Climbing at Catalonia in Winter

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Catalonia has been on the back of my mind since my last trip (which was also my first) in the Spring of 2014 to Margalef. It was a fantastic trip and ranked as one of the most memorable trips for lead climbing ever. Due to the vast amount of quality climbs, location, ease of access and personal climbing achievements.

The conglomerates of Margalef
The road leading into the town at Margalef. This photo was taken in 2014

The 9a (8c+) Project

The idea to return came about in the earlier half of 2017 when I decided it’s finally time to hop onto something hard and it was clear to me from the start that I wanted to try and work on Estado Critico, 9a. This is one of the more popular 9a in Siurana and got famous due to the 1st onsight of this grade by a certain Alex Megos in 2013. Some holds have broken and the grade has hovered between 8c+ and 9a as described by different ascensionists. It seems to be a great climb with beautiful movements and even if I do get the send, who am I to downgrade it as I only have about 50 climbs completed in the 8th grade (with no 9a to boot).

Sector Cova Soleiada at Margalef
Seeking some warmth under a down jacket

Since I did my first 8c/+, Greed at Krabi on the 7th of Jan 2010, I have never tried to work on anything harder than 8b+ for all my subsequent trips on lead (Greed took me 30-40 tries over 3 seasons. It was originally graded 8c but has since been upgraded to 8c+ but I think the honest grading is 8c/+). Why? Well, anything harder and I will probably have to work on only that one climb for the entire trip (and maybe not even send it). I would prefer to do many moderate climbs, challenge myself on hard onsights and a couple of harder climbs which do not require me to spend more than 3-5 climbing days on them. This will allow me to sample the different types of climbs available especially if it’s a new place I’m visiting and gain the experience to improve myself technically. Besides, it’s really boring to be stuck on one climb for the entire trip. This strategy has paid off as I find that I’m sending 8s quicker even though I do not think that I have gotten any stronger over the years. Also, instead of doing purely lead climbing on trips, I also hopped onto the bouldering bandwagon, and visited Bishop, Red Rocks, Hueco Tanks and Grampians during the last few seasons and managed to send some historical and iconic climbs like The Mandala, Evilution (to the lip) and Ammagamma.

Putting up quick-draws on our last trip! 😂😂 The Beta Stick (also known as a stick clip) definitely comes in handy.
Sector Finestra in Margalef. The flashed ascent was in 2014.

Climbing in Siurana

Anyway, back to the main topic about climbing in Siurana. I have not climbed at this place but merely dropped by to check out the crag in 2014 when I was based in Margalef. Siurana is a winter climbing destination as many crags face the sun which makes it really pleasant to climb, even though it’s still possible to chase the shade at other times of the year and climb on the easier grades. However, winter is still the best time to visit if you want to enjoy the best climbing conditions. Unlike Margalef which is conglomerate, Siurana is primarily limestone. Most of the climbs are much longer (25m to 40m in length), technical and stiffly graded so get ready to be schooled in your footwork if you only use your arms to climb. Some people think the grades (at Margalef) are softer but this might be due to the style of climbing which (I think) suits the gym rat well.

Siurana’s crags!
Siurana Town

The trip was cast in stone during June 2018 when 4 of us bought tickets to Barcelona for Dec 2018. Eunice and I will be joined by Jarrell and his mum, Christina (both of them will be with us for the first 2 weeks). Gabriel hopped onto the bandwagon a couple of weeks later when his plan to visit Laos in Dec 2018 did not materialised.

It was clear to me from the start that since this is going to be my first time climbing there, it would be very tough for me to just work on one climb only. There were just too many classics to do! I identified a few harder classics which I might want to try and told myself I would hop onto the project only when I’m almost midway into the trip.

Sector Ca La Isabel

The first 3 days were spent in different sectors in order to sample what Siurana has to offer. All the climbs we tried were good! Even the easier ones for warming up were super fun. Remena Nena at Sector Esperó Primavera (7a but it’s stiffly graded and will likely be a 7b everywhere else) and Boys Don’t Cry 7c at Sector Ca la Isabel were some memorable climbs.

The entire crew on our first day at Siurana!

We also had the opportunity to visit l’olla where many of the climbs were only 8-12m long, which are so different from the majority of the climbs in Siurana. The climbs there are short, overhanging, powerful, bouldery and of course, stiffly graded.

On the 5th day of climbing, Jarrell decided to hop onto Zona 0. This mega classic line at El Pati, which has seen some onsights (by top female climbers), has been downgraded to 8a+ (from 8b). I got my ass kicked on the flash attempt and after dogging to the top of the route, came to the conclusion that this is probably still at least an 8a+/b (stiffly graded) or simply the hardest 8a+ I will ever climb (along with Tripe at Blue Mountains). Little did we know that Zona 0 would continue to pose a challenge for Jarrell and he would only send it on his 2nd last climbing day (9 attempts total). It took some effort but after getting some good beta from local climbers (who still think that it’s an 8b), I got the send after 3 more attempts on my 6th climbing day.

En route to Margalef

We took a nice slow drive to visit Margalef on the 7th day of climbing. It was a great change for once to be able to climb shorter routes (which we Singaporeans are used to) and check out some harder lines suitable for onsighting. We spent the whole day at Espadelles. For the uninitiated, this sector is more than 2 kilometres long and has tonnes of routes from 5s-9s. Plenty of climbs for everyone! Unfortunately, this crag faces the sun permanently and one can only climb there during winter or when it’s cloudy. I was here only once (4 years ago) when it was cloudy but never got the chance to visit it again as it was just way too hot in the sun. Trying to climb at this sector during summer is sheer madness. It was a good climbing day for us all. Jarrell got his first official outdoor 8a, Transilvania (which he tried to flash) on his 2nd go and I onsighted it with some difficulty. Eunice and Gabriel had their fair share of fun on some 6s and easier 7s.

Onsighting Transilvania, 8a
Sector Espadelles at Margalef

Estado Critico

It was almost midway into the trip and I decided that it was time to hop onto the Estado Critico to check out the moves (before it was too late)! This line shares the same start as 2 other climbs before splitting at the halfway mark after about 17m of climbing. Till there, it’s about 7c+ (with approximately 40 hand movements depending on your sequence). It consisted of some burly moves on good holds with jugs for rests but the line gets gradually steeper and by midway, you are almost hanging upside down. From here on, the line splits into 3 variations with the inclination of the wall reducing gradually.

Sector El Pati

The left version goes at a hard 8b, Dogma (42m). The straight up version is apparently a soft (but really fun and popular) 8b+, Kalea Borroka (40m) and the right version is Estado Critico (30m) which consists of another 13m of climbing (only 4 more quickdraws), with the main crux coming in around V9/10. I reckon this 2nd section alone is about 8b/+.

Rest day activity: find good food!
Sangria 😋

As I worked on it more, I found out that conditions needed to be good as the holds get greasy when it gets too warm. It was really taxing working on it as the top section is very shoulder intensive. I could only give it one good try a day but gradually got it up to 2 as my fitness improved. It was clear to me that being able to complete the climb in 2 sections (with 1 hang) would be an excellent goal to finish this trip. I only got close to climbing it in 3 sections (with 2 hangs) during the last few days of the trip. Eunice and I were in need of more rest days but there just wasn’t enough time. Motivation was also starting to run low towards the last few climbing days which explained why we went to Margalef again on our 2nd last climbing day for a change of environment.

Taking a short break while working Estado Critico

All in all, I had 15 climbing days with 2 of them at Margalef. Spent a total of 7 days on Estado Critico (12 tries). During my time at Siurana, I was lucky to witness 3 persons sending Estado Critico. A Brazilian, Marcello Bombardi who did it in 5 tries and also Sascha Lehmann who was on his 2nd trip here for this climb.

Other than the project, there are a couple of great climbs worth mentioning:

  • Remena nena, 7a
  • La cara que no Miente, 8a+
  • Boys don’t cry, 7c
  • se m’apaga la baldufa, 7a
  • Zona 0, 8a+/b
  • Mandragora, 7b+
  • Transilvania, 8a
  • Costelletes verdes, 6c+
  • Le cassia de el carg,o 6c
  • Purgandus populas, 7a
  • Maglina, 7c
  • Gravity globe, 7c+

In terms of climbs, this trip is nowhere close (grading wise) to what I did on my trip in 2014 (to Margalef). I had my best climbing day ever when I redpointed an 8b and an 8b+ on the very last day of climbing. However, I am pretty satisfied with how the trip panned out, considering the fact that I was not in great shape prior to flying. It is now time for a short break and plans are being put in place to return next winter. Spain anyone?

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