Nov 14, 2009

Fall Climbing Part Two, The Mecca - Siurana

Old Town, Siurana

The road trip continued and this time with the added assistance of our new TomTom we headed to Siurana in Spain, a climbing mecca with some 200 routes. Lemme tell you, I LOVE the Tomtom, it makes road trip driving with your honey and friends a much less stressful experience! No more frantic map reading or backtracking while driver yells at co-pilot, it’s all smooth sailing. We arrived in Siurana around sunset and after checking out the campsite (owned by guide book author and local climbing whiz Tony Arbones available for purchase at the campsite and the Refugio) and its newly built cabins located on top of the beautiful butte, we decided instead to stay six kilometers downhill in Cornudella de Montesant at a family owned guest house. The camping area was pretty full due to a design group arriving from Petzl and we wanted a little more space. Instead, our new home had a great view of the scene and was located in the heart of the old village. Vineyards and olive orchards stretched for terraced miles around and provided great areas to run.

Siurana at sunset

We timed our arrival perfectly, the new Siurana guide book was coming out the next day, but while not much better than the older version, it did list a few new climbs. Another good option is the guide book Costa Daruada by Mark Glaiser and Emma Williams. The first day we climbed at Grau dels Masets and learned quickly that while amazing climbing, it took a lot of work and bush-wacking to get there. The sun was also a factor, and since no exposure was listed in the book, we tried out best to guess the shady spots. Siurana sits at about 700 meters and can be climbed year round, but fall reportedly has the best temperatures. At the end of each day we headed to the old town of Siurana and walked through the village to the end of the cliff to watch the sun set. The reds and oranges were reflected on all the rock walls around and each night it was a different experience, one more stunning than the last.

Each day started the same, breakfast around eight, deciding the day’s plan of attack, pack up the lunches and climb by eleven. The callouses on our fingers were slowly growing stronger. A slight cold spell pushed our start time back to let the rock warm up. The only guests in the house we had become familiar with our hosts and one day we came home to a plastic soda bottle of wine on the table - freshly made Rojas along side some fresh sweet grapes and vegetables from the garden. They had just harvested the grapes and crushed the heck out of them in the family press in the garage beneath the guest house. The wine was strong and fruity and we fell asleep to the smell of fermentation trapped in the stone walls of the village.

Our guesthouse in Cornudella de Montesant

Siurana is so huge it takes a few days to get the lay of the land, but we finally found our footing at Can Gans di Onis, Ca l’Isabel, Primavera and Can Melafots - where we watched some tenuous climbers working on an 8b project. Halfway through our stay we headed to the beach, a short 45 minute drive to Cambrils - a great little town with an active port and great seaside restaurants full of Tapas and other Spanish seafood delights.

Melafots climbing area

The last few days passed quickly in a warm haze of orange and yellow limestone. We continued to climb with Florence and Andi, and Karoline and John, other fun friends we had chanced upon meeting in this climbers paradise. Dinners found us cooking together and sipping on the heady Rojas our hosts had made. In spite of cool temperatures overnight we had excellent weather. Soon work called and we hopped back in the car to head home determined to return to explore more of the excellent climbing Spain has to offer. Thanks to the TomTom it was a cool nine hours back to Chamonix and the blues and whites of the Mount Blanc Massive. For more pictures of the adventure, click here.

Nov 09, 2009

Fall Climbing Part 1 - The Gorges du Tarn and Sadernes

Sadernes, Spain

Fall arrived and it was time to meet up with friends and fellow climbing lovers Florence and Andi. Our goal? A three week climbing trip first through the many ravines of the Gorges du Tarn in the South of France and after continuing on to explore some of the climbing areas of Spain. We headed to the famous Tarn located about an hour north of Montpelier. We drove into the gorge as the sun set and the rock formations were lit up from the towns below - I had no idea a place like this existed, at night it reminded me of a Greek ruin.

Limestone at Gorges du Tarn

The river Tarn wound alongside the road and ages ago carved the huge 400-500 meter deep trench in the plaetaus Causse de Sauveterre and the Causee de Mejean. In summer this area sees many canoeists and campers along its lush banks. For now it was quiet, just the handful of climbers that seized upon the off season and its perfect temperature in which to climb.

Our digs at the Village Vacances, Les Vignes

The four of us rented an apartment for the first week. Located in Les Vignes the Vacation Village Apartments had great views, complete with our own grapes hanging over the door and access to numerous trails and crags. We even had access to wifi and pool that sadly was closed for the fall.

After a hearty breakfast, we headed to the Gorge de la Jonte known for its long steep walls and the huge vultures that circle them. A thirty minute hike straight up served as our first warm up. “I like climbing, and I like walking, but I don’t like climbing and walking,” Florence said when we got to the top - it’s true, hiking up and up with rope and climbing gear gets real old and real heavy real fast. After a secondary warm up and reintroduction to rock climbing on a few short pitches, we geared up for the first day’s finale, an amazing four pitch climb to the top of some of the fascinating limestone rock formations. I even got to look down on a vulture and see it’s extensive wingspan up close, and the separated feathers at their outstretched tips reminded me of giant fingers.

Gorge de la Jonte

One of the first things we noticed climbing here was the huge distance between the bolts, my first few leads were a bit heady, I kept looking around as though I had passed one or forgotten to clip. After a few more climbs I got used to the distance focusing more on my climbing, the limestone was impeccable. Each day we grew a little stronger and frequented the areas of Shadock, C.E.S Beach, Tresor du Zebre, and for viewing purposes only headed to Oasif to watch Andi and Flo tackle their harder projects.

Llancas on the Costa Brava

The week drew to a close and again we packed the car this time en route to Llanca, located in the Costa Brava in Cataluna, Spain. Situated on the Mediterranean about an hour south of the Spanish boarder, Llanca boasts numerous small sandy beaches and crystal clear water. We were lucky enough to stay at a friend’s apartment overlooking the beach. It was off season so town was quiet and the beaches calm and clean. Our first rest day I took a jog along the beach while we sussed out a close place to climb. We didn’t need to look far, about an hour outside Llanca we found a gem called Sadernes (down-loadable topo on the site) located in a national park so we were required to hoof it about two kilometers to our first area, Castell s’Espasa. The walk in was flat, flip-flop friendly, and after about fifteen minutes we entered a narrow gorge with rock walls on either side and what looked like a dried up river bed at the bottom. Castell had great climbs on which to warm up, with interesting limestone that almost looked broken horizontally - perfect climbs here for all abilities.

Sadernes, Cataluna

After two days of hard climbing in the foothills of the Pyrenees, we enjoyed a rest day on the beach in Llanca. While the sun was very warm, the winds were strong and we got a free full body exfoliation courtesy of mother nature. The water was still warm enough to swim and the bay was perfect for swim-snorkeling as I like to call it, the enclosed bays made perfect natural swimming pools. A perfect way to end our Llancan experience. Next up? Siurana….

Lyndsay and Florence, Sadernes

Nov 04, 2009

Vertical Kilometer Race, Fully Switzerland

The definition of “Vertical Kilometer” is simple: a thousand meter drop on the shortest distance possible to perform against the clock.

Yves Jeannotat, sports journalist and specialist in athletics

The Vertical Kilometer in Fully, Switzerland is the shortest yet fastest vertical kilometer in the world. It is the first race of sorts in the European ski mountaineering calendar and organized by the local ski mountaineering team, Team La Trace.

Racers from all over the alps show up to showcase what is to come for the new season. Ten of these vertical races exist in France, Italy and Switzerland with the Fully race being perhaps the steepest holding an average grade of over 60% - poles are a necessity. Having heard about this race last year I decided I wanted to go over and give it a try and kickstart my training regime. Coming off a three week climbing vacation (post is coming, BB is operating on a time space continuum and going backwards in blog post time this month) I was certainly was not prepared for what I experienced, but what an awesome event to be a part of - some amazingly talented athletes. For more info on how to train for events such as this, click here (will need translation) for Team La Trace’s training information.

Ready to roll but not so sure what to expect...

The stunningly beautiful course is located near Martigny, Switzerland, in the sunny Rhone Valley. The event starts in a vineyard at the Belle Usine in Fully at 500 meters. The course follows an old railway track that was formerly used for hauling the grape harvest and continues up to Garettes at 1500 meters - the actual flat distance covered being 1920 meters. A panoramic view of the alps and the orchards and vineyards of valley awaits all who brave the crazy event.

As it is a narrow track (the cut in the trees can be seen from all across the valley) the race is conducted as a time trail, with each racer getting a specific departure time about 10-15 seconds apart, the first racer departing at 8:40. The faster your estimated time, the later you compete. I requested and early start time as I needed to be somewhere later in the day. While this was nice as no one was on course, it was a little lonely and not as motivational. Later in the day racers waited at the top and lined the course cheering the best of the best on as they ran, not hiked up the steep grade.

Current record holder, Kilian Jornet

I entered the start area and lined up (bibs in descending order). On the command to depart, I ran at controlled pace, really having no idea what to expect. The first half was more gradual, each 100 meters marked by a small white sign. After about 400 meters the course left the vineyards of Euloz, running through a dusty tunnel and entered the forest. After 500 meters I looked up and realized the course went way vertical. I could see the white 100m signs above taunting me, an optical illusion making them appear closer together. My legs and I both thought “whoa” at the same time. 600 meters marked a small aid station andI gratefully grabbed some water. About 800 meters up I regretted wearing a long sleeve shirt in spite of the thick frost on my car that morning. I switched my Buff from my head to my wrist to help with the sweat. Leaning hard on my poles I fell into a pattern, planting the poles way out front, hiking a few steps and replanting my poles using my arms as much as possible. I could feel the lactic acid (major burnage) building up and occasionally looked up to navigate the breaks in the rungs on the track.

900 meters up I saw the road crossing the track where the announcers and and a few spectators had set up camp and cheered us on. A young boy was lower on course and called out each number to the announcer above. He was pretty talented with the microphone I thought to myself as he yelled my bib number. The emcee would identify the racer on the start-list and then loudly call each name yelling “Bravo”, or “Allez” - or whatever cheer the racer’s nationality dictated. Mistakenly I thought it was the finish - no dice. Racers hiked up onto the road and then finished the last 50 meters or so to the summit.

Swiss treats at the finish

Dripping with sweat while hanging over my poles, my friend, photographer and cheerleader Gen handed me some water and listened while I ranted about never doing it again. I recovered for a minute or so and we walked down to the aid station and grabbed some food while watching the remaining racers file up the mountain. They got faster and faster towards the end of the morning and I realized the race was indeed a precursor of what was to come for the ski mountaineering season. I got a little nervous, these people were ready to roll! Time to get down to business, I was inspired for the new season.

Laticia Roux broke the women’s record by 14 seconds and completed the course in 37.55. Serge Garnier won for the men in a time of 32:14 only 22 seconds behind the record set by Kilian Jornet - even more impressive is that he is a veteran (over 40 years old). Four hundred and twenty five people participated in the vertical kilometer under blue skies and perfect weather. When it was all said and done racers ran down a separate path and reconvened at the school gym for the traditional brisolee - or roasted chestnuts - with a side of cheese and fruit. Thanks to Team La Trace for another amazing day and another new cultural experience.

Thanks to the House of Buff for hooking BB up with some new goods, don’t leave home without one!