Le Pont de la Toussaint

Last night Ju and I got back from four days traveling. Ju was having trouble finding someone to go rock-climbing with so we decided to go somewhere together. One of his favorite spots to climb is Etxauri, in the Basque country in Spain.

We drove down to Bayonne and spent the night there Wednesday night, and then hit the road again for the hour and a half left to get to Etxauri. At one point we switched radio stations to one in some truly unrecognizable language, and since Ju has been down there many times before he was able to tell me immediately it was Basque. What a truly mystifying moment though—it sounded like no other language I’ve ever heard.

I belayed for Ju for two days on the Etxauri cliff.

He climbed that detached bit on the right one afternoon. He sat down on top of it.

Trying to find the right route

We had fairly good weather and it wasn’t very cold at all. There’s no campsite near Etxauri so we had to sleep in a tent on the side of the road but that was fine. We ate in the village using Ju’s gas camping stove. Etxauri is a really pretty little village. They also have two great playgrounds there. All the children running around the village at night were rock-climbers’ kids and you could tell from the way they played.

We went into Pamplona one evening and found it pretty drab. All the buildings, even in the city center, seemed to be new, with lots of blocks of apartment buildings. We weren’t crazy about it.

Saturday morning on our way out of Spain we stopped in San Sebastian which was very pretty.

A pedestrian street with lots of tapas bars. YUM.

A surfer

The funny thing about San Sebastian is the beach, which is right in the center, and a great beach for surfing. We saw several people walking around barefoot or in flip flops, full surfing suit, with a surfboard under their shoulder, on their way to the beach.

We continued north and stopped at the Dune de Pyla, which I’ve been wanting to see for years. It was unfortunately drizzling when we were there.

I took the staircase.

It moves into the forest by a meter or two every year.

The dune was very pretty but there wasn’t much to do once you climbed up it. It wasn’t easy to walk around in all that sand and besides taking a few pictures, I got bored pretty quick. I’d always imagined you could spend an hour or two there but we spent only around fifteen minutes on the actual dune.

We ended the weekend passing through Bordeaux and then in Gémozac, watching the European youth climbing championship. Unfortunately we missed the “difficulté” (in English, “lead”) climbing and only got to see the speed climbers.

A regulation speed climbing wall

Here you can see the regulation speed climbing wall (the lead wall is to the left, you can see maybe a quarter of it in this picture) with a climber in it, practicing. The holds are the same on every speed climbing wall in the world, and only the height of the wall varies, with more holds added for a longer wall. For example, at the world championships in Bercy this September, Ju said the wall was 15 meters high. This wall in Gémozac, for the youth climbers, was only 10 meters high. The route is nonetheless about a 6b or 6b+, so anyone who hasn’t trained well in lead climbing can’t get up there much less do it quickly. Ju says his sister, who is very good in lead climbing, spent 35 seconds getting to the top of this wall. The best young men climbers (mostly from Russia) spent between 4 and 6 seconds! They have specific holds on the bottom to help them get into place, much like the footholds for the track runners in a normal 100-meter race. The foothold on the bottom has a sensor to detect an early start and there were a ton of them (it was really annoying). It was interesting but I won’t ever go watch speed climbing again—they all do the same thing, there’s no creativity in the climbing, and there’s no real time to cheer.

I posted on Ju’s blog about the trip, in French, with a focus on the climbing that he did.

We got home last night and Ju had to leave this morning to spend the week working in Normandy, which is a bit of a bummer because I’m still on vacation. But I have some private tutoring to do and some work to do (blech) so I should be a bit busy.


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