So with all this plastic pulling, you can imagine my relief at the chance to get out on rock in the sun - The Rucksack Club SunRock trip was here. My goals for the trip weren't really that focused on hard routes, we were with a big group of friends, and I just wanted to enjoy my holiday in relxation. It didn't really turn out that way! Instead of the usual trip report, I'm just going to give my top five highlights of the holiday:
Number Five: Table Traversing!
So it's the last night of the holiday, everyone's a bit drunk (apart from me, my body is a temple...) and everyone starts getting a bit competitive. The first challenge set is an odd one: whilst holding onto the opposite ear with one hand, and the opposite leg with the other, you must bend down on the free leg and pick up a regular size wine bottle with your teeth. Having met the challenge after a couple of tries, a new one was set - start lay on your belly on a table, then to proceed to climb under the table, keeping feet and hands off the ground at all times, to a position hanging from the edges of the table by the hands and feet. Now for the tricky bit - get back up! The final challenge set was a biggy: we lined up all the tables end on end, reaching about twenty metres across the huge dining room, and they were to be traversed from one end to the other, underneath the tables. At the far end the challenged would have to grovel back up to get back on top of the table. After a lot of puffing and panting, very sore heels, and a fair bit of chin-work to mantel back on to the table, I sent the problem on my first attempt. I reckon it was at least font 8C...
Number Four: Heaven Can't Wait
The only sport route to make it onto the list, this three star line at Alcalali. Originally given 7b+ (soft) by the first ascentionist, it was regraded to 7a (ridiculous) in the new guide. The general consensus on 8a.nu is 7b (fair). However I knew none of this, so it felt pretty stiff for 7a! The climbing started out up a brilliant featured wall, which gradually became thinner as it closed into a groove. At the top it completely blanked out in a square cut corner save for the arete and a few 'nobbins', where sketchy climbing led to the chains. At the time I was mostly just relieved not to have fallen off a 7a, and was heartened when I came home to see 'soft 7b+' on the route description.
Number Three: Diedro Edwards, Echo Valley
So now we move onto the trad side of things, with this classic five pitch E3, in the middle of one of the biggest sport climbing areas in the world! It was nearing the end of the day, and me and Dad had promised Mum we'd be down by four, which gave us exactly two hours to get up and down 150 metres of rock. To save time dad ran the first two pitches together giving an excellent, thuggy HVS pitch which really reminded me of being back home. I ran two together as well to give a 50m E1 pitch, but ran out of quickdraws at the top which made the climbing on loose, hollow flakes feel quite adventurous. The final pitch went to Dad, which I think really deserved E3, being a tough 45m 6b protected by just a few bolts and some dodgy wires.
Number Two: Midnight Runner, Echo Valley
Continuing the theme of trad, we're back at Echo Valley, about two hours before our ascent of Diedro Edwards. We'd just warmed up on the an awkward, polished 6b and I was keen to get some trad done. The route I'd had in mind at the start of the holiday was Midnight Runner, given 7a+/E5 in the guide. From below it looked stupidly blank, save for a few big pockets, an overlap, and a couple of bolts to lead the way up the blank start. The climbing was excellent, on surprisingly featured rock, dotted with edges and pockets which seemed impossible to see until they were right in front of your nose. Protection in continental limestone, wires particularly, are often very fiddly to get in, and then fall out far more easily, but there were a few placements to reduce the run-outs between bolts. At the last of the bolts, the next protection seemed a long way off but I wandered my way up regardless, surprised by how straightforward the climbing felt to reach a nice big, threadable pocket. From there came the crux, moving through the overlap, but I had confidence in the thread, so commitment wasn't an issue as I calmly pulled round and continued on up. At this point I began to worry because the rock, despite a favourable change in angle, had now blanked out to compact grey limestone, and I couldn't see a placement for a while. The thread was a long way below me, the midday sun was beating down, and my feet were aching from being stood on the tips of my toes for half an hour. I pushed on through easy, but sketchy and balancey climbing - the worst kind to be runout on - until a bolt surprised me. I'd completely looked over it, and nearly climbed past it, simply because I hadn't expected any more, and clipped it with relief. Another led the way past a tough fingery section where the rock steepened again, and I was onto the easy ground. It wasn't over yet though, as I had no idea where to go! Now a long way above gear again, I wandered about, upwards and sideways until I found the most well hidden lower off ever, kept out of sight by a hollow in the rock, and plants growing on either side. I clipped in, yelled 'safe' down to dad, and was extremely content with having done an E5 in such relaxed style.
As to the grade, I think that firstly, the climbing wasn't actually 7a+, more like easy 7a if you're well suited to long, vertical, and technical endurance pitches. Also there were four bolts on the route, which were very well placed to protect the hard bits which couldn't be protected by natural means. There were however, decent run-outs on the easier sections, dodgy rock (my dad pulled a hold off following) and complex route finding (he also got lost en-route), which I suppose add up to make a pretty soft E5. But who's complaining?
|I don't actually have any pictures of Midnight Runner.|
So I put this one in so you wouldn't get bored
Number One: Nueva Dimension, nine pitch monster 7b/E5 on the Penon.
Apparently on my first holiday to the Costa Blanca, when I was really young, our family went for a day at the beach in Calpe. It was quite hard to miss the monolith that is the Penon d'Ifach, and so naturally I ran around the beach for a while screaming my head off - I really wanted to walk up to the top. We planned to walk up the next day, but the weather had other ideas, so I had to put my Penon dreams behind me... since then my appetite for the Penon has been somewhat insatiable!
Our first trip up the Penon in 2011 took us up El Navigante, the classic 7a of the crag (yes that's right, at the
|My first trip on the Penon|
I may have matured slightly since then...
The next trip was in 2012, so logically we took the next step up in grade to do Puto Paseo Ecologico, a 7a+. This time, the crux pitch was the first one, and I had become a lot stronger over that year, so I quickly fired up the first pitch, before relaxing into the easier climbing above. The final pitch was my lead again, an incredibly exposed 7a pitch up the dramatically leaning headwall, which started by traversing out off a ledge into scenes of incredible exposure. Fortunately the holds were all massive, and I shakily topped out the route having done it clean onsight.
Our most recent trip up the Penon wasn't nearly as well planned as those - for our first ventures we would wake up at the crack of dawn to make sure we had plenty of time, and that we'd be able to climb the route of our choice without queueing. We'd normally have topped before three o'clock.
This time? A little different.
We originally planned to climb a trad route up the Divino at Sella going at 7a/E5, but upon arrival we realised our little hire car couldn't handle the rough roads leading up. Very frustrated, and perhaps touched with a little bit of sun-madness, we made a new plan. It was twelve o'clock at the time (we'd spent a lot of time faffing), and Calpe was an good hour and a half drive away. Needless to say we'd get to the bottom of the route at two o'clock at the very least, but we planned a mad dash down to the Penon to do our other goal of the trip - Nueva Dimension, 7b. Sure enough, despite breaking speed limits and running to the foot of the crag in the full heat of the midday sun, we arrived at the foot of the route at 2:01. The first pitch looked absolutely horrendous - a steep, tottering, pile of choss, with a vague line of chalked holds finding their way through the rubble. To make matters worse, the line seemed to split halfway, though there was no mention of this in the topo, and each line looked equally punishing. To make matters even worse, this was the 7b pitch. So here I am at two o'clock in the afternoon, not having warmed up at all, but still sweating like mad in the heat, about to set off up a nine pitch 7b, without even knowing which way the route went. Sounds pretty stupid doesn't it? Like I said, I think the Sun got to me,,,
|Note the poor state of the rock, and the haunted look in my eyes...|
I weaved my way through the rubble, taking extreme care not to pull to hard on anything, tapping each hold before I committed to it. As you can imagine, this was a very tiring way of climbing, but it really was necessary, proved by several holds wobbling at the slightest touch. After 15m of climbing the rock began to improve in quality, and although the sandyness didn't quite disappear (very reminiscent of Gogarth!), I could begin to trust the holds now. Fortunately this coincided nicely with the crux, a few very pumpy pulls on flat sandy holds through an overlap, and another 10m of dodgy climbing brought me shaking to the top. I barely had a the physical or mental capacity to croak 'safe' down to Dad, before hauling the ropes up. When I got down and had a look at the guidebook I saw that this pitch was given a grade of E5 6b. This may seem like an exaggeration on a sport route, but thinking about it now it was justified: extremely loose rock, combined with rusted-black bolts in dodgy, hollow-sounding placements, and insecure climbing made this sport pitch feel very 'sporty' indeed. Now above all difficulties (well most anyway), the quality of the climbing improved massively. To save time we began linking pitches together, and it was simple one three star sixty metre pitch after another in an incredible position.
I realised I'd barely had a lunch, and began to get hungry and thirsty, but there was only time for a five minute break. This may seem a little harsh but when you see what time we topped out, you'll realise what a half-hour break could have lead to! We seemed to have hit another change in rock type again, this time looser but more featured, which signalled the change from sport to trad. The next three pitches were some of the scariest of my life, each thirty metre pitch protected by just two bolts. This, together with the stomach-flipping exposure of the wandering traverses, the rock that crumbled if you stepped on it in the wrong way, and the burning hot sun, meant that these 5+ pitches felt more like E2 5a.
|It really was that steep. Promise.|
|We were quite grateful for the lights along the beach!|
So the lesson learnt was that you really should plan these things.
But the other lesson learnt was that if you want to start your nine pitch E5 dream-route in the afternoon, then go for it! Just be prepared for a tough time.