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Shoestring guide to Albarracín bouldering

Five things you need to know before a winter bouldering trip to Albarracín

Let’s be clear. Bouldering is free. It’s more of a guide for getting to/from/general survival.


The plan was Font in early November, book at the last minute after seeing what the weather was doing. It was a good plan as it turned out the weather looked horrendous, cold and rain. So a plan B was needed, long story short we headed to Albarracín (with a reputation of being one of Europe’s best bouldering venues with “bomb proof” weather) We had a great time, so much so that we went again in early January, right in the middle of storm…with knee deep snow. So here we’ve put a crib sheet about getting the most out of winter bouldering in Spain.

1 Getting there. Flights and car hire


From the UK you can fly reasonably cheaply if you shop around to Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante and Madrid. The nearest airports are Valencia and Madrid. We used Barcelona and Alicante because the flights were cheaper and earlier in the morning so we could there, if we got a wriggle on with enough time to boulder for a few hours on the first day. This is a good thing to do if you are short on days and don’t mind being knackered.

You can choose to offset your carbon footprint created by flying by giving something back. To find out how much impact your flight has, ClimateCare have a carbon calculator.

Sandstone bouldering in Spain, Europe
Emma Brown experiencing the joys of sandstone.

Hiring a car is really the only viable option, made cheaper if you have a car full of people of course. Using public transport is difficult, as would getting to the crag when you are there. Be really careful checking the condition of your car when you pick it up, and don’t take it back very dirty inside (easy to do on a climbing trip) or you may end up with a nasty bill. Be sure to understand what you are insured for. If you take your own mats you need to hire a car big enough. First trip we hired a VW Caddy, we didn’t take our own mats but hired 3 mats from the climbing shop in Albarracin. We comfortably got
three of us and the mats in the car. Second trip we hired a bigger car a Vauxhall Zafira, with five of us and four mats. A tight squeeze.

It was like tetras trying to fit everything in.


2 What to take. Mats and stuff


To keep costs down for the first trip we took a sack each which fitted the size requirements for cab luggage (56x45x25cms) a decent size, this way we avoided the high costs of hold luggage, and skipped through the airport not having to collect baggage. Packing was quite tight.

All you need:

  • A good pair of approach shoes/boots which we travelled in
  • Warm coat.
  • 2 pairs of climbing shoes,
  • Chalk,
  • Warm crag layers, hat gloves etc
  • Flask, tea is important.
  • Change of clothes and toiletries etc. don’t forget you haven’t got any hold luggage so you are restricted on what liquids you can take, e.g liquid chalk or sharps (scissors)

With Easy Jet the hold luggage is measured by adding up the height, length and width of your bag, maximum total is 275cm, this is plenty big enough for most large mats. This meant we could put two mats together and count them as one. Jen constructed some large covers out of tent materials to hold them, and straps, together. This meant we could stuff boots and chalk etc inside the mat. We had no issues getting the mats through check in, as they are relatively light.

I think its slightly more expensive to take your own mats than to hire (hiring in November was 7 euros per day, but you had to pre book and collect when the shop is open. Taking your own is a bit of hassle but is probably worth it as you remove the risk of not getting hire mats.

Traversing

3 Accommodation and provisions

There are less choices for accommodation in the winter, camping is less practical because it is very cold on a night, there is a carpark for campervans. Albaraccin is around 1300m high. There are plenty of Airbnbs hotels, a couple of climbing hostels, we paid about 20 euros per person per night for a really good airbnb.

There are two supermarkets very near each other in the town, we had no trouble getting what we wanted to feed ourselves, we didn’t go to the next big town Terual as it was 40 mins away, and there was no need. We cooked in for 50% of the time and also ate in the local restaurants/ bars. The food was good and alright value, the best we found was Bar la Despensa, a cosy tapas bar, with very friendly staff and good prices. The restaurants don’t open until 8pm which doesn’t suit everybody, but if you are climbing all day it suits us.


4. The Crags


The boulder areas are a 10 minute drive up the hill from the town, we took flasks of hot drinks, sandwiches, fruit and boiled eggs up to the crag. We generally got to the crag between 09.00 and 10.00 which seemed early enough especially if it was cold. You can easily spend all day at the crag with no need to drop back down to town for lunch. There are 3 main car parks, the first being on a bend, the second has some small out building in it and third has parking on both sides of the road. The third is the best places to start at, you can see boulders from the road and Sector Parking is right in front of the parking. This sector is great for warming up at it has some easier problems on fantastic looking walls.

Brad Fletcher climbing on sandstone
Brad Fletcher


We used a 2019 guidebook which we bought through Needle sports in Keswick. Its in English and is very good. Ticks with intials helped us keep track of everyone’s progress. We also used the 27crags app, which proved very useful later on. Go for the problems with stars or half stars, they are all excellent. We tended to climb in 1 area in the morning and another in the afternoon. You soon get a feel for the aspect of the crags, we were able to find crags in the shelter from the wind and ones in the sun.

John Kennedy

On both trips it was very cold (between 0 and 10 degrees) but we were able to keep warm and dodge the wind.

The climbing is really good, a mix of edges, pockets and slopers.

There are hundreds of Youtube vidoes which give you a much better idea than I can. You can also walk up the canyon by parking near the sports centre (in the end we wound up using this trail to lug the mats to go climbing). This is a good thing to do perhaps on a rest day.

Brad Fletcher

5 Plan B and C



On our second trip we had about 30 cms of snow on our third day. The whole area was very beautiful, but the conditions made salvaging any climbing virtually impossible as it snowed throughout the day and the snow was very wet snow. There are lots of overhangs (Techos area especially) where it may be possible to climb in rain or light snow. For us the snow was blowing in under the overhangs and the ground and our kit was sodden. But dammit, we tried.

Team battling through. Boulderers are a desperate kind.


So decisions had to be made.

There is plenty of walking or running in the surrounding area, but you are in Spain and its just that you are high up in the mountains in poor weather. We bailed and dropped down towards the sea to find better weather. This is where your choice of airport comes in. We were Alicante so we did the 4 hour drive first thing in the morning, we went straight to a bouldering area we had checked out the night before called Crevillante near Elche, had an afternoon and following days bouldering and stopped in a cheap air bnb.

Onto sunnier climbs further south

If you fly from Barcelona or Valencia there is a boulder areas called Alcaniz which is gaining a good reputation. There is also an area near Madrid. The point is you have choices if Albarracin is rainy or snowing. Just call it early and bail. We used Instagram to find very recent photos of folk bouldering on the crags we were heading for, this was excellent for sussing what condition the crags were in.


Albaraccin is a great place to visit, I haven’t even talked about how magical the town itself is or much about the bouldering really. If you are organised, a trip in winter is really worth doing, we were a bit unlucky in our January trip as it was right in the middle of the big storms. But we had a fantastic time and the snow just added to the adventure.

Steve Rhodes


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Nuts and bolts for the future

Copper, a chemical element which, can occur in nature in a directly usable form. Pink and orange, soft and malleable; the lustre of a freshly exposed metal surface and the ease by which it can be worked, led to very early human use.  Chemically contrasting, elemental Zinc is a silvery blue-grey and brittle metal whose oldest evidence of use comes from 9th century Rajasthan.

Alloying these two contrasting, natural ingredients in different proportions formed a new material, one with improved mechanical durability and strength; both copper and zinc at the same time, a symbiotic material, respectful of itself, whose two constituents can replace each other within the same crystal structure. Brass.


Beautifully crafted pieces of equipment, either mental armour or crucial for harder rock climbs, a brass wedge on a silver soldered wire protects from falls for those skilled enough to need them.

Marginal breaking strength and tiny surface area for contact with rock, brassies or RP’s (Roland Pauligk, their inventor) were skilfully hand-made. Careful shaping and filing, drilling and soldering; from a garage in the Australian suburb of Mordialloc, Victoria, twelve-hour days became thousands of brass stoppers on wire, crafted in a way which would make the ancient alchemists and engineers proud. Being sometimes the only protection against serious injury or death, climbers in the know or the need, held them dear, synonymous to religious icons.

Treacle Slab E3 5c – A powerful and delicate route. RP’s protect the mid run-out section. 

Roland no longer makes RP’s, they have been replaced. Replaced by dimensionally identical counterparts manufactured with more rigorous safety testing by a large company with resources at their disposal. Amazing to think that this revolutionary piece of climbing equipment which has for the most part remained unchanged was once hand made in a garage.


This is how all the best ideas start.

We started in a shed, with an idea.

Handmaking boulder brushes

An idea to change the way expired outdoor gear is disposed of and instead re-purposed. Mass manufactured versions of our products exist however, similar to Roland’s story, perhaps Dirtbags Climbing can plant the seed of a sustainable idea, an idea or example for manufacturers of outdoor sports equipment to use to help clean up the amounts of waste produced through manufacturing which, slowly pollutes the world and environments we like to play in.

Roped climbing indoors is becoming increasingly popular, cheap tents are ubiquitous and all ultimately end up in landfill once expired. A majority of this plastic based material can be repurposed.

So, lets give our waste a purpose and help to prevent the outdoor sports world from becoming one of the large producers of plastic waste.    

James Dickinson

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Zoe Goes Places: Bouldering in Hampi

Zoe Allin gets to grips with sharp Hampi granite, bouldering in the Indian sun and life as a travelling climber.


Arrival at Hampi

If you have even heard of Hampi, I imagine it will be for its historical, archaeological and religious significance. But leave the temples behind for now and cross the river to Hampi Island, where you will be immediately welcomed to Main Street – a single line of cafés/guesthouses adorned with advertisements for yoga classes and sound healing sessions, colourful stalls of happy pants and two German bakeries.

Oh, and also one of the biggest boulder fields in the world. No surprise then, that Hampi is described as a ‘Mecca’ for the travelling climber. 

Hampi bouldering, India


Complete with hammocks, slackline, monkey bars and a campus board, The Goan Corner is the climber’s hub of Hampi Island where Dirtbaggers can pay 200 Indian Rupees (about £2) a night for a mattress and mosquito net on the roof.

I was lucky in that my bed does not catch much sun. I was *unlucky* in that the monkeys that use the roof as a playground stole my banana from my bag and left dirty fingerprints in my peanut butter.


Golden Boulders Festival


Within an hour of arriving, I was invited to join a crew for the next morning. Climbers meet around 6.15am for breakfast and a 7am ETD, marching out in various directions with our rented pads (120rupees/day from the Goan Corner) and then climbing until the problems fall foul to the Indian sun, usually around midday.

Dirtbags t shirt Zoe Allin spots Hampi climber

The afternoon session begins around half 4 and continues into the night, providing the crew has enough headtorches or a mini floodlight. Power screams, ‘Allez!’, ‘¡Venga!’, and ‘STRONG, TRUST THE FOOT’, followed by howls of success regularly echo across the Plateau. 

Spotting at Hampi Golden boulders festival, Zoe Allin climber and dirtbag

Two main points should be emphasised. 

1) Hampi granite is damn sharp. I caught a crimp slightly off target and sliced my finger open on a protruding crystal… on multiple occasions. We all grimace in solitude on hearing the cheese-grating noise of skin against rock as the grip gives or a hold is missed and fingerprints are erased in one fine swoop.

 2) Hampi grading is… unreliable. On the most part, the climbs are harder than they are graded; the most recent topo has downgraded a lot of the problems. Nevertheless, there is something for everyone and, whether I’m climbing hard or not, I revel in the energy created at the crag. 

Hampi climbing festival 2020, Zoe Allin


The Golden Boulders Climbing Festival and Competition was in full swing over my first week. Although I prefer to climb non-competitively, the vibes surrounding the competition were only those of good spirit and encouragement; I wear the blue vest with pride! More importantly, I am incredibly grateful to now consider the people I met through the festival as good friends. 


Time to reflect


Because of the aforementioned skin-loss and injuries resulting from overactivity, rest days are crucial. I practise doing nothing at the oasis by Space Baba Café, have sat (not stood) on a slackline spanning the river and appreciated the intrinsic beauty of the Island from the back of a Royal Enfield. Trust me, you won’t get bored. 

Water buffalo, Hampi India


The main bouldering season is limited to mainly Dec/Jan/Feb due to the heat but I am assured the psyche continues as night sessions into March.


Onwards

Remember when I was going to spend just 2 weeks here? Me neither… 
I’ve also made the somewhat rash decision to move out of my flat (many thanks to my boys for moving my stuff – love you both) and to stay out here seeking out more of the climbing spots around South/Southeast Asia in Dirtbag fashion.

Seriously, hit me up with recommendations. Where next!? 

Useful information:
The Goan Corner (Guesthouse): Meet your new crew, eat well, rent your pad, don’t get in trouble with Sharmilla (the owner). 
Golden Boulders Climbing Shop: Take private lessons, rent shoes and buy chalk, be charmed by the ever-smiling Jerry who also organised the Golden Boulders Festival (big thanks, my friend).
Nature Yoga: run by my talented companion, Jessie. Join for Hatha Yoga sessions away from the guesthouses – donation based. 

Feel free to ask me anything!

Zoe Allin

www.instagram.com/zoallin

Worn out, bouldering in India, Hampi. Goan corner pad rental
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Zoe goes places: Nepal

Yak soap and icy socks, spending Christmas dirtbag style.


I took the opportunity to travel to a country where 90% of the people are Hindus, where Christmas is not celebrated en masse, as a way to escape the western frivolities that I find somewhat claustrophobic. I saw myself high up in the snowy Himalayas on the Annapurna Circuit of Nepal, a 160-230km trek to altitudes of >5000m and with picturesque views of the Annapurna Sanctuary. I would find solace in the serenity of the mountains, perhaps with a fire and a good book. 


Yac Donalds – with ‘a side of happiness’

I avoided the throngs of people doing last minute shopping, instead trekking for up to 8 hours/day through jungle then alpine landscapes towards the Thorong La pass (see what I did there? ‘THRONGS’ of people… ‘THORONG La’….). 

I joined forces with two other ‘strays’, flew down a slope on a make-shift sled with a local family, played ghost football on the most picturesquely located football pitch and had a Happy Meal at Yak-Donalds.

I could be walking in a t-shirt under the sun, but the temperature plummeted in shade or after sunset. Teahouse rooms are mostly bare stone with the bathroom often having no glass in the window gap… and I had a 3-season sleeping bag with a minimum temperature of 0 degrees…

While folk at home would be receiving new socks, I was washing my 3-day-old pair in icy water and yak soap (that I also used for my hair), hoping they would not freeze overnight like the taps would. We filled our filter bottles from waterfalls along the trail, once they thawed of course, in true trekking style. 

So much snow had fallen in the blizzards that we passed multiple trekkers forced to turn back. We stubbornly pushed on, and the trail rewarded us with a white winter wonderland that was basically our own.


On days with clouds, the mountains were draped with a grey pashmina and trees appeared silhouetted as if calligraphied with jet black ink.

When the clouds cleared, blue skies emphasised sharp ridge-lines of the Annapurna range that rose in stark contrast to fluffy blankets of snow. Not an elf in sight. 


Nine days in, after sleeping in all my layers and (very fake) down jacket at 4900m, we started the final push for Thorong La as a fine team of seven. It was 5am, a clear sky and a -25 degree chill. 

Ascent on the Annapurna circuit. Creating our own path.

The ascent was TOUGH, man. It took all my strength to keep going. ‘I’m never doing this again’. Then, as the prayer flags welcomed our arrival to 5416m and we stood amidst mountains, a tear was shed. ‘Thank god that’s over’. We celebrated, I took note of my slightly frostbitten purple nose, and ate the best Kit Kat Chunky of my life. ‘I can’t wait for the next time’.  Unfortunately, the next time might have to wait.

Thorang-la Pass – we did it!

The immense descend that followed rendered me to walking with the aid of two poles as crutches. On the 23rd, after trekking a painful further 25km, despite hiking the full 180km, I had accepted defeat on the planned additional 100km and was on a twelve hour bus ride back to Pokhara.


The bus was forced to a halt by no less than four landslides, and I don’t know how the Nepalis can sit on their seats so calmly because I don’t think I made contact with mine for more than ten seconds at a time, my head smashing against the ceiling and windows on multiple occasions. 

My saving grace was that the hostel had put together a potluck style dinner for the 24th (big up to Kiwi Backpackers). There was no gift exchange and complete strangers became close friends within hours. On Christmas Day, I mostly read on the rooftop with a spectacular view of the sacred Machhapuchhare (Fishtail) Mountain and revelled in the simple tranquility. The only reminder of the ‘special date’ came from the messages I exchanged with loved ones old and new around the world. I don’t think I’ve heard Bublé once this year. 

Christmas away from home with new friends and amazing adventures,

Also, my Indian visa just got granted so that’s kind of cool.

Hampi 2020, coming at ya. 

Follow her journey on Instagram – @zoallin

Make your own journey – find out about trekking in Nepal

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When climbing holidays don’t go to plan: Anna Taylor blogs

The back end of summer was a wet one. feeling the frustration of UK climbers up and down the country – we feel your pain! It’s not just us punters who get let down by the weather, it affects the pros too. Anna writes her second installation of her summer diary, spent in France and then back home to some familiar gritstone.

Anna’s Summer ’19 climbing diary part two:

Fontainebleau

We’d planned a trip to Europe for the end of August, the idea being that we would head to Fontainebleau for a couple of days before heading to Chamonix or northern Spain for some big multi-pitch adventures. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t to be. While the weather in Font was beautiful, it was deteriorating fast everywhere else, and it really wasn’t worth the fuel to travel to Chamonix or Spain.

The bad luck seemed to continue, as I picked up a cold virus and felt rubbish most of the time, despite the warm temperatures. Three days in, Ben accidentally sliced the end of his finger open with our cooking knife. After a morning of me having to drive frantically to the nearest supermarket (I’d never driven on the other side of the road before) and purchase a large amount of first aid supplies, I patched him up, but it was clear that I was going to be the only one climbing for the remainder of our trip.

Deciding to stick it out for a few more days, I tried to get into the Font bouldering style. It was weird, sometimes flashing 7a felt fine, but sometimes 6b’s felt impossible after half an hour of trying. I did some cool problems, including the infamous La Marie Rose, the super hard and slippy 6a, which was even harder and slippier in the boiling sun.

We returned early from Europe, pretty disappointed that the weather had turned on us, but we had a nice couple of days in North Wales on the way home to compensate, while we planned what we wanted to do next.

The beginning of the Grit season

Now in the early days of Autumn, summer is beginning to fade away as we head towards the winter months.

I’m going to be away all November on an expedition to South America, but until then, I’ve got one thing on my mind, Gritstone!

Ben and I kicked off the season with a couple of slab climbs at the Roaches on the 3rd of September. We started off with the classic Track Of The Cat, on the Roaches Skyline. I’d never been up there before but i’m certainly glad I went, as the clean cut slabs of flawless gritstone were a perfect way to reacquaint with the bold and friction based climbing style.

Track Of The Cat is an E5 that climbs a faint groove, then traverses onto a slab, which is easy up until a big slot where you can stuff a large cam to protect yourself on the scary top section.

After the slot there’s a couple of smeary moves, then a big lunge up to a juggy break just below the top. I didn’t like the look of the starting groove, as it looked a bit green, so opted for a direct (and way more fun) start, by throwing my heel by my head and rocking over onto the slab. I’m sure it’s been done many times before as it’s not particularly hard, but it certainly makes me wonder why on earth the route starts on the left when the direct is so obvious!

After Track Of The Cat, Ben and I walked out to the Nth Cloud, where we’d heard about a cool E6 called Judge Dread. I onsighted it on a top-rope, and found it thin and bold, but also right up my street. There was just enough gear for me to not feel that scared, so I was quickly on the sharp end, and found myself really enjoying the precise and crimpy moves on the top section of the route. I should probably have tried to flash this one, but have made a rule with myself to not onsight or flash any potentially dangerous grit routes until after November, as I think those are the one’s i’d most likely end up injured on. The rain followed Ben after his lead so we quickly bailed and headed for a supermarket cafe for lunch and coffee.

As the weather has been more than unpredictable this year, I’m going to concentrate on grit for now. I didn’t get as much done in the Lakes as I’d wanted to this summer, as everyone else by the looks of it, but I checked out a few routes for when it gets warm again. Until then, there’s plenty of hard stuff on the smaller crags to concentrate on. We did have a sneaky look at a slightly harder route when we were at the Roaches, so if all goes well, there will hopefully be more on that soon!

Exciting times ahead in South America, catch you on the other side.

Anna