A Day in the Life: Dirtbagging Northern Spain

[After instructing a 3 week introductory climbing course in Spain I found myself with a few free days and a few free friends. This post recounts a particularly rad day.]

A little taste of La Hermida Canyon
A little taste of La Hermida Canyon. Not my photo.

After a lazy and perhaps a bit foggy start in Potes (our base for the past 3 weeks) we found ourselves cruising through the narrow canyon of La Hermida; complete with snaking turns, oversize buses, and lifetime’s worth of virgin limestone walls. Dan, Dani, Nate and I, all at different stages of involvement with the Mountain Training School, where headed to Cuevas Del Mar with promise of on beach climbing and good times. Our half sized Fiat Panda rental car, having gained our affection through its innate ability to move us, led us North to the coast and then West towards the supposed land.

Despite our best efforts to find our way without asking directions we found ourselves a bit off track. After a little break to piss on a tree, possibly flash some elderly woman, and determine our location, we were back in action. Shortly we found ourselves at Cuevas Del Mar; living up to its name the small cove featured many caves along steep limestone walls, some of which were home to the bolted sport climbing for which we had come.

Cuevas del Mar at low tide.
Cuevas del Mar at low tide. Not my photo.

Tide was quickly moving up the sandy, low angled beach and after a bit of bread, cheese, and tortilla patata we had a go on the rock. We climbed a few routes each and were feeling uninspired by the short, not so pretty rock and quickly rising tide; we decided to take a break and see what else the area had to offer.  Nate and I decided to explore the steep bluffs around the cove while Dani and Dan headed into town to do some shopping for the night and snag some WiFi.

Despite this amazing picture, climbing at Cuevas del Mar was a bit bland. Photo Credit: Daniela Franceschi
Despite this amazing picture, climbing at Cuevas del Mar was a bit bland. Photo Credit: Daniela Franceschi

Following a gravel road that ascended to the right of the beach we cut left through some pastures and found ourselves on small cattle trails along the cliffs.  In the distance we spotted the ramparts of would turn out to be a small church. Heading that way, weaving along the small trails and sharp limestone boulders, we made mental note of good spots to spend the night. The church was unremarkable despite its location due to its modern concrete construction. We noted small trees nearby for potential hammocking and moved out on the peninsula for further exploration.

A fisherman seated above a large tunnel attaching to a huge pillar.
A fisherman seated above a large tunnel attaching to a huge pillar.

Reaching the terminus of one of the many small fingers of land reaching into the sea, we sat at the cliffs edge admiring the 100 foot overhanging drop to the water below. After a bit of life chat and an entire bag of pistachios we moved onward. We shared a sort of childlike excitement as we hopped around the rocks exploring each peninsula and finding interesting features, like a hole in the ground that would blow air each time a wave hit the cliff far below, or a crevice with similar properties that sprayed water from the depths.

Having spent the past few hours standing on the edges of cliffs we were eager to get airborne. Meandering back towards Cuevas del Mar we took a detour and scrambled to the top of one of the many arches in the cove. We had heard that there were some deep water soloing routes on this feature and began scouting out good landing zones in the water below.  The tide was high and the water looked plenty deep. But was it? This toyed in my mind a bit as I decided whether to jump or not. The clear blue water let me see a mostly sandy bottom yet offered me no depth perception. It was likely deep enough, but was it worth hurting myself? Sitting there sizing it up, I already felt some adrenaline pumping around inside me as if my body had already decided to jump before my mind had. With that, I stripped down and carefully approached my platform, bare feet treading softly on the sharp grey limestone. Having done a lot of cliff jumping before, the 25 foot drop itself didn’t bother me. It was what would happen once I hit the water that bothered me; not only the depth but the rough swell that was bouncing around off the narrow cove walls. With a pause to consider these challenges I took the leap and, with a little squeal, hit the chilly water below. Luckily I hit only water, and after a quick thumbs-up to Nate I began the short but rough swim back to the beach.  Each swell coming from the north would squeeze through the caves under the cliff then bounce off the far wall of the cove a mere 30 feet away. I could feel it pulling me all over the place and had to focus on staying in the middle. I’m a pretty good swimmer and quickly found ground beneath my feet and excitedly waded to shore.

The feature we jumped from (picture from when the tide was out)
The feature we jumped from (picture from later in the day when the tide was out)

Nate awaited my arrival and was stoked to give it a jump after my guinea-pigging worked out. With tongue in cheek, I assured him the swim back was a piece of piss. With that we scrambled back to the cliff, which was pretty heinous without shoes or clothes on. We took a second to try to spot our beloved Panda rental in the parking lot (along with Dani and Dan of course). With no one but a couple newlyweds and their wedding photographer as our witnesses we went for another plop, no doubt bombing some photos in the process. Without adrenaline this time around the water felt significantly colder. We splashed our way to shore, air dried, and made the walk back to the parking area feeling pretty high on life.

Dan slacklining with a view.
Dan slacklining with a view.

After the short walk we found Dani, Dan, and the Panda having just arrived in the lot. They came bearing gifts, a picnic style dinner with many bottles of wine. We set up the slack line near the beach, munched on bread, cheese, pickles, and squiggly white things, passed the bottle around and generally chilled pretty hard. We digested while tossing a Frisbee on the hard sand exposed by the lowering sea. The old disc, a momento from my college ultimate days, had become brittle and eventually cracked in half becoming a dangerous projectile. We sauntered back to our slackline and picnic spot and noticed a group of three Spanish guys carrying a slackline looking for a spot to set up! What were the odds? We waved them over and chatted while they tried our line a few times. We moved to a nearby field and set up both lines and messed around for a bit. It was interesting to see how we had different styles, they were all about doing tricks on the line while Dan and I where all about walking. After asking permission one of the guys tried a trick on Dan’s line, he jumped and landed with his ass on the line. *SNAP*. A confused Spaniard lie in the grass and a whipped puppy look shone on Dan’s face as he realized his line had just broken in half. After many “Lo siento”s and a few “No problemo”s we moved on with life and our bottles.

Nate bouldering a bit at low tide.
Nate bouldering a bit at low tide.

As day turned to dusk Nate and I explored the new terrain uncovered by low tide. We ventured deep into the cliff side caves, some 70 feet deep and 25 feet tall with mini tunnels shooting all around, some going straight out to the water. Eventually we made our way back and found ourselves deep into the 3rd and 4th bottles of sangria/wine. I chatted with our new friends a bit with my newly loosened tongue discovering that one of them was also training to be a guide.

Exploring the caves at low tide.
Exploring the caves at low tide.

After many laughs we found time escaping us. Having to wake up early to drive Dan to the airport an hour away we found ourselves heading for bed. Nate and I decided to head back to the bluffs we explored earlier and after a bit of a hike and a little misdirection (did I mention the wine?) we found ourselves on a small peninsula surrounded by air and salted sea, the thousands of stars the only shelter we needed. It had been one of those days where I found myself frequently saying “Damn, life is good”; in fact the phrase could summarize my entire month in Spain with accuracy. In a few days I would leave for the next trip and no doubt have many similar good times; after all, attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.

Waking up the next morning at our awesome bivy spot. Photo Credit: Nate Rose
Waking up the next morning at our awesome bivy spot. Photo Credit: Nate Rose

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