This post is for the adventurous, curious, information seeking, not first-time traveler, and anyone who loves rock climbing and wants to visit some of the highest quality limestone climbing in the world. It’s been awhile since I wrote a trip report and thought this one deserved an entry. I hope to share my experience and logistics to make your travels as enjoyable, if not better, then my own. I’ll cover things from the angle that you have some experience with international travels because I don’t want to go into those logistical details too much. Spain is a big tourist destination and there will be other sites that can help prepare you for a trip. Meanwhile, sit back, relax and enjoy a brief story of my recent adventure and comprehension of logistics to travel to the world’s hardest climbing destinations in Catalonia, Spain.
For the longest time, I had been putting off visiting Catalonia for climbing because I had an ambitious goal that wasn’t intended to be met there. I wanted to climb an 8b+ in Europe and thought, while it would be impressive to do it in Spain, for me, I wanted to do it somewhere else, first. I made some poor choices towards meeting that goal, favoring other life situations and with my latest injury setback, I figured now is as good a time as any to visit. Afterall, I’m finally through the worst of healing from my hamstring injury of over a year and half ago. I’ve had other tweaks and mainly been frustrated at how my lower extremities have compensated and become inflamed. To correct and heal from this, I’ve had to take too much time off…like a year off, from climbing. I’m early into this getting back into fitness phase, and Spain seemed like the best option to reinvigorate my psyche and get some outdoor action.
From the time the inflammation of my legs and a hand injury set in, I was depressed. I’ve come to realize that athletes injured more than a few months, suffer an extreme depression and anxiety about their fitness, ability, and potential to come back and train while preventing further injury. From an outsiders perspective, it seems like the injured could just do “something else” to avoid the injured area and stay active. However trivial this sounds, it is anything but!
Active people tend to want to stay active, as is the case for me. I do try other things and make the best of my situation, but it doesn’t lessen the blow of not being able to pursue what I enjoy most. There is more lost than just time climbing or training for climbing. I also lose connections with my community, which is built around climbing. If I’m not climbing or training for climbing, and I’m doing other things, suddenly I have to meet people who do “other things”.
It’s not hard for me to meet people. I generally feel comfortable putting myself out there, especially when motivated by a goal. People are friendly enough and I make some genuine friendships that span many different areas. But, I always come back to climbing.
To help me stay connected to the climbing community during the absence of the sport, I coach. And, to help me prepare for medical costs and earn some money during this downtime, I also generally take on more demanding and potentially more stable work. I’m very fortunate to have skills in software to get jobs with Enterprise companies like Microsoft and I take full advantage of the benefits I reap from it, especially getting the care I need to rehab and heal properly.
Being set in one city, working a corporate job again, has the benefit that I can focus on training and rehab to prepare myself for attaining this goal of mine in the future. Sometimes, when I’m traveling and climbing a lot, I’m not taking the proper time to train or condition myself to prevent injury. The latter is very important to the longevity of participating in this sport. Coaching also has the benefit of keeping me fresh with training research and new ideas.
In Catalonia live some strong Spanish climbers, none more known for training than Patxi Usobiaga. I had been writing Patxi to sit and chat training, but as a new Pappa, he had no time to respond. I also met Oli Grounsell from Lattice Training but was too busy climbing to engage in training chatter. Both are still on my radar to approach and discuss, while the experience of climbing here has sparked some new ideas of my own to bring back and test out.
These times when I am not driven by a specific project or goal, are the times when I am happy to go wherever my friends are psyched to go and have no objective except to have fun and try hard (whatever that is for me at the moment). We explored the canyon of Tres Ponts, the cliffs of Terradets, the cave of Santa Linya, and the infamous wall of Oliana. Before I tell you more of that, let’s reflect on how the logistics of the trip came together and help you, the reader, understand some options you may have when planning your own travels to this region.
It started with my desire to climb somewhere in China after an up and coming business trip there. Simultaneously, a friend of mine living in Munich wanted to travel somewhere for a 2 week climbing Holiday during this same time period. I’m not familiar with the regions in China and was looking for someone to connect with who knew something and wanted to join me or someone adventurous who would explore this with me. I didn’t find anyone psyched to adventure with me in China so when my friend suggested Spain, to join some mutual friends, despite the timing being earlier than desired, it seemed like a good alternative.
Since we knew the dates of our friends, I looked over my calendar and with a quick scan of flights, found an amazing deal from the States and booked it without hesitation. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go over with work since I hadn’t really given them much notice. Everything came together so quickly that I figured, I’d better just run with it and see what happens.
Barcelona is the main hub if you want to check out the climbing from the south areas like Siruana to the northern areas of Lleida and Oliana. My friend found a cheap flight on Vueling direct from Munich and it’s always possible to find a cheap flight to London then transfer to a budget air like Vueling or RyanAir. Just be mindful of the budget air baggage allowances when doing that kind of trip. I’ve travelled this way before and because the 2nd flight is a domestic flight (as a separate flight, not a connection to your first), your bags will not be checked through to Barcelona and weight restrictions could be different with additional fees for checked bags. I recommend this option only for seasoned travelers. If you are not one of those, the best is to find the fare that takes you all the way to Barcelona and make things simple for yourself. The cost savings may not be worth it, anyway.
One of the airlines I was recommended to investigate was Aer Lingus. After browsing the usual sites for a range of fares for different dates, I found Aer Lingus offering a $450 r/t fare with dates that I could make work. The flight itself looked horrendous because of the 4/4.5 hour layover in Dublin, but the price was so good that I figured I could suck up the inconvenience.
The flight is a direct flight from Seattle to Dublin, then the layover and connection non-stop to Barcelona. My carryon was just a change of clothes (extra underwear), some essentials (soap, deodorant, etc) and plane amenities like plane socks, snacks, laptop, earbuds, etc. The checked baggage had all the climbing gear and extra clothes I would need. I still pack too much and could have gotten away with less
- 1 climbing pant
- 1 climbing legging
- 1 pair shorts
- 1 tank top
- 2 sport bra
- 2 long sleeve options
- 1 set thermals (baselayer)
- 1 leisure pant (for plane and rest days)
- 1 leisure top, long sleeve
- 1 fleece vest
- 1 short sleeve tee
- 1 set pjs
- 1 fleece top
- 1 hat
- 1 pair gloves
- 1 puffy jacket
- 3 or 4 underwear
- 1 pair shoes
- 3 pair socks (1 thicker pair, 2 thinner)
The important thing here is to know that you can wash your clothes if you need to so they can be re-worn as much as possible. I’m sure even some of my leaner packing friends would cut down this list even more. 😊
In your climbing gear, don’t forget things like
- Climbing tape
- Belay glasses
- Belay device
- Climbing shoes (maybe 2 pairs depending on the type of rock and need)
- Climbing salve (if you use any)
- Theraband (for warming up)
- And of course rope and draws depending on arrangements you have made
I did not test taking any climbing gear in my carry on but have heard from friends that a rope in the carry on has been ok. I do know that if you travel with a gri gri, expect to be stopped and the gear inspected. Personally, for an overseas flight, I’d just put all of that in the checked bag. However, you might want to put a pair of climbing shoes in your carryon in case of bag delays or lost luggage.
Barcelona is a big airport with 2 terminals. Aer Lingus will bring you into terminal 2B, which is nowhere near terminal 1. I arrived in the dark and upon exiting the airport was surprised to find myself in a bit of an isolated area. The taxis where traveling up the road, but I didn’t catch sight of any buses, hotel shuttles, or signs indicating where to find them. I did see signs to public transport and with the help of my phone found options to take to my hotel. In lieu of public transport given the hour and the time it would take me to arrive, I ended up taking a taxi even though the hotel was 3 Km from the airport. I did not try to call for the hotel airport shuttle because I didn’t want to walk the airport with my luggage to find my way. This was my decision after walking some distance of terminal 2B trying to sort myself. It was clear this was a satellite terminal with not many amenities. I was supposed to find the rental car place this night but opted to find it the next day when I went back to the airport to greet my friend arriving from Munich. More on the rental car, later.
By taking the hotel shuttle to the airport to meet my friend, I learned where the shuttle drops off departing passengers. I thought this must be where they pick up as well and made a note for when I would drop off my friend at the airport and need the shuttle back to the hotel.
When the time came and I called for the airport shuttle, this is how I learned some things about how to navigate the airport. The Hotel told me to go to parking G, where I would find the shuttle at a certain time.
Hotel Shuttle pickup
Of note, there are a lot of signs directing people to various things and yet, they are not as intuitive as they may seem. Also, I was fortunate that my friend was leaving from Terminal 1 and the rental car agency was there for the return because I am not sure I would have achieved everything starting from Terminal 2B. For instance, this parking G. There are signs for parking noted by the big letter P and arrows to guide the way. Follow this and you will not find parking G. You will find A – F, but not G.
After walking the parking past F, I was humored that I almost walked to parking G by circumnavigating nearly the entire parking area. However, I cut through the parking garage just before I would have arrived at G and went back into Terminal 1, departure area to try again. This time, I found the sign that said explicitly “Parking G” and followed those signs. It took me out of terminal 1 and across the way where I found myself probably 400 meters further from where I had turned around earlier. There is no sign on the lower level where the shuttles park, but as I approached from the walkway above, it had to be where I was supposed to meet my driver so I went there.
This exploration took nearly the entire 45 minutes I was quoted to wait for the shuttle and I nearly gave up and took a taxi again. Feeling accomplished at finding the right spot, I waited the last few moments and my driver arrived to fetch me. Ironically, the driver then proceeded to Terminal 1 to wait for a few moments and drop off a passenger before proceeding onwards to the hotel. Why I couldn’t have just waited for a pick-up there, is unclear. And, it’s not just my hotel shuttle that does this. All hotel shuttles follow this procedure.
Since I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel the night I arrived, I will say one thing about them. There is no negotiating the price and there is a minimum of 20 euro. So, for my 12 Euro, 10 minute drive to the airport 3 km away, it cost me 20 euro because of the minimum fee.
You don’t really need a taxi unless you are going somewhere transport doesn’t go or you just like the convenience. My hotel had an 8 to 10 minute walk after taking a train and a bus that I didn’t want to do in the dark for a total commute of 41 minutes, just to save 20 euro.
This is a popular bus leaving the airport headed directly to Barcelona city center. It’s affordable and easy to find on the lower level below arrivals and runs every 20 minutes or so. There is a kiosk at the bus loading area where you can buy a ticket for travel, if you haven’t book anything at any of the upper level kiosks or online.
I did not take any trains but with my experience of train travel believe it to be another good public transport alternative.
I’m not certain there is a rental car agency in terminal 2B because I didn’t see one straight away. However, there is one in Terminal 1 and that’s where I found the Hertz counter to rent my vehicle. The counter staff are very friendly and multi-lingual, but it helps to understand a few words of Spanish to make the transaction smoother. I booked my car online using my AAA discount and bought the extra insurance to cover any damages. Additionally, we added my friend as another driver. All of this pushed the cost of the rental up. The additional driver alone was 120 euro. If you have the time to plan your trip, spend a bit extra looking at good deals for cars with additional drivers and insurance so you can see if you can save any money. For me, the additional insurance cost 90 US dollars, which was a pretty good deal compared to 15 euro a day extra.
These rental companies can be very particular about scratches and things on the car so take your time going through it and note all imperfections or risk being charged for them later. Also, best to return the car full to avoid any fuel charges.
Probably the biggest challenge we had with the car was getting out of the parking garage. The exits are a bit hidden and once we figured out what we were looking for, we managed both the exit and the return. Helps that you have a passenger with you to pay attention while you drive.
All of the roads we drove on were fine for the rental car. Nothing needed better clearance or traction and most of the approaches were paved.
Hotel – Barcelona
Because my friend and I were arriving and leaving at different times on different days because her trip was intra-European and mine was transatlantic, I looked for a room near the airport for one night each side of the trip. Again, using my usual discount searches, I opted for the Best Western Alfa Aeropuerto Hotel. I’ve used BW a lot over the years particularly for my international travels and have not been disappointed. In this case, the price was pretty good compared to my options and knowing BW properties, I knew it would be clean and the location was perfect.
This hotel is 3 km outside of the airport and not in the city center. It has a running path just outside, with access to the water (from the path). There is a bus stop just outside the hotel that will take you to the city center where you can catch the underground or transfer buses. If motivated, you can take public transport to the hotel from the airport, but there is the free hotel shuttle for that, too.
Another bonus because it’s so close to the airport is the running list of departures on a screen in the lobby with the terminal that the flight is departing from. This is super helpful because the shuttle will only drop you at Terminal 1 and you might get confused why you can’t find your check-in point there if you aren’t departing from that terminal. The staff are multilingual and very helpful. Everyone was professional and service oriented.
Breakfast was not included, but it is a hot and cold buffet of meats, cheese, eggs, and other dishes, including cereals, breads and pastries. Fresh squeezed juice, coffee and tea are also available. At the time of this writing, it cost around 10 euro to have. Tip, there’s enough food there for breakfast and to make a sandwich to take with you for lunch. For me, that made it worth it.
The hotel offers lunch and dinner and a bar for relaxing if you want that. There’s a fitness center, pool and sauna among other amenities. Each night I was there I was happy to have the space to sort myself before and after my flights. The room even came in handy to store things for the day while my friend and I went walking in the city center before her flight later.
If it fits your budget and desire not to be in the city center, then check this hotel out. It is possible to drive all the way to the climbing destination that night but after flying transatlantic (Seattle -> Dublin -> Barcelona), I enjoyed the chance to decompress and start fresh the next day.
Where to stay near climbing
There are many places to stay in the towns near the climbing areas. Europeans and people from the UK will often drive their vans over and stay in random van friendly locations, mostly non-descript locales that you will discover only from visiting. I cannot comment on the legality or length that they stay because I was fortunate to have housing sorted by my friend. We chose to stay in a house that rents out rooms to climbers. Airbnb is popular these days and easy to find that kind of housing for yourself. You simply need to pick the cliff or cliffs you wish to visit most and center yourself near there. For us Ponts worked great. It was easy to get to all of the areas we wanted and was a central point to head back to Barcelona.
For food options, you have many around Barcelona and fewer the closer you get to the climbing cities. We stayed in Ponts and there were a few mini-markets and one larger market that had everything we really needed or wanted. Still, without knowing this ahead of time, we stopped at a BonArea in a village along the way and bought waaaaay too much food for the time we were there. Everything looked so yummy and necessary when we were trying hard not to over spend. Tip, there is food in Ponts and nearby towns so there is no need to stock full at the start, which will save you extra headache of too much food left at the end. 😊
Eating out/Food markets
Do it. The food is amazing!
Here is a sample of things we saw in patisseries and food markets.
Most places still take cash and all of them take a credit card. I did take some cash from the airport ATM and in the end had too much left over. If you buy the initial groceries with a card, you really won’t need much cash to spend in town…unless you like pastries and trinkets to buy in the local markets or festivals. Do check with where you stay what form of payment they will take, if it is not paid ahead of time because in that case, you might need some cash.
It’s possible to speak English and be understood and get around. Most people do understand, though it is easiest if you learn a few simple phrases or you could find the few people who don’t speak English very frustrating to communicate with. In Catalonia, they speak both Catalan and Spanish so there is no need to learn Catalan for the trip. Even my broken and poor Spanish got me by in every situation while I was in Spain.
Time of year to travel
Sites like 27crags have a good time of year approximation for when cliffs are climbable. The season can be quite long or short depending on how the weather is doing that year. This year, the weather was unseasonably warm and dry in late February.
Tres Ponts is in a canyon and can get windy and cold. The sun is on the wall early morning at this time of year and drifts past by mid to late morning and is in entire shade by afternoon. The hike is about 5 minutes and crosses the highway so take caution. Otherwise, it’s pretty flat. The ground beneath the walls narrows the further in you get and there are handrails at the thinnest parts. However, if bringing a family of small children or dogs, it would be wise to keep an eye on them or leash them so they don’t accidentally bound off the cliffside to the riverbed below.
Terradets is an elevated cliff wall approached via a rung ladder that feels a bit precarious when carrying a pack full of gear. Take caution if hauling up children or dogs. The hike meanders up about 10 to 15 minutes and is a gradual incline. The wall is southwest facing and sees full sun most of the day. Shade appears when the sun goes behind the mountains across the way sometime in the late afternoon (maybe starting around 4?). There are trees at the base of the cliff by the left side that keep the belayer protected. The middle is completely open and slopes downward. It is possible to have kids and dogs up there but keep an eye on them or they might slide off the mountain.
Santa Linya, Futbolin is a sector with a very short hike up to the cliff. The wall has a good base with lots of trees and faces southeast, so morning sun and afternoon shade. Good kid and dog friendly location, mind the ants because they are big and they bite.
Santa Linya, Cave is another sector just down the road from Futbolin. Here, the approach is flat, about 10 minutes walk from the parking. There is a swamp feel to the area so it’s a bit buggy and can feel humid on the wall at times. The sun traverses the wall so the left side comes into the sun by early afternoon and as the cave cools down the humidity seems to increase making holds feel a bit slimy as the day continued. The whole area is very flat and kid and dog friendly.
Oliana is an elevated cliff with a dirt road approach that can be avoided by parking on the street before the hotel and walking. The hike will be a bit long (20 to 30 minutes?) and of moderate difficulty. Mind the approach off the road and up to the cliff because it can be slick with lots of loose pebbles along the path. There are sections of the wall that are suitable for kids and dogs. Be mindful that they don’t wander off because it can be easy to fall off the cliff at the edges. This wall is purely south facing and doesn’t get shade until mid to late afternoon. The slab climbs can be nice to belay in the shade but the main wall will have you roasting if you go too early.