Big climbing in the small town of Margalef

Last winter I saw the videos of Adam Ondra climbing in Margalef. It looked like it would be an amazing experience to climb there. Of course I will never climb the routes he climbed, but climbing or hiking in a landscape as stunning as that would be a treat. So when I found an opportunity to volunteer in a town called Flix, only 45 minutes away, my mind was made up.

In the end I was able to climb for two weekends. I had a blast. But soon I did realize that most of the crags don’t suit my strengths in climbing. Many of the routes have a very powerful start, once I worked my way through that the rest of the climb was usually very enjoyable.

Traveling to Margalef

Margalef is a tiny picturesque town in Catalonia. The only way to get there is by car over very windy roads. Once you’re there the climbing is concentrated on two canyon roads, one starting directly from town the other one a few kilometers up the main road. Some of the crags can be reached by foot, but most climbers drive to one of the parkings close to the crag and use the short approach. In my opinion a car in this area is crucial.

Where to stay

On my second weekend I decided that I wanted to stay in the area for the full weekend. The climbing partners that I found were all staying at the same place, The Ruin. The Ruin is located in la Bisbal de Falset, only a few kilometers away from Margalef. The house is run by Simon who bought this place as a ruin, who could have guessed? He transformed the place with some help from friends into this lovely house with space to sleep 6 to 8 people.

Recently the town has acquired its own campground. It’s very basic but has a very decent bathroom. Staying here isn’t too expensive. There is also a free camping possibility near the dam without any facilities. However many people seem to camp out at the other parking areas even though there are obvious signs its not allowed to camp. 

I don’t recommend staying at La Fonda. I don’t know if the Covid situation had to do with it but it was a strange experience. I walked in for a drink, they didn’t have much else than alcoholic beverages. On the terrace climbers who were obviously staying there long term were smoking weed and drinking alcohol around noon. And when I had to go to the toilet, there was no toilet paper and everything was very dirty. The whole place felt very unwelcome, hopefully it was a one time thing.

Topo Guides

There are two recent guides for the area. One has drawings of the crags and the other one has pictures. I got the one with the pictures and it’s very good. All the information is in there, like the amount of draws needed, length of the route, how to get to the crag, etc. Besides, it’s also much easier to find out exactly what is what with the picture guide. My climbing partners used the drawing guide one day and ended up in the wrong route. I heard there is a strange story behind the two guides. They were published only months after each other. One person asked if the other person wanted to help with the guide to which the other replied that he was making his own.

I’m also aware of a guide that offers information about the whole region. However not all of Margalef is included in this guide, but if you’re planning to go to many different places in this area then this guide might be your best bet.

Guides are sold in La Botiga in Margalef.

Climbing

With more than 1500 routes there is enough climbing for everyone. The 4’s and 5’s are often very physical for their grade because of the tough starts. Once you’re 2 or 3 meters up the routes feel more like the grade that is posted in the guide. Many crags are suffering a lot from erosion resulting in very difficult starts. In some places rock piles or ladders are a part of the climb.

It was my first time climbing a conglomerate. It was strange to often only have two fingers holding on to the rock. Some holds were polished and sharp at the same time.

Gear

Most of the crags are not very high, like arount 15 meters. There are however some crags that offer nice long climbs. I would recommend having a 70 meter rope, with which you’re able to climb almost anything. The longest routes ask for about 16 quickdraws but many climbs only need 4 or 5.

The anchors vary throughout, very often both end bolts are not connected by a chain. In rare occasions there are only two round bolts at the end. Having a clipstick is almost mandatory in this area, with all these powerful starts it feels a lot safer to have your first bolt clipped.

Climbing partner

At the time of writing there is no specific facebook group for climbing in Margalef. There is one for Barcelona, but most people in this group actually live in Barcelona and love to catch a ride to Margalef. I found some people to climb with through traveling rock climbers. But I think that hanging out in the campground is also a good way of finding climbing partners.

If you’re staying at The Ruin you can bet that Simon is happy to join you if he can, and most likely he can also point you towards some people who are happy to have a new climbing partner. He seems to know everyone there.

What else to do

Margalef is located on the edge of Parc Natural de la Serra del Montsant. It has loads of hiking trails who are marked really well for Spanish standards. It is possible to have a cooling swim in the river, I’m not sure it’s allowed to swim on the other side of the dam. Besides this Margalef doesn’t have much to offer, this is really a place where you go to climb.

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