130 Kilometers an Hour in the Wrong Lane


 

[Photo] Traveler Taj Terpening

The group had rented two cars for their holiday, a Fiat and a Renault. As an American these brands had always sounded exotic and luxurious. Cass set me straight: "One is Italian and one is French; both are shit." Another misconception I did away with in short order was the idea that like all Europeans, The British are cultured and worldly. While some surely are, these chaps were definitely not.

The Brits had a flat in a fantastic area, central to an array of climbing. Within an hour we could be anywhere to eat, drink, swim or climb. Just north and inland was an amazing area called Sella, one of southern Spain's most expansive and beautiful climbing areas. A few miles from the coast this mountain environment is far cooler and quieter than the hot and busy coast. A massive valley filled with dry pine forests splits the mountains in a jagged line toward the sea and smells of vanilla and olives when the sun shines. Along the valley's flanks are massive white limestone cliffs rising to 300 meters. At the valley's entrance is an orchard of ancient olive trees and a stone house that's been converted to a climbers' refuge. Looming just behind the refuge is the inspiring 300-meter Divino Wall. People from all over the world gather at the refuge each evening to eat, sleep and tell stories in every language imaginable.

Presiding over the hostel was a young Spaniard who spent the majority of his time laying in the sun on an old mattress under an olive tree with a hat over his face and a radio positioned an inch from his ear. Because he was so incredibly stationary for such amazingly long periods of time, most people feared him and would not have wakened him for the world. As a result, visiting climbers simply left rent money on or near him anchored with a stone. One also could pay the fee with a little weed, or if none was available he would accept cash, which he would use to buy the weed himself. The result was comical: a man fast asleep surrounded with money, baggies of weed and dried olives. Once or sometimes twice a week he would stir from his mattress and actually climb something, often just doing one 5.13 or harder in perfect style with no falls. He would then return with much relief to his position on the mattress below the olive tree.

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Cass and I ventured to Sella whenever we could, finding only a few tufas but some incredible, long, sparsely featured climbs with amazing views all the way to the sea. A climb that was not so long but circumnavigated an amazing natural feature of the mountain was called Ojo del Odra (5.11b). A massive fin of white and grey limestone cut through the lush pine forest, cleaving the valley in two. In the middle of this fin of rock was a single hole, which allowed climbers to walk from one side to the other without trekking miles around. We flipped a coin and Cass racked up. Dramatically overhung and thinly bolted the climb ascended in an elegant spiral from inside the passageway out into the sunshine and up some steep pocketed terrain. We were both extremely intimidated.

"Clip, jump, grab, hand in dark scary hole, then figure out the rest," Cass whispered to himself as he stood at the starting move. Driven by fear he moved quickly through the first sequence, clipped then jumped for the dark hole. "Bird shit!" he yelled as he came tight on the rope and a legion of terrified pigeons fled the hole assuming, no doubt, the bird apocalypse was upon them.

"It's a proper aviary in there!" he laughed.

Over the course of the day we worked the move, pulled the roof and made the chains, choosing to rate the climb a little harder because we had to skip the aviary hold on each ascent.

Another amazing feature of La Costa Blanca is the Penon d'lfach outside Calpe. The white and orange limestone rock monolith forms the tip of a small peninsula jutting out into the bright blue Mediterranean. The Penon is a tourist attraction for Spanish tourists, and a tunnel has been carved through the heart of the rock, providing access to the top. One can also reach the top via long bolted and gear routes on the southwest face. The trade route Valencianos was our first Penon conquest. The climbing was 5.9, but the intense exposure proved challenging for all of us.

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