Friday, February 28, 2014

Dispatch from the winter of contrasts.

As a ski guide and ski touring lodge owner winter always passes in a blur.  A day of sitting on my butt in front of the computer is the exception not the rule, and time seems to slow during these days as I get caught up on my inside jobs. I revel in this time - I can almost hear my leg muscles say "ahhhhhhhh" as they sink into the couch and my normally ski-boot clad feet say "thank goodness" as my toes spread into the furry depths of my slippers. It's nice to have a bit of time for hang-boarding, yoga, and feels great to achieve that feeling of caught-upness that comes when I tackle my to-do list.

But as I look outside, at the winter sun reflecting off the snow I know that I won't make it a whole day. Afterall, my dog needs his walk so I'll use him as an excuse and get out for a run or two. Hopefully I'll finish this little post first!

My winter up to now has been characterized by extremes: A January that was both sunny and crazy warm, followed by sunny and crazy cold. A long drought followed by 150cm of snow in a week. Two all woman's ski trips, two all men's ski trips. A month of not leaving the quiet isolation of Valhalla Mountain Touring followed by a marathon drive to Snowqualmie Pass Washington to teach a ski clinic for the Alpental Vertfest. The youngest VMT guest (Kai Everett - 7 weeks) and the oldest (Bob Workum - 82). Pushing my skis up the mountain in thigh deep snow at VMT and getting whisked to the top by a snowcat at Retallack. Hero skiing in 30 degree boot top and sidestepping my way down an icy 45 degree couloir.

Most of my time and energy is spent sharing my experiences with the guests I am guiding, hence the lack of blogging. Even my best buddies in Squamish don't hear from me for months at a time. However even though I am working, being surrounded by people who are on their cherished ski vacation time is infectious! As long as I get plenty of sleep, don't drink too much and carve out a few minutes of "me time" each day I truly feel this is the best job I could ever have.

Here are a few of my favourite moments from the past few months:

The epitome of winter bliss. Rosy cheeks, tired legs and great friends to celebrate with. "Porch beers" was part of the daily schedule of the VMT Women's Week. 

It's tempting to get frustrated when it's not snowing, but far more fun to revel in the sun! 

Team K2 Anex 108 poised to shred the Baron Bowl, the first time in years that it's both been in stable conditions AND had good snow!

Happy guests post-Baron Bowl shred. "I can't believe we just skied that!"

Guide's day off with my sweetie means going exploring in our south tenure looking for new lines. 
Evan poised for the first descent of the Hourglass Right above Shannon Lake. 
Bhumi Mountain Camp participants skinning across the Secret Valley at Sentry Lodge
Up-and-coming photographer Zoya Lynch shredding at Sentry Lodge

Caroline skis down from Profanity Col, Sentry Lodge. 



Bhumi Mountain Camp Sentry Lodge crew. What a pleasure to work with these beauties. 

She kept us safe during the Valentine's Day week. 

Guests at Retallack enjoying some ridge time between snow-cat assisted laps. Only girls on the mountain were the guides!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Winter Life

Spain seems quite far away now. My hands haven't touched rock in well over a month but I honestly haven't even missed climbing that much. The days have been full of skiing, ski guiding and dealing with the variety of day to day operational tasks at Valhalla Mountain Touring. I am so grateful for the fact that my winter job keeps me out in the fresh air, exercising and enjoying the mountains, problem solving and learning new things every day. But I admit, most nights I fall into bed utterly exhausted.

Evan put together a little video of some highlights of our winter season so far.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Spain Part Dos - Terradets

After around 3 weeks of climbing in Rodellar, Spain I was finally started to feel it. As long as I could pinch a tufa between my knees, scum a shoulder or hip check something, I had a fighting chance of weaseling my way up some climbs. So I went project shopping. Because that's what you do when you go sport climbing, right? I spent several days sampling a range of climbs at my limit, but they all felt impossible! Maybe not "forever" impossible, but impossible until I stop eating refined sugar and milled grains, lay off the vino and do an hour of core workouts at the end of every climbing day. We decided it was time to move on to another destination. Our time in Spain was almost half over and there were still so many world-class crags on our list!
Most memorable send of the trip - headstand every morning for 6 weeks!
Sunset light on the village of Siurana. We didn't climb at this popular area, but enjoyed our scenic drive through. 
Our next destination was Terradets, specifically the Bruixes Wall. This is truly a cliff of dreams. Short approach, quiet zone, pretty views, stunning stone and tufas, sweet tufas. We spent almost every day of the rest of our time in Spain at this one crag. Everything I tried at the Bruixes Wall, including the routes I didn't actually do, felt kind of climbable, like if it was my home crag I might eventually climb them all! Indeed, the hard-climbers recommend starting at one end of the cliff and climbing every route until you hit the other end of the cliff. Well I didn't do that. Didn't even try. But I was happy to finish a handful of the fabulous climbs there and could probably rant on about this pocket or that crimp or this pinch, or that polished foothold but really! who wants to read boring stuff like that. Just take it from me, if you like to climb, and you enjoy climbing mid 5.12 to 5.13- you will probably have fun at this crag. And if you aren't having fun, I can only hope that you can be there on the same day as John Dunne and his mates like we were, because if you can listen to those Brits and their self- and partner-depracating banter and not have fun then you should head straight to the clubs in Barcelona, party all night and learn to not take yourself so seriously.
Climber on El Latido de Medio 8a, Bruixes Wall Terradets
View of the Bruixes wall from a hiking trail across the valley.
This is the climbing at Regina, a shady sector across from the Bruixes wall. A bit more chossy and mostly all 8a and harder, but impressive all the same. 
FYI The slabs shown here are for sunbathing, not for climbing.
The worst moment of the trip for me was when I was all gung-ho on one of the routes I did called Energia Positiva. I was having trouble with one of the clips so decided to clip it from above, when it was at my knee. Unfortunately on my last attempt of the day I was really tired but needed to do one more lap to clean my draws before taking a few days off to spend a city weekend in Barcelona. When I was above the draw but not yet clipped my foot slipped and I fell sideways, somehow got my body wrapped in the rope and got slammed into the wall back first. I let out a pretty good F%*&!!! when I hit. When I lowered to the ground I was physically tender but psychologically mortified. I wanted to disappear. It was a busy day at the cliff, everyone was looking at me wondering if I was going to live or if I had a broken neck but meanwhile it was just a few scrapes, bruises and a rope-burned love handle. That's the last time I try to emulate those famous climbers in the movies who skip bolt after bolt while enveloped in the focussed fearlessness of their redpoint. After a rest day the route went down with ease, probably because I was too terrified to let go.
What I would do if I stuck to what comes naturally - hiking
Grapes: functional AND beautiful
Evan with the local boys in post-climbing bliss watching some football and swilling some brew
We also visited two other crags - Tres Ponts and Collegats, both within 45 minutes of Terradets and definitely worth a visit. Both areas had some really nice climbs, were river-side and breezy on warm days, and had mellow approaches (although to get to the best wall at Collegats you have to cross a cable tyrolean - either bring your own pulley, or sacrifice a couple of lockers to extreme abrasion). Both crags had a combination of steeper routes and more vertical, techie but really high quality climbs. Collegats had a 45m 7a+ and a 35m 7b that were both really really good. Reminded me of Pet Wall movement, but on grippy, edgy limestone.

Evan on the tyrolean to Collegats
Climber at Collegats

In case any of you are using this post as travel beta, I will give you the particulars of what we sorted out here:

ACCOMMODATION
We divided our time in the Terradets area between 3 places, all near Tremp.

Cal Morralet was a big guest house run by a lovely woman named Ana. There are around 6 private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, and a big shared living room/kitchen. There are also several self-contained suites. We stayed in one of the suites in the basement and it was comfortable, clean and totally adequate with good internet. The location was great, only a few minutes from the grocery store in Tremp, and around 10 minutes to the Bruixes at Terradets. The only drawback was that the landscape right around the house and the house itself weren't very scenic, and when the house was full of people it was pretty noisy in our downstairs suite. A great deal at 35 euros per night for the suite. This and similar options can be found on the website http://www.lleidarural.info.

We stayed at Hotel Terradets for just one night when we were between places. It offers nice, simple hotel rooms and rates include a decadent breakfast buffet, but there are no cooking facilities in the room, so you have to cook on your deck or eat in the cafeteria or restaurant, or drive 15 minutes into Tremp to eat. It is within a few km of the Bruixes wall at Terradets. A great option for a shorter trip, or if you just want something really simple and close to the climbing. We paid around 50 euros for the night, but I think if you stay longer there is a discount.
Sunrise view from our room at Hotel Terradets
We finished off our trip with two weeks in the unbelievable tranquil settlement of Figuerola de Meia, where we rented an apartment we found advertised on the website climbinpeace.com. The website is run by a nice local climber named Cristian, who serves as a liaison between climbers looking for places to stay and Spaniards who have places to rent. Our apartment and the stone building that housed it seemed very new, but the surrounding stone buildings were literally crumbling ruins on a plateau covered with small fields with views to orange limestone escarpments and the snowy Pyrenees far beyond. Spectacular and silent. The only drawback was it was far from everything... 30 minutes to groceries and around 20 minutes drive to the Bruixes wall.
Tucked in behind these dilapidated building is our cute little apartment
The view from our deck at Figuerola de Meia
Evening light on Figuerola de Meia
FOOD
We bought most of our groceries from the supermarket in Tremp. We also found lots of great smaller stores, butchers and bakeries and even a little natural food store in the walking area of Tremp. The tough part with the smaller stores is navigating their schedule. Everything is closed on Sunday and most smaller places are closed in the middle of the day. We really didn't eat out at all - nothing seemed both enticing AND vegetarian.
The bakery in Camarasa was pretty delicious. This pastry had custard and chocolate chips on it, and as you can see, did not make it to the crag or even out of the parking lot. 
Cocktail hour at the refugio in Siurana looks like this. 
I grew up with health-food-nut parents, but even I didn't get orange juice or yogurt with carrot sauce for dessert! 
We could pick pomegranates right outside of our door!
REST DAY ADVENTURES
Most of my rest days are spent on a hike or a run, and my time in Terradets was no different. Two standouts were the Mont-rebei Gorge and the Aiguestortes National Park in the Pyrenees.
Mont-Rebei Gorge 
Amazing hike in the Mont-Rebei Gorge
Mont-Rebei Gorge
That is really the trail - Mont-Rebei Gorge
Crazy trail close-up
Nice to be back in the granite, but the freezing wind not so much - hiking in the Pyrenees
Evan chilling in the Aiguestortes National Park
Refugio in the Aiguestortes National Park
When we finally hit that point in the trip that we needed a little more than one rest day, we took off for a weekend in Barcelona and treated ourselves to a hotel room and checking out the famous Barca Football team play in their home stadium. Barcelona is only around 2 hours from Tremp.
Cool church in the gothic quarter in Barcelona. 
Barca! 
This Barcelona lady would probably rust in Squamish. 

This crumbling, abandoned settlement was a 5 km run on a gravel road from our apartment at Figuerola de Meia. 
Beauty everywhere. 
Well that's all she wrote about 6 weeks in Spain. It was a really wonderful trip. High enjoyment to stress ratio. Best tufas ever. I would go back and recommend it to others for sure. Glad I squeaked in this last post because my ski boots are giving me that look.






Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rodellar - beta for softies

Someone once told me Rodellar only really gets good in the 8s (that's french 8s (YDS translation = 5.13b and up), not 5.8s. For this reason I was obviously pretty intimidated to head there at the start of a fall trip after a summer spent mostly alpine climbing, guiding and generally not climbing hard or feeling particularly strong. I had also heard that the weather can be fickle in the fall, so it was with some hesitation that I committed to spending the first 10 days of our Spain trip there. Due to perfect weather, amazing climbing and tranquilo surroundings, 10 days turned into almost 3 weeks - so I guess I liked it!

I have noticed that a few people have found my blog useful for planning their own adventures, so I will include a few details that made our stay in Rodellar awesome. For reference, we were there from Oct 4-22. 

Accommodation: We stayed at the Valle de Rodellar  
The apartments at Valle de Rodellar
These little self-contained units are a 10 minute walk from the crags. They are comfy, clean and have enough indoor space for stretching, chilling out and all have some outdoor seating for swilling Ambar or some local Somontano vino and watching the sun set. The best units are #7-10 (you don't have anyone above you). The kitchens are simple 2 burner stoves, no oven, a small fridge and have everything you need to prepare basic meals. You can pay a bit more to have sheets and towels, or just bring your own. There is wifi but it usually doesn't work in the rooms and is pretty maddeningly slow most of the time. The best program was to get on it in morning at the coffee shop/bar area where there are tables for guests to chill out. 

Sorting gear in the bedroom. 
Living room/kitchen

Food: There is a small market for food, beer, wine in the hotel lobby area as well, with good fresh bread and pastries every morning. The market was adequate for basics and treats like awesome local cheese but there was a wider range of produce and generally cheaper prices in several large supermarkets in Barbastro, a 45 minute winding drive from Rodellar. 

The little market at the hotel. 
This was the awesome local goat cheese which came in varieties that ranged from soft brie-like to cheddary to really hard and sharp.
One of my favourite rural travel pastimes is foraging for free food. I think of it as classy dumpster diving in nature. In Rodellar there were ripe figs, walnuts, grapes, blackberries and rosemary, and when I went for a trail run high above town I found thyme. 
Fresh, foraged, free!
I couldn't figure out the identity of these tempting bright red soft fruit growing on small trees beside the road into Rodellar. I took a photo and passed it around. Finally the woman running the refugio Kalandraka in Rodellar identified it as arbutus/madrona (AKA strawberry tree!). They are edible but fairly tasteless and are used to make liqueur in Madrid and Portugal.
Madrona fruit.
We don't eat out that much when we travel in Europe, partially because I like to cook, partially to save money, and partially because Evan doesn't eat meat or fish so there often aren't many great options for him at restaurants. We had two meals that were tasty and good value at the Refugio Kalandraka. It's also a fun place to go for drinks, play pool and meet climbers from all over the world. 

Drinking and eating with a fabulous crew of new friends at Kalandraka
Climbing: Much to my relief, the climbing is not just great in the 8s at Rodellar. I climbed some amazing 6s and 7s, and was surprised how many bolted even easier routes there were in the guidebook. I think most climbers who sport climb upper 5.10 or higher could come to Rodellar and have fun. The routes were well bolted and it was not very far between crags. Although we frequented crags with mostly gently to wildly overhanging routes, there is definitely some sharp, vertical techie stuff if you look for it. The one tough thing was finding shady warm-ups. Most days we warmed up at El Camino, a crag on the west-facing side of the valley. The warm-ups here are really polished and range from awesome to kick-your-ass desperate. The warm-ups at the Dolphin area are nicer but are also sunny in the morning. In the afternoon, the east facing side of the canyon goes into the shade and the mega crags like the Gran Boveda, Las Ventanas and Aquest Any Si go into the shade. 
Our go-to warm-up crag, El Camino. The routes were shorter than most of the others we climbed at Rodellar, but they certainly provided a pump!
Evan at the base of the Delphin, an amazing arch feature with a mega concentration of routes on and near it. 
Climber on El Delphin (7c+)
The Gran Boveda - tons of amazing 30-40m routes in the upper 7s and 8s
Evan geared up for battle at the base of Sopa de Ajo, an amazing 7b+ tufa route that is a fabulous and surprisingly techie intro to the long, fun routes at the Gran Boveda. Knee pads really helped on this one!
If you have enough time, a day trip or two to Riglos to climb one of the super-unique conglomerate multipitches is an absolute must-do. Our day on Fiesta de los Biceps was a highlight of the entire trip to Spain. It's a 7 pitch amazing pumpfest - but the route should be called Fiesta de los Forearms because that's where it got us. The mind-blowing steepness, the crazy colour, texture and structure of the rock and the gigantic griffon vultures swooping overhead make this a full-value outing and only a 1.5 hour drive from Rodellar. If you don't love the first pitch, keep going, the first one is the most chossy and not a good representation of the rest of the route.

Morning light on the spires at Riglos
One thing that is not an issue on this route is the route finding! Follow the chalk highway.
This is not a slab.
Rest day activities: Since I am a total spazz I am usually not content to just spent all of my rest days lazing about. Don't get me wrong, I like to chill a bit, but on longer trips I really like to use rest days as a way of making sure my whole trip isn't spent staring at the same hunk of rock. Rodellar has great trails right from town that wander around the canyons and ridges, which make for great hikes and rugged trail runs. Our favourite was a loop that took us past all these cool towers to the abandoned village of Otin and back a different way.
This spire has some free and aid routes on it, and is about 30m hiking beyond the cragging at Rodellar. Looks tempting but we just walked by on our rest day. 
Evan clowning around at the abandoned village of Otin. 
For less active rest days, a fairly short drive gets you to the village of Alquezar where there is a pretty medieval stone village to wander through, and a relatively short canyon hike which is mostly cool and shady even on a hot day.

Walkway in the canyon beneath Alquzar
Lots of lovely details in the old village of Alquezar
I didn't do it, but had the weather been a touch warmer I could easily see spending a day lazing beside the river that winds through the crags at Rodellar. There are a bunch of polished rock sites and beautiful clear pools that looked like a great spot to spend the day. 

Well, that's what this softie gleaned from a 2.5 week stay in Rodellar. It seems to have something for everyone, whether you want to camp or sleep in a van or share a dorm room with a bunch of climbers, or go the soft route like us and get your own apartment. It's a great place to climb 6s and 7s and 8s as long as you don't mind lots of rowdy encouragement (VENGA, VENGA!) accompanied by second hand smoke of several varieties wafting up the wall when you are trying hard. People were friendly, the setting was beautiful. I'm definitely going back.