We wanted fast access, good weather in mid-March and multi-pitch climbing. The choice fell on Montserrat. A beautiful area about 50 km north of Barcelona.
Montserrat is a mountain range extending over a distance of about 10 km. The peaks are mostly about 1000 m a.s.l. high and have interesting, characteristic shapes. The place is very popular among tourists due to the Benedictine monastery and for climbers it offers multi-pitch routes up to 300 m in length and many single-pitch sport routes.
Multi pitch routes
This is what I was waiting for! In fact, we didn’t do any three hundred meters route, but I had the pleasure to climb two sport routes around a hundred meter.
The first one is the route Petit Gerard (6a+) on Magdalena Inferior in sector Gorros.
We started the approach to the crag from the entry of the cable car in the Montserrat-Aeri station. The cable car goes until the monastery and allows you to quickly overcome over 500 m of elevation. It drives every 5 – 15 minutes between 9:40 and 19:00. The cost of one-way ticket is 7.5 euros, both 11.5 euros.
Then follow the red trail up the stairs, then turn left onto the yellow trail and then turn right into red. It takes about an hour to get to the crag, if I remember correctly, but the views are so beautiful that it is just pleasant hiking.
The crag Magdalena Inferior is located at the very trail and our route is a little to the right. Goes north wall and mid March is probably not the best season yet. It was really cold! But otherwise cool ;)
The most difficult is the beginning. It is the first pitch that has a grade of 6a+ and the greatest difficulties are on its first meters. Cold-hardened fingers did not make things easier, but eventually we both climbed in. Views from the first belay station as shown below, and when you look around you can see the monastery, the neighboring peaks and in the distance Barcelona.
We liked the second pitch the most, graded at 6a. In the middle there is a small roof. In the picture below, you can’t see it, but after it, there is another one overhanging part. An interesting variety from all these slabs, vertical walls and crimps.
Further it’s easy – pitches 5b and 4b, and beautiful views on the top :)
The route is fully bolted and when it comes to density, it’s enough for me, however most of the bolts are rusty, which weakened my trust a bit. Although my friend was falling and it didn’t ripped out ;)
The second multi pitch route that I can recommend is L’Ordenació on Elefant in sector Sant Benet. It’s also 4-pitches with similar grades: 6a+, 6a, 5b, 5c. Getting to the rock also begins similarly, except that where you turned left onto the yellow trail, this time you have to turn right.
The most difficult beginning:
And here’s a few first metres and a few last of the second pitch:
The bolting is fine, although the density of the bolts decreases as the difficulty decreases and at the end of the third pitch I had the impression that there is nothing more than 10 m. Fortunately, it is really easy.
At the top, spend some time, enjoy the beautiful views :)
Then the rappel or descent along the trail and back down, still watching wonderful rocks and mountains.
There are also many traditional routes in the region, and the longest ones are usually trad. Although we took trad climbing gear, eventually we didn’t climb any such a route. We couldn’t find one that would match our level and wasn’t in the area that is closed at that time. Besides, we were worried about the protection. We did two routes (actually one and a part, and this one not me), which in our guidebook are marked as mixed. The bolts were every few or even 10 m and between them it was impossible to place anything. Only some thread, just a meter from the bold or a crack half-meter from the belay station. On the guidebook we saw that trad routes often lead along the cracks, but not always. Some of them at least partly require face climbing and how people place protection there, I have no idea…
Single pitch routes
Sport single-pitch routes lovers will also find something for themselves in Montserrat. We spent the first day of our trip in the Can Jorba – Columpi sector, in the southern part of the massif. Although reportedly the sector is always crowded and even though it was Sunday, we had the whole rock for ourselves. We saw only two other teams in other parts of the sector. In general, Montserrat is rather not a popular area, in other parts of it we also didn’t meet many climbers.
The routes are up to 30 m here and, like the others in Montserrat, they are characterized by small holds and require good leg work. I started on leading 5c and after a few meters I thought that if it was 5c, I will not do anything more difficult here. Later, when I got used to it and started to trust friction more, I felt better, but still in my opinion grading in this area is rather hard.
We were climbing also in sub-sector Manantial, also in Can Jorba. You can see it in left-top corner of below image.
The rocks here are very similar to Jura in Poland, both in terms of height and the skills they require. Few holds and steps, and mainly holes, only friction a little better.
Another place good for sport climbing is located near the town Collbató. There are also several 2 and 3-pitches routes and one several-pitch, graded 6a. We were climbing there a bit on single-pitch routes, but I don’t know what the grades are and what are the names of the rocks, because we couldn’t understand the guidebook. In any case, well-bolted, vertical and slab rocks, up to approx. 20 m.
Transport and accommodation
By car from Barcelona it is about 40 minutes. You can also take a train to Montserrat or a bus to Collbató or El Bruc. Train schedules can be found on Google Maps. Buses are not found by Google, the timetable is on this page: www.igualadina.com. Unfortunately, neither train nor bus depart from the immediate vicinity of the airport, so including transfers and waiting, the journey may take 2-4 hours.
With regard to accommodation, in the case of a few person group, you can find something cheap on Airbnb. We were accommodated in Collbató here: www.airbnb.pl/rooms/15919410. A house with a garden and a fireplace, looking like a museum or a castle :) The owner is a climber who provides his maps and guidebooks and eagerly shares his knowledge. Good location, especially for multi-pitch routes, is also the monastery building (Cel-les Abat Marcet).
If you look for something cheap for a 2-3 person group or if you like spartan conditions, then in the western part of the Montserrat massif is a shelter Vicenç Barbé (www.feec.cat/refugi/refugi-agulles-vicenc-barbe/). I’m not sure if there is a shower, but we learned that the water only from the rain. In the eastern part, closer to the monastery there is the shelter Sant Benet (in the picture below, I don’t know the contact). Reportedly there is also a camping at the monastery, but even though we spent a lot of time on the internet before traveling, looking for information about this place, we couldn’t find any contact or information, whether it is open, what are the prices and conditions.
If you plan to stay at the monastery and climb in the sectors of Sant Benet and Gorros, you will go without a car. Similarly, if you plan climbing in Can Jorba, Vinya Nova and Collbato, then staying in El Bruc or Collbato, you will reach the crag in 0.5 – 1.5 hours. However, if you would like to see different sectors in different parts of the massif, it is worth having a car. Living in Collbato, for example, the walk-in time to the crags in the vicinity of the monastery would be about 2-4 hours.
Equipment and other practical information
- If you plan multi pitch climbing, it is worth having a single 80 m or shorter half rope, because pitches are often 40 and sometimes even more meters high. My single 70 m rope was too short for many routes. L’Ordenacio is the right route for a short rope, because you can walk down on the other side, but Petit Gerard is not so good. Although the longest pitches are only 25 m, the rings are only on the top and in the middle belay station.
- I highly recommend putting on helmets, because the rock is quite chossy and several times it happened to us that something broke off.
- In the first half of the year, some sectors are closed due to the breeding season of birds. Detailed information can be found on this page: muntanyamontserrat.gencat.cat/ca/el_parc/escalada. Comparing before the trip these areas and thecrag.com I had got the impression that there weren’t many routes in closed areas, but later looking carefully through the printed guidebook it turned out that there were many that we would like to do but couldn’t.
- As for the guidebook, we used this: www.climb-europe.com/rockclimbingshop/Montserrat-Free-Climbs-Guidebook.html. Descriptions and especially the drawings of the approach to the crags are not so good, but I don’t know if there is any better guidebook in English. In addition, it does not contain the Collbató sector at all. Climbing there, we used the guidebook borrowed from the owner of the house, but the rock drawings in this guidebook did not agree with what we saw. Approaching the crags, the app Mapy.cz was sometimes very helpful.
- Last but not least – watch your luggage! Especially in Barcelona, but reportedly from the parking lots at the crags, there are also thefts sometimes. Our trip ended with the theft of backpacks from our car parked at the beach in Barcelona. We lost everything except what we had taken to the beach… The car, of course, was closed, and backpacks hidden in the trunk. We had 2 hours to the departure when we returned to the parking lot and, finally, a friend who reported the incident to the police, was late for the plane… We had insurance from Firefly car rental, but it was three weeks ago and they are still ignoring us.