglos|
But you probably already imagined as much, so here is some info that you may not have known.
Catalonia/Catalunya is a semi-autonomous region of NE Spain where business signs and streets signs feature their own spelling of common words, so don't assume you will understand everything just because you understand Spanish.
Barcelona is beautiful and VERY walkable, with a compact feel to the town, and numerous fun sights to keep your pedestrian days entertaining. On Sunday many of the museums and attractions are free but long lines develop - plan accordingly.
|Cooking class in Barcelona|
|One of the many famous buildings designed by Gaudi - Casa Batlo|
|The crew gearing up in Riglos.|
Numerous crags feature world-class lineups of walls and climbs. We hardly scratched the surface. We based out of the rental house of Greg Collum, hardman of alpine FAs around the world, and former local of Index, WA. His house is in the picturesque village of Cornudella de Montstant, a short drive from Siurana, Montsant, Arboli, Oliana, and Margalef. This area is best climbed from fall to spring, with the summer generally being too hot. One of my favorite routes in Siurana was called "Bistec de Biceps" - a .12c that was featured in the 1980s climbing movie "Masters of Stone IV."Overall Siurana is a bit like the Smith Rock of Spain, and old-school area with a well-deserved reputation for solid grades and real climbing.
|Stolen pic of perhaps my favorite route of |
the trip, Montsantrrat, a long .12c I onsighted at
the stellar Roca de La Misa Sector, Montsant.
We ended our trip with a few days along the Atlantic coast/ French border in Basque country, where the new language, street signage, cuisine, and people all contributed to a feeling of having gone to a different country entirely. We didn't climb there, but good cragging and alpine adventures are rumored to exist, if you can make sense of the road signs and find the peaks and crags.
|You can see two climbers following a chalk line on the large wall on the right,|
that is Scott and I on Fiesta de los Biceps.
- Guidebook - Dani Andrada's "Tarragona Climbs" - areas around Siurana, Monsant, etc
Dani Andrada's "Lleida Climbs" - areas around Tremp, Lleida, Terradets
- Stay - In the Siurana area - free camping atop the cliffs in Siurana, or email Greg Collum about his rental house if you have a large group. There is also a climber hostel in Siurana. In Riglos, DEFINITELY stay with the couple who own the local restaurant/bar/climber-viewing hangout area called El Puro. The owner's name is Jose Ramon, his wife (forgot her name...) is from the Dominican Republic, and for 20EU you get a nice room, shower, and amazing home-cooked breakfast.
- Getting there - Fly in and out of Barcelona and rent a car, or better yet, fly in and out of the the town of Reus, which is 40 mins SW of Barcelona. Many of the cheap Euro airlines' flights to/from Barcelona (RyanAir, for example) actually use the Reus airport, which is closer to the climbing and doesn't involve big-city headaches.
|Wild Side Wall at Sella|
The local "culture" along the coast itself is very non-Spanish, as many northern Euros come to the Costa Blanca every summer. This has had two nice results for climbers:
- There is a huge amount of empty lodging during fall, winter, and spring.
- There will likely be folks nearby who speak something other than Spanish, and who are used to lost visitors in need of help.
As long as you explore some of the towns, winery areas, valleys, etc just up off the coast, you can definitely be surrounded again by real Spanish culture.
|The Magic Flute - Bernia|
- Climb- Multipitch bolted routes directly above the Mediterranean Calpe's "Penon d'Ifach" is a 1000' limestone tower that looms above the sea, and hosts routes from 5.9 to 5.13. There is a casual walkoff complete with gatos de cumbre. Multipitch routes near the town of Guadalest and on the Pared de Rosalia look great as well. The best single-pitch zones we visited were Bernia (for Tufa Groove and it's inverse twin Magic flute) as well as Gandia (short climbs, but wild tufas down low) and the best crag in the region, the truly amazing Wild Side at Sella for climbs from 5.12- to 5.14.
- Stay - We rented a super cheap apartment 2 blocks from the beach in Calpe. We could walk to the Penon D'Ifach and it was easy to drive to hundreds of nearby walls - Ours was $200/week and had one bedroom, one futon, and a kitchen. Other friends stayed in the small town of Finestrat, inland from the beach and near Sella.
- Eat - Lots of the cafes and bakeries along the coast are more influenced by northern europe, even the grocery stores have loads of German, British, Scandanavian foods, etc.
Wild Wide Wall - Sella
- Book - The brand new (Spring '13) Rockfax Guide to Costa Blanca is excellent.
- Season- Any time except June-September, both because the area is much more crowded and expensive with summer tourists, and because it would be very hot. Certain walls (inland and North-facing) would be too cold or much of winter.
I just returned home to Leavenworth following 6 weeks in Spain. Rather than go into various details about all the 8a routes I didn't quite send, and the boring minutiae of describing an individual sport climb, I'll just provide some information that will help everyone else who is thinking of going there. Which should be everyone who climbs. Spain is amazing, and pretty cheap. Check out DoYouSpain for cheap car rentals.
- El Chorro
In mid-winter, and for climbers who wont have a car, El Chorro is a great place to go. It's located about 40mins (by car or by train) from Malaga, on the southern coast of Spain. We arrived via a ~5hr drive after renting a car in Madrid. There is a RENFE (Spain's rail system) station stop IN the tiny village of El Chorro, just a 5-20 minute walk from camping, hostels, and hundreds of pitches of limestone. Here are a few things to keep in mind about El Chorro.