"Not all those who wander are lost"

Posts tagged “Siurana

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.


The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

-John Muir


I picked up my drenched backpack off the luggage carousel and hefted it onto my back.  Two months of rain in Turkey didn’t seem to be enough; now it was raining in Barcelona as well.  I donned my rain jacket and found the bus headed into the city.  After some relative painless navigation of the Barcelona public transportation system I worked my way down a narrow street and saw my name on a door.  I’ve been a lot of places and even known where I’m going at times, but nothing has ever been as good upon arrival as seeing that nice little note with my name to let me know that 1, I was in the right spot and 2, someone is nice enough to let a stranger sleep on the couch and make an entire note explain what’s going on and where to get food.

It also explained that I couldn’t get in at the moment, so I followed the precise map on my note to a café just down the road.  I unloaded my bags in the back corner and got a beer and sandwich while I waited.  It had been nearly 24 hours since my last meal so my first sandwich was quickly followed by a falafel.  By then I headed back up the road and met Viki for the first time.  I spent the next few days hanging out in Barcelona and for the first time in my life discovering there is a city I actually really like.  I borrowed a bike and cruised around checking out the architecture, looking at the amazing works of Gaudi, and loving how fun and easy it is to just ride around the city.

After a few days waiting in Barcelona for my friend Ro, then for his bag to arrive, we eventually headed out to Siurana.  We made it in the afternoon in time to squeeze in a couple pitches before heading to the campground to set up shop.  Siurana, I had the impression, is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the world and would therefore have lots of people around for the peak season starting in March.  The campground did not reflect this.  The two tents we added doubled the evident population of the dusty, lumpy, dirt campground.

The next couple days we explored Siurana, just walking up to walls that looked good and either trying things that looked good or taking a look at someone’s book to make sure we weren’t getting in over our heads.  The climbing was great, and even better, wasn’t hurting my elbow.  Hooray for vertical crimpy climbing.

Over the first couple days I managed to run into half a dozen people I knew, many of whom mentioned staying in Cornudella for cheaper than the campground.  On our first rest day Ro and I decided to check it out.  By the end of the rest day wandering around Cornudella asking in shops we had a decent little flat right in town.  It came with all the normal amenities and even included an exceptionally loud bell tower directly across the street.  It might not have been annoying, but its occasional inconsistencies definitely took their toll; ringing out the hour twice sometimes and other times ringing 80 times before stopping.







For the next two weeks I climbed, hung out with Ro, met a bunch of new friends, and caught up with some old ones.  Cornudella really is an awesome place to be for a trip.  The town is tiny, but has a few nice little shops and bars, it’s centrally located for Siurana, Margalef, Montsant, and tons of other crags, the beach is only an hour away, and did I mention its right next to Siurana!  With so much climbing around and an elbow on the mend I found it hard to stop long enough to try any route two days in a row.  As a result I spent a lot of time check out fun 7a’s and b’s.  I sent some, I flailed on others, but almost all were really fun.

Then Ro’s time in Siurana came to an end and he headed off for Barcelona.  It was weird to all of a sudden be back to searching for partners, not having anyone around in the evenings, and needing to hitch places.  Sometimes you don’t realize a person’s effect on you until they’re gone.  I realized that without Ro’s constant happy psych and with four days of rain, I was going out less and watching a few more movies.  To make up I stepped up my workouts, basically leaving the living room set up to work out any time, all the furniture and tables pushed out of the way and my layers of blankets and towels for a mat in the middle of the room.

Quickly the weather returned to the amazing dry, sunny conditions known is normal here and my psych stepped up again.  I climbed with a bunch of new people including an awesome couple traveling in the tiniest van I’ve seen two people try to live in.  Their Subaru Sambar only had two seats, no headroom, and could probably fit into any sprinter, but it did come with a double section sun roof.  I even picked up a little bit of a project, a really fun route called La Crema, that has some tough vertical climbing and powerful moves on crimps.  I tried it a couple times, but didn’t figure I would have the opportunity to do it since it gets blasted by sun all day.

The time I had paid for the in the flat was ending and, although I had planned for at least a full month in Siurana, I started thinking about heading to Rodellar early.  That did not happen.  Just when I was ready to leave I met some more fun people and found it hard to leave again.  I moved into the spare room of a new friend and spent a week hanging out with some new German and Spanish friends.  My routine quickly did a 180, going from normal days of climbing, mellow hanging out with people and a beer at Goma, the climbing shop/bar/restaurant, and heading back to the flat to read and sleep by 11to full Spanish style.  We would climb some, get back and have a beer before diner, maybe have dinner, then hang out until I would look down to see it was 3am.  Mornings were spent hanging out with the Germans for an hour or so while we waited for the Spanish guys to show up, always an hour late.

I even managed two days of trying La Crema where I kept falling on the crux move at the top and taking 30+ft whips every time because I was skipping a bolt.  For the first time of my trip I even got some photos of myself thanks to Jule.  I had postponed leaving a couple times and finally decided that I would leave on my next rest day.  The only problem was I was just having too much fun.  Not wanting to break my agreement with myself, I found the loophole and just didn’t take a rest day for nearly a week.  But as with all things in life, nothing good can last.  I had a couple great last days of hanging out and laughing until I cried, but then it was time for the Germans to and Benjamin had to fix his car.

I managed to send off my application to be a language assistant in Spain in the fall, then spent two more great days in Cornudella, including one last try on La Crema where I took the long whip once more and some delicious calcots, traditional Catalan food which is basically tasty grilled green onions with sauces, for my birthday thanks to the Spanish guys.  And then that was it, I packed up and walked to the edge of town to catch a ride to Rodellar.