By Dave Westlake
Precariously set, high on the steep inclines of a limestone gorge, is the scenically set Spanish town of Albarracin, and its neighbouring sandstone block-scape. Touted as the “Spanish Fontainebleau” by some, the area has gained rapid popularity within bouldering circles in recent years and is one of the in-vogue destinations of European climbing. The town itself is located in the centre of the Albarracin Region of the Universales Mountains, approximately 150km northwest of Valencia in the rural surrounds of Teruel, a mid sized town 35km to the east of Albarracin. Whilst a settlement has resided at this or nearby locations long into prehistory, the current walled municipality gets its name from the original pioneers of the fortifications, a Moorish Berber tribe called the “Ibn-Racin”, who established the town around 750AD. As politics and regalities defined the nation, the borders of the three former kingdoms of Castilla, Aragon and Valencia met at Albarracin, which gave it particular strategic importance in Spanish history. When Queen Isabel (of Castilla) and King Fernando (of Aragon) unified the Spanish kingdoms by their marriage, Spain overcame the Moor occupation, and numerous nobles made Albarracin their home, explaining the wealth of fine historical buildings, dating back to the Middle Ages. Modern Alberracin may not hold quite such political sway as once it did; nevertheless, the town is still a popular tourist destination, especially throughout the summer months when the area becomes a honey pot for Albarracin Town Spanish tourists, seeking the timeless history of the town’s labyrinth of steep cobbled streets, quaint hidden restaurants and impressive fortifications. The geography of the area is equally interesting; in that much of the surrounding landscape is a familiar Spanish cascade of cliff after cliff of impressive limestone, intersected with bands of barren shale. Of course anyone familiar with the recent documentation and videos of the climbing at Albarracin will have no doubt noted that the bouldering is splattered across luscious sandstone blocks and tiers, scattered through a picturesque pine forest. It would seem that time and the elements have conspired, once again, to offer this superb Triassic remnant, uplifted or exposed into a wilderness of limestone and shale, leaving another unlikely, but very welcome, climbing destination for us to enjoy…
When to go and Amenities
Fortuitously for climbers the best season for visiting the area – November to April – is outside that of the regular tourist season, meaning that the town is generally quiet and good deals can be haggled for at the various hotels and guest houses, especially for prolonged stays. The down side of this is that many of the other amenities – restaurants, shops, bars etc. – are shut or open erratically through the close season. Esperanza, 7aWhat this means, from a practical point of view, is that you need to do a ‘big shop’ on your way to Albarracin, to guarantee having a good range of supplies for your stay – the nearest large supermarket is on the outskirts of Teruel. There is one small supermarket open most weekdays, at the bottom of the town, conveniently placed on the way to the climbing – on the right, 200m after crossing the river at the Tourist Information Office. The bakery is open most days (9.30am to 2pm) and offers a great selection of breads and confectionaries… if you can find it. It would seem that the proprietor spent their previous career running the Bat Cave, and as such felt that the whereabouts of any future venture should be equally well hidden from the populous! Basically, if you locate the aforementioned small supermarket, the bakery is situated opposite in a dip. The entrance faces away from the supermarket, and is inconveniently unmarked, bar a postage stamp sized note offering what are presumably the opening times. My tip if you’re struggling is to stand in the locality and wait for a shifty looking gent to appear from a doorway armed with a selection of well wrapped steaming cylinders. Whilst it may sound pretty obvious, the Tourist Information Office is a useful port of call if you have any queries, or require a weather forecast. The staff are extremely helpful and, unusually for the area, speak good English.
The Climbing & Guide Book/s
The bouldering centres on a collection of blocks and craglets scattered across a wooded hilltop, which itself is a nature reserve, and popular with hikers and general sightseers. Whilst there are number of peripheral areas, the main sectors are reached from two well signed car parks, a few kilometers from the town. The recent ‘EBloc’ Spanish bouldering guide, covers much of the well established climbing at the venue. This is laid out in an easy to use photo-topo format, inclusive of English text and easy to use maps and symbols. There is also a dedicated website to the area (norop.es), which includes overview style topos, wholly in Spanish. It’s worth printing off a copy of the online topo, if only to reconcile grades or problem names with the EBloc guide. The bouldering itself is often thuggy in style, with plenty of steep sloper slapping; however, there are still plenty of crimpy, more vertical, offerings dotted about the various sectors… UPDATE April 2012: New dedicated guide to the area; Boulder Albarracin. Sector Cabrerizo (Approximate number of problems: 22) A small sector set on a scenic cliff top setting with great views and some nice easier problems and one classic harder line, the super burly Palpant, 7b+. Sector Techo Don Pepo (Approximate number of problems: 18) A well frequented roadside sector home to the classic 7a roof problem, Tech Don Pepo. This ultra steep, athletic climb involves some big basic moves and tasty foot-locks; it is also a good port of call in damp weather, as it stays dry in all but the wettest weather. As well as the notable roof climbs there are also some great slopey prows and walls in the 6’s and an obvious high, crimpy wall with an immaculate landing and, amongst various nice problems in the 6’s, an immense (2.5m) 8a/+ dyno (Turbo Clinex), for any beastly elasticimos. Sector Aeroline (Approximate number of problems: 21) Another roadside sector with some great climbs, especially in the 7’s. In the lower grades look out for the superb, but unnamed, 6a diagonal crack on Boulder 4 and the cool pebbly crimps of the 5+ wall, on Boulder 2. Of the harder lines, Aeroline (7b+), El Ermitano (7a+) and Frambuesa (8a) are all excellent and well worth a shufty. Sector Bergerie (Approximate number of problems: 6) A small sector, best combined with sector Tech Don Pepo, offering a handful of steep harder climbs (7a+ to 8a+) and one 6a crack line. Sector Parking (Approximate number of problems: 45) Adjoining the main two car parks, this sector is great for the low end or circuit boulderer looking for a wealth of quality 3+ to 6a’s on great rock with good landings. Sector Techos 1 & 2 (Approximate number of problems: 135) The two neighboring Sector Techos areas offers a huge selection of climbs, with a high proliferation of roofs – techos is Spanish for roof. There is a wealth of classic and popular problems over the two sectors, with much of the best climbing offered in the 6c+ to 7c range. Stand out classics include: A Oscuras (7b), Supermafo Tacho (6b), Cosmos (8a+), Guebrantamentes (7a), Beautiful Mind (8b), and Like a Bow (7b). Sector Psicokiller (Approximate number of problems: 42) There are three sectors where climbing is banned from the start of January through to the middle of August, and this is the second largest of the three. When it is “open for business”, the sector offers some well ventilated climbing, on generally steep buttresses and boulders, mainly in the lower grades (3 to 6a+), bar a handful of mid 7’s and one 8a. Sector Loskot (Approximate number of problems: 4) A small area also banned from the start of January to the middle of August, with one noteworthy line, a Klem Loskot traverse, which goes at 8a. Sector Arrastradero (Approximate number of problems: 165) A wonderful sector with something for everyone: the climbing ranges from well lit, open areas to tree covered caves, roofs and walls. Grades are spread across the board from 3’s into the high 7’s. A gesture of classics include: The Musket (3+), La Lagrima (6c+), Esperanza (7a), Ineschakra (7c), Manuschakra (7b+) and Mardi Gras (7b+). Sector Peninsula (Approximate number of problems: 90) The largest of the areas banned from January to August, the Peninsula sector is home to the exposed and iconic ‘block on a hilltop’, featured in many articles and videos of Albarracin. As well as this block the circuit covers some great, well ventilated, climbing on craglets and boulders, and is a great beeline destination for those operating in both the low grades, as well as the mid to high 7’s. Sector Sol (Approximate number of problems: 125) One of the most popular areas at Albarracin; Sector Sol is a sunny (what a surprise), well ventilated area, with plenty of climbs across the grades. The style of climbing tends to be a little more technical and involves lots of bulge-hugging, sloper slapping action, with less super steep roofs and very few crimps. Classics include: Los Jabaloyas (7b), Karmansia SDS (7b+), Danger Block (6a+), Aristronauta (7b) and Alegato (4). Sector Masia (Approximate number of problems: 45) This final documented sector is, at nearly 2km, the furthest from the parking. Despite the lengthy walk-in the area has a good selection of lines, on clean roofs and walls in a peaceful wooded setting. The grades are generally evenly spread across the lower grades; however there are also a few good looking 7’s to go at.
Other Sectors There are a number of other lesser areas, either loosely covered or not included in the various topos. However, as stated above all the main sectors are included in EBloc, and some of the the best outlying blocks are also featured. Of particular note, a large scooping block, featuring a single line is well worth checking out (if it falls into your grade range): Pinturas Bouldestres (7c+) is easily the best feature and line I saw/climbed at Albarracin. This fantastic concave wall proffers thin technical climbing on crimps and mono’s, until a final off balance throw for the top leads to glory or an addictive need to ‘go again’.
The most preferable option is to fly into Valencia, from where Albarracin can be reached, via mainly good roads, in around 2 hours. Unfortunately, flight pricing/availability means that most people will find flying into Madrid the most viable option. This is followed by roughly a 3 hour drive (in good weather conditions); with the final third being on relatively slow mountain roads. Realistically you will require a car, as despite the climbing being just about close enough to walk to, getting to Albarracin and acquiring supplies would be next to impossible without transport.
At 1300m the bouldering at Albarracin is pretty high, and as such it can get pretty cold in winter. Conversely, the dry Mediterranean climate that the weather most resembles makes it extremely hot in summer. Combining this knowledge with the enforced January to August ban, a sensible time to visit would be late autumn for the casual/circuit climber, and November through December for those looking for more ‘professional’ conditions. At roughly 400mm per annum, the rainfall in the area in quite scant; that said most people who visit in winter do seem to encounter snow or light rain, although this is usually short lived and melts/dries quickly. Average winter temps are at or below freezing, often with a cold wind chill, so take plenty of warm clothes and down (or synthetic) jacket.