Tuesday, 8 March 2016

El Botri, Spanish Travel, and Questioning What I Know.

Mad genius who did the FA of Niagara Falls and half of those other routes too? We are not in Chamonix but this definitely is El Botri.

I recently attended the Mashup exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery with Sam Eastman (thanks for the brief tour Sam!)  Let's just say this post is not about alpinism in Chamonix.

Corinna and I visited southern Spain in January for the first time.  The trip was so full of new experiences that it has taken until now to process.  Stephen King says any good writer should write 4 hours every day, so that stories do not get old and stale.  For me it has taken a month and half to order my impressions.  As memory is a subjective faculty it is not surprising that the story has become murkier along the way (a link which perhaps explains why my memory and my campusing are so poor?).

At 10 am, sat on bar stools, in the Mari Jose in Redovan, I didn't pay particular attention to the stubbled wirey Spaniard with the statuesque, made up blonde on his arm.  This was our second bar stop of the day.  We were surrounded by older men who were hand-poured various licors along with their java.  All before a brief day sport cragging at El Rut.  From many trips to Mexico, and from the literature of the greatest Latin American writer of our generation, I should have known to be aware of my surroundings in such an unassuming venue.  I didn't put two and two together when my friend Sergio said that El Botri had done half the first ascents on La Pancha.  The legend has two routes named specifically for him, La Botri 1 and La Botri 2. He used his fortune made in Spain's building boom to climb the world over when he wasn't on his local cliffs.   

 " I think of the Botri, opened in only one day during the fiesta of the patron saint and in infernal temperatures (the only time I thought I would die of dehydration).  45 celsius and only one liter of local vermouth to drink."

We headed to El Cantalar, a small seaside crag developed by Javier Cos Baviera.  Amazing that in Spain you can climb 8b and be humble as pie.  We were warned about the long downhill approach.  A half hour, at a very nonchalant stroll. The locals don't really visit too much, but for us guiris they made an exception. To the north of Murcia are Sierras, covered in forest, but the locals figured we would be more intrigued by the Med.  They weren't far wrong, what a view!

The giant bay of Cartagena is one of the most important harbours on the Med.  Now, as two thousand years ago, it really is the new new thing, as the Romans humorously named it. All we are waiting for in Canada is for our prices to deflate like the tech bubble did, and the Spanish real-estate boom has.  Then we'll be enjoying tapas and drinks at $5 a person too.

 Corinna is a champ, from recovering from death defying accidents, to putting up with lots of guys talking way too much about climbing, in Spanish, and for suggesting we come back the next day to run from Cartagena (the mid-point in the photo) to the Castillitos point.    That evening we were regaled with Javi's paella, his high bottle pouring antics with local ciders (essential to "add air" to get the full flavor), and his next climbing project.

Only in Spain:

"My next project, it is with a boat, it is 15 kilometers long, it is a deep water solo.  But it takes me 4 days, so I need a boat driver."

 "So, if you fall, you fall into water? Really, deep water solo?"

" Yes, I fall between, mmmm, 1 meter and 7 or 8 meters."

This photo shows the more familiar, garden variety type of Spanish climbing scene.  It's sport climbing, and it's what all North a'mericans think of when the think os Spanish rock. I am above Mullas and Bullas, home to lots of vineyards, at El Ferrari.  Later we would sample some fine 1.7 Euro quality vino tintos and 4 liters of the finest vermouth served up in plastic juice bottles.  Plenty of the famously unemployed Spanish youth were pulling down in shocking style. Just down the way is another crag with "a couple of" 9as.  

The diversity of climbing available in the Iberian peninsula is amazing. Pictured is a popular guidebook to climbing areas in Spain.  Each area only gets a brief few sentences to describe the overall aspect of the area.  There are 900 zonas, and it is a select guide. Sergio pointed out that all the visitors go to the crags in the latest Chris Sharma videos.   I was quite happy to have locals to show me around some of the lesser visited areas, where we rarely saw other guiris. 

One of the locals we had to show us the lesser visited treasures was Jose Luis Clavel.  Here he is on his route Eiger on the south face of Leiva.  Jose Luis is a doctor.  He works one 24 hour shift in an ambulance making house calls.

"It saves money on hospital bills" he wisely noted when I mentioned house calls don't happen in Canada.  

Then he takes 4 days off and goes climbing, and lives. I told Jose Luis about the standard 23 on 4 off patch shift in Alberta. His reaction reminded me of the footage of euros in disbelief in Michael Moore's latest movie.

We visitied the adjoining summit, saw wild sheep, and were on our way out when I thought I'd ask Jose Luis about his climbing. 

"Jose Luis, Sergio said you had done some first ascents on the face."


"Which ones?"

"Well, the one I was on, Eiger."

"Any others?"

"Well, the one you were on too."

"Any others?"


"When was that?"

"40 years ago."

It was heartening to see how well people climbed, that it is a part of the culture, and that people don't seem to need to boast about it.  Something else to learn from Jose Luis was when I asked him about bolting natural features.  He said all the routes were put up in the 60s and 70s using aid. Then in the 80s they started to free climb them, and they thought they needed to bolt them.

"But now we don't bolt them so much, we have learned we don't need to."

This is Jose Luis on the crux pitch of Rockabilly on the Tozal de Levante.  The pitch has a few bolts, but it also has in situ pitons, and slings, along with crazy huecos and steep shattered rock pillar pulling.  In the Rockies, can't imagine it.  Put up in 2012, it shows the progression of Spanish climbing, weaving an intelligent line through huge roofs at a reasonable grade.  And the Rock, if only we were so lucky!

Having done one great adventure climb Corinna and I went and climbed above Finestrat, where we narrowly avoided the British climbing scene at the Orange House.  The orange groves of Valencia glistened in the fields below, as we basked above the very strange sight of the towers of Benidorm.  Remember, 

"Only Guiris eat the oranges growing in the streets."

 Only Guiris would ever want anything to do with Benidorm, like a pustule of the worst of UK and Spanish culture exploded on a beautiful sandy coastline.  Just a touch further north, slightly downsized, and preferred by the Russian oligarchs, is Calpe, home of the impeccable  Penon de Ifach.  It was very nautical.  There were seagulls screeching, fishing boats passing.  Our route was called Pirates, and earlier I had climbed Navigantes.  All very enjoyable! 

On the summit I had one of my traveler's misunderstandings. An older Brit couple were descending, accompanied it seemed by their couple of domestic house cats.  I knew a woman in Canmore who would take her house cat ice climbing.  Stranger things have happened.

"Are those your cats?"


"Huh.  Will you take our photo?"

So that is how we have some summit shots of the Penon with cats, and some without.  

The traveler's misunderstanding was truly realized when I saw the following sight.

From decades of traveling, I have become familiar with the following scenario.  The first time one experiences something new, totally out of one's sphere of reference, the conscious mind does not know how to classify it, and one is prone to overlook it.  Then by the third or fourth experience, one's mind has begun to construct a pathway which can absorb and deal with the experience.  It is at this moment that one first becomes aware of the new experience. Only on reflection does one realize this is not the first experience with the new thing, as memory flashes back to previous unconscious memories.

When we first saw these flocks of brightly colored birds we thought a load of parrots had escaped.  My Spanish is quite good, but Sergio's explanation escaped me at first. On one of the last days in Spain I was driving along a small rural road when I spotted both a flock of bright birds and a motley collection of men of various ages, some in cars, some on scooters, others on bikes.  I raced to get my camera, but by the time i returned all trace of the sighting had disappeared.  Returning to Sergio's I heard a faint cooing over the fence.  Lo and behold, next door was the scene depicted above. 

It turns out there is a cult like sport in Murcia and Valencia.  The game seems simple.  Men get a load of male pigeons, and paint them bright colors so they can discern one from the other.  Then they scent the males on a single female, whom they release.  The human males then bet on the prospects of their male pigeon counterparts.  And whichever male first "covers" the female wins.  Like an allegory on life.

The other inexplicable sighting, the roundabouts, are a sign of that other truism of human existence, political corruption.  From the looks of things something needs some explaining.

That is the great thing about traveling.  One's mind gets expanded by trying to absorb new concepts and experiences.  The town, Al Cantarilla, which in Castillano (there is no language named "Spanish" I learned) means "the sewer" named such by the Moors as to them it meant water container.  The oldest boat in the world, to be found off the coast of Cartagena. The "nun's bush", a prickly plant which it is best to avoid touching. Rock climbers who climb 9a and above who are not known by sight, and are mere unsponsored amateurs ("lovers of", in french).  Tapas at $3 a plate, fine vino tinto at $3 also, and vermouth by the plastic jug.  55-year-olds who have been establishing routes for 40 years and now laugh at their mad bolting sprees.  

And one mad rich construction boss named El Botri who says the worst thing about climbing in Nipigon was that he had to lead everything in his duvet, but that when he climbed Niagara Falls as a lark it was only grade 4.

Amazing the things one learns when one travels somewhere new.  So much more than climbing, so much of interest.  


  1. Ian, very entertaining post and nice diversion from hard alpine or mixed. I wonder how sad Gadd must feel to hear he wasn't the 1stt to climb Niagara! gasp :o
    Enjoy Spain!

  2. Yes, only pure cheap fun to be had in Spain. I was taken with how we all live in our little universes, where something big in one community is literally unknown in another. The number of unknown 9a climbers in Spain is amazing, and that a climb has to be mediatised for it to be real another example.

    Glad you liked the rather silly scattered writing, it just seemed to fit with a rather random, unfocused, fun trip.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. The parka isn't the worst thing about leading in Nip, I think it's the huge lines on every route.

    1. With approaches that short at least there is lots of time available to wait!

    2. With approaches that short at least there is lots of time available to wait!


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