Thursday, 14 November 2013

A blast from the past! - El Cogul.

This week I have decided to reprint an article that was published in Friction Magazine in May 2006.  The recent deluge has had me thinking of methods of escape; dry climates and specifically climbing in Spain.  The article below refers to the last time I actually did just that and reminds me exactly how good that experience can be.  A second reason for bringing this article to life is that it works as a neat little snapshot of what bouldering was all about in 2006.  I'll accept that it is a poorly written article and is at times quite naive, however I think it does capture the spirit of adventure and discovery that cheap flights and articles in climbing magazines engendered in the climbing community at that time.  It wasn't so much what you were climbing but rather which exotic new location you were headed to that seemed to count.  I could have spruced this article up, revised or even rewritten it, however I have posted it here, warts and all, more than anything to give an indication of how much I, and  bouldering, seemed to have changed in a very short time.

All Photos in this post are from the Tony Simpson Collection.

El Cogul.

Apparently there was a sixty present chance that we would have a really cold winter.  In my mind cold means dry and we were in for a good season.  So what do we get – snow, mist, fog and clag, injuries distilled from the frustrations of training indoors and an overwhelming feeling of dread every time there is a mention of the weather.  We heard about bouldering in a desert near Barcelona.  “Pardon?  You mean in a desert where you have no moisture, rain, or wetness – winner!”  Tickets were bought, a car was hired and off we went.  We headed out to Spain in mid-February after several weekends of mist and misery.  Bird flu had just hit Europe, so we were under strict instructions not to lick any birds.
El Cogul is dry! Very dry.  However it is nowhere near Barcelona.  The bouldering is found near the Catalan city of Lleida a place best described later.  It is easy to find El Cogul on the tourist maps.  It is actually a world heritage site due to there being some ancient graffiti on one of the boulders (a fact that escaped us until after our visit) so be careful around the caves.

Our trip took the standard format of bouldering trips worldwide, four men driving around in an overly packed car shouting enthusiastic nonsense at each other.  Loud music was blasted around the car, lard based food products were eaten in large quantities, catch phrases were found and overused and we all climbed ourselves into oblivion on a daily basis.  It could be said that this is really living, but the diet alone could seriously challenge your lifespan.

Most of the bouldering is found along a dirt track between the villages of El Cogul and L’Albages.  Like most European venues each sector of climbing corresponds to a car parking space, so walk-ins are minimal.  The climbing encapsulates everything that is good about sandstone.  Slopers, huecos, roofs, palm down mantels and the judicious use of heel and toe hooks.

The boulders are perched on hillsides above terraced olive groves and vineyards.  Some of the sectors are actually on the terraces themselves, giving the feeling of bouldering in someone’s garden.  Don’t worry though you obviously have the right to trespass.  The local farmers did not take any notice of us no matter how loudly we shouted at yet another failed attempt at a project.

The Sectors.
The topo for El Cogul shows twenty one different sectors of bouldering.  Each sector has on average three to five good boulders of varying sizes.  Rock quality can vary.  Generally the higher up the hillside the venue is the better the sandstone.  On our trip we visited all of the sectors bar two.  Five sectors stood out each serviced by a car parking space.

 Sector 1 –L’Universitat.

This is a sector of steep rounded walls on the left, and a long roof with big huecos on the right. At the transition between these two angles there is a magical sit down crack line which goes at a ferocious 7c.  Other stand out problems include a dynamic 7c through the bulge on the left hand end, and any of the longer roof problems emerging from the right.

 Sector 5 – Mestre Mutent.

This is probably the best warm up venue in El Cogul.  The climbing is best described as technical wall climbing on crimps and shallow pockets.  Problems from 5+ to 7a exist and they are all good.  If you like Pex Hill (which obviously everyone does) you’ll love this sector.

 Sector 6 – Beer Action.

This is the most obvious sector from the road and it contains El Cogul’s most famous problem.  Beer Action is the long curving, sloping arête you can see from the road (7c from standing, 7c+ from sitting if you fancy a go.)  Lots of other problems exist here, however the area is marred slightly by a sloping dusty landing which induces bouts of impromptu mat surfing.

Sector 11 – Pallars.

A great venue which is a short drive up a bumpy farm track.  This sector has rounded boulders plucked from Font and deposited on the terraces. One of these boulders has a 7a arête (7b from sitting) which begs to be climbed.  Around the corner is a huge boulder steep roof.  Problems range from 7a through to 8a+, with what looks like more to go for the keen and the strong.  Believe me when I say this boulder is world class.

Area L’Albages – Sectors 16 to 19.

To get this area you need to drive towards the village of L’Albages, and at the end of the dirt track turn left up the hill on the paved road.  Follow the s – bends passing the indoor poultry farm.  Remember, no licking the birds, you’ll be shot at customs on the way home if you do.  Park on the outside of the last s – bend near the brow of the hill.

 The bouldering overlooks the cultivated vineyards and is obvious.  This area has the highest concentration of good problems in El Cogul, and if you only have time for one day of bouldering this is the area to come to.  From sector 16 to 19 there are walls, traverses, mantels, roofs and huecos.  The grades cross the spectrum and the good problems are to numerous to highlight one or two.  Just go for them and enjoy.

The Weather.

It was snowing in Blighty.  I got a nice tan!  It was dry enough to make my lips peel, and some in our group took the opportunity to run around in just a pair of shorts, rude not to in February. Conditions were excellent, it tried to rain one day but failed miserably.  The best times to boulder were early in the morning and late afternoon when it was pretty cool; but to be honest you could climb as hard as you liked all day.


According to some people, topos for the area can be found on However information about El Cogul like other Spanish bouldering spots is very hard to find, many frustrated web searches have proved this.  (Update - I think El Cogul has been included in the bouldering guide book E - bloc you should find it here just click on link for Boulder Guidebooks when you get to the page).

Flights, Accommodation, and Food.
Ryan air flies to Reus airport which is an hour’s drive from the bouldering.  The airport has the usual array of car hire establishments, and we found car hire very reasonable indeed.

Lleida is the nearest big town / city to the bouldering and you’ll rely on this place for your day to day living.  Lieida is best described as a place to send your enemies to teach them a lesson.  The road system is difficult to navigate; there is nowhere to park, and virtually nowhere to eat out.  We stayed in a Formula 1 budget hotel on the outside of Lleida, my advice is - don’t.  There are camp sites, use the excellent supermarkets (the food you buy in these actually taste of something, unlike at home)  cook your own food on a camping stove whilst sitting under a huge hueco – it will give you piece of mind.  Foraging for food on the streets of Lleida may give you an ulcer.


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