It was winter, 2005. The air was cold, yet the sky a bright shade of blue. I was temporarily roaming the land of Spain, almost as a detour until the time came to go where my heart ached and yearned. But one must be patient. When the heart longs to be anywhere but ‘here’, things often seem worse off than they really are.
It wasn’t that Spain was a hellish, torturous place to be. In fact, the company I kept was that of Raul and his Spanish accomplices who varied in many flavors of character and entertainment. We toured the classics in his home country and drove on many a winding road littered with old Spanish style casitas. Climbing was had on the most interesting cobblestone conglomerate perched high above the old monastery of Montserrat. As a detour to the sport climbing of Siurana a day was spent on white sandstone boulders whose name was long forgotten. Our final destination was Albarrarcin. While we bouldered in the bitter snow for two days my fingers moved slowly from the intense cold which infiltrated my body to the core.
Fast forward to January 2015… Having been in Europe for basically the last three years, I successfully managed to endure the cold and wet winters of the northern countries while simultaneously avoiding the warmth and sun of Spain. While friends encouraged me to go south for the dreary months, I held onto this notion of never returning. But eventually, the cold so deeply embedded itself in my bones that the only way to sanity was to venture south to rediscover Spain, perhaps, with new eyes.My favorite memories were not of the climbing but of the times spent sleeping in abandoned monasteries and bivying under the starless sky while the snow gently fell on us. The climbing of Spain didn’t grab and claw at my soul like some other places had. Sport climbing just wasn’t my thing and bouldering in minus degree temps didn’t work either. When it came time to leave, I thought I would never go back.
It was most interesting to see my own changes in perspective. A simple example is the one day spent hiking around Montserrat; a scene plucked from my distance past. Things felt and even looked different. It no longer seemed crowded and dirty but more vibrant and rustic. Years ago I liked Spain, but in an ok sort of way. However this time, I absorbed it with more depth and with that came a unique appreciation for what gives Spain its unique flavors.
Fortunately after a few very cold somewhat unclimbable days, things thawed out including my body and all the necessary items for survival encased in my van such as water and cooking gas. The boulders I remembered from the previous trip never showed themselves although a few lines seemed oddly familiar. The rocks of my memory were perhaps lost to the closures which have since popped up around the forest.The majority of my time there was spent resting but this period was broken upon arriving in Albarracin. The snow covering the winding road invoked memories of the harsh cold encountered nine years ago. While past experiences projected themselves into the present moment, the not so random occurrence of running into a Finnish friend snapped me out of it. He was not here nine years ago, nor was Cedar. Clearly, this was not then.
The best thing about this trip to Albarracin which differed from the other climbing trips taken in Europe was that I showed up as normal, mom and child, yet, not one day was spent touring the area solo, seeking out one pad problems or wishing I had a spot. From the moment we arrived to the day we left, we had climbing partners in plenty. Days seemed unending until the sun start to hide itself and the temperatures quickly dropped. However, when the sun shone strong, its very heat and power energized our bodies and the forest was our oyster.
Most of our days were spent with the lovely Inka and Chris from Finland who welcomed us on their climbing journeys and into their hotel room where the intense heat embedded itself just enough to thaw us out until the next day’s sun. A random afternoon was spent with the Norwegian’s we had met in Norway the summer previous. While I watched Hannah Mitbod climb things with apparent ease I was reminded of how hard work and training can pay off. Her power and fitness inspired me for what was to come for myself. With one day left in Albarracin, I reflected upon this trip as an ease back into climbing; a necessary refresher for the soul. While the smell of the pines infused itself into my being, my body relaxed with the fresh air and blue skies. As we prepared ourselves and our van for yet another adventure we waved good bye to the Spanish sky but this time promised a more swift return.
CHALK: The most common question I got upon returning from Albarracin…can you use chalk there? The answer? Yes. Apparently when the ‘laws’ were made there was some confusion between the ‘climbers group’ and the city council regarding the use of chalk. The council thought it was for putting numbers on the rock hence they made the no chalk rule. When the climbers later returned to them explaining the proper use of chalk and its necessity to climbing they agreed to show a blind eye until they got around to re-writing the rules. So? Just don’t go writing numbers and names on the rock. And as usual, pick up your trash and don’t leave your toilet paper to litter and decay on the forest floor. This is disgusting. Burn it or take it out with you. And please properly bury your poop. God knows there are enough dogs around there to dig it back up and then run to you only to give you a big lick. On the face. 🙂
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