"Not all those who wander are lost"

Archive for June, 2015

The Cornudella Vortex

You pick a goal, you work towards it, makes you feel better, just keep moving, that’s my motto.

-Edward, Hector & the Search for Happiness


Trapped between the oppressive sun and scorching pavement, I shuffled along the side of the E-90 highway while cars blazed passed ignoring my outstretched arm and raised thumb.  My luck had not been good.

I started my journey on the side of the road in Cornudella later than I had hoped, but still with what I thought was plenty of time to hitch the 2.5 hours of driving to Rodellar.  My first ride took a while to get and only dropped me off in Prades, 15km away.  The Spanish man had insisted it would be much easier to get rides from there, but as each hour ticked away one after another, I grew more skeptical.  The bells in the local church rang out 5pm and I began considering a retreat to Cornudella for another night and setting out again in the morning.  Before I had decided to bail a guy finally stopped and waved me in.

He was actually a climber too and we chatted in Spanglish about climbing in the US and Spain.  Unfortunately he said he was not going to Lleida, the large town on the way to Rodellar, but could drop me on the highway leading to it, where I should be able to get a ride.  I got out on the side of the road, swinging my heavy pack onto my back and looked around.  It was a tiny highway exit with nothing around but the small road toward smaller towns that I had just come from.  He suggested I walk 10 minutes up the road to a town so I headed down the road as he pulled away.

No more possibility to bail and make it back to Cornudella de Montsant, only onward to Rodellar or sleeping on the side of some highway on the way there.

I trudged down the highway, hoping that a car would stop for me.  The supposed town never came in 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or even 90.  My grueling march continued as cars zipped by, broken up by occasional stops to prop my pack on the guard rail and relieve the hip strap digging into my skin.  After almost two hours a little black VW Golf pulled over 100 feet down the road from me.  A young guy with dreads down his back jumped out of the car waving and yelling, cheering me to run.  I broke into a waddling run, as much as I could manage with two heavy packs sandwiching me.  We loaded my stuff into the trunk and took off down the road.

The three guys spoke mostly Catalan with a bit of Spanish that I could barely understand over the blasting Spanish music.  We tried to communicate as the car careened down the road at 180 km/hr.  A beer and a joint were passed between the two passengers while I wondered how messed up the driver might be and what I might have gotten myself into.  Thankfully everything turned out alright and they dropped me on the far side of Lleida so it would be easier to get a ride.

This time it wasn’t long before two ladies picked me up who actually were headed to near Rodellar.  One actually worked at Kalandraka, but wasn’t going up there until the following day.  They were really nice and even stopped when one saw her daughter to see if the daughter might be going to Rodellar.  Alas, she was not.  The ladies dropped me right at the beginning of the road to Rodellar at 8:30.

I sat on the side of the road wondering if I would get a ride before it got dark.  I was weighing my options for which nearby field I might sleep in when I car drove past.  The driver gave me the all too common shrug and gesture to a passengers as his way of saying “sorry bud, you’re screwed tonight.”  I sat back down and continued cracking hazel nuts that sufficed as my dinner.  A minute later the same car drove back by, pulled a U-turn in the intersection and pulled over.  I threw my bags in the back and joined the other two passengers in the back seat.  They felt bad leaving me since it was almost dark and decided there was room after all.  Neco, as I found out his name was, had come with full accompaniment of girlfriend and parents for the weekend of climbing.  We talked about Rodellar, and climbing as we wound our way down the tiny road.

Finally I was there.  Where there was, I didn’t really know, but I had made it to Rodellar.  Being me, I hadn’t really thought much about where to stay.  I considered a cave bivy, but after hauling my heavy backpacks around all day, I was not interested in moving them around the next day or worrying about stuff getting stolen.  I headed to Kalandraka, the refugie, to get a good night of sleep and maybe figure out free camping the next day.  Before I had even finished checking in I somehow, really I’m not sure how since I only saw the back of his head, spotted my friend Jon who lives in Zaragosa.  We chatted and made plans to climb the next day.  I schlepped my stuff one more time down some steps, into my new shared room, and collapsed to sleep.

I realize this is a 900 word way of saying “I hitched to Rodellar,” but it gives you a bit more of an idea how I was feeling, how long the day felt, and the relief when I arrived.

After a friend had recently told me that Rodellar was empty I was happy to see plenty of people in the parking lot and a good handful around Kalandraka.  Even with it being a weekend, some of those people had to be sticking around, right?
I climbed with Jon and a couple of his friends my first day.  The crag we went to wasn’t the most popular, but had some amazing long vertical routes with fun moves and of course some tufas.  I spent the day trying to onsight and get used to pinching tufas again.  Throughout the day a few more people showed up at the crag, all of whom Jon knew so by the end of the day I had met several people who would be around the next couple days.

I made plans to climb with a few of Neco’s friends, but in the morning when I showed up 10 minutes late they had already left.  I was stunned that anyone in Spain had actually been on time and left that quickly.  Luckily the great ladies I had met through Jon had also invited me to climb with them so I headed off toward El Delfin and spent a fun day climbing with them.

As I rested on Monday I watched nearly every person in Rodellar leave.  By late morning it was down to one other guy and I left in the refugie; apparently my friend was right about Rodellar being really slow still.  Mark, as I discovered his name was, turned out to be from England.  For the next few days we hung out and climbed together.  We checked out some of the amazing crags in Rodellar, drank beer, and played pool.  Essentially we did everything available to amuse ourselves.  I spent a solid day falling off at the anchor of climbs, even when it wasn’t hard anymore, and we darted from one overhang to another as it began to rain.

After a couple more days of climbing the weather wasn’t looking good: it called for 50mm of rain over the next couple days then cloudy and damp weather for a week.  Mark decided to head to Margalef and not wanting to be stuck at a wet crag with no partners I decided to join even though I had barely got a taste of Rodellar.

I was sad to leave Rodellar already.  It was a very different feel from my time in Siurana and Cornudella, but not unlike my first two days where the campground was desolate.  Similarly, I hoped that if I gave it a little time I would find people and things would fall in like as they had in Siurana.  In many ways Rodellar is the exact opposite as Siurana.  Siurana offers vast sweeping views of the landscape, while Rodellar is tucked down into the canyon and everything feels much closer together.  Of course, the climbing style goes from vertical crimping in Siurana to notoriously steep tufas in Rodellar.  I found Rodellar to be much more polished as well where only a couple routes in Siurana felt polished and most leaned toward sharp texture.

Nonetheless I left, hoping to get a chance to come back with better weather.  Mark and I spent a couple days in Margalef and for the first time I found myself enjoying the climbing there; in particular the climbing at Finestra.  One route, Montgronyeta, really felt like the gateway for me.  It had fun moves, great tufa holds, and for the first time in Margalef, nothing that hurt.

Mark got a message from a friend saying that he was in Cornudella, so we packed up tents and headed over there.  Like magic, I found the Cornudella vortex had pulled me back in and I was not terribly unhappy about it.  We set up shop at the free camping and soon I met a new crew of climbers.

For the next week I hung out with new friends, tried to figure out life, and struggled to get motivated to climb in uncomfortably hot conditions.  Again, I struggled to leave, not knowing if I should head to Rodellar, Gorge du Tarn, or Ceuse or knowing how to get to any of them.  I planned my exit according to the weather and went for one last morning of climbing at El Pati.  I packed my stuff and was ready to head to town when I noticed the wall of rain over Cornudella and moving closer.  I spent the day hiding under an overhang as it poured with most of the folks from camp and by the time I made it to town it was far too late to try to leave.  Again, I found myself staying longer in Cornudella, but this time it really was the last.