SCARPA athlete Jesse Huey recently checked in with this report:
By the end of the winter I was starting to feel like a grumpy old man. I was overworked and in the middle of planning an alpine trip to Patagonia with my friend Madeline Sorkin for the month of February. I couldn’t help but listen to my gut, which was telling me that I needed some good, old-fashioned, type one fun. Sport climbing – who doesn’t love a bubble gum sport-climbing trip! My mind quickly ran through the possibilities, and in about 10 seconds I was researching flights to Barcelona, Spain. Madeline was easily swayed and within a few days all our alpine focus turned into training for the overhanging limestone of Catalunya, Spain.
Europe is the place to go to have your perspective changed. The warm ups are all 5.12, the climbs are all 35 meters long, and they are the most fun you could possibly have on a rope. Arriving in Terradets (near the city of Tremp), we made our home in a thin, scrappy tent in the middle of the European winter, just a few miles from one of Europe’s most famous crags, the Bruixes Wall. Bookend to bookend, the wall has more stacked 5-star lines than any other cliff I have ever seen.
Foreign to climbing limestone tufas, I was getting the slap down. Madeline watched and critiqued my climbing, coining the phrase “climbing in the 90’s” (referring to me climbing with my arms at 90°). Trying to apply my crack climbing know how to 35-meter tufa jug hauls was about as effective as it sounds. Pumped stupid, and frustrated, I had to put my ego aside and get the daily beat down. Gradually the technique started to come, and my body started to move the way it should on that type of stone. I would continuously tell myself, “just react, don’t look so hard for THE foot, put it where it wants to go, GET OUT OF THE 90’s, and KEEP MOVING!” Before you knew it, I was getting the hang of it and starting to red point grades that would be the equivalent of what I could do back home.
After several weeks of tufa pinching at the Bruixes Wall, we drove three hours (in our 8-dollar-a-day rental car) to the nearby famous Rodellar. It is a difficult place to climb if your background isn’t in gym climbing. Many of the routes resemble a crashing wave, ever steepening much like the gym. It is a style that I respect but am not very good at, and therefore don’t get overly excited with. The one route I was told I had to climb in Rodellar was named “Pince Sans Rire” – literally French for “Pinching Without Smiling”. It is a 35-meter 7b+ (5.12c) that has 4 bolts in the bottom 35 feet and 5 bolts in the upper 85. A single 35-meter Tufa, this route was all that it was hyped to be and worthy of the recommendation. Climbing this type of thing reminded me to stop thinking about not falling, and just thinking about climbing. If you thought about the fall (which would be HUGE) you would freeze and never get to the top of anything.
Rodellar brought on the need for me to learn how to knee bar. I always thought I was good at knee bars. Evidently, I was wrong. Buying a kneepad, I started to get knee bars where I never thought possible. With the new kneepad technology and my new skills in climbing tufas, I was starting to redpoint routes that were impossible a month earlier. I started to get the feeling that maybe I was becoming a sport climber.
Just as it was starting to click, Madeline left, and my friend Maury Birdwell subbed in. Less focused on hard sport routes, Maury and I made our way Riglos, an anomaly in its own right, known for its 1,000 feet of cobbled conglomerate. Quickly we found a topo for the well known “Fiesta De Los Biceps,” an 8-pitch 5.11d that overhangs 70 meters in total. Racing up the “Fiesta” with fearless abandon, we weren’t satisfied with just one route. A three-hour nap and a few coffees later, Maury and I found ourselves on “Fiesta’s” neighbor “Zulu Demente”, another 8 pitch 5.12a. Cranking out the final 30 feet our biceps cramped as we shouted encouragement to each other.
Shortly after Riglos, Maury and I made plans to alpine climb in Chamonix for two weeks, where we would shift from clipping bolts to our roots in the alpine. Hooking up with Jonathan Griffith, a local photographer and accomplished alpine climber, we went to make a free ascent of the difficult Dru Couloir Direct. The Dru is an amazing mountain, with no easy way to the summit. Our line had seen only a handful of free ascents, and was rumored to be in the M9 range. After an evening in the Gondola station, we started our approach hike at 2am. Arriving at the base of the Dru just before daylight, it loomed above us, and we could tell that we were going to be in for the full experience. As soon as I got on lead on the steep section of the climb, I felt right at home – it was as if, I had been climbing this type of terrain yesterday. Steep chimneys and cracks chocked with ice and snow, I felt like I was in Alaska again. After several tough pitches and a few healthy run outs, we were finally at the base of the “crux pitch.”
The last pitch was as difficult a lead as I have encountered in the mountains. Overhanging the entire way but with solid gear, it was a joy to climb. At the end of this pitch, Jon wanted to shoot some photos of the final bulge, so we both rapped in for a few minutes of photos that were completely worth the pose down. The next three hours went by with 60° calf-burning ice hell. Topping out the route was more anticlimactic than any other route I have done. We pulled out a high five, and then rapped 17 times to the glacier below.
Like I said before, Europe is the place to go to get your mind blown. The access, the base level of climbing, and the amount of psyche is endless. It is the kind of thing I can see taking my own climbing to the next level, which means one thing… I will be back!