sábado, 22 de mayo de 2010

La Fuixarda: Barcelona’s urban climbing area loses half of its routes

In November 2009, heavy rains caused a section the cliff of La Fuxi to collapse. The city immediately closed street to remove the rubbles and determine if the rest of the cliff was stable.

The decision as subsequent actions have now been taken and it’s not good news at all for those how came to love la Fuxi: the Cliff is now off limits to climbing forever and its 50+ excellent routes have been rendered unclimbable with steel rods and heavy duty wire mesh.

The tunnel part remains open and there is not reason to think this will change. Some of the less popular routes on the cemented cliff, just outside of the tunnel were not covered with wire, but steel rods where driven in this section as well, making it unsafe to climb

La Fuixarda, a free access climbing area at the heart of Barcelona has always been regarded as a very special place for climbers. Having a space like this one in a major city is truly unique. The group of people who set out to develop and equip these lines did so voluntarily and through much hard work and dedication of resources. They turned the place into a giant playground enjoyed by thousands of people.

The area has always been a liability for the city, and many climbers suspect that the local administration had been looking for a pretext to shut it down for some times. Meshing the entire cliff does seem much more like an effort to keep climbers away that citizen protection. We can only hope that that tunnel will remain freely accessible for climbers, but there isn’t any real guarantee for this.

miércoles, 19 de mayo de 2010

How the Cavall was won

The Cavall Bernat is the reference monolith in Montserrat and one of the key landmarks of Catalunya. This rock causes jaws to drop, and every person with a climbing fiber in his/her body will dream of reaching the summit at least once. This tower is so striking and so entirely impossible to ignore, it is noticed and remembered by every person who makes the trip to Montserrat. “Look at that rock tower!” we all say the first time we look up. For climbers, the first glimpse of the Cavall

gives the fever – the kind that causes passionate discussions and sleepless nights. Tell a traveling climber he has a ticket for an ascent and all his plans, his money and his need for rest will be shoved aside: he’ll be ready to go at 6 a.m.

Even if today this awesome stone arrow if often stormed by a dozen people over a single week end, reaching its summit was once considered by many to be an impossible and foolish project. To climbers, it was one of the main trophies in the country, a captivating objective for many local strongmen. And to them, reaching the summit, this small rocky area with giant cliffs all around must have taken an enormous amount of courage: they had to climb well and with an equipment that would not help much in case things went wrong. But most difficult of all, they had to overcome the psychological barrier caused by a thousand people claiming this climb was madness.

On October 27th 1935, El Cavall Bernat, Catalunya's monolith of legends was conquered by Josep Costa, Carles Balaguer and Josep Boix. Although fellow climbers witnessed the team reaching the summit from afar, many doubted the feat, in particular in the general population. Even for experienced alpinists an ascent of this difficulty and exposure was a bold step forward - a logical one maybe, but outrageously gusty. As for many of the non-climbers, it had to be a hoax.

Josep Costa put an end to the disbelieving tongues by repeating the ascent in solo the following year, this time inviting whoever was interested to see the feat in person. Journalists were also conveyed, and Radio Barcelona even fetched a small plane to have the climb witnessed and commented from above. The Cavall Bernat had been conquered, not only physically, but also in the public mind, and by a team of local climbers.

This was the last great climbing feat before the start of the Spanish Civil War. After Costa's repetition, the summit of the Cavall would not be reached again for four year and by then, Spain was under dictatorship.

TV3 has done a great short documentary on the Cavall Bernat, with a recreation of the first ascent, featuring the gears of the day. The recreated climb begins at 5:10

Climbing the Cavall Bernat

In total, the tower has 13 well-established routes, most of them on quite good rock, fun and exposed. Most of the original lines have been re-equipped with parabolts, but the initial placements were generally preserved.

The "Normal" is an obvious choice for a first ascent because of its low grade and small length (80m/5). It starts with a traverse and then goes up a dihedral, which gets steeper on the last moves. This is a nice line, opened in the alpine style of the days. However some of the holds are quite polished from repeated ascents and can be a bit slippery. Also, it is oriented towards the mountain and therefore is much less exposed that the other routes.

The Punsola-Reniu (220m/6c+/5 minimum) and the Gran Il.lusió (235m/7a+/6a+ min) are both on the valley side of the mountain and provide the full effect of the tower. They are often cited as the Cavall Bernat’s “basic” routes and are highly recommended.

jueves, 13 de mayo de 2010

10k trail loop in Collserola: Valldoreix/ La Rierada

This great loop for running or hiking goes from Valldoreix to the small village of La Rierada via trails and dirt roads. The terrain is mostly woods and shrubby hills with a fair amount of shade.

The exact distance is 11.5 Km, and the accumulated climb is probably around 300 meters. To access the trail head by car, head to Carrer Sant Juan de la Creu, 22. This is only about 200 meters from the Valldoreix FGC train station, so public transportation is a viable option as well.

The turn by turn direction and the map can be obtained on my Wikiloc page

This loop is also a great reference line to depart from and explore several interesting areas of the southern part of the park, such as El Ermita de la Salut or Santa Creu d'Olorda

jueves, 11 de marzo de 2010

La Valentín Casanovas – an unforgettable route on the Aeri

It is a feature of all multi-pitch routes, and perhaps even more of conglomerate rock that, seen from afar, the wall appears featureless, impossible to climb and impossible to protect. Looking up from the Refugio de Santa Cecília at la Paret de l’Aeri, the first thought that useally occurs is: how could anyone possibly climb this! With its 300 meters of compact rock and broad, almost square shape, the wall looks featureless and vertical, without even the slightest garbanzo to hold on to.

High up on this wall, following a fain dihedral and a long vertical slab, starts an elegant crack that eventually faints near the top. Most likely, this is what climbers wanted to reach when they first launched for what became the Valentín Casanovas. This was golden inspiration: these two pitches of laid back climbing are now established at some of the most fantastic and aerial stretches of climbing in the entire range.

The stats
for Valentín Casanovas are:
  • 290 meters
  • Average ascent time: 8h
  • 8 pitches
  • 7c (6a obligatory)
  • First ascension: 1976 Antonio Picazo and José Rodriguez
  • Equipment: varied, with sections of parabolts, protectable cracks, PVC pipes and nylon block chokes (not kidding, and they’re good!), sections of bad/rusty buriles
  • Gear: a normal rack with a couple of #3 and #4 cams and etriers
  • Rock: mostly good quality, compact conglomerate
When it was opened and for some years following, the Valentín Casanovas was one of Montserrat’s respected test pieces, and it remains a reference for the type of climbing made possible when modern equipment became available in the 70’s.

Antonio Picazo, who opened the route with José Rodríguez Soria in 1976, when they were both 19 years old, provides fascinating anecdotes about the route in his book Ascenciones de Leyenda:

Valentín Casanovas was opened in the most innocent style possible, with limited idea about how difficult it could be, and will little else than homemade pitons and wood chokes. They were able to reach the summit after only 4 weeks of assault, at a time when walls of this type would take months or even years conquer. Upon reaching the large flake, 2 thirds up the wall and after one of the most difficult segments, Rodriguez, who was opening then, progressed some 7 meters up the crack and was able to set a few pros before his rope ran out. This was a poor spot to set up the belay: the crack is a 20cm off-width, awkward to climb and impossible to protect with the gear he had. Rodriguez, exhausted and unable to find a decent resting position, took a look inside the crack and saw that a few rocks were wedged randomly within. Out of desperation, he took off his gear-holding sling and tossed all his material as far as he could inside the crack. He pulled on it softly…and it seemed to hold! Very slowly he begun to put more weight on the sling and nothing budged. This is how the 5 belay station was first set up.

Valentín Casanovas is a direct ascent, drawing almost a straight line, up some of the most vertical section of the Paret de L'Aeri. Even if this is a very engaged climb, it is not the hardest line of this area and as such, it is accessible to common mortals – meaning a 7a level should do it. However, the route impresses by its length, its continuity, and its ample variety of climbing and protection styles: thin and footsy moves, dihedral, laybacks, roofs, handjams, awful chimneying… It is truly a test of nerves and endurance and a very rewarding one.

My friend Julia made a great blog entry about our climb here.

The route starts with a stretch of well-protected 6c+ on thin crimpers, and turns into a dihedral with a fun roof at 6b+. After this come 3 pitches of very vertical slab, with some sections of 7c. This should be done in A0, although the bolts are quite old and rusty, and one of them is broken (at a 6b section). Following this come the “bavaresa”, the aforementioned flake. It starts as a mini dihedral and progressively opens into an off-width demanding at times strenuous layback and number 4 cams. Finally the route leads to a large roof crossed diagonally by a strange chimney. Doing the worm-dance in a bat-poop filled v-shaped chimney with you’re body hanging halfway out and 280 meters of void below, after 7 pitches of hard climbing is and experience hard to put into words.

The bibliography for this post can be accessed here.

martes, 5 de enero de 2010

Abandoned villages in the Pyrenees

Three abandoned villages are slowly turning to rubbles in the Aragonian Pyrenees, a few hours’ drive from Barcelona. What remains is a silent reminder of a long and tragic story that to this day has not been concluded.

The sight is at once morbid and strikingly photogenic. Houses here were built in pure Pyrenean architecture, with thick stonewalls and what used to be large tiled roofs. From the outlook, each village could have hosted over a hundred inhabitants and was complete with streets, plazas, churches, water fountains etc.. Today most of the masonry remains but the wooden roofs and floors have all collapsed.

The deserted streets are overgrown with trees and bramble and wandering through them brings up heavy feelings of anguish. All is quite and peaceful, but everything in sight is a reminder that life here came to a brutal halt many years back. The sense of mystery is overwhelming. I found bits of the story a little further down the road. After seeing two more abandoned agglomerations (Lavelilla and Jánovas), I came upon a few pages of text and photos that someone had put up on an announcement board.

According to this person, a hydroelectric company chose this valley (the Ara) to build a dam in 1917, and the local inhabitants were evacuated by force between 1960 and 1985. In all, the land and buildings of over twenty villages were confiscated and its people coerced into leaving.

Tragically, the hydroelectric project was never rolled out. Its impact on the environment was under evaluation for years until finally being declared an environmental disaster in 2001 and abandoned.

The surviving inhabitants have associated and launched multiple legal actions, but to this day they still have not been permitted to return.

domingo, 3 de enero de 2010

Montserrat: a brief history

Just 50km North of Barcelona lays La Muntanya de Montserrat one of the most striking rock formations of all Catalunya. A spur of 10km by 5 km, this relatively small range amazes by its brusk 1000-meter rise, in steps of breathtaking vertical cliffs and strangely shaped rock towers. It is often said that all of the Catalan territory can be seen from El Mirador de San Jeroni, Montserrat’s 1236 meters culminant point, as well as the Baleares, the Pyrenees, Aragon and Valencia.

Perhaps the most recognizable feature of Montserrat is the Cavall Bernat, a fantastic rock needle dominating the view from below.

The Montserrat massif is composed of very dense conglomerate rock, created from an accumulation of river sediments that occurred some 38 million years ago. This material remained underwater for millions of years, where it acquired its high density, before being raised above the waters by tectonic forces and eroded into its present shapes.

Montserrat plays a very important part in the Catalan folklore and its toponomy has many links to the local history. Any visitor will quickly understand the reasons for this: the mountain has something eerie and mysterious to it that strikes the imagination and gives an aura of supernatural. This is particularly true in foggy weather, when rock towers are veiled and revealed as if the rock was in motion.

The story of human interaction with Montserrat goes back several hundred years. The principal legend attached to the area is La Virgen de Montserrat, also called La Moreneta, the patron saint of Catalunya. According to the story, in 880, a light led young herdsmen into a cave where they found a statue of a dark Virgin Mary. The local bishop tried to bring the statue to the nearby city of Manresa, but its weight was so great that they were not able to do it. The bishop interpreted this as a divine sign and gave orders for the construction of the hermitage of Santa Maria, which later became the Monastery of Montserrat.

Today, Montserrat is a classic outing for Catalans and foreign visitors. The Monastery attracts many, for spiritual reasons or just for the sights, and easy access by rack train, cable car, bus or car causes the place and its immediate surroundings to become very busy on sunny Sundays. Even if this activity can be somewhat of a burden, it is not difficult to find great, secluded areas in Monsterrat at any time of the year. There are many entry points to the massif, most of which are less crowded, and usually visited by the outdoor-oriented only. In particular, there is a lifetime of excellent quality climbing to be done on these conglomerate cliffs, which will be the theme of many upcoming posts.

miércoles, 30 de diciembre de 2009

Collserola - excellent hikes near the city

El Parque Natural de Collserola is a 8.000 Ha hilly wood starting at the upper side of Barcelona and ending beyond the other side of the Tibidabo, the 600m peak that can be seen from the city.

It is a good option for mountain bikers, hikers or trail runners who want to go on a quick day outing or for those without a car. Except for one thing: it is incredibly difficult to find the trailheads!

The park has a nice network of GR trails, marked by red/white or yellow/white paintings. I have to admit that, after two years worth of attempts, I have not yet found the ideal way to get to the strictly wooded areas from Barcelona. This trailhead goes straight into it, but if you're on foot, you will have to take the FGC from Plaça Catalunya to La Floresta and still hike a little ways.

domingo, 11 de octubre de 2009

La Fuixarda: the world's Nº1 urban climbing area - a quick intro..

Also known as "La Fuxi", this is a fantastic climbing spot located within Barcelona's city limits. I've heard some people say that it is the largest free urban climbing area in the world. I don't know if this is true, it is not too hard to believe.

The place is excellent to train endurance and it can be handy if you're on a climbing trip and want to give yourself a quick shape-booster. In any case, its worth the detour, just to take a look at the place.

Located in Montjuic, the area offers bouldering, traverses and steep sport routes on a tunnel roof as well as about 40 well protected lines on vertical cliffs or projected cement. I true urban climbing style, the climbing wall is covered with graffiti and the rock routes have been heavily chipped. Despites being a dark eery tunnel, the sports and climber ambiance is king and the place is very safe. Everybody leaves his/her bags or bikes around and people look for each other. I once had guy return my wallet which had fallen from my pocket. He had looked at my ID and recognized me from the picture.

The climbing area is divided in two:

The Tunnel
On one side is an old tunnel about 50 meters long, crammed with holds up to the ceiling. Four very nice traverses run from end to end, two at ground level and 2 on steeper higher wall. The most popular you will recognize by the people cuing up to do it.

On the opposite side is another neat traverse, much crimpier with two cruxes and a very tough finish - harder but quite an elegant piece overall.

Above this last one is a great trav placed at a much steeper angle.

The Cliff
After the tunnel comes some 100 meters of cliffs. This is an old quarry of grainy yellow rock (volcanic tuff maybe?). A first section is covered in projected cement where climber have created all sorts of fantasist hods. This is followed by real rock, with some rather nice lines, but sadly almost all of them have "doctored" holds. All of the top end of the cliff is covered with projected cement as well, featured with a mix of plastic holds and drilled ones. This turns the climbs, which are in the 25 M vicinity, an interesting two phase ascent, with a rock section and a cement one.

Overall the protection is good, and much credit should be given to the climbing
association of La Fuixarda and all the benevolent climbers who've put up the hangers. Routinely you will come across some very worn repel loops and a bit of vigilance is necessary.

Recently I went up there and there was a guy doing laps on the roof ropeless:

sábado, 10 de octubre de 2009

Sunny Saturday in Barcelona

The purpose of this blog is to bring at one place all the interesting areas, activities and information I come across while exploring the wonderful city of Barcelona and its surroundings. I hope it will be useful as a way for visitors to access up to date and compelling information about what they can see here, or just as a source of interesting facts.

The main areas of interest will be things that I get first hand experience (and ridiculously motivated) with, hence what gets me off the couch and out of the house. That includes local history, nature and places, urbanism, local linguistics, local climbing, bicycling and technology.

Catalanism will be frequently mentioned on this blog as it is a fascinating issue that touches everyone living here. I appreciate the subject is delicate and it is easy to mistakenly write something inconsiderate. For this reason, I definitively invite Catalan readers visiting these pages to add and correct me when necessary. When, not if.

Hope this will be a nice blog, centered on fun things, not autobiographical and regularly updated. That's a big enough challenge already...

Finally, the name comes from a post I saw this morning on Digg, linking to this awesome infographic about the history of space exploration. I was getting seriously inspired by this cheesy chic song, but others were faster thinkers :)