Alos de Balaguere and a 3-crag day 

After a week in the area around Barcelona we felt like getting a bit further away from the metropolis. The Prades and the Pyrenees would both fit the bill, but an extended cold snap meant that going high would be chilly. We settled instead for the climbing around Lleida and moved base to Sant Llorenc de Montgai (a bunch of south facing sheltered crags set around a pretty reservoir at about 350m). 

By the time we’d broken camp, made the two hour drive, checked into the new campsite, checked out again (annoying combination of Saturday noise and otherwise soulless surroundings), found a fab overnighting spot a couple of miles up the road, found the crag parking

 and walked to the crag it was almost 3 o’clock – just as the rain arrived spot on the forecast. 😦 Luckily it was only a 2 minute approach, and we were soon in a warm dry van looking out of the back window at the rain and the less fortunate climbers rapping off the multi-pitch routes opposite. Rain stops play!

The next day started misty – the area has an annoying microclimate which regularly forms a cloud inversion. 

Checking a webcam at Ager (at 1,000m)  confirmed sunshine above the mist but also a dusting of snow. Happily the mist cleared and we headed over to Alos de Balaguere (not to be confused with Os de Balaguere), leaving the Sant Lorenc climbing for Monday when the weekend crowds would have diminished.

There are four fairly significant sets of crags here, and we started at the most westerly: El Sola looked really impressive from the parking, about a kilometer along a dirt road running beside a gorgeous river,

 with the added benefit of a charming picnic spot – another candidate for a fine place to spend a peaceful night.

 Walking up to the crag it was noticeable that the well made approach path was seriously overgrown with chest high rosemary and prickly scrub oak. No evidence of chalk either. Topping out on what looked like the route of the crag – Mc Arena, 6a+, I managed to send a fusilade of potato sized rocks firing down towards Helen below. Gingerly avoiding contact with the rock wherever possible I reached the belay and lowered carefully off. The rest of the sector didn’t look a lot better so we headed over to…

Cal Cari – this is a pleasant slabby wall about 15m high and with a couple of dozen routes from 5 to 6a+ and largely unpolished. Helen ticked off five routes in quick succession. Here she is on El Retourn de Peter Pan

… and the pick of the bunch, Del Solar

With slabs not really being my thing, we moved on again to sector number three… 

L’Estret is about 3km the other side of the village and has some shorter routes on the left and an impressive 40m wall on the right with a dozen routes from 7a to 8a. I had a go at the leftmost of these: Mangui-O’Donovan. I figured that with the guidebook author (Pete O’Donovan or POD) willing to put his name to it, it must be a pretty decent route. Sure enough, it was a belter!

The first 20m gets 6c+ in its own right to an intermediate lower off and turns out to be the technical crux. Thin moves on infrequent shallow pockets, and with very little evidence of traffic and no chalk it’s a bit of a battle to hang on long enough to work out which holds might work. More by luck than judgement I scraped my way to the first lower off, where good footholds provide a decent shakeout, before pressing on with the second half. This is slightly more featured and doesn’t present any moves as hard as the lower part, but the combination of fading strength and increasing rope drag from 40m and a bunch of draws mean that the 7a tick has been well earned by the time you reach the top chain. Great timing too as the occasional spits of rain turned into a proper shower shortly afterwards. A good day all round from what looked at one point like being A(dead)los de Balaguere 

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