A couple of weeks ago I boarded a plane with Emily and headed off to Spain. The plan was to head to Rodellar to seek revenge on a 6b+ I had failed on a couple of years ago. It sounds like a joke doesn’t it, but it’s true. I’d also managed to climb 8a on the same trip, but that wasn’t the lasting memory… it was having to grab quickdraws on a 6b+ because I couldn’t hold on to the holds. I laughed it off as you would expect, but it ate away at me day and night.

The eve before leaving I checked the weather forecast for rodellar and it looked something like this;

I didn’t fancy spending 5 days in a tent waiting out thunderstorms, so another plan was hatched. I’d wanted to go and check out Gaz’s house (and surrounding crags!) in the Costa Blanca and this seemed liked the perfect opportunity. The 6b+ at Rodellar would have to wait… but that score is not forgotten. Watch out!

Gaz’s house is located amidst a sea of orange groves and from the rooftop you can enjoy beautiful sunsets, which is exactly what we did on our first evening;

Gaz informed us that due to the heat climbing was only possible in the shade and this meant going out early in the morning. I’m not exactly a morning person, and so I jokingly suggested we should leave at 8am which was non jokingly agreed to.

Our first engagement was to get some pain au chocolat, which might sound totally ridiculous as we were nestled in the heart of Spain. I’d been assured that I wouldn’t be disappointed and somewhat amazingly, I wasn’t. My expectations were low as I (and every sensible person in the world) know that it’s impossible to get a good pain au chocolat anywhere except France, so it was a pleasant surprise and a good start to the day.

Onwards through the orange groves towards L’Ocaive. The crag has an impressive orange overhang on it’s right hand side, and that’s where we were heading. Day 1 is always a warm up day. I’ve spent too many trips trying to do something hard on my first day and inevitably failed which can have negative effects for the overall psyche. Success begets success, so I try to do everything I can to get on the wave of success. First up was a 6b+ which was pleasant enough all the way to 2 metres from the top. At this point you suddenly have to do what is quite a hard move in order to reach the chains. If a 6b+ climber reached this point I can only see one outcome… falling off. It’s somewhat ridiculous. Why are the chains placed at that exact point? Why add 1 move which is 50x harder than any other move on the route previously?

I felt warmed up enough to have a punt on a 7b which took a cool looking line up an overhanging orange wall, on pockets and a bit of a tufa. It’s essentially a poor man’s version of the cooler looking neighbour of this route, an 8a that I most definitely wasn’t ready for trying. The 7b proved a bit of a battle, and I combined all of my skills to push upwards. I screamed, I cut loose, I got wrong handed several times, and I was laughed at by Emily. Every time I reached for a hold, I was disappointed, each time I had to put in a quickdraw or clip it I was sure I was going to fall off. I don’t know the number of times I shouted “watch me here” and then lunged for a hold only to miraculously find myself still hanging on. I reached a point whereby the shock of still being on was overtaken by a desire to succeed, and various motivational excerpts left my mouth. I was shouting at myself not to fall off, not to screw it up. I really didn’t want to have to do all this again. I reached a jug and the overhang went into a more vertical-ish section that thankfully contained a wide crack into which I shoved a kneebar. Now I concentrated on depumping my arms as my leg began to get pumped and very sore in the kneebar. I plodded on up the jugs in the crack, fought some guano, and clipped the chains. What a fight… on a 7b! I’m such a punt. It came as a great consolation when I found out Gaz had done a few of his trademark power squeals on his ascent too… and he’s definitely not a punt!

After this I did the 6c+ and 7a in the middle of the sector. The 7a was one of the better routes I’ve done as it featured really fun tufa climbing, so it gets my recommendation. Emily was feeling quite sick, having to fight to keep any food down, but somehow managed to get to her feet and crush the 6c+. I was impressed, proud, and could see the sunshine breaking through the clouds.

The next day we arose far too early again, and headed off to Gandia. The plan was to warm up at sector Hidraulic then go to Bovedon. The first route of the day was a 6a+ which felt easy as it should. Then a 6b+, which felt utterly desperate. It was so desperate that I feared Emily wouldn’t be able to do it. The holds had been so bad that I had to pretty much try as hard as I could to do the crux, which involved a terrible sloper/crimp and a bad 3 finger pinch. I didn’t want to tell her that I didn’t think she could do it as it was pointlessly negative, but I did say I thought it was hard. She set off, cruised upwards then arrived at the crux. I fully expected her to fall off but what happened next was truly amazing. She walked up the crux section as if someone had just been up and made every hold a jug. She didn’t scream or struggle, she just got on with it. I was speechless. I was feeling dismayed but also totally impressed. It was amazing! I would like to say she used different holds or a different sequence, but it wasn’t the case! I just put it behind me and moved to the next route. I felt warmed up, so decided to do an 8a at the left of the cave. It looked like a boulder problem, so I figured I’d just put the clips in it then despatch first go. Arriving at the first quickdraw, my words were “I’m coming back down”. There was no way I was going to do this today. Knowing when to turn around is an important asset in every walk of life, so I moved on to do the 7b next to it as a consolation tick. Then I felt as though I was in Groundhog day. I was at the first bolt trying as hard as I could to pull on to do the move and couldn’t take my weight off the rope. This is no joke. I couldn’t pull on. I climbed back to the ground dismayed, confused, but laughing. This was truly hilarious.

I needed to do SOMETHING, so moved one more route rightwards, to a 7a+ that was literally covered with jugs. I set off and immediately dipped into the power scream tank. At the third bolt I admitted defeat and slumped onto the rope. I was laughing, telling Emily that I couldn’t hold on to these jugs, knowing full well that she would be able to do this route! I went up the rest of the route bolt to bolt. I was screaming whilst moving from one jug to another. It was as if I had never climbed before, that was my level of strength! Perhaps less! I wasn’t willing to be totally defeated and lowered down to the ground, then set off on a redpoint attempt. Had it come to this? Redpointing 7a+ routes? It seemed that way. Desperately, but also thankfully, I made it to the top, using up my final reserves of power screams. I was done for the day! The rest of it was spent swimming and sunbathing which provided welcome respite.

Our third day of climbing was another early start. I wanted to check out a cool looking crag called La Murla. Gaz had said it was good and Leah had told me about an amazing 8a which was supposed to be bouldery. That translates to having harder moves but less of them… which was worrying as I couldn’t handle the jug to jug moves of 5 bolt 7a+’s! My psych was still high, as always, and it only went further up as we walked towards the crag. It’s a short crag, with a Bombay wave of orange rock that curves around the hillside. I couldn’t find much of a warm up route, so ended up going up a 7b covered in bolt on’s. Quality wise it wasn’t up there, and I didn’t manage to do it onsight, but it served it’s purpose as a warm up.

Then on to the 8a, La Chaqueta hidraulica. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was positive. I went up it bolt to bolt, and every time I stopped Emily would ask me what the holds were like and I could only respond with “they’re jugs”. I couldn’t understand it. Every hold was a jug. I began to think I was on the wrong route. The way I was climbing it didn’t really match the description Leah had given me. I was just jumping between jugs. I got to the final bolt, looked up and saw the chain and decided there was no point going up to it as I knew it would all be jugs just like the rest of the route. I lowered down, and shared my confusion with Em. The clips were now in, so I might as well do the route, but what was it? We checked the guidebook again, and it did appear that this was the 8a, but I still decided to reserve judgement until I could ask Leah. I went for the redpoint, got up to the last bolt and decided I wouldn’t bother clipping it as the chain wasn’t too far away. I pushed into unknown territory and all of a sudden the holds went from jugs to small slimpers. I was a bit shocked but had something left in the tank so quested on, crimping as hard as I could to make sure I didn’t fall off. I was a bit surprised by the hardness of the moves here, but made it through to them, reached a glory jug next to the chain and went to clip. As I wrote, I hadn’t been up to the chain before and I also hadn’t realised until this exact moment that there was nothing to clip on the chain.  I reached down to my harness to get a quickdraw but then I saw that there was no quickdraw on my harness, as I’d ditched them all for my redpoint. Now I was up here at the end, unable to clip the chains and due to skipping the last clip I was facing a ground fall. Great news! I was mildly panicked, as was Em, but she offered some sage advice which was “CLIMB DOWN!!!”. I started reversing the moves, getting pumped exponentially quickly now that I was a bit scared of hitting the ground. I reached a point where I couldn’t reverse one of the moves off a small crimp, so I had no choice but to jump. I was still above the last unclipped draw, but I thought I would be ok and Em was reassuring me. I took the lob and ended up level with Emily about 6 feet from the ground. WOOOOOOOOWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

In the evening I went through the sequence with Leah, and she confirmed it was indeed the 8a. She was quite surprised that I had used my sequence rather than matching, toe-hooking, releasing and leaping into a one armed swing. I hadn’t fallen off the moves and I thought my sequence was really good, but perhaps I’d got really lucky with conditions that day as the supposed crux move/hold felt like a jug. Regardless, it was a fun route and one that I would recommend (which is a rare thing)! In fact, La Murla is a pretty cool crag so if you’re in the area it’s worth checking out. Plus, if you’re feeling cheeky, there are plenty of empty holiday homes just next door and every single one has a nice blue swimming pool…

The following day was our final day and we headed back to Barcelona to shift from climbing to clubbing. The blog post for party time will follow…