Margalef - A Tribute to Pockets

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Evening light on Gravity Glove (7c+)


Short, steep climbing on 2- and 3-finger pockets, with powerful lock-off moves and a savage pump right from the start - the limestone conglomerate outcrops of Margalef guarantee a fight: A muete!


Although there are routes longer than 40 metres, the vast majority are around 25 metres, slightly overhanging and covered in pebbles and pockets. The circular, smooth pebbles offer little purchase, but the holes they leave behind are typically deep and positive - from shallow monos to deep jugs.


The Margalef style brings rockstars and rogues together - 7as and 8bs are neighbours, fighting for space and the right pockets are those most smothered in chalk. They stretch into the sky like a white dot-to-dot trail, up into the Land of Lactic.

The usual difference between the grades? The angle of the wall dictates whether a pocket will be usable, or to be dismissed as another shallow, sloping dish. The 6s are on slabs, the 7s gently overhanging and the 8s get pretty steep! The routes in the ninth grade make my fingers wince. I can’t forget the photo of Iker Pou hanging from a single mono on Demencia Senil (9a+).


The vista from the crags is often superb - particularly from Espedelles and Ermita. Sweet-scented pine trees and horrible spiky bushes litter the ground below the crags, and a lush valley stretches into the distance. A cool wafting breeze keeps temperatures fresh, perfect for climbing.



Rachel climbing in Margalef


My lack of finger strength is a major weakness, and I was apprehensive as to how I would cope with the style of climbing in Margalef. There are few alternatives to the each pocket, but a cunning eye and good technique means you can use them well. I eased myself in with a few mid-7s, but soon found myself drawn to the tougher testpieces. Sharing beta with Rachel was another painful part of the experience, as she would describe ‘deep, three-finger pockets’ where I only saw shallow two-finger holes! I guess the advantage of being tall is that I can just skip out the bad holds!


After a few days, I pushed it a little too far (as usual). High on Gravity Glove (7c+), my foot slipped and I felt a sharp pain in my third finger as my body swung out from the wall. I lowered off in pain and took two days rest to let the injury heal. I got lucky - it was only a sprained tendon in my finger and the respective attachment in the forearm, which has quickly healed. I’ve heard stories of snapped tendons and shot fingers, however, so use these pockets with caution!



Inbal in the evening light 


Each new destination leaves its own painful marks on your hands. Rodellar trashed my fingertips - I just couldn’t hack the smooth jugs! Margalef scars the sides of your fingers, as they cut into the edges of the sharp pockets. The tops of your fingers also become rough and bloody as they drag against the top of the tight pockets. 

The type of fatigue is also slightly different - in Céüse, it’s the fast, quick burn. Rodellar gives a slow, steady pump which you can fight all the way to the top. Because of the (generally) positive nature of the pockets in Margalef the climbing tends to be more power than resistance, and the forearm fatigue is deeper and more avoidable. In the words of Rob Burgundy, ‘it’s such a deep burn!’ The first half is usually the crux of the routes, leaving you high on the headwall, slowly fighting your way up, out of power but not very pumped - a bizarre situation!


Big or small, deep or shallow, pockets are the only holds in Margalef and you’ll either love them or hate them! Get yourself strong and head on down to Spain, but don’t forget the finger tape!


Recommended Routes


Raco de la Espedelles


Artisans (7c)

Transilvania (8a)

Maligna (7c+)

Malasombre (7c+)

Amb Pal no Dona Pal (7b)

Que pasa Neng? (7a)

Gravity Glove (7c+)

Baby Siter (7a)


El Balcon d’Ermita


Mar de Fons (7b)

Yihad (7b+)

Pastelina (Variation) (7c)


All photos in text: Rachel Slater.

Tom LivingstoneComment