Raindrops and church bells slowly wake you up in a small village called Chulilla. However, here the sound of church bells doesn’t bother you because you are far away from home and completely at ease. You make a mistake while counting the bells and don’t know which hour they ring anymore, so you make some coffee and stretch out with a wonderful view over the beautiful, picturesque village. The views of different shades of white, tall houses with tall antennas have a calming effect and put you in a world of more than 30 years ago. Narrow cement streets give a feeling of modernity, the speakers placed on the sides notify the whole village about pressing news like the absence of water between 8 and 9pm.
Welcome to Chulilla
Chullila has the main square where the whole village gathers in the evening and dances late into the night. Through the maze of village streets, you can find your way to the top of a wall that brings you to a castle from which you can see the curvy, orange-grey, 80 meter high limestone walls of Chulilla, rising above river Turia. The cliffs take your breath away as they meander for a few kilometers more. Why have we chosen Chulilla? Why the same place for the fifth year straight? This time we visited Spain in May without our blue, four wheeled home. It wasn’t hard to arrange a place to stay with Sebastian and find a reliable climbing partner-cum-taxi driver in Juantxo Ponso. We discussed the number of climbing areas to be found in Slovenia and those in the community of Valencia during dinner, coming to the conclusion that the latter clearly wins. Chulilla itself has more than a thousand routes with great quality of rock, tufas, crimps, slabs, slopers, along with overhanging routes. Chulilla is known as the 7c paradise, which I can only confirm. It is situated in the Turia river basin, about 50 km away from Valencia. This is relatively close for Slovenians if you fly from Trieste or Treviso. Organize a friend or a taxi to pick you up and the adventure begins.
The beginning of climbing in Chulilla started in the 80s, when an American started to bolt routes, some time later the local climbers joined in. In the 90s, it was more popular to bolt short overhanging routes with an artificial feel, with holes, crimps, in a style not so much used today. The number of routes grew and reached a peak when Pedro Pons bolted two larger sectors Oasis and Balcon along with a handful of others. The climbing guide with new sectors was published in Desnivel magazine and Chulilla flourished again. The locals are still equipping new routes so it never gets boring.
As I said, we took a flight this time rather than our van, which proved to be a great choice because you have to adapt more and are more open socially. You experience the village, the people and the climbing itself in a different way than if you’re coming with your “coche”. When we’re on the road, we usually distance ourselves from other people and retire early
. But now it felt good to be in the company of other people and when you live in a small village everything is within hands reach, so you can really take it easy and relax. With rising temperatures every day, you become truly Mediterranean. The Spanish call this: Prisa mate, amigo!, which roughly translates as ‘Chill out and you’ll live longer.
Two younger brothers live in Sebastian’s house. Their Columbian mother visits them on weekends, she fills the house with a positive vibe, and amazing energy, and cooks Columbian food. Living with a Spanish speaking family, there’s no option but to learn Spanish yourself, which wasn’t a problem for the two of us at all. In two weeks time, we spoke Spanish sufficiently fluently to able to talk about life, climbing, food, weather and stuff like that. I felt very welcome in their house and we’ll come back again for sure. The Spanish usually have a custom of »mi casa es tu casa«, what is mine is yours, and you are always welcome with us. They really don’t worry and take things easy and this is something we Slovenians should learn to do as well.
Pared Blanca Project
The pace of life in Chulilla dictates that you wake up, have some coffee, open climbmaps.com and look at sectors and grades,to decide which you want to try today. We didn’t feel like walking today, so we chose sectors
Competición and Los perros, the closest ones to the Casa de Sebas and they have beautiful routes. Being one of the oldest sectors, about 30 years old, Los Perros is also appropriately polished. But that didn’t bother us too much. We warmed up nicely, Klemen did the first repetition of Alien sex friend, 8b, with artificial holes, which was equipped and first climbed by Pedro Pons in 1990.
The next day, we went to sector Pared Blanca in the river Turia canyon. There are two possible approaches. One starts at a dam and the other goes over a hilltop across hanging bridges and this is the one I prefer.
I had a debt in Pared Blanca from last winter. I went for it right away and succeeded in one of my hardest 7a+’s up to now. The rest of the day I belayed and pondered on which route to try next. Pretty soon, my husband showed me Super Zeb, 7c, an overhanging crack at the beginning of the wall with a slightly overhanging corner in the upper part of the route and said that this was a route for me. I looked up and wondered at the small holds, while in the lower part, the polished holds were shining from afar. I decided that this was not the route for me, but still, I was going to have a try. I first tried it on top rope. It’s an annoying route because you don’t know where and how to turn, everything is polished and it’s impossible to grip small holds and stand legs apart constantly so that everything hurts and you are not even halfway through the route. I could hardly get to the top of the 40 meter route even with quite a few rests and thought to myself that it would be impossible to climb. Still, after some spousal persuasion, I had another go. It went surprisingly better this time but I didn’t bother too much with the details. All that mattered to me was to climb higher than on the first try. And it was really better.
Titaguas for rest day
I wasn’t accustomed to making such hard moves, so I needed a rest day. For Klemen, rest day means »let’s have an adventure on a white water river and search for new walls«. We went to Titaguas where the river is equally cold as in Chulilla, only much livelier. The walls in Titaguas rise right from the river and there is no approach on dry land. One possibility was from the top of the wall and the other from the river. You can probably guess, which way we chose. What else but the wild river. We were lucky to have made it out in one piece considering our limited knowledge in rafting, and that the 50 euro boat held us. In a short moment, you experience everything from a quiet boat ride, where you can look
at the walls with beautifully-shaped tufas, to a sudden capsize of the boat and swimming in 10 degree Celsius cold water. The things we do to find and express our passion for climbing! The potential crag discovering expedition was wild and totally crazy. But we weren’t smart enough to think ahead about how we were going to paddle back against the stream which was our only way back. After a few tries, we finally managed to paddle back with the help of holding on to a wall to find a calmer part of the river place and climb out of the water there. Adventures tire you and in the evening we fell into our beds and slept like babies.
Pared Blanca, studying the project
We visited Pared Blanca the next day, where I tried my route again. This time I got brave and tried to climb it on the lead. I got quite scared because the bolts in Chulilla are spaced quite far apart. In fact the bolts are good, but Slovenians are a bit spoiled. I got to the top so I did another try. This time I managed to climb fluently and I had a good fight till the crux part and then I rested because I was so pumped. I climbed the second part to the top without any problems and this gave me strength and belief that I could do it. Two tries a day is more than enough for me and tomorrow would be a new day. And so I laboured on the route three days in a row, getting better each time and with each try I got higher before falling. Then, I suddenly felt different, tired out and powerless, I was too pumped at the crux and couldn’t hold it anymore. I made mistakes in the lower part and there were too many extended quickdraws. So I decided to change my tactics. I got rid of extra quickdraws and started clipping in the rope with another hand. I even wrote a cheat sheet for the lower part, which proved to be a good idea. And when I had all this, my strength declined. I didn’t know what was going on. Why? I needed a rest day again.
Rest Day 2- bolting a route in canyon
This time, Klemen’s idea was to bolt a route in Chulilla’s canyon. The quality of rock is very good yet it is never visited because of the river. By now, we were already very experienced paddlers and adventurers, so my husband organized where the team would do that day. It was as hot as hell. Mosquitos sucked our blood and frazzled our nerves. The idea was to film everything with a camera and a drone, so we needed more people to take part in this project. Around midday, the hottest part of the day, we finally got to work. It was all a bit crazy. We had to inflate the boat at the car, access the river through bushes and descend the river to reach the spot, where Klemen imagined. He drilled a bolt and a removable anchor on the other side, so I could film from there. Ernesto took care of aerial filming. The river was calm and everything was much easier than in Titaguas. Juantxo belayed from the boat and soaked up the sun. And Klemen was creating a new route, as usual. He is very fast and precise with bolting. When he’s doing »bottom up« bolting, he uses a special technique: after a few meters of climbing, he first tries to protect himself with two skyhooks for small cracks and he has to be careful not to move too much, otherways they unhook and this results in a fall. He then drills a 3 centimeter deep hole and inserts a removable anchor, that look like small friends and are more secure than sky hooks. If the route is long, he needs many of them. But these removable anchors aren’t meant for climbing. Klemen usually uses ten removable anchors for a route and also drills some bolts to be safer. He then climbs to the top, makes a belay point, goes down or fixes a rope and deepens the holes to drill in proper bolts. The route is then cleaned, dangerous rocks are hammered away and it’s ready to go. We filmed the whole process and were left dizzy from the heat and mosquitos, so we abandoned the thought of climbing for the day. The route was done but we found out later that it was made in a protected area, so next time we should inform ourselves better.
The last two days in Pared Blanca
Active rest days are sometimes good but not for the projects. The temps can reach up to 35 degrees Celsius. There is no wind and mosquitos attack from morning to evening, so we decided to head to the wall very early. Warming up at 9am is more exhausting than I thought. Sleepiness and the heat tire you out. I was a bit too enthusiastic on my first try. The lower part was still too confusing and I couldn’t remember the combination of moves. I used too much energy. Finally, my nerves got the best of me and I lay down crying, wondering about what had I been doing wrong. Klemen persuaded me to try it again to take some photos and next time, I would do it for sure. I was tired from all the attempts and thought this photo shooting was completely unnecessary. Klemen took pictures for about an hour and then I said I wasn’t going to do it anymore, not on this trip.
The night passed and I felt great in the morning. I looked at the photos on Klemen’s computer and I actually looked great on them. The more I looked at the photos, the more I felt the urge to do it. I watched them for about an hour and tried to remember the combinations with as little matching holds as possible. Silently, I wanted to try the route this day immediately. This time, we headed to sectors Diagnostico and Balcon, where I took pictures of Klemen in his 70-meter route Antigravity, 8b+. I think it’s the longest route in the canyon. Mosquitos and the heat didn’t ease off. Besides taking pictures, I belayed all day and tried to protect myself from the mosquitos. Even mosquito repellent didn’t help. We finished climbing at 6pm and headed back to the car. On our way back, we stopped at my project. I started at it, wondering whether I should try it or not. Finally I decided to give it another shot. The sun was still too hot, so we preferred to wait and took a swim in the river. I felt bad because Klemen placed quickdraws in my route for me every day and I didn’t want to burden him with that extra thing. After all, I should be doing that myself. Now that I’m writing this, I’m aware that you don’t need someone to make your climbing projects easier. If you are capable of red-pointing a route, you can also start working on it yourself.
This time, Klemen placed quickdraws for me again and I tried it just to warm up. I was holding on well, almost not pumped enough after the first roof. I took a rest on a small tufa and decided to go on. My legs were working for me perfectly. I made some small mistakes but despite that, I was holding on well and stopped just before the crux to shake off my arms. Maybe I rested a bit too long but then I went for the move and, great, I was still holding on. I did the second and third move but lost tension for the final one so I fell, with no fear, quite a few meters. I wasn’t even aware I was flying. I was so happy that I did the move and fell. I can’t remember when was the last time I fought so much and did the moves with no fear. I mostly struggle with fear of falling and heights. I know we all have this fear but each person manages it differently. I had nerves on this route at first. It was too hard for me, too overhanging and I was too heavy, the bolts are spaced 2 meters apart and more. I did the crux move with fear quite often. Whenever I came to the crux section completely pumped, I grabbed a quickdraw or did something else wrong. That day, I just climbed, without thinking about where the quickdraws were. I focused on climbing and let the rhythm take over me. Right after the fall, I lowered to the ground because I knew I only had one more attempt before the night falls.
After half an hour, when the sun was beginning to set and mosquitos started to attack in swarms, I went up the route again. I didn’t think about how much I wanted to succeed but said to myself to just enjoy climbing. I got ready and started to climb. Klemen was completely dressed and covered at 30 degrees Celsius, he put on gloves and belayed me faithfully. I climbed fast but even despite that, I had more and more mosquitos on my body. I came through the first part and wanted to rest. But instead of that, I had to blow these mosquitos off my arms. I checked one arm and then the other. I couldn’t believe how many of them I saw at once. I think it was at least 50 of them. I climbed on, determined and strong. When the pain was unbearable, I tried to focus on breathing. I couldn’t get rid of them because I would fall. I climbed wisely, suddenly I was at the crux and made all the moves dynamically, just as I trained. I grabbed the little hole and suddenly I was higher on it than usual. Klemen cheered and I huffed into mosquitos. I continued climbing and found amazing strength, I wondered where all that pumped out the feeling was and I was already at the tufa on a rest. I could get rid of all mosquitos here and I knew I only had 10 more meters to the top. I wasn’t fully aware of all that was happening. I shook my arms just in case and completely focused on climbing. I enjoyed every single move. I felt good in the route. The higher I got, the more I knew I really wanted to climb it and did all the moves 100 percent.
It’s not an easy route, most people fall on the last move before the belay. So there is no slacking off. I did the last hard moves full out, then the two jugs and a jump to the last jug, a few tufas, an undercling and I was at the belay already. I clipped it and screamed victoriously. Joy and happiness were overflowing. At the same time, I felt like crying from all the pain and I wanted to get down as fast as possible. When I came down from the route, I was all excited and I said to my husband: “I’ve never felt this strong!” I had a feeling I wasn’t pumped at all. The next day I felt sore in both my arms and legs. I had never climbed this fast in my life. It was a first and such a special experience that I still cannot describe it. But now I know why I climb. Because I can overcome my fears in hard routes. Because not everything is in body weight and height, like most climbers think but as Natalija Gros said: The biggest muscle in the body is the brain. I have experienced this myself, and I realized I could push not only the limits in my climbing but also big decisions in life. This was the route that gave me much more than just a big number grade. That was just a bonus. Sometimes you have to wait but just keep persisting and be patient. It took me more than 10 years to be climbing 7a. Some people give up in this time, others reach it faster. But I never gave up and now I believe in myself, I can do even more. I still like to climb 100-meter grade 5 routes. So what if it’s a 5, as long as I am happy doing it.
The first 7c has to be celebrated. Lucky for me, the feria for May 1st Holiday lasted for days. It wasn’t hard to convince local people to celebrate. The Spanish celebrate May 1st not by making bonfires but by jumping for a leg of ham, which is hanging from a string in the air about 10 meters above the ground. Boys and girls form a human pyramid and amongst lots of laughter and climbing back and forth over one another, they always reach the “jamon”, some even with bruises on their limbs. The “jamon” is then taken across the village where it is served with tapas. I wish we had this kind of festival at home.
We finished partying and the next day was my journey home, via Valencia airport to Trieste, Italy, and finally Rakek. And we’re home again. I have to go back to work in the morning and next weekend I’ll be climbing again and study new routes.