Trip Beta: Sport Climbing in Catalunya
Every sport has its shangri-la, its mecca. Five times a day, surfers point the noses of their boards to the curling swells of Oahu, mountain bikers dream of the vast desert trails of Moab and climbers clip the draws at their local gym, imagining themselves on the gold and blue limestone walls of Spain. Granted, there are many world-class climbing destinations, but most would consider it sacrilege not to list the crags of Catalunya among the best of them.
The first thing you should consider before planning a climbing trip to Spain is this: there will never be enough time. Even if you moved to Spain and tried to send 3 new routes every day for the rest of your life, you will never exhaust the mind-boggling amount of rock climbing there is to do at any one of the country’s world-renowned cliffs, let alone all of them. In short, the more time you can get off, the better. That being said, if you’re an average working stiff ﹘ like yours truly ﹘ and the best you can do is two weeks, here’s some advice gleaned from my painfully short trip to the raddest sport-climbing destination I’ve ever been to.
Prime climbing season in Catalunya spans from November to April, though there are climbable areas throughout the rest of the country all year round. Reserve your rental car ahead of time and consider that some agencies require customers to have an “international driver’s license.” Although I’d never heard of such a thing, my lack of one prevented me from renting from certain companies. Oh, and automatic transmission rentals are significantly more expensive than manual ones. I … uhhh … ahem … learned that one the hard way.
We flew into Barcelona and rented a super tiny Fiat from a company called Firefly. If you’re trip is primarily about climbing, then airfare and car rental will be your two biggest expenses. Also, I’d highly recommend you rent a GPS with your car if you don’t have an international data plan for your smartphone. From Barcelona we drove southwest for about 2 hours, though from Madrid it takes closer to 4 hours.
Lodging is fairly easy to find and affordable. There are hostels in most of the old idyllic towns in and around pretty much every major climbing area. One of the more popular ones is the Alberg El Racó De La Finestra, which is located in Margalef and caters primarily to climbers. There you can purchase the guidebook for the entire Tarragona region for about 45 dollars. The hostel is also a minutes drive from endless climbing in any direction. The climbing style in Margalef tends to be steep, powerful and pocketed on conglomerate limestone.
From Margalef it’s also a short drive to Siurana which has more technical, crimpy faces. The nearby town of Cornudella de Montsant is also a kind of climber hub, with hostels and more alternatives for lodging. The town of St. Llorenc de Montgai, just outside of the city of Lleida is also very centrally located to much of the region’s climbing, there is a good campground there and some Airbnb opportunities. From there you can walk or drive 10 minutes and be at the base of a climb. Or you can drive for 30 minutes and be at the tufa paradise of Terradets.
Most of the towns and cities near climbing are pretty rural and/or small, so I’m not sure how it works in more populated areas, but grocery stores all seemed to close at about 5 pm every day, so if you plan on doing any cooking to save cash, take that into consideration as well.
For most of these areas you should bring at least a 70 meter rope, though if you want to ensure that you’ll be able to get on 99 percent of the routes, an 80 meter is ideal. All of the approaches were very friendly, with well marked trails that never get too tough, steep or overgrown.
The climbing in Spain is at least as good as anything you’ve ever heard or seen about it, in fact, it’s probably better. No video or description comes even close to doing it justice. It is the most diverse, picturesque, funnest style of climbing I have ever had the pleasure of doing, and to top it all off, the community seems to be incredibly welcoming and friendly towards outsiders. Every group we came across always greeted us with smiles and gladly offered advice when asked. Catalunya is the closest thing I have ever found to a rock-climbing paradise, and will henceforth be the benchmark against which I measure all other sport-climbing areas.