Limestone Lessons

A Short Account on the Collection of Confidence

By

Mica Hartman and Meagan Masten

 

Prologue

I traced the map of Spain through its glow on my computer screen. A monitor serves as a good lightbox if you are poor at drawing country blobs’ freehand. I removed my notecard and then filled in the Southeast corner of the map, marking prominent climbing areas and nearby towns. Climbing crags were marked with squares and cities, with stars. I marked a few places on the map, El Chorro, Loja, Sella, Siurana, Margalef, and a scarce amount of towns. On the back of the card, a jotted down what would be the briefest itinerary one could ever imagine for a month-long trip to a foreign country.

    4 or 3.5 Weeks Climbing in Spain

                        ~2 Weeks in Andalucia

                        ~2 Week in Costa Blanca

                        w/1-week option to Siurana/Margalef

                        +/- Driving Days (3 days)

                      Lodging

                      1) Malaga (2 weeks)

                      2) Calpe $250 for a week

                      3) Siurana (if warm enough)

                       Car Rental

                       Pick-up and drop off in Madrid

 

The itinerary became even shorter at the onset of the trip if one can believe that, the list was a single plan:

                       4 Weeks in Spain

                      1st Week in El Choro (booked!)

We had to begin somewhere, better to take it one place at a time rather than plan the whole enchilada at once. This became one of the trending themes of the entire adventure—one thing at a time, one bolt at a time, one climb at a time, and one drive at a time. It was clear that it would be much easier to take each decision in orderly isolation, confirming one fact before moving onto the next. There was no rush to the end from the very start and this seemed like a way to make travel feel endless.

But let us go back just a little bit further. Wind back to the two ladies going on this climbing adventure, look back to why they could and who they were before it took place? Next, we will move to what they did and who they were to become.

My name is Mica Hartman, I am 25 years old, five-foot-three-inches and 105 pounds. My climbing partner’s name is Meagan Masten; Meagan is 37 years old, five-foot-one-inch, and 110 pounds. I began my climbing career around the age of ten in Boulder, Colorado. I was of the indoor, competitive climber ilk arriving on the scene after the establishment of sport climbing and monkeying on textured walls with plastic holds. Meagan took it up properly on the real shit. She did not step foot in a climbing gym until Planet Granite opened in Portland, Oregon in 2015.

Meagan might be the most confident, straightforward woman I have ever met, and the genesis of our friendship demonstrated this well. Working out at Planet Granite in Portland. Meagan came up to me and inquired, “were you on a strange double date at The Mediterranean Exploration Company the other day?” Initially, I thought, “what in the world? Who is this crazy stalker chick?” but I kept the thought to myself. The statement was indeed correct, as I am also a forward person and had scooped up a pair of attractive Adidas bros the other night with a friend. An urban climbing gym very quickly devolves into a singles’ hunting ground, with Planet Granite in oh so progressive Portland as no exception. The conversation immediately became personal with any formal ‘get to know you bullshit’ left aside for another time. She launched into the trials and tribulations of relations with her current romantic climbing partner, I could only listen and nod in total agreement. We both had fragile relationships with men who we adored climbing with but romance had long been neglected. We both cited that the flawed problem with disentanglement was the loss of a crucial partner for Smith Season. Hence, we needed more lady friends, strong, motivated female partners, slaydies together to climb without fuss. Thus, she suggested we climb together, train, teach other a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. I never say no to more friends, another crucial lesson firmed up meeting strangers in a foreign country on our trip.

This encounter was two years ago and we executed well on the climbing friendship through my move to Hood River, Oregon, changes in boyfriends, and eventually the end of two jobs. However, each transition eroded our initial staggering self-confidence and faith in finding love.

Meagan was let go abruptly from an in-house counsel position. The world is not always rewarding to the work we put in but we still must do that good work. Teetering on the verge of being fired at what felt like any moment, I quit my job, yet this yielded no sense of control or empowerment. The most salient feeling you have as a driven person without work is hot embarrassment. We become the hardest on ourselves, connecting worth and status with career and our economic output. The stress, anxiety, and anger begin to circulate in the system moving their way around like bad blood in the veins. As a pragmatic optimist, I had a sense that new opportunities would, surely find two talented people. Facing this void the opportunity for a new position morphed into the chance to take precious time, something we have in excess and shortage of at what seems like always the wrong moment. I was inspired to take this time in the physical form of space, create some distance from the life that was now missing a purpose. Meagan and I had brainstormed about a few trips that never came to fruition—Spain, Greece, Red Rocks, and Spain again. Here was the chance for us to execute on one of these plans.

“We are a girl gang and we are going on a girls’ trip to Spain.” I thought this in my head; ruminating on the physical place this gift of time would become…rocks, tall walls, tufas, caves, sand, the Mediterranean Sea. I messaged Meagan my initial thoughts and timeframe, she was not resistant but not completely engaged. I scanned around for flights finding a grossly affordable flight in and out of Madrid for $620. I knew the only way to give Meagan the final push was to match her precise, planned nature to the degree that I could. I held my phone to the screen, photographing the ridiculously cheap flights, I took a picture of my crude map, and the back of the notecard:

     4 or 3.5 Weeks Climbing in Spain

                        ~2 Weeks in Andalucia

                       ~2 Week in Costa Blanca

                       w/1-week option to Siuranca/Margalef

                        +/- Driving Days (3 days)

                       Lodging

                       1) Malaga (2 weeks)

                       2) Calpe $250 for a week

                      3) Siurana (if warm enough)

                       Car Rental

                      Pick-up and drop off in Madrid

“That looks great” the first message read followed by a few handwriting clarification questions. Then punctuated by “Dude I AM SO STOKED” “we going climbbbbbbbbing.” Well, that was easier than I thought.

We both quickly realized that there would probably be no other trip like this and we had to document everything. While I was the youngster of the group, I was not social media savvy. Meagan photographed every piece of the journey and created daily Instagram posts and stories. The posts were brilliant and I wish I could print each and everyone to include in this text. I am a pen and paper gal so I took a short captain’s log of each day, trying to include a few lessons learned about my climbing and character growth. The notes are in a rough state and I want to preserve their authenticity by keeping them in this jotted clutter. If you want to skip past the technical route descriptions and mundane details of our rest days, although I promise they are humorous, the syntheses of each major personal discovery are bolded and italicized. I will ask forgiveness for the bastardized Spanish names of routes, areas, and sectors. I know they are going to be cringe-worthy and probably misspelled.

The Daily Log

Day One 1/16

Arrive in Madrid and immediately incur car drama. A disgruntled old woman at Goldcar, the budget rental agency of choice, will not permit us to drive without an international license. We regroup. Purchase an expedited international license on a sketchy third-party website. Triumphantly we return to Goldcar. The women is neither pleased nor impressed. We confidently find our VW Golf and christen her “El Gato Negro”. We inspect and photograph El Gato Negro for damage and report all marks to Goldcar. We depart two hours behind schedule. One hour later, El Gato seems to be having an issue with her temperature. I suspect the coolant is low and two men at a Renault Service Center confirm this. They charge us five euros for a few ounces of liquid and we give them ten. The black cat is calmed. Check engine “atención roja!’ is off. I drive the remaining four and a half hours to El Chorro, a small mountain village where we are to stay at Le Case De Teresa. Teresa must be organized and stylish, the house if freshly painted, comfortable, and clean. The appliances are retro and red. There is an abundance of tea, which pleases me greatly. We wander the town and receive large plates of mediocre food from a hotel restaurant with terrible service. Not every meal can be planned and perfect, I remind myself. The glass of local red wine, however, is exactly what I needed after the last hour of winding driving on small roads. We sleep heavily.

Day Two 1/17

We do not rise until 9:30, we depart around 10:30 in search of food to find the Supermarket Maribel closed, possibly for the foreseeable future. We turn next to the train station café for Spanish tortilla and chorizo sandwiches, delicious, we purchase some bocadillos for our lunch. Without clear navigation, we somehow easily make it to our first crag, Sector Castrojo. We climb un Monton de Chatarra (6a+) and La Putschitron (6b+}, two 30-meter climbs. We backtrack and scramble our way up, up again, back down, then up again, all in the course of 15 minutes and 300 meters to find the recommended Sector Suizo. This sector has a creamsicle orange and buttercup cave flanked by long lines on gray and yellow streaked vertical faces. Meagan puts up a fun, juggy Irmchen (6a+). It is six so we call it a day before sunset.

Day Three 1/18

We head to Fontales Media, an area that contains Sector Mundo, Sector Mornia, and Cueva de Poem de Roca. We are greeted by rain and Jim and Joe, henceforth J&J, two cheeky Brits who orient us to the area. We seek refuge in Cueva de Poem de Roca. Here we learn that limestone is slippery, tufas are hard to hold, and Spaniards are very pushy. We fall on everything—literally everything. Meagan and I take turns not sending 6bs and 6cs. This is demoralizing but we are happy to be learning about a new style of climbing. The routes are short but powerful, we have been doing technical face climbing on crimps for quite some time in Oregon so the contrast forces us to recalibrate. The one V+ we successfully did was La Princessa, followed by Stonker (6b), then The Splits (6c). We finish on Garcia Aquas (6b). Dogs and hunger are combining to make us wolf out so we depart from the cave, grateful for the dry climbing it has given us. A breezy drive to Alora makes us feel silly for not going to the substantially larger (and open) supermarket earlier. We feast on fresh produce, eggs, and tinned fish with spoonful’s of Greek yogurt for dessert. Balance has now been restored from our previous all carb, all protein diet of train station sandwiches.

Day Four 1/19

A slow start, everyone is learning what tap water does to Meagan’s body. Maribel graces us with her presence and we troubleshoot Meagan’s digestion by buying bottled water. We return to Sector Suizo to do new climbs to the right of the cave. We enjoyed ourselves in and out of sun, rain, and gusts of wind on Yalhouse Rock (6b) and Tinto de Viarano (6a+). We seek shelter in the cave and climb the excellent Que Leche Que Tango (6b+). This climb has a mix of jug, pockets, and tufas and becomes my favorite of the trip thus far. We scout some 7as for tomorrow—steeper and deeper in the cave. We say ciao to more cheeky Brits, seemingly the only other tourists in Spain, and head home.

Day Five 1/20

The day is cold but we bundle up as it might be our last day in El Chorro. We rock up to Sector Suizo and warm-up on three 6a’s: Superpotencia (6a), Mas Potencia (6a+), and Prepotencia (6a+), these are shorter, sharper routes with good movement and balancy stances, quite different than anything we have climbed so far. Feeling mildly prepared to break into the 7’s we head into the cave and get on Bienvenidos de Circo (7a+/7b). Welcome To The Circus is an appropriate name for this steep, juggy pitch that requires power endurance through the last four bolts. A key high foot, mega drive-by move at the penultimate bolt unlocks the sequence for me and I get to the top with just a couple falls. Megan works on her dynamic movement on top rope. The acrobatic strength and movement required to solve the cruxes of steep, tufa climbs were now revealing itself, it helps to make adjustments to our style and as the movement becomes another tool in the technique toolbox.

Day Six 1/21

Rest day! Yes, it has taken us 5 days on to earn a rest day, the climbs have been friendly on our bodies so far. We sleep in and make a massive breakfast, implementing a truly funky European toaster that does not seem to be so structurally sound. We make bookings for our next moves, here is a moment to reiterate how truly unplanned this trip was at the beginning but how it organically unfolded without drama or stress. We go on a walkabout to explore further climbing areas. We pass Sector Austria and meander our way to Escalade Arabe, a very stout, Smith-like crag with blank, vertical climbing and first bolts that only inspire caution and trepidation. Perhaps we will return tomorrow, but it was daunting.

Day Seven 1/22

Undeterred by morning rain we set out to Fontales Mediass. Beginning in Sector Mornia, we did a casual V+, (Welcome to El Chorro?) followed by a wonderful, long, sustained 6b, Seco y Pedro. On these climbs the cauliflower or seashell rock is tacky with a texture that you have to trust for smearing and slapping hands up a stem, it is a really interesting tactile feel that is unique to the limestone in Spain. We see J&J, which is a pleasant surprise. We burled our way up a 6c that was an intense series of boulder problems on tufa pinches and sidepulls. We ended the day with a classic 7a in the Cuevo do Poem de Roca, Vllejo Amigo. This is a pumpy, traversing line with a few big moves and runouts at the top. I sent second go and Meagan had an exceptional lead attempt, cruising past the first crux. Meagan played the dinner game with her first rendition of fried rice, this was eaten in approximately ten minutes.

Day Eight 1/23

We said adios to El Chorro and headed to Murcia in a torrential downpour. The driving was very unexpected as we headed northeast over several mountain passes, seeing a surprising amount of snow out the window. An all-meat gas station cafeteria lunch fueled the remaining hours of the drive. We learned that gas station restaurants were quite the experience—serving tapas in a casual bar with a neighboring formal dining room through adjacent doors. I had never seen a gas station eatery with a full bar, fire pit, and wine list. A cultural experience. In the suburb of Murcia we are now in a “functional but not cute” Airbnb according to Meagan, I concur. We dine out for the second time, which proved rewarding and challenging as we struggled to read the menu. We ultimately left the decision in the chef’s hands, which is the best course of action in any country. We received basic but comforting tapas for our efforts.

Day Nine 1/24

After a brief stop at the sports megastore, Decathlon, we rocked up to Mulu, a crag just 25 minutes northwest of Murcia with a “spaghetti western” backdrop according to the good old Rockfax guidebook, that is if spaghetti westerns featured busy motorways and loads of olive groves, which they don’t. Mula is home to short, steep and short techy routes in Sector Ferrari. We first opted for three great 6a’s in the former category, La Primera, Al G and Ave Cesar. If Ave Cesar, a traversing, steep hueco lined route was ½ as polished and didn’t have a wet finishing sidepull, it would be the best route of the trip so far! We moved to the latter, Acojaneller (6b). This “6b” was tenuous, bouldery, and involved long holds and pulls on very harsh sidepulls and underclings. My goal, after seeing Meagan charge halfway up was to use as few holds as possible, if that gives you any idea. However, this is actually part of my overall, “climb tall” strategy that I often employ as a short climber. A lot of petite climbers want to use tiny edges and intermediates to make big moves, but I prefer to use intense lock-offs and high steps to avoid these cringe-worthy holds that short people believe to be their only beta solution. We redeemed the cold, grey day by finishing on Fissuros, an unconfirmed overhanging 7a on a beautifully balanced boulder, teetering over the road. The climb flowed with powerful moves on huge holds and key finger locks in an overhanging bulge crack. We made a rocking dinner by deciding we had enough unseasoned food and indulging in the purchase of curry powder.

Day 10 1/25

We took a cultural day to see the city of Murcia. We bussed to the old city and walked around many plazas, saw a grand cathedral with the second-largest bell tower in Spain. The highlight was the Casino-an old gentleman’s club with an amalgamation of beautiful architecture styles including detailed Moorish tiling, patterned wood floors, and opulent chandeliers. We had a rather furtive lunch at the bustling La Pequena Taberna. The highlight was the octopus and grandma’s artichokes, a pair of rich dishes with intense textures and flavors. We strolled and promenaded a grand total of 14,000 steps along the river, park, and quiet hospital campus, the words “river” and “park” are used very loosely here. The last town stop at a small panaderia left us too stuffed for dinner and en early bedtime was had by all.

Day 11 1/26

Adios Murcia, you will not be terribly missed. As we drove to Finestrat we stopped at Reconco, an area outside Alicante to climb some steep, pocketed routes in the sun. Unfortunately, Reconco had other plans in mind. The area housed slabs with long, relentlessly fingery routes on quite small feet. We began with a pair of 6’s, Seata 6a and Paris, Texas 6a+. We moved to the center of the wall and Meagan bravely went up Directa, a 6b with an intense boulder beginning and then more slab climbing. After multiple falls, a near meltdown, and a broken hold, I decided that Directa would be my final climb. Meagan carried on and onsighted Servina, a similar 6b+ that required a thoughtful series of movies in and out of a shallow scoop. We packed up and finished the drive to Finestrat. We were wowed by the Mediterranean and an incredible amount of rock. Finestrat is a small, rural town sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. The winding streets of the main boulevard are quaint and led us to a sweet purple Airbnb!

Day 12 1/27

Everyone on our trip thus far had told is to go to Sella and now, we finally had arrived. Approximately four minutes from the car we found a sunny, protected crag with an imposing roof so obviously, we ditched our original plans and got to work shedding our layers. Out of hibernation, we climbed an enjoyable unknown V or 6a that required of all things: hand jams, finger locks, and other crack climbing features. This is a bit outside my repertoire but very fun. We followed this with Zig-Zag Atomico, a 6a that also involved a crack and lots of backstepping, I onsighted the mega classic Kashba (6c+). This climb had an awesome vertical crimp and shallow pocket-fest on the bottom, followed by a 15-foot runout to the headwall. Climbing the headwall required powering through long reaches (there were some grunts) and desperately getting the draw on the anchor from a busted crimp. Meagan found her project grade and after cruising most of the climb, dutifully put in thoughtful attempts at the top, enabling her to finish the route. We imagined another 6c+, Vayo Tipo el de Oti into Cardo Berriquero Extension would be equally as enjoyable, we were wrong. I flailed and flailed some more. First, at the boulder beginning which required precise, delicate footwork, and then on a blank bulge, requiring, perhaps more holds? Then a series of insane traversing moves around a steep arête requiring maybe a tighter core but not exactly sure, this climb was ripe with potential learning opportunities and sequences I could not quite crack. Meagan power top roped the climb to retrieve the draws and we headed out. The day was capped, literally, be a decadent four-course journey through cheese and bread at the local pizza restaurant Paradisio.

Day 13 1/28

Rested today and explored Finestrat. The town is small, quaint, and has beautiful apartments with bright tiling and paint. The real excitement of the day was finding a local butcher and watching him grind pork and beef before my eyes!

Day 14 1/29

Headed for Echo Valley today aka Valle de Guadar, a sunny cliff overlooking a cove on the Mediterranean. We were so pleased to climb in tank tops and sports bras, then not so pleased when our hands touched the first sunbaked bulging routes and our feet crammed into shoes made of now, molten lava leather and rubber. We began with a beat down on the puzzling Dream Maker (6b) a climb with small hands and precise, scary “beach whale” moves. We set up a top rope on Dream Maker Right (6c+) as we were now too timid to lead anything in the blazing sun. Meagan got the hang of our new stout style and bouldered her way to the top. I hauled myself up, mostly on draws, whining the entire way about my feet, which now felt as if they had been boiled from the big toe down. To add insult to injury, my carabineers got stuck in a ring while setting up a rappel. We rallied to try Gloria Pitch One (6a+), an awesome climb moving up a ramp into a finishing alcove. With new inspiration, we moved back to the beginning of the wall to get on The Dawning (6b). Meagan exclaimed it wad her favorite climb of the trip so far after doing it with one hang. I followed up the steep climb, filled with heel hooks, pockets, and exciting high steps. Next I fought my way up Spanish Gold for my first 7a onsight. This is a burly climb that goes up the right side of a heart-shaped rock magically affixed to the main wall. You get to do at least five moves off a single long tufa and jam the whole left side of your body into an overhanging crack. It was a fierce shuffle of feet and hands in slots turned into sidepulls for the finish. After the rocky start we thoroughly enjoyed this crag, Aran de Berislot, and saved some routes to return for. Back in Finestrat, we nailed a dream parking spot and made Bolognese for dinner.

Day 15 1/30

Vamos a la playa! This was our anthem today and we decided to investigate the beach in Benidorm. However, before we could depart we made a necessary stop at two panaderias for pastries and three or four unnecessary stops to pay a parking ticket. The endeavor to pay a steep 35-Euro parking fine began and finished at the police station with a stop at the bank and municipal building in between. At the beach, the sand was soft and the water was clear, happy slaydies. We rested and swam then had a nice stroll down the promenade.

Day 16 1/31

Today was the day of “technical terrors” at the alleged “crown jewel” of Sella, Sector Competecion. We began with Marlan de aci (6a) an enjoyable, long warm-up with big holds that actually resembled crimps. Next, we thought it logical to move to the 6b on the right, Relleno de crema. This route was so runout and technical, it was easier to finish the climb on the 6c (Dingo Bingo) one route over. Meagan top roped the 6b, making the 15-foot runout look more manageable. We then did an excellent, technical 6a+ El Gran Costorran that required a committing long reach with a very delicate stance. We sidled one route over to what we thought was another 6b, turns out it was maybe a 7a or b and I had to come down, baffled by a huge stretch on a sidepull and undercling after which movement seemed impossible. Luckily, the true 6b had “6b” etched into the rock, and Meagan made quick work of the climb, Nido de Pirates. She recovered all the draws and was the hero of the day! Confidence bruised, I one hung the route and we hit the road. This brings up a salient point of climbing expectations and how to manage them in an appropriate way. After climbing for a certain duration we have in our mind a grade we believe we can always onsight, quickly project, repoint, etc. But just because you have done a 6b does not mean you will do all 6bs, not even if you have done ten or twenty. Each route is unique and requires attention and focus. I find when I presume I can do routes, I get more disappointed when I fall and this clouds the rest of the day. I go into the route without a plan and make little mistakes that are costly, not paying attention to my feet, misreading the route, climbing too fast or too slow. It is a case of our ego taking over and bringing talent down, rather than confidence used to improve performance. A positive mental attitude is very different than a cocky one and it is key to remember how much work you have put in at this point, on a certain grade, in a certain style and what is a realistic achievement.

Day 17 2/1

We went to Sector Ojo de Odra in Sella to do a few short boulder routes. We began on a difficult 6a that we both fell on, Fisura con Finura. We had a positive, corrective experience on the neighboring 6a+ Roberta Alcazar, a blocky climb that began with a lovely laybacking crack. We explored the feminine slit in the rock that has routes coming out the left and right, making an arch and few lines extending out the back look quite improbable. We were inspired by the arching pair of 6c’s, Ojo de Odra (6c), and Los Greanos (6c+). The former was a super fun series of big moves between sidepulls and huecos of all sizes and varieties (shallow, smooth, ribbed, big, small, and sharp pocket pairs for pinching). The 6c+ proved a lot more difficult as perhaps a piece of the rail system between the first and second bolt detached, making a huge deadpoint that I had to pull through on the rope. The rest of the climb was essentially a monkeying of heel hooks and dangling feet as I moved steeper and diagonally to meet up with the final bolt of Oja do Odra. We scouted the rest of the day and selected Pared de Rosalia as our next sector.

Day 18 2/2

Today was a full value day in Sella! We were at Sector Pared de Rosalia from 11:30 to 6:30 and climbed incredible, long routes (all about 30 meters). The shaded, north-facing crag opposite the sunbaked popular areas was the perfect climbing temperature for our efficient pace. We began on Caleidoscopia, a 6a that provided a beautiful warm-up on bomber rock. Next, we hopped over to Calfmusculaus (6b), this was another stellar warm-up with sustained, vertical climbing on positive holds. Next, we progressed naturally to the first pitch of Tanit, a 6b+. This was my favorite climb of the day as it was vertical and sustained but a bit more of an adventure climb with a traverse and finish that required a few long reaches, completed with a walk up a ramp to the anchors. Next, we did Molly Highins, another staller 6c, a three-star route that was on you the whole time. This climb had a distinct crux in a steep section leading through a scoop and over a bulge. It took me several attempts to find some mysterious crimps but Meagan sailed up it. Placing several of the draws was quite challenging, as the route was very run out and its length created lots of rope drag. In a desperate flail trying to hang a quickdraw before doing one more move to the proper clipping hold, I flung said quickdraw off the climb. Luckily it did not hit anyone below! We perhaps pressed one route too far and chose to end on the first pitch of Sunrisa Veritical (Vertical Smile). This “6c” had quite a high first bolt that incidentally shook my nerves for the rest of the climb. I climbed slow, over gripping, and got way too pumped. But I still appreciated some really cool jagged holds. The top crux was impossible to protect, which sadly made me mono on a bolt to place a draw, which was rather unpleasant. The next few moves were quite difficult before the relief of the finishing mantel to the anchors.

Day 19 2/3

Rest day today for the M&M duo. After going on separate runs around town we headed to Calle de Finestrat to check out a new beach. The beach was a calm cove that had less of a Miami feel than Benidorm. It was a mellow day of swimming, sunning, and reading.

Day 20 2/4

We decided to take advantage of the sunny, 70-degree weather and take another rest day. It turned out to be a day of starts and stops. We attempted to rent sea kayaks driving all the way to Altea, only to find the rental shop boarded up. The nearby beach was a rocky 20-meter strip of nothing. We decided to drive further North to Calp (or Calpe?) and found a lovely toned-down beach with deep sand and the calmest water yet. We exuberantly soaked up more sun and kept cruising through our respective climbing texts to keep the psych going. There was a bit of a dinner disaster that almost resulted in tears so we drove back to the comfort of our little town on the hill.

Day 21 2/5

The rain did not deter us from climbing yet again and we headed to Pena Roja, a protected, shallow cave. We began on Through the Magic Door (6a) a great warm-up through flakes and bulges. Next door, was Soca una iqualait (6b) another fine starter climb that I got to clean in the rain. With rain disguised as “90% humidity,” I attempted to onsight Sulacco, a beautiful, sustained 7a+ using sidepulls and crimps. Just missing the onsight, I sent the next go. Meagan got on a pair of 6c’s Sempre en alguna parte and Muevete un burican. They both had boulder starts and distinct cruxes, a good challenge for Meagan at her redpoint grade. I attempted Fisura Ysablonski, a 7a that had a huge move from a very scrunched position at the beginning and a very delicate, fingery crux that seemed like it would be very difficult without creeping along a flake on the left. For dinner, we rocked some taco salad bowls—very satisfying and maybe our best meat preparation of the trip.

Day 22 2/6

Final day in Finestrat and at Sella. We climbed at Culo de Rino, a marvelous crag with tall cliffs and a variety of climbing. To start, we began with Valor y Coraje, a long, 32-meter 6a+ that was quite excellent. The climb had interesting holds that required some thought and great movement. Next was Camino el rey, a 6b that shared in all the positive qualities of the above climb. We moved over to the sunny, right side of the wall and got on Con la manis en la Cosa, a 6c that went up the shell/starfish textured groove with a sequence-specific six move crux, it was another fantastic climb and it took both of us a few tries to work out our independent beta. I onsighted Cosa, a 7a on the next groove over, that was a sustained, hard sidepulling the entire way up. A brilliant climb with flow, dynamic moves and crazy gastones that I am getting quite good at with increased exposure. Meagan got on Marttillosos de Maricona, which was a bit less enjoyable than the previous two climbs at the dirty, bush-whacking start and then downright unpleasant at the unprotected crux. Meagan was a brave toaster and took quite the fall about ten feet above her last bolt. We decided it was time to use our bail biner, no need for wolfing. To finish, I got on A galee de pecho, a 7a+ that was similar to the 7a, just a bit more balancy and crimpy. This climb had a difficult crux that took me many attempts and two banged knees to figure out. A drop knee unlocked the extra reach needed to make a huge move off a small right crimp to make the second to last clip then it was over after that—a moment to remember good technique and footwork. We headed to Mascarat, a small hillside town in Altea that proved a terror to find. Sadly, this was the first Airbnb miss of the trip, we were not walking distance from a grocery store or much civilization—the horror!

Day 23 2/7

After hemming and hawing about whether to do the seaside climbing at Sierra de Toix we decided it was not worth the inevitable stress. Instead, we finalized the plan for our remaining four climbing days, deciding to entirely abandon the famed Costa Blanca cliffs for smaller, less formidable areas (at least in their approach). We explored the town of Altea and spent a little time by the water. The old town of Altea could possibly be charming and lively if any of the businesses decided to be open. Alas, no such luck as most of the cute looking galleries and boutiques were closed. We did finally get gelato at a small café right by the old church, delicious. We made the final trip to our beloved Mercadona, the supermarket chain of 2030, to get rations for our last week. An exploratory evening run to the rocky beach at sunset was quite lovely. We both began running a little late into the trip. The cross-training that we would usually do back at home such as running, biking, and yoga were lacking on this trip. There was no good reason why to stop these activities but we did and I think our bodies and climbing definitely suffered the consequences. When we are on a climbing trip we impose a restriction that the only activity we can do is climb. Rest days are strictly for resting, no movement whatsoever. This led to increased tightness in our muscles, decreasing crucial flexibility for climbing. I know for next time to implement at least two runs a week on a climbing trip and a bit of dynamic stretching before every day of climbing and a full yoga class equivalent of movement at least three days a week. Running is also a fantastic way to explore a new place and can be used to uncover potential climbing for the future.

Day 24 2/8

Returned to Pena Roja today to find the previously desolate, quiet area packed with locals. We began on La Libertine, a long, juggy 6a+ that was a wonderful start to the day. Next, very kind regulars let us hop in front of them on Liliberpool, a 6b+ that was also terrific. The route had a few tricky moves and a phenomenal series of ledges at the finish. I was very humbled on Pan y Circo, the first 7b+ I tired and a major step up from my previous 7a+’s. The beginning went smooth, with a few huge moves and then the heat turned up in a middle and upper set of boulder problems at least V5 in difficulty. Meagan sent her mini project, Siempre en alguna parte, a great 6c using a seam and small face holds. We both finished quite pumped on the strenuous, sustained Sin trajeta de presentacion a 6c+ next to the tricky 7b+ I attempted. We made our first Spanish friends ever! This was quite exciting as we reached the near end of our trip with no interaction with other Spanish climbers. The pair, Sergio and Soli were kind and offered crag suggestions for our remaining three days. Soli is a dreamboat man, a Spanish firefighter living in London who I decided I would try my hardest to pair with Meagan. Soli invited us for a cervaza post-climbing and we discovered the town of Xalo, which we marked to return to on the next trip.

Day 26 2/9

Upon Sergio’s suggestion, we went to L’Ocaive, an impressive ridge with a remarkable castle perched on its top. The walls are bright orange with black and white tufas. The walls are around 45-meters tall and tremendously steep. We began on the first pitch of Gandolf, a 6b+ that climbs a recessed crack on very strange holds, not easy to hold correctly first go, a tricky onsight, but carried out by Meagan and myself. We then headed up a pedestal into the heart of the cave to climb the first pitch of Los Primas, a super steep 6c+climbing on iconic Spain tufas and pockets. The route was steep and pumpy, one of my favorites of the trip. I took the projecting down a notch and tried Cantxaca, a 7b with a long 3-bolt crux of excellent quality and challenge. I resigned to leaving a draw but would love to return with fresh hands, muscles, and a little less sunshine. We ended the day by hiking to the derelict castle that is in the process of being restored. It will be quite magnificent to see the castle finished in another 100 years or so.

Day 27 2/10

Well all my dreams came true today, we have officially had two “make a wish” days for Meagan and now one for me, I am the petulant child of the duo. We met Soli at Sierra de Toix and traversed the top of the sea cliff to the drop-in hole at the Pirates of the Caribbean Sector. We repelled or “absailed” as the Brits say, to the bottom towards the crashing swell just six meters below the floor of the cave. Descending down the rope was incredible. Steep rock and the crystal blue sea below surround you. Meagan and Soli went for an adventurous swim, as there was a bit of difficulty getting out of the water and climbing up the knotted rope. Luckily, a small pontoon boat with two freedivers scooped Meagan out of the water, avoiding a potential hypothermic dilemma. The freedivers were spearfishing and quite amused by the climbers who seemed unable to climb out of the water. Eventually, after a few V17 moves, Soli got back into the cave, and then helped Meagan up the rope. I watched patiently, antsy to get climbing, and feeling that this would probably be the only moment in my life where the inability to swim with confidence would be an asset. We went up the classic 3-pitch out of the cave, Parle (that’s pirate code if you have not seen the fantastic Pirates of the Caribbean films incredibly based on a single amusement park ride). The 6a+ is awesome, with massive holds on a cobble-like wall climbing to a rock bridge then a hanging belay before heading out of the top of the cave where we started. Soli led the pitches but we had a brief intermission where I lead the second 6a+ pitch then lowered back down. The exposure and levity felt when climbing over the water and stemming in a cave were one of the most unique climbing experiences I have ever had. After we finished the multipitch climb we went to the Mascarat Marina and had our most decadent and delicious dinner yet. Our fare consisted of pan con aioli y tomate, oxtail croquettes, padron peppers, grilled squid, and panko-crusted shrimp with Siracha aioli. Everything was superb. We ended the evening with good chats, espresso with Bailey’s, and a traditional bread pudding type dessert.

Day 27 2/19

The slaydies go hard and we, of course, decided to get one more climbing day in before our four-hour drive to Madrid. We headed North to Gandia, an area above orange groves recommended by Sergio as a must-see before we left. Sector Fundicio was our starting point and Meagan made quick work of Bombero gorilero 6a and Tamberinaes 93 6a+. Both climbs had boulder starts requiring stretching tall between large pockets and a pair of fun mantels over two bulges. The climbs were baking in the sun and had very sharp holds, an okay combination given the hot, humid climate. Perestroika, a “Top 50” 6b with an incredibly risqué description by our Rockfax guide had to be done next. The line had moves that resembled humping the phallic-like tufa at the start; all good fun and we agreed that it warranted the description and Top 50 designation. We ventured to Sector Potent Right to climb around the famed elephant trunk tufa, which was a bit less impressive in person, but the animal resemblance was there. I got on Los, a “Top 50” 7a that had a very taxing start, it was not very pretty but I got through it with grunting, heel hooks, burly bunchy pulls, and lots of sweat. The next pocket section eased off on the tenacity and allowed for an enjoyable perch on top of a ledge for a no-hands rest. Meagan set to clean the climb on top rope but navigating the start was tricky. With the opportunity to climb the route again on top rope, I found a much better flow, and my technique greatly improved. It was a bit of a disappointing final climb for Slaydies do Spain 2020 but alas you can’t wish for perfect days, take ’em as they come and try hard! I took the first shift on the uneventful drive to Madrid. We stopped at a roadside cafeteria and were gawked at, what else is new? I bought my weight in olive oil, deciding it was the most practical and authentic Spanish gift for all. The good news was our Gold Car check out experience was a positive one this time. Returning the car was easy, goodbye El Gato Negro, you served us very well.

 

Epilogue

Day 28 2/12

So ended of the month sojourn to Spain. The lessons learned were enumerable and will keep unfolding as our climbing and travel progresses. A few clear items come to immediate attention upon reflection. First, the incredible power and strength of female friendships, I specify female only because there is something special about women connecting to better themselves and others. Next, the kindness of strangers, the importance of a smile, wave, and simple “hello/hola”; what you put out is what you will receive. Next, the ever-importance of personal confidence in your physical and emotional power, i.e., try-hard, try even harder, don’t give up. Meagan and I learned we are way more capable than we ever thought. We watched our climbing improve, as well as our navigation, trailblazing, route selection, and infinitely more skills that we can now add to our already impressive accomplishments. So for “what these two women did and who they are in the end”: I saw climbing results right away. In a triumphant return to Smith I had one of the best climbing days of my life, not in terms of grades ticked off, it was in how strong, delicate, and purposeful my movement was on the wall. I climbed with quiet force, using strong fingers and leg strength, it felt like floating on my arms up the wall, what a rush. I returned to Hood River, spent three concentrated weeks writing and connecting with local friends and business owners. After successfully negotiating for the salary I desired, a first for me, I began working at a beautiful and inspiring winery. Recently, my brother told me “we have something to learn every day, it can be a small mundane observation or a great insight, all worthy and necessary”.

And now for once, I will let this shadow figure Meagan Masten, the petite powerhouse, share her thoughts.

In life, there will be uncomfortable periods and moments of uncertainty and doubt. These feelings are inevitable. It is unlikely we ever have clear direction on which path to choose or the path may elude us entirely. Do we seize the moment and go all-in? Or do we walk away and save our energy for another opportunity? I knew when I accepted my role as in-house counsel that the proposed project I was working on had no guarantee of success. I risked being laid off. Despite knowing this, my greatest fear was not the act of being laid off itself, but the uncertainty that would follow. Would my friends and family still respect and love me even while unemployed? How would I manage finances? Could I find a new job? Then the day came and I was indeed laid off. Suddenly I was facing my greatest fear. And you know what happened? My friends and family did not love me less and the outpouring of support was beyond what I could have imagined. My finances are fine because I am a planner. Finding a new job in the time of Corona has thrown a wrench in the works but the solution is simple. Keep trying.

Simply trying unveiled itself as the solution when faced with other moments of uncertainty, including our month in Spain. I am not the most confident sport climber and the limestone with its steep walls and curious pockets intimidated me. Standing at the base of an imposing route I would waffle, am I going to come peeling off between the first and second bolt? It looks balancy, slippery, reachy, and pumpy all at once. What if I cannot finish it? Then I would counter with but what if the movement is like gymnastics on the wall and turns out to be a delightfully fun puzzle? Ah, the agonizing moment of uncertainty. I could not know the outcome while standing at the base wringing my hands. But dang it, I wanted to try. My solution was to break it down into pieces and proceed bolt by bolt.

Trying, although a good approach, did not always result in success. Once I barely left the ground. I backed off a route when I felt I could not confidently get to the first bolt. On another route, I left a carabiner on a runout slab after taking a 20-foot fall. (All I heard was the sound of rope whizzing by, remarkably, although on a slab, I came out unscathed). I watched Mica lead a route that required enormous confidence and elected to top rope it. However, more often than not I made it to the top. Sometimes I hung but the bolt by bolt approach got me off the ground and allowed me to make engaging moves by twisting, balancing, and reaching. Sometimes I surprised myself by quickly unlocking a sequence or climbing beyond my perceived ability. I led routes that were initially scary and intimidating, and once on them, had a blast. These results came about because I decided to try. My biggest takeaway from our month of exploring crags in Southern Spain was that we were, more often than not, capable of more than we thought.

Uncertainty will follow me throughout life–in relationships, careers, climbing, real estate, you name it. The best I can do is take the facts at hand, identify the available paths, pick the one that makes the most sense using heart and logic, and then try. We try our best and sometimes we fail but more often than not we succeed. Regardless of the outcome, our friends and family will be there to support and celebrate with us. I was truly lucky to share this month with Mica who proved to be a timeless, thoughtful, strong (mentally and physically!), patient and caring friend.

With Gratitude and Try Hard I cannot wait until we can climb again.

 

 

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