Seasoned climber and WildBounds contributor Chris Kalman does a Catalonia two-step, stopping first in what is perhaps the most famous of all Catalonian climbing destinations – Siurana.
You’ve only got so much skin, your tendons can only take so much abuse, and your muscles can only hold out against the pump for so long. We are finite, as are all our constituent pieces. Luckily for the climber traveling to Catalonia, that finitude is matched by a nearly infinite supply of incredibly varied, and high quality limestone sport climbing. It’s been called the best climbing area in the world. After two separate visits, this climber may just have to agree.
There are many ways to do your Catalonia climbing trip – but I happen to believe I’ve come across the best way. It involves a rental car, a tent, a rope, a rack of quickdraws, harness, shoes, chalk, a mushroom hunting guide, and a penchant for good wine and olive oil.
Our trip begins in, perhaps, the most famous of all Catalonian climbing destinations. Our trip begins, as it must, in Siurana. How do I begin to describe the beauty of this zone? The words Spanish Castle Magic come to mind – but no, it is not that. The color palette of Edvard Munsch’s The Scream is a close approximation, but he’s got the sky mixed up with the rocks—no, it’s not that. Perhaps a bowl of rainbow sorbet? None of this is working – let’s just take it from the top. Er, the bottom.
Unless you’re living in Barcelona, chances are you’ll fly there. Take a day or three, go see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, check out La Rambla, spend hours contemplating cubism at the Museu Picasso. But then, my friend, escape the madding crowd. Rent a car, and beat a path out west to a little town at the foot of the mountains, called Cornudella de Montsant.
This quaint little village sits in a tight valley of multicolored layers of geologic beauty. Famous for its olives and grapes, the town itself is a great place to load up on cheap wine and olive oil from local cooperativos, run by the farmers of the area. But don’t dally for long – the mountains are calling. Head out of town, pass through vineyards and farm fields, and begin a 12 km climb up the scenic and winding Carrer Major road to the top of the mountain. Cruise through a layer of red sandstone (not the main attraction), then up through beautiful blue and orange streaked towering limestone walls (this is what you’ve come for). Keep going, and just before the road ends, pull in at Camping Siurana.
Owned and operated by the famous Spanish climber, Toni Arbonés, Camping Siurana is a world-renowned fixture in the climbing community. The views are amazing, excellent trail and road running abound, the restaurant and bar is bustling, and (most importantly) world-class climbing is only a stone’s throw away. This will be where you stay. Park the car, and let it sit. You won’t be needing it for a while.
The climbing in Siurana is one of a kind. Imagine soaring walls of clean stone, billowing like a flag in a gentle breeze just past, or just less than vertical. They undulate, ripple, and curve, streaked with blue water spouts or orange mineral deposits. The rock itself, when you set hand and foot upon the wall, maintains a veneer of small, but solid, hand and footholds. Famous routes such as Muerte al Sponsor (F7b+) will put your technique to the test, providing only a braille book of miniscule crimps and edges to fathom your way up the wall.
While there are overwhelmingly juggy affairs to be found, the majority of the climbing in Siurana is something of a Spanish ballet: as finger tips and toes fondle delicately for purchase on small, but positive edges and flutes of stone. Give it three days of solid work, and your tips are sure to be blown through. Your shoes may survive your first round with Siurana, but the telltale signs of red and white dots on your fingertips will tell you that it’s time to move on. It is hard, for sure, to bid this magical land adieu – but fear not. More beauty and incredible climbing awaits, just around the riverbend.