Latest Article By Scarpa Athlete Percy Bishton
Awful places to go climbing
Scarpa asked me to write something for their website, so I’ll take the opportunity to introduce you to a new place to go bouldering. It is not the new Fontainebleau – it’s just somewhere else you can go bouldering in the world. To be quite honest, I didn’t really want to tell you about it, but seeing as the French climbing press have already spilt the beans then I suppose I can let you lot in on it.
My usual advice is as valid as ever, though. I am about to let you know about a new place to go climbing – currently it’s a nice place. An unspoilt wilderness lacking in the usual accoutrements of European rock climbing venues. You all know what these are - loads of idiots putting huge chalk lines to buckets, whooping every time they do a move just so we all don’t forget that THEY ARE CLIMBING, a turd behind every boulder with a pink tissue flag on top of it just to make sure we are aware that the culprit was so excited by the climbing that he didn’t even have time for a poo in a toilet before s/he got to the crag, and is still so excited by the climbing that they didn’t have time to dig a small hole and bury their offerings. I could go on…...
The Spanish win when it comes to rock. They have a lot of it, and they keep finding new bits to play on. In the past the Spanish have mainly been interested in bolting up big sport crags, and haven’t bothered with the smaller lumps of rock that boulderers like to play on, just because there weren’t really any Spanish boulderers. Nowadays all that is changing, and there are several popular bouldering areas in Spain that used to be really good before everybody and their dog decided to visit and trashed the place (eg: Albarracin). So when I found an unpopular Spanish bouldering venue that was apparently pretty good I checked it out. Hopefully I can make the place seem suitably un-interesting so that only those truly deserving of enjoying such a place will bother to visit. Aren’t you sick of area write-ups that make places out to be amazing only to be disappointed when you arrive? Not this time you won’t be….
Santa Gadea is a tiny, one horse village in the Cantabrian mountains. Nobody there speaks English, or likes you. The fact that you’ve travelled across the sea in an iron bird from a foreign land to scrabble about on their rocks is of absolutely no interest to anybody. You are of little or no benefit to the local economy, and in reality are probably just getting in the way, so best keep a low profile if you don’t want to upset people. There is nowhere to stay in town, and no shops nearby so you’ll be cold and hungry. The local bar is not obviously signposted, and you’ll never find it without the help of a local, so you’ll probably get really thirsty too. Many of the locals carry shotguns and/or pitchforks, and the nature of the fragile ecosystem is such that it’s fairly easy to scratch out a shallow grave from the soil in which to bury foreign climbers who got lost.
The climbing is really bloody difficult to find, even though it is a huge area of pristine bullet hard sandstone. There is massive scope for trad climbing, but all forms of roped climbing are banned. Honestly! Bouldering/soloing is basically what you are allowed to do – anything else will result in the place being banned. Shame everything is very high then, isn’t it…
What there is here is what you would get if you took Northumberland and multiplied the amount of rock by at least 10, and then compacted the area down to a few kilometres of cliff bands and big boulders. Whilst you’re in your crag-creation laboratory, why don’t you improve the rock quality and make it harder. Then give all the established problems proper Font grades – not your Kalymnian holiday grades, but proper, spirit-crushing, ‘I feel like giving up climbing’ grades. Place the nearest campsite a few miles away from the crag, and then close it for all but 4 months of the year. Its sounding good, isn’t it? Make the problems compelling, intricate and demanding so that you really want to climb them, and then make them all just a bit higher than you’re happy with and make all the top-outs hard and insecure.
And there you have it – Santa Gadea. Guidebooks available from very few retailers, but they are out there somewhere. The guidebook is brilliant, but doesn’t tell you how to get to the crag and the author is seemingly incapable of drawing a map (maybe one of the local rabid dogs bit his writing hand off whilst he was trying to find the crag?). In order to save everybody the trouble of actually having a bit of an epic (heaven forbid), and more importantly pissing all the locals off by traipsing around their village like lost souls for a few days, I have supplied you with the finest ‘Ordinance Bishton’ map of how to find the place (this map is currently missing, but a guidebook is available from all good climbing walls – eg: The Climbing Works!). In the event that even this doesn’t work, maybe you’ll bump into another similarly lost climber who could help you. Except that any other climber you’ll bump into will almost certainly either be French and will therefore direct you to the best boulders you’ve ever seen and then burn you off, whilst making disparaging Gallic comments regarding your footwork, general lack of coordination and strength (quite rightly, too), and your ability in the bedroom department. Even worse, you might bump into people like me, or even Richie Patterson (a Santa Gadea evangelist) who’ll just be rude to you.
The worst thing about Santa Gadea is that you’ll all be able to get there cheaply – a budget flight to Santander followed by an hour in the car should see you get to within a kilometre of the rocks. Obviously, you will then get lost for some time but at least I have warned you.
Of course, the saving grace of Spanish climbing is the weather. Sunny the whole year round – you never get rained off in Spain. Unless you’re in northern Spain, at 2000 metres altitude, in an area where you can see the huge banks of cloud rolling in off the Atlantic and over the foothills, before they drench you with freezing rain. Santa Gadea is covered in snow for the winter months. For the other 8 months of the year it can be cold and rainy, or boiling hot and rainy, or just boiling hot, or just rainy. And windy too. I climbed here in a jumper and a fleece in August because it was so cold, and then I got rained off.
There you have it, warts and all. A write-up that provides the reader with realistic expectations. And if you were brave enough to make a visit, you never know. The sun might come out and you might do some of the best bouldering in Spain. But there’s probably not much hope of that really, is there.
In conclusion I feel that the question presenting itself is obvious. Why is toilet paper pink or white? Surely brown would be a better choice…..