Living and climbing in a van… The second six months

At our six month point in the trip I wrote a short review of that time to sum up what we had been up to. So I thought I’d do the same for the second! Each of the things on here have more in depth individual posts, that go into more detail, however this will be a nice overview.

Our final destination on the previous post was Croatia, which was just absolutely amazing and on our return we were forced to drive through Slovenia, ‘I know, the hardships!’. We explored Slovenia for a week before coming to Croatia and our plan on the way out was the same, depending how well we dealt with the cold. Secondly we planned a couple of mountain days, hopefully getting to the top of Triglav, and this was the main event of our second time in Slovenia.

We spent a day in Bled preparing for our route, and then headed up the mountain pass. It was late and in the end I navigated up a snowy trail to the turn around point at the end. We were alone in the wilderness and it was freezing -15. We slept that night in the van with full winter bags and the usual duvets, I already knew we were in for an adventure!

The next morning we were up early and set off up our planned route. The Krma Valley is the easiest ascent in the winter months. Our one downfall was that we had no ski’s or snowshoes, and was hoping that the snow would be firm enough to hold us in crampons. Initially all was well, we made good time. Half way through the day and the going got harder, every step ended up knee depth, before long in was thigh and then waist. It was becoming slow progress and only our stubbornness kept us going on.

Eventually after breaking trail the whole way, I started to hit the wall. Jess took over and even though it made life easier, it was not easy. Time had caught up with us and our early progress was being thwarted by the deep powder snow. We began to worry about reaching the hut, and relying on my navigation, started to worry we might not reach it and have to spend the night out in the cold. We had the equipment for this, but a hut seemed a much nicer prospect.

Every time we approached a ridge or hilltop I was yearning for the hut only for disappointment. The sun was setting, blazing the sky in the craziest pinks and purple, I was so tired I could have thought this a dream state, however the photos agreed with what I saw. I was questioning my navigation a little, I think due to tiredness. Light was fading and on the last ridge I heard the whoosh of a windmills blade and popped my head over the crest to see the hut! A great feeling of relief swept over me. We ate, and after immediately went to bed, twelve hours of waist deep snow knocked us both unconscious. The next morning we didn’t try for the summit and headed down, not in defeat, but in search of comfort!

There are further stories post this little expedition up he mountain, however that was definitely the highlight! From Slovenia we quickly headed across the north of Italy, into the south of France. As we had not majored our first visit here we did not expect a long stay and in the end we opted for two days inland near the Climbing area of Chateauvert, it was cold and I could feel the heat of Spain in the distance, not to mention, as with the rest of the south of France the crag was polished and pretty dire. So we soon headed to Spain!

Our first port of call was Sitges, a small town just outside of Barcelona, here we met with a friend Tina and met her family. We also called in just before Christmas to see a friend in Barcelona, whom I’d traveled with on both the Trans Siberian Railway and the Mongol Rally. It’s fair to say that night I was so drunk that I ended the night with my head in a bucket. From here we slowly headed south to spend a Christmas at the Orange house in Costa Blanca, our first paid for accommodation of the trip!

This was pretty special, as we were able to climb on Christmas Day, which on a year long Climbing trip is a must! Even better we visited a crag called Toix, which is where me and jess, many years before completed our first multi pitch climb together, and all these years later we were back again and still loving it! It felt refreshing to be in a warm location surrounded by some of the best climbing, and the next month or so was full of it!

Highlights in Costa Blanca consisted of completing the Bernia Ridge, a great Ridge Climb/scramble that can be seen from miles around! From first light we were up and by mid afternoon we were back, in between was one of my favourite days on the trip. After months in the alps we moved quickly and safely across the terrain, this is most defiantly a classic route!

We also climbed a route called Parle on the sea cliffs, abseiling in through a cave, you start from the foot of he rock with the waves roaring in and crashing below. We had a group and followed them up the Climb. The Climbing itself was not overly spectacular, however the arena in which its situated is beyond what you think a Climb of this grade can deliver. On the second pitch we traversed right, Jess tried and failed and when I tried it was out of this world hard, I struggled for every bolt, sometimes wondering what I was holding on to. However as we had abed in, we had to climb out, and I believe this is what drove me on. As it turned out we later found that we had gone too far left and ended up on another route of grade 6c, whereas we should have been climbing at 6a+ maximum, no wonder I was climbing as hard as ever! The next pitch was fantastic, I was surprised how easy it was considering this was the crux pitch (at the time I did not realise my 6c sized mistake). Exiting through the cave hole was great, it’s such a feeling of elation to have completed the climb and be back on terra firma. A great day for sure!

We climbed other amazing routes such as Toix ridge, the route Sonjannika near Moraira followed by camping on the sea front overlooking the climb we had done that day! We also completed a couple of trad routes at echo valley which was great considering the amount of sport dominated climbing we had been doing. One of the final routes was GEDE above the roads and gorge of Mascarat, this Climb was something of a final straw for me, as the crux pitch was a polished nightmare and after a months straight Climbing with little time off, I was starting to feel a bit mentally strained and it was time for a break from climbing again!

Although this could have been the end for Costa Blanca we continued to climb a few more multi pitch routes in Murcia, that I would have enjoyed more, had I been more motivated. Following this we headed towards El Chorro, for guess what… more Climbing! It’s fair to say that since being in Spain we were getting our money’s worth! First off we had a walk around El Torcal, fantastic natural rock formations that were beautiful and well worth a day to walk around. The next day we arrived in El Chorro itself.

Initially we were a little disappointed, Climbing on badly polished routes, however with a bit of research, we found a route called Luvia Del Asteroides, a 5+ multi pitch that scaled the main wall of el Chorro, it was a fantastic route to be on, and after what had been a negative ish end to Costa Blanca, this was a good start. It just great to drive from one place to the next and find amazing route after amazing route. In the following days/weeks we did a few other multi pitches, including the famous Amptrax, that was harder on every pitch than the grade suggested.

As well as this, we did the Via Ferrata and the newly refurbished kings walk on a rainy day. Quite touristy, but it was great for one of the few rainy days that popped up! It was a good climbing location, although to do more of the large multi pitches on the main wall we needed to increase our average grades. Following El Chorro, we headed south towards Tarifa where we planned more climbing, Diving and some chill out days!

It’s fair to say that I really enjoyed Tarifa, I’m not sure why, it’s a beach resort without much climbing or mountains, so usually would be pretty low on my go to places, but there is just something about this place! The beaches were lovely and pristine, quiet due to the time of year, with kite surfers flying around at sea. I did not know it before I arrived but Tarifa is a kite surfing capital, and although we didn’t get a chance this time, in the future I’m going to have a go! Instead we sat in the sun on the beach having a lovely relaxed time!

We did output final dives of the trip here too, one was average at best, with choppy winds and string currents, the second was perfect. We dived the wreck, and followed it with a traverse of the island to shallower water. Now being a wreck man I would usually go on about the wreck, however the sea life on this dive was awesome, loads of eels, crabs, a couple of large lobster and a grouper. Pretty amazing tbh!

We climbed at mosaica, a crag I’ve always fancied after seeing an amazing picture of the mosaic style rock, it looks mesmerising to Climb, in all truth it was tough! Further up the road we climbed a little known boulder location called El Helechal. The boulders here was out of this world, I loved it and ended up spending the best part of half a day working a route, which was great when I eventually sent it! We slept overlooking Bolonia beach and woke early to watch the sunrise which is the best reason to wake up early!

Throughout this part of the trip I was looking forward to Portugal, and on arrival the bad weather decided to arrive aswell, literally we had two weeks of pretty much constant rain, so Portugal was pretty much a right off, and we soon made a beeline for Madrid. Here we met up with some friends, Carlos and Raquel and their five dogs! It was a tight fit in their little car. As we were on the outskirts of Madrid we climbed on the local boulders, again the quality was great, and over the few days we climbed well. Madrid itself was great as we met up with more friends over a couple of days, this was turning into the most sociable part of the trip for us!

One thing that has skipped our to do list was a climb in Costa Blanca called el dorado, another sea cliff Climb that looked amazing and had been recommended by people we had met on the road. So Costa Blanca felt like a natural place to return to, it’s a meca of Climbing and the weather is usually great, and so was a no brainer!

We climbed El Dorado almost immediately, and it was as good as I was expecting! Quite steep, but with a load of jugs. It’s one of those climbs that as I approached I could not help but think how am I going to get up that? It seemed hard wherever you climbed!

We were lucky to be in the area for the Las Fallas, where we saw the most amazing colourful sculptures in both Gandia and Valencia itself. I can’t believe that these amazing things would be destroyed for the most random festival ever! Years ago I planned to go to this festival, but flight and hotel prices were off the charts, so I decided against it. It’s great that this trip has opened up opportunities to do some great unplanned things!

Well this post might be my longest ever! But we’re nearly there!

We swung by Sitges agin to see Tina again, and then after a few days Climbing at Montserrat a crazy looking mountain range with tower upon tower of choice. Wierdly every route seems similar due to the rock type! From here we left Spain and headed directly to Chamonix. We had skipped out on skiing on this trip as our time in Slovenia was so cold, and living in the van in those temperatures was not worth it! However the ski season was still going strong in Cham and the weather in April was way better than December!

We did three days skiing, which gave us the opportunity to try out each of the three main areas in the Chamonix valley. Even on the first day we were partial to a bit of off piste and happy just to get on with it. We also managed to squeeze in a couple of crag days, even with the slightly colder weather. However this was secondary to the skiing which was the main reason we had returned to Cham.

Our friend Colin was the first visitor we had on the trip, after ten months of living on the road in Europe it felt nice to have a visitor. We had a couple of days Climbing and also decided that we would do a days skiing. Colin had never skied a day in his life and none of us had ski toured before, so we rented the equipment and set off for WiFi to trawl you tube for how to videos. It’s safe to say after an hour of watching how to use the bindings, the skins and the skills we were ready.

We set off for Le Tour and did the route that was marked for ski touring, giving us a nice safe route to learn the skills for real. It was great fun, we found the limit of skins early on, with Colin and Jess creating a domino effect, whilst mine just about stuck to the ice. Jess did not fare as well as me and Colin, and didn’t enjoy the thinner sections, however we all reached the top of he slope safe and in one piece. Now it was time for Colin to learn how to downhill ski. As we were at the top there was no kids slopes to learn the basics so it was in at the deep end. It’s fair to say that initially he struggled, however by the time we were on the final run of he day, a red run, he was coping pretty well. Funniest thing was at the foot of the slope at the end of piste marker he stacked it big time and literally face planted in front of a crowd of people, who openly laughed along with the rest of us, it was one of those where you can’t help but laugh. It was taken in good humour and we finished the day with a deserved burger and beer!

From here we left Cham for Dijon, where we did a couple of cragging days and then moved onto Fontainebleau, where I noticed a great improvement in my ability compared to the start of the trip. I know that this is to be expected, however it was still nice to have it confirmed! I really enjoy bouldering, and for once it was great to get my teeth into some cool routes in Font instead of struggling on the lower grades.

The end of our trip consisted of more social visits and city hoping, from Gent to Amsterdam. Gent was the surprise, it was such a beautiful place. In Amsterdam we tried our hardest to fit in all the things you can only do in Amsterdam, sex museum, pot brownies, weed museum, and the red light district.

Our final stop of the trip was the battlefields of Belgium, where we did a mini battlefield tour. I had been previously, although it was 16 years ago in basic training, so it was nice to return and refresh my memory. We paid our respects at the Menin gate for the last post and then visited the Tyne Cot cemetery and the German graves. It’s always a shock to see the number of headstones just lined up one after the other, to really hit home just how many peoples lives were lost.

So finally we arrived home. It has been great being back home after just short of a year being away, with all the comforts it brings. I loved van life, still do. In fact even though I’m home I still miss it and the freedom it afforded. Not to say this was a one time thing, we already have a loose plan for the future where we plan a similar trip, taking in more of Northern Europe, which I look forward to. In the meantime we will have micro adventures when we can and in June we pack our bags again for five months in Croatia, so the future is looking bright!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, if you have made it this far? This has been one of the best things I have ever done with my life; van life, adventure, exploring, climbing, Diving, beaches, mountains… the list goes on, it’s definitely been worth it. It just shows what you can fit into a year when you have time and opportunities. We are both lucky to have found each other and both share the same goals in life.

Time for a little preaching… When we did the math, if I was to take a holiday for every week I had off work, it would take 12-15 years to accumulate the time needed to do what we did on this trip, and there are not many people who take a holiday every week they have off, so realistically this would be the equivalent to 20+ years of holidays in one go. It’s nearly a lifetimes worth of holidays for some! I’m more than happy to work, and to work hard at that, however there has to be a reward. For me, if I can save for a few years and then treat myself to something as epic as this then it is worth it! This has been the most amazing trip and I hope, in time, I can do it again.

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