Vilanova, Spain
October 2015.   Report by: Bryan Rynne


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Patrick and I have made a succession of trips to northern Spain to do multi-pitch, quasi-sports routes over the last few years, and this year was no exception. This year the main venue was Vilanova de Meia, together with trips to various other nearby crags.

Vilanova de Meia is a small village near Lleida in Catalunya, about 100 miles from Barcelona, where we flew to. The area is situated a bit south of the Pyrenees, but these are visible most of the time, and provide spectacular views along the northern horizon. There is an immense amount of limestone here, only a fraction of which is in the guide (no doubt much of it has been climbed at one time or other, without making it into the guide). There are many deep gorges (such as Vilanova, and Terradets which we visited a few years ago) and massive 'big walls' visible from 5-10 miles away. The selected guide to Lleida is a massive tome, apparently containing about 2800 routes, which would keep most people going for a very long time.

We stayed in an upstairs apartment in a traditional Catalan house in the middle of a farm, in the middle of nowhere (the tarmac stopped about 3 miles before we got to it). This was very nice, and the owners, Pete and Lou (who lived downstairs) were extremely friendly and helpful. This was situated about 3 miles from the main Vilanova crag so was ideal for that. If anyone is interested in visiting this area we would recommend this as a place to stay (website: Due to the distance from the usual Michelin restaurant (and bar) that I usually regard as essential when choosing accommodation, we had to cook for ourselves all week. Well, to be more precise, Patrick cooked for us all week - I made tea and poured out beer and wine, and dispensed olives and crisps, but I steered clear of the cooker.

We were there in early October, and the weather was mostly good. Quite cold mornings, so we didn't start particularly early, but it was mostly sunny, and didn't get too hot. In fact we often wore a fleece or helly to start with and were rarely too hot. In particular, we didn't bother carrying water up the multi-pitch routes, so we could climb pretty lightly laden.

What about the climbing? Vilanova village has a gorge above it, on one flank of which is a sort of 1.5 kilometre escarpment with a 200 metre vertical face looking down the gorge and over the surrounding countryside. This face has a huge mix of bolted and semi-bolted routes from about 6a upwards. There are also a couple of sectors on the other side of the gorge, containing single and multi-pitch routes. A lot of this was was very good. The only down-side is that you have to cope with the usual northern Spain bizarre grading - usually extremely undergraded (although we did one pitch that was given 6a and was about 4), and often atrocious bolting, apart from at what the bolters regarded as the crux.

On the first day we did the 3 star 6a 'classic of the crag', Necronomicon, 140m, 4 pitches. The grading on this was about right, and was a very good route. The crux was pitch 3, a long vertical wall with (mostly) good crack holds that you could normally force one finger joint into, and get some good edging on your feet. In fact, somewhat reminiscent of the harder routes on the Heriot-Watt wall, for anyone who remembers that! Of course, it was a bit longer than the Heriot-Watt wall, so fingers were aching a bit at the top of it. Unfortunately, the route was rather spoilt by pitch 4 (and pitch 5, which is somewhat unusual on a 4 pitch route). This was loose and dangerous, and almost entirely free of bolts. I might not have minded my life depending on an occasional wobbly nut or friend if I had had some sort of confidence that I was going the right way! However, with no route description, and a topo photo that had been taken from the other side of the gorge and showed almost no topographic features, I didn't really have a clue (OK, I am used to that). Just as I was getting a bit fed up with all this, I noticed a belay anchor for the adjacent route 5-6 metres away, and hastily traversed across to this. This had two advantages: (a) I wasn't about to fall to my death; (b) I could leave Patrick to find the way to the top. There were even two bolts some distance above the belay, so when he arrived I assured him that he could simply set a bearing on the line between these and keep going in that direction until he reached the top - well, that seemed to me to be as good an idea as anything else. This he duly did (I don't think any more bolts materialised). We then walked off the back of the 'escarpment', and back down to the road. You could abseil off, but due to the amount of loose rock around it would be foolhardy to do so, both for yourself and for anyone else below.

Despite the final pitch, this was a good start to the trip - a steep and exciting route, in a great location with superb views across and down the gorge. Due to the slightly late start, and short daylight hours, we didn't have time to do a second long route so we headed off to the nearby single-pitch crags for the afternoon.

This pattern was repeated for the rest of the week. We realised fairly quickly that although we have each climbed 6b regularly and the occasional 6c, in Vilanova our limit was going to be 6a, and even some 5's were quite taxing - I had to hang on the rope on the smooth, marble-like, overhanging crux on the grade 5 pitch on Amatista (6a). Of course, you don't usually encounter smooth, marble-like overhangs on grade 5 pitches...

We did several other 3 star, multi-pitch routes such as 'Sol Rogent' and 'A Donde Vas Vicente' in the same area as Necronomicon, and 'Amatista' on the other side of the gorge, as well as visiting various local, and not so local, single pitch crags, usually set in stunning scenery. Mostly the climbing was very good, apart from the occasional ludicrous grading or bolting. Unfortunately, to be honest, you probably have to be operating at 7a (French grading, not northern Spanish) or above to get the most out of this area.