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.