So, another year, another Spanish trip. Gaz has decided on the Costa Daurada just south of Barcelona. I’ve been here before, in 1984 I had a week at Siurana when that village became noted for good sports climbing. Not the usual crowd this time, Mike couldn’t come, but we have Paul in his place. Flights and car hire booked, there’s a difference of opinion as to whether to hire a “bungalow” or go camping. In the end we go for the bungalow - actually a prefab wooden hut.
Cheap flights mean unsociable hours and so it is 5am when we turn up at Liverpool airport. Breakfast and clearing security (the head of security was on the gates apparently) take up the time until takeoff. Also on the flight are a team from North Wales - yep, I can’t go anywhere without meeting someone I know! They are headed to the same area as us.
Even my basic Spanish gets me round Barcelona airport to the car hire desk, one upgrade to a Fiat Punto and after checking (and taking photos of the existing damage) we are away. Despite being a lightweight trip the car is pretty full, good job we went for the upgrade.
With the others navigating we head out on the motorway. We then had a four non-blondes moment: “Wow! Look at that!” A fantastic spired skyline sits off to our right. Something looks familiar: “That’s Montserrat” - “Can’t be, we are on a different motorway”. Except it is - the big tourist information sign says so. Nothing clicks but we don’t see any numbers on the motorway junction signs and there are supposed to be some. Still nothing clicks. Eventually we pull into a service area for something to eat. It clicks! We have been following signs to Llerida but there are two motorways to there and we are on the wrong one! Fortunately the next exit will let us drive across country to the motorway exit we should have used. Even better, the road is good.
Back on track we roll into the campsite and register, our “detour” has only cost us about half an hour. The campsite owner is a local climber and recommends some newish routes on the crag behind (Vilanova) to get used to the area - this crag is about pockets. A quick bite to eat and we head on up the track leading round the back of the crag - it’s a walk down to most of the crags we visit. Good job the car hire company don’t know what we are driving on!
A bit of a false start before we get the right path leading down to the buttress we are after. A couple of F4s to warm up and they feel hard! Probably as much to do with having been up since 4am and the travelling as anything. The F5 we choose next isn’t much harder as we get into the style of climbing. The rock isn’t actually limestone but calcified conglomerate (I know) and in places looks like badly mixed concrete that has used egg sized aggregate. Mostly it holds together fine but there is a distinct band of poor stuff on our next route, an F6a with a steep start and a stiff pull up from a ledge.
Paul and Steve are round the corner on an F6a+ which looks quite good. It has a very snatchy start though, cue bouldering style arms in prayer from the rest of us until the climber gets to the first bolt. Things are catching up with me on this one and I’m feeling distinctly tired as I climb the top wall. Then it’s off to the main sector of the crag for another route or two.
There’s a couple of good looking 6s next to one another so I set off up the left hand one but get totally wrong handed on a pocket halfway up. A quick slump and I set off again only to sit on the top bolt as I can only find slopers to pull on and I’m getting tired. Eventually I deduce that those are the holds and I top out and lower down. Gaz doesn’t have any trouble with it. In fact he’s keen enough to do another route, this time on the photogenic wall next to Equinoxe. Given F6a+ it feels really hard, or maybe we are just tired. Time to get back to the bungalow.
Day two and we decide to drive over to one of the major crags of the area: La Mussara. There’s lots of sectors here but our choice is one of the closer ones. The plus side is that there are lots of quality low grade 6 routes here so we should be able to have a good day. The down side is that there is a lot of cloud about and it is distinctly cool temperature wise. The 30k to the crag takes 40 minutes or so but it’s just five minutes walk to the crag itself.
The wall we have selected is split with several cracklines but this being the continent, no wires are needed, there’s a bolt every couple of metres. Steve and I chose a F6a+ at the right hand end - Philidelfia. Absorbing climbing leads to a ledge but the bit above looks hard. a few attempts - it is! Back on the ledge I figure a sequence and get to the next break - a bit much for a warm up and a bit hard for the grade. After Steve has led it we swap over with Gaz and Paul for another F6a+ - Atlantida. This is OK apart from one stiff pull up a pair of thin cracklines. Gaz and Paul find Philidelfia OK despite finding their first route hard. None of us can have been warmed up properly.
At the right hand end of the wall is another pair of cracks so we head over to try one of these. Despite there being chalk on them they don’t seem as if they are popular - there are thorns growing out of the cracks at points! Castor is another long pitch taking something like fifteen quickdraws. Again the section above the ledge at two-thirds height proves hard for the grade.
The other recommended routes on the wall are occupied so we end up doing Laconia - another route with a sharp pull to start then mostly steady climbing thereafter. By now we are a bit tired so it’s back to the bungalow.
Day three and we reckon that La Mussara is where it’s at so we head back but to a different sector. The approach track is somewhat washed out so we have to walk a little further than the guidebook suggests. Eventually we drop down the rather steep descent path and walk along the base of the crag. Whereas yesterday was dull and misty, today is clear and hot.
It turns out that the Welsh lads have also headed here and are the only team here. After a couple of warm ups, Paul and I head over to Elegosentric, supposedly one of the top 50 routes in the area. A stiff couple of pulls leads to the first bolt and a delicate semi-mantleshelf move. Then it’s into the crackline, I’m enjoying the climbing so much that I miss one of the clips! As the crack bends right a couple of tricky moves head out to the arête on the left and the top.
Steve and Gaz are on a F6b+ to the left but feel that it is tiring in the heat so since I’m not feeling particularly strong I give it a miss. Steve is going well so tries his hand at the F6c to the right. A sharp crux section at the bottom leads up a slim wall to another tricky section. He manages to flash it but it has certainly tired him out.
The others are raving about a line at the right of the sector - The Talker Bom - it’s good and continually interesting but not as good as the last route of the day (the sun is taking its toll) - No Me Bellcostes la Cuca - a pocketed wall leads to a slim pillar which made you think with the crux right at the top.
It’s quite late in the day now and with it being Sunday getting something to eat may be a problem so we head back to base.
The last day and we decide to have a short day at Vilanova Camping again - Gaz is keen to get Equinoxe done. First though we get some falling practice in - we are all basically wusses when it comes to falling so we decide to force ourselves to jump off things with the idea being that we become accustomed to falls!
That done we head over to the larger buttress of Equinoxe. I’m knackered so laze around taking photos. Gaz does himself proud on Equinoxe, getting it first time. They then decide to have a go at the F6c just to the right. Very photogenic and in the heat very hard. With a couple of falls each they eventually give up.
One last route up a nice looking corner - given F5+ but like most on this crag it felt about a grade harder - then it’s time to head back to Barcelona and home. We get the right motorway this time, we probably only lost about fifteen minutes with our detour on the way out.
Steve waits until the flight home before reverting to type, I’m sure that the cabin staff appreciated his intermission during the pre-flight safety spiel!
All in all we felt it was a much better destination than El Chorro