Pocket muscles? What pocket muscles?

So, back home again from the warm and sunny Spain. Well.. it was sunny alright, but with the temperatures floating around +5 and having to scrape the car windscreen on the last morning from frost, I would not call it too warm. Nonetheless, for climbing the weather was pretty much perfect… good friction and sun. If I would have to be picky about something, then the days could have been longer and the stone a wee bit warmer. The first evening I was really struggling on a route just because my hands were so freaking freezing, but then again when we climbed in the sun, it was nice and warm.

Briefly, our trip schedule was to fly early on Thursday morning to Barcelona, take the rental car and drive straight to Siurana, spend the next four days climbing there and then drive back to the airport for a late Sunday evening flight back home. And that’s pretty much how it went. Our inward flight departed at 6:10am, so we had an early start for the day. We got to the flight alright, though, and in no time we were already picking up the car the Sixt office at Barcelona airport. With no delay we stuffed our bags in and drove off. The stuff really needed shoving as we had rented the cheapest (and the smallest) car we could get and got a Smart Fortwo. We got our bags in, though, and we only needed to transport them from one place to another. It took about three hours for us to drive there, but that included a grocery stop, a very dissappointing stop at the closed Burger King and a few short stops to look at the cliffs on the way.

Trusty Smart Fortwo

Trustworthy Smart Fortwo. We could fit all our gear in it, barely, very barely.

Soon after noon we managed to check in at Siurana Camping, where we had booked a small bungalow for us. We had a fridge and a gas stove there, but no shower or toilets. The price was quite ok (36€ per night), though in places like Montserrat or Lleida you can get a bed&breakfast for a bit over fifty euro. Here, though, you can walk pretty much to any of the fifty odd sectors in less than half-an-hour and the closest ones are a just a few minutes away. We had eaten a brief lunch while driving, so we didn’t waste too much time but headed straight to the rocks. We bought a guide book for the Tarragona crags, but sadly they did not have the new Siurana guidebook which has been, and apparently still is, out of stock. We fond out though that the closest sectors were just a few minute’s walk away over the hilltop and they would have plenty of climbing for us too. Quite a few sectors here are really sensible to visit only if you climb 7a or harder. We don’t, so we had to pick our places.

My friend climbing the Mi Primera con Muñón

My friend climbing the Mi Primera con Muñón – Can Marges de Baix

The first time approaches are always a bit tricky and it wasn’t too smooth a ride this time either. Or any other time, for that matter. Finally we got to the sector Can Marges de Baix, which is the last sector reached from the castle parking lot. We started quite cautiously with routes graded IV+ (250 Ptas.) and V (Mi Primera con Muñón). They were, how would I put it… easy. The second one was, though, a bit more “adventurous” or “alpine” as it wandered around the side of the small face. Then we went to the sector proper as these two were 10-20m off from the main wall. Here I lead a Ay Candemor (V) which wasn’t that difficult, but it was now completely in the shade and the sun was starting already to dip in and my hands were totally freezing on the rock. I literally had to shake them on the wall to get some blood circulating. Finally we climbed Tahona (V+) which was more on the sunny side and wasn’t that ice-cold. It had a cruxy section right at the beginning with an overhanging bulge. Again fun climbing and a nice end for the day. Even though we had heard that at 6pm it would be completely dark, we were caught a bit by surprise with the nightfall, as it wasn’t no later than 5:50pm when we left the crag and started walking. We did however a small detour to have a look at the village and were quite happy to find out that the walk out to the parking lot was no more than 10 mins. Now in complete darkness we took a brief tour around the tiny village and walked the same 10 mins back to the camping site and our bungalow.

Some hippy at Siurana village in the evening

Ilkka Å. Some hippy at Siurana village in the evening

The rest of the evening went by drinking a few beers, having some dinner at the camping site restaurant (I got vegetarian lasagna for 6€ and a spanish omelet for 4€, gulped down with sangria at 8€) and then retiring at the bungalow. A nice first day at Siurana.

Still a good day a head in front of the bungalow

Ilkka Å. Still a good day a head in front of the bungalow

Already lost when parking

Ilkka Å. Already lost when parking, just don’t know it yet. Notice the “lunch bag”.

Our target for the second day was to get early on to the crag and climb throughout the day with some packed lunch. Ok… it didn’t start that well, though, as we got up quite late (9am), had a long breakfast and it was no earlier than 11am when we were finally ready to head off. So, we got ourselves going, but that was not the end of our difficulties. The drive to the crag parking (we has decided to go for another sector which was a bit further away) was a bit obscure and by the time we found some kind of a spot, we weren’t too sure if this was the right one or not. We knew anyway that we would have to get lower down. So we walked on a smaller dirt road until it forked off to a marked walking trail (there are quite a few of them around Siurana) and headed further down. At this point we saw some bolts here and there and thought that this must be about the right place and continued on. Eventually, we ended up following a few local guys to a crag which, after all, was not the one we were looking for. Luckily, though, they had the newer topo guide which has all the sectors in it and what more, they knew where we were. A bit of orienteering and we were finally on our way to our chosen crag, Grau dels Masets – Esquerra. At the time we got there it was already way past noon and we could kiss goodbye for an early start. Also the crag was quite full of local families climbing and most of the easier routes were taken. We had find out the previous evening that Thursday had been a public holiday also here in Spain (December 6th is the Independence Day of Finland and thus a public holiday) and that was the reason why there were so many families on vacation here. Also the following Saturday was going to be a public holiday and they had warned us at the camping site that everything in the town would be closed.

Time to look for the scenery

Ilkka Å. More time to look for the scenery when you’re lost

Yep... still not our crag

Ilkka Å. Yep… still not our crag… too steep.

Finally at the crag we started off with perhaps the worst IV+ (Danielpunk) we had ever climbed, but not much else was available at the time. After that, another, longer 18m, IV+ (Arbres) was free and we climbed that. Then we went on for the adjacent Primera (V+ 30m) which was way better than the last two. Next to us was a nice looking route (Black 6b, 30m), but it was busy all the time. Because of the hassle on the way in, it was already lunch time after these and with the same effort we moved to the next sector called Grau dels Masets – Camí. We ate the baguette and cheese we had taken for lunch and started to look for some more routes. Not too surprisingly, the same bunch of spanyards that had been racketing next to us at the previous sectors, was naturally here too. The most interesting one of them was a person they referred as Taco, who looked like he was smoking pot all the time and doing quite efficiently some magical no-hands belaying – luckily for all – with a Gri-gri. No surprise if there is an accident every now and then. We now focused our eyes on Baronia del Cabacés (6a, 15m), a route which has big pockets and a bulge to pass in the mid section. I again started the lead, but my on-sight was ruined at the bulge when I was too pumped and afraid to clip-in the bolt above the bulge. I dogged it to the top, though, and my friend did a nice flash of it. I also redpointed it afterwards, but overcoming the bulge was as thin as it had been the first time. Managed to do it though. Again the darkness started to creep in and the last climb of the day was El Trinxant (V+, 20m).

Having the lunch was the best moment of the day so far

Having lunch was the best moment of the day so far. Luckily there was still two more, and better, routes to climb with stomach full.

Me climbing Capritxo V+

Me climbing Capritxo V+ at Can Marges de Dalt

On our third day the schedule was the same as earlier. We did not have much for breakfast anymore so we ate what we got and grabbed a spanish omelet to-go from the camping site restaurant. For a 4€ it is a bargain. You get a hefty potato-filled omelet pinned between a half-a-baguette. That should hold the hunger away for a moment. We decided to head back again to the crags we had visited on our first day, but now to to the upper one called Can Marges de Dalt. There are few V/V+ routes and then couple of 6a/6b routes. It was now my friend’s turn to on-sight the routes as I had done it for the past two days. We started off with Capritxo, a nice 22m V+ route with first a slabby section of darker rock and then a steeper section of reddish rock. It was a really nice route actually and my friend did a very nice job on-sighting it as it was a bit tricky in parts. The first part was all rubbly and pocketed rock and the top-most section was steep and bouldery, totally different from bottom past. Here again we were accompanied by a few noisy “family groups” and we eventually climbed toproping just some variations of the same route and then the adjacent 6a climb, Spit de Boira, again toproping. After these we moved down the path towards the parking lot and looked for more climbing from the sectors on the way.

Few others climbing too

Can Marges de Dalt – a few others climbing too. The five year old (honestly) is climbing a 6a there. Perhaps with a little help, though.

I'm king of the mountain

Ilkka Å. I’m the king of the mountain. Really, just taking a look at the rock formations they have there. There is an aid route going directly over that long roof.

For the afternoon, we ended up to a sector called Ca la Isabel, which is about halfway to the parking lot. There wasn’t much for us to climb there, as it was mostly 7a and above, but there was one V+ route and next to that a 6b running very close to each other. So, we chose to climb the Faraday (V+, 15m) and my friend seemed to really struggle on the corner section of if. When I climbed it in my turn, I didn’t find it that hard, but on-sighting is always on-sighting. We decided to change the anchor to the adjacent El Dit del Gegant (6b 15m) and toprope that. The problem was that I had not for some reason taken with me an ATC and only had my Mammut Smart with me. I could not abseil down with that, so the only option was that my friend would second the route up to the ledge and then lower me down before abseiling himself. But I could not belay from the top with my Smart, not in “alpine style” that is, and the anchor was too low to do it regularly. So we had a little problem. My friend then yelled to me that “couldn’t I do some kind of alpine-thingy or something” and that I actually could. It then flashed to me that I could use the Münter-hitch to belay him while seconding. I’ve never had used it for that and that’s why it didn’t occur to me right awat. Luckily I do know how to do it and how to use it; now it saved us a good fifteen minutes of fussing with other options. Smoothly up he came and smoothly we both then got down. You’d never could have thought that a Münter-hitch might come in handy while purely sportclimbing. But it did. After the anchor-related episode we toproped the route. From the bottom going over the roof looked the most trickiest part, but it actually proved to be quite easy, really good jugs to pull on. The trickiest section was the lower smoother part, where you really had to pull on those crimps and trust your feet. My friend “toprope flashed” the route nicely, but I had tremendous trouble with the first couple of moves. At the beginning there was another roof to overcome and the moves from the lip of it to the proper face were quite tough for me. After a few tries when I got the first moves and then the rest went easily. Well… not “easily”, as I really had to push it during the smooth lower section, but I did not want to try it again from the bottom, so I just ground my teeth and pulled on the small stuff I found. My friend was confident that it was “lead material”, but for me it might have needed a few more toprope doggings to trust my moves.

Bigger boys leading

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – Bigger boys leading

The Boys Don't Cry 7c+ is a bit airy at the top

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – The Boys Don’t Cry 7c+ is a bit airy at the top

The third day was not that phenomenal as this 6b remained our last climb of the day and we headed off at the same time as other people that had been on the crag. There were a few “a bit” better climbers doing some nice sends for grades around 7c and it was quite exciting to look at them literally jump over the topmost roofs. Our skills and strength is still a few climbs away from those. Three days done, one day to go.

That dog tried to snatch our lunch sandwiches

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – That dog tried to snatch our lunch sandwiches. Bad dog. Bad, bad, bad.

Belaying sure is fun

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – Belaying sure is fun

As climbing gives you the muscle

Ilkka Å. Ca la Isabel – Climbing gives you the muscle

We had to spend a few moments undecided about where to spend the last day. We also reverse calculated from our flight time that we should be in the car and rolling at 3.30pm if we would want to have any dinner on the way out. We had been throwing options like the crag we had visited on the first or second day (there were still quite a few routes in our range to do there) or if we should go to the sectors near the main parking lot and on the sunny side (which would mean them being warm early on), and one option was even to diss Siurana altogether and to go to Arboli which would be conveniently 30-45 minutes drive away towards the airport. Also we had looked at the first sectors you see when you drive in (L’Herbolari and Siuranella Sud/Est) and also the interesting red rocks below them. We actually took a better look at them on the way out and they looked really, really interesting. They had a lot of large grooves and holes in them and the rock is red througout. It didn’t look like as sharply pocketed as in other sectors, but instead these were round and smooth and some of the bumps were big enough to climb in (!) so I’m not sure they can be called pockets anymore. Somewhere on the interweb I saw a term called hueco, so maybe that’s it then. Eventually we decided not go to any of the above mentioned sectors, but we called in the dark horse instead, sector El Ditot. We had spotted this from a German website topoguide.de which is an independent site whose owners climb routes and give them grades opinions, stars and a whole lot of more. They have a Siurana leaflet which does not work as an independent guidebook, BUT it has grade opinions and ratings for a lot of routes on different sectors. We had browsed it through earlier, but sadly only now we really took a good look at it. Finally we found from the last page the sector El Ditot which had many three star routes at 6a/+ which sounded pretty perfect. The only problem was that we did not know where this sector was as it did not appear in our guidebook. We decided to go to the camping site restaurant for breakfast and take a look at the older Siurana guidebook they had, if it would be there. Well… wasn’t, but lo and behold, in came a Spanish couple who had the new Siurana guidebook with them. We politely asked them if we could borrow it and browsed it though. We were then quite stunned to find out that the El Ditot sector was the exact same one where we ended on our second day by accident. We took some pictures of the guidebook for reference and then it was settled. We then ate the hefty spanish omelet-baguette breakfast and took one more for the go.

At the last morning our car was a bit frosty

The last morning our car was a bit frosty

When you see the Darth Vader, you are at El Ditot

Ilkka Å. When you see the Darth Vader, you are at El Ditot

As we had been at the crag once before, it was quite easy to get there. The only difference was that we now knew how to get to the right, and much closer, parking lot. Approach to the crag was really just a breeze. We were the first ones on the sector as it had been quite freezing in the morning… all the roofs in a frost and the windows in our car were almost frozen solid. No wonder none of the locals were up before us 🙂 Truthfully, we weren’t that early there either and starting the first route at 11am we had just scant four hours to climb. We didn’t want to waste much time and soon my friend was going steadily up his first on-sight of the day, Els Fenicis (6a, 18m), a nice quite sustained route with an interesting top. The second one, Delirium (6a, 25m), had a pretty nice layback-flake start which spoiled my friends on-sight attempt. I managed to flash it, though, but my friend told me that I cheated as I skipped mostly the layback stuff by just stepping up and reaching for the good jug above 🙂 In my defence I have to mention that my friend is taller than I am 😉 The route was quite tricky to navigate and you easily could have wandered off the to adjacent route as my friend did by first clipping the bolt on the route we just had climbed, but then unclipped it and re-clipped it to the correct bolt. I did not have such a trouble as I had the quickdraws already on the wall. The rest of the route was not that hard, but there were few demanding moves. The third route, Faktoria (6a+, 25m), looked the trickiest of the bunch. After a few meters there was a nasty looking bulge you had to cross. My friend was again on-sighting it and had to go back-and-forth a couple of times until he managed to pass it. In the end he managed on-sight it very nicely. I, on the other hand, took the only fall of our trip at the bulge. Not long, maybe just a 2m or so, and nicely in air, so no harm done. I managed to pass on the second try, but I decided to just dog it and not start from the ground again. Eventually it was just pulling on good holds and nothing more. The route had quite a few thinner moves on the top section and was thus quite sustained. I managed to do it then without more falls.

Me coming down from the last lead

Ilkka Å. El Ditot – Me coming down from the last lead Faktoria 6a+

Again the clock was ticking against us and we only had time for a quick toproping session.  We had watched a Spanish group had been leading and toproping a route Pitxuti 4 (6b, 25m) which looked quite interesting. The spanyards had a toprope already rigged there and we ask to borrow it and got permission. My friend did it first and then I. Both got it “toprope flashed”, so it probably would have been totally lead material. Shame we did not have the time for it. The route had first a diagonal easier section. Then it started up a slab by some ledges you had to mantel. At first glance and from down below it looked quite blank, but there actually was quite a few holds there. Also the route did not go directly up the slab, but a bit on the edge of it. I think the 6b grade is quite valid, but it certainly was easier than the 6b we did the previous evening. As this last one, all the routes we did on this last day were quite superb. So, it definitely was worth looking and following the topoguide.de recommendations. Too bad we did not find this out sooner so that we could have skipped all the crappy climbs and just do three star routes as today. Well… there is always next time and when that time comes, you can be sure that I will check the topoguide.de recommendations with more focus.

Me climbing the Delirium 6a

Sergio González El Ditot – Me climbing the Delirium 6a

Then the climbs were over and we only had the drive to the airport left. Our plan was to stop at a restaurant in a small town on the way in and have something to eat. When we got there it was fortunately too late and the kitchen was closed. It really looked like a place where you would have gotten your money’s worth of food. They even had a titty calendar on wall 🙂 But no can do. The same thing in a pizza emporter next door. It seemed like 3pm is closing time for everything here on a Sunday. We then tried to go to a Burger King which had been closed when we came. Well… it was open but I’m a vegetarian and they did not have really nothing to serve for me. Ok.. fries and onion rings only, but I passed. Eventually we ended up eating crappy food in a crappy place at a local shopping outlet area. Perhaps we should have just waited until we got to the airport. Again… next time we know better. If you are leaving on Sunday, 3pm is too late get food. The rest of the drive was ok, though, we took a small detour and drove the same toll road all the way to Barcelona and not the seaside highway. For some reason it was cheaper by the tolls despite the longer route. At the airport we had plenty of time and we spent the remaining slack time by drinking the few last beers we had and eating some olives there at the airport benches. Boarding came, boarding went and our Spanish adventure was over.

We landed at Helsinki-Vantaa at around 2:15am early Monday morning and in just 12 hours I would be in the surgeon’s chair having my ankle finally operated. But that’s another story and I have pictures to prove it 😉 … Maybe in the next post.

 

So, what does that title have to do with all this, you might ask. A very valid question and I will answer you. Well… on our third day of climbing at Siurana, I began to feel my left arm being quite pumped. But not like you would normally have it, totally wiped out and unable to do nothing with it. Not like that. My arm was sore, yes, but it was sore in quite a distictive place, perhaps five centimeters above my elbow on the inner side of the arm. I squeezed my hand and shaked it and tried to figure out what was going on as the rest of the arm was just fine. The same repeated on the final day… or it actually had not fully recovered from the previous day at all. I had, though, perhaps figured out what or where the problems was. I happened to try out the fingers by pushing them straight while giving some resistance. It did not take many moments for me to find that the exact same spot that was sore, was actually connected to my “middle two” fingers, that is the middle and ring finger. When we then started to think about this around our evening beers, we remembered that in all the videos where you see some top climbers send some tough routes, what are they using there? Yes… pumping up the pockets using their monstrous two-finger grip. If you don’t remember then just look at Iker Pou climb the Action Directe, Nit de Bruixes or Demencia Senil which is nothing else expect pockets. Sorry I couldn’t find any good videos from Siurana. So, there you have it: the pocket muscle.

Pocket muscles in use

Ilkka Å. Pocket muscles in use

If you think about it, it is not just two-finger pockets where you use these muscles. It is also when the pocket is big enough for all of your fingers, but it is actually just the middle two that take most of the strain. Just try it out, find a ring or hole somewhere, pull it and you’ll see. So, why this is of any importance? Probably most people know about it already, but I didn’t. But now I know. And I also know what muscles to train before I go to limestone walls again. The pocket muscles. The sad part is, that neither the usual indoor climbing walls nor the Finnish rock quality does support this. I just recently noticed that my local indoor crag got a new set of holds which have a couple of nice two finger pockets. Ok… there have been some pocket holds earlier too, but not many and I haven’t really paid attention to them before. The problem still remains: how to train the “pocket muscles” indoors with just a few odd pocket holds here and there? If anyone knows a good answer, I’ll take it. So far the best we have come up with is to climb easy routes with huge jugs by using just your middle two fingers. Stupid? Yes, but efficient? Yes… I think 😉

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