Photos Jerome Mowat and Thomas Van Boeckel
We all three stood on the road, necks craned. ‘Wow’ was all Pickford managed. He says that to a lot of new places, good or bad, but this really was ‘wow’. Before us stood Collegats, a crag nestled in the heartland of Catalunya. People may be more familiar with Oliana, its famous neighbor not twenty minutes drive down the valley, currently occupied by what seemed like the entire contingent of strong American sport climbers. The absence here of anyone but ourselves was invitation enough. ‘Wow’ echoed Tom. ‘Not bad. Not bad at all’.
Although this was the first time laying eyes on the crag, it felt like I had already visited. The truth is, since buying the Lleida guidebook six years ago I had yet to climb in the region. Since then a new edition had been released. I did what most do and got sucked into the bigger, more popular areas in Spain. But I’m always searching for those places off radar, inaccessible, or way from the crowds. Collegats met at least the latter of these criteria. Instead I had visually consumed the book, circling the crags and routes I wanted to do, creating a fantasy ticklist that would take more than a life-time to complete. I named the routes from left to right without referencing the guidebook, with the exception of a few new additions.
There was something elemental and linear about the place. The green of the river below, yellow of the imposing cliff, and above, deep blue of a late afternoon sky. The routes were long and straight, spaced evenly on an evenly gradient wall. Uniform, orderly, it pleased me.
We crossed the tyrolean over the El Segre river which guarded the main sector from the track. Bag off, harness on, quickdraws clipped, gloves donned: it was a ritual we became familiar with. The original plan of a day checking out a new venue was revised. One day turned into two, which lead onto the next and, well, you know how it goes. Recommendations were made, projects rehearsed, routes sent. At the end of it we were left with the Collegats’ expansive walls and the indents of its small edges on our fingertips. And, like all good crags, it left us with a thirst for more.
Jerome Mowat Climber and writer. Based in Sheffield and London.