Santa Ana and Alos de Balaguer

A couple of return trips to places we’ve been before – albeit new sectors.

I signed off my 2014 Santa Ana post with: Definitely somewhere we’ll return on future trips.

Santa Ana

It’s been a surprisingly long time coming! A less promising forecast in the Camarasa / Balaguer area prompted a drive out west, further away from the mountains (actually just over the border into Aragon) and we were rewarded by bits of blue sky to offset the chilly temperatures. Santa Ana is either awe-inspiring or disappointingly industrial, depending on your point of view / mood. The massive dam and hydroelectric paraphernalia lends an unusual backdrop to the towering orange walls and needles (and leaves you with a faint foreboding – I do hope they got their sums right…)

Our plan was to climb on the Sectors Placa Vermillia / L’Espero which you can make out as the orange wall and grey pinnacle just to the left of the dam. The guidebook warns of a bit of bushwhacking, which is fair, but so is the 10mins approach time (but only if you follow the instructions and don’t get distracted exploring the various undocumented routes in the gorge on the way).

Here’s a shot from the tunnel near the parking on the opposite side of the river. We did L’Aresta de l’Arab, 6a+, and Cafe de Music, 6a, either side of the orange cavey arete in the centre right of the photo. Both good. I also put in a huge effort to come agonisingly close to doing Que be Kascales, a 33m 7a which runs the full height of the grey tower on the right. The lower overhang yields surprisingly easily on great jugs, the upper orange lip requires much teetering on no-holds, but then even the no-holds run out. A complete absence of chalk and a failure to notice the penultimate bolt hinting at a move out right at the top didn’t help, and I didn’t have the heart or the fingertips for another attempt – and anyway it had moved into the shade and was quite chilly!

With showers threatening, we needed something fairly accessible to make the most of the remaining sunny window. It doesn’t get much more roadside than Roc & Roc, the 40m first pitch of the multi-pitch Popeye.

Great fun, and pretty steady (just as well given the runout bolting). How’s that for a comfy belay!

Another day and a different weather pattern suggested east was better, so we revisited Alos de Balaguer. Last time we made it a three-crag day, but we rationed ourselves to just two this time.

Alos de Balaguere and a 3-crag day 

First a return to Cal Cari…

… where we met a wild boar on its morning constitutional (and were hoping it was long gone when we later saw a pack of hunting dogs chasing past).

Helen mopped up most of the routes she didn’t do last time, including…

Metropolitan, 6a+
Capita Nemo, V+
Hac dos oh, 6a

Having pretty much ticked the crag I thought I’d check out El Balco del Segre, a couple of km the other side of the village – though given the description of “fiercely steep tufas” I’m not sure why I bothered.

It certainly lives up to its billing
… and the “Balcon” is a great place to chill and look out over the river Segra judging by the banter coming from the strong in-situ locals resting between attempts on their projects.

My objective was the easiest route on the crag – Vernal Sota la Pell, 7a (more than half the remaining 18 routes are 8s) which was of course a little polished as the go-to warm-up. I wrestled through the gleaming holds to grind to a halt 3ft from the chain where it gets very bouldery. It takes the gently overhanging groove in the foreground, and you can see what the rest of the crag is like – with the benefit of hindsight I’ve no idea quite why I thought a 15m bouldery 7a would suit me! (Perhaps the illogical extrapolation that I’d enjoyed the 42m 7a, Mangui-O’Donovan on the adjacent sector last time).

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