Enjoying the beautiful cobblestone of Margalef, on...
Nestled in a narrow canyon on the western flank of Montsant National Park lies a jumbled maze of unassuming, conglomerate cliffs surrounding the tiny village of Margalef. From the wrong perspective, these crags appear slabby, loose & covered in dark gray lichen. But upon closer inspection, these layered, bulging cliffs reveal the most recent addition to Spain's already-impressive list of world-class sport climbing destinations. This newly recognized international destination receives steady traffic from European & British climbers throughout the winter months, and as climbing tastes evolve, it appears that the relatively steep & juggy conglomerate tufa of Margalef will soon wrest the title of Costa Daurada's top winter destination from the relatively thin & slabby limestone of Siurana.
The rock here is primarily cobblestone conglomerate, not unlike the cliffs of El Rito, NM, Maple Canyon, UT,
or Castlewood Canyon, CO.
However, what sets this remarkable crag apart is an amazing layer of limestone tufa that coats many of the cliffs. This coating serves to harden the surface of the cobblestone matrix, while at the same time providing some routes with impressive curtains of tufas. The combination results in one of the most unique, and enjoyable climbing surfaces on the planet. Unlike some other cobble crags, knob climbing is the exception. Most of the routes climb on good pockets, though most will require some edging and crimping. The cobbles are generally much smaller (rarely larger than golf-ball-sixed) than those found at Riglos
or Maple Canyon, so you can thankfully leave your kneepads & duct tape at home.
The rock at Margalef is an unusual combination of cobblestone conglomerate and tufa limestone.
The cliff's generally bulbous profile provides literally every possible angle of climbing from the ubiquitous slabs to the horizontal roofs of Tenebres
& El Laboritori.
Vertical walls, slightly overhanging tufa pinching, 45 degree overhangs that go on for ever--all within a short drive from town. Another unique attribute of this crag is the relative proximity of routes for all appetites. For example, at El Laboratori, its possible to work a 9b project literally no more than 30 feet (as the crow flies) from well-bolted 5.6 slabs on the Llepafils
cliffline immediately above. At Finestra
, one of the best 5.11 sport routes
on the planet sits no more than 100 feet from a wall with no less than nine 5.14 (or harder) sport climbs! Additionally, route lengths very quite a bit (up to ~35 meter pitches), so its possible for both power-junkies & enduro-fiends to find world class routes to push their limits.
Although local sport climbers have visited these cliffs since the mid 1990's, the magnificent potential of this compact area was only revealed in 2006, when several of the world's best sport climbers arrived on the scene to leave their mark. What ensued was an onslaught of difficult redpoints & onsights likely unmatched in the history of our sport. Thanks to the tireless equipping efforts of local crag patron Jordi Pou, the likes of Ramon Julian, Dani Andrada, & Chris Shama (to name only a few) have combined to establish a collection of 35 routes graded 8b+ (5.14a) or harder, not including an additional 30 or so open projects in the 8c - 9b range.
Some memorable events of the last several years include:
- A pair of 8b+ (5.14a) On-sights by Chris Sharma ON THE SAME DAY, 26 Nov 2006 (way back when on-sighting a lowly 14a was still considered a big deal).
- Dave Mcleod's free solo of "Darwin Dixit" (then considered 8c or 5.14b, but listed in the current guidebook as "merely" 5.14a) in March 2008
- Chris Sharma's first ascent of "Demencia Senil", at 9a+ (5.15a), currently the hardest free route at Margalef, and among the hardest in the world, in February 2009.
- 8c (5.14b) On-sights in spring 2009 by Adam Ondra (L'espiadimonis) and Edu Marin (Aitzol)
- Chris Sharma brought the 9b (5.15b) grade to Margalef with his long-anticipated ascend of First Round, First Minute in April 2011. This route became the center of the infamous "red tag" controversy when Nalle Hukkataival made his intentions to bag the line public.
When to Visit
The maze-like nature of the cliffline provides cliffs of all aspects to suit the day's weather. Its even possible to climb in the rain here. However, since most of the cliffs have rounded lips that slab out, water runs down the faces pretty quickly, so your selection of routes will be quite limited if you intend to go to the anchors. If your agenda requires only a steep wall to work out moves, there will be plenty of options on even the wettest days. There appears to be no bias towards sun or shade here, as several of the best crags (Tenebres
, Cova Soleida) receive nearly all day shade, and several of the best (Espadelles
, El Laboratori, Cabernet
) receive nearly all day sun.
Considering the climate, this is primarily a Fall-Winter-Spring destination. Even the shaded cliffs can be climbable in December on a warm day. This is a popular winter destination for many European climbers, and a quick survey of the first ascent history shows that nearly all of the difficult climbing happens here between late October & early March, with a heavy bias towards December & February.
Most international travelers will want to fly into the Barcelona airport, which is completely modern and easy to navigate for non-Spanish speakers. Rental cars (which are probably essentially) are available in the terminal. If you are traveling from another destination in Europe, it may also be possible to fly into the regional airport in Reus, which will reduce the drive by only 1 hour or so. If this is your first trip to Spain, a day or two in Barcelona is mandatory, so you might as well fly there anyway.
Once you have your car, follow etiher the C32 (along the coast) or the AP7/E-15 towards Tarragona. These two routes merge before Tarragona. These are both toll roads. Expect to pay around $15 for the one hour drive (or take one of the free, quaint at first but soon slow & annoying free highways). Get on the T-11 in Tarragona (following signs towards Reus), then onto the N420. After a few Kms, there are two options, to head North or South of Montsant National Park to reach Margalef, which lies on the opposite side. For the Northern route, take the C242 towards "Cornudella de Montsant", passing by the Arboli, Siurana, & Montsant cliffs along the way. After ~50K's, go left on T713 and follow this for ~9K's to Margalef. The Southern option is to stay on the N420 for another 20K's or so, then follow any number of twisty roads North to Margalef. One such route is to follow the T710 North to La Vilella Baixa, then go left onto the T702, and follow this to La Bisbal de Falset, where you go right onto the T713 and another 5K's to Margalef.
There are two main groupings of crags, one set directly east of town up the narrow canyon that leads to the "Ermita Sant Salvador" shrine. The other, larger area is located ~1.5km north of Margalef, along the large winding canyon of the Margalef "Embassent" (reservoir).
Where to Stay
There are several options for accomodation:
The most popular option is the Can Severet Refugi,
owned & operated by legendary local route developer & guidebook author Jordi Pou. Mr. Pou is an extremely gracious host, quiet, thoughtful & romantic. His ode to Margalef (found in the intro to the guidebook) is a work of art that will touch the soul of all true climbing fanatics. He speaks very little english so some Spanish competency will be helpful. You may see him at the crag bolting projects for Chris & Dani.
Located near the top of the hill in the town of Margalef, the Refugi is a crowded little house, with three-stories approximately 20' by 20' in size. Remarkably this tiny space boasts room for more than 30 climbers, at 8 Euro per night in Dec 09, including free wifi & hot showers. The downstairs holds the small bathroom & shower with a surprisingly large supply of hot water. The middle level
is the main hang, with beautiful climbing murals, photos of the best routes at Margalef, couches, tables, racks of magazines and a small cooking area with running cold water and no stove. The upstairs sleeping quarters
are fully third-world. There are ~30 mattress, laid side-to-side, on two levels. Be sure your vaccinations are up to date before you check in, and if you have even the least trouble sleeping, consider other options. Many of the visitors here were extremely obnoxious, loud, and completely disrespectful of obvious quiet times or quiet areas. If you require sleep, look elsewhere. You can buy a shower here for a couple Euros. The real advantage of this place is the cooking & hang out area on the mid level that makes the long winter nights way more enjoyable.
There is free camping at the base of the damn, though it appeared people were camping all along the damn road with no issues. Presumably this is quieter than the Refugi. There is a free water font in Margelef at the SE corner of the church.
There are at least two other upscale options. The Tres Pines quoted a price of 30 Euro per person per night. Must be pretty nice for that price!
Margalef has a small cafe, a nicer-looking restaurant, and a very meager market at the NE corner of the church. The Refugi sells basic necessities (liquor & cookies).
Climbing Season For the Catalonia area.
Weather station 25.1 miles from here
70 Total Climbing Routes
['4 Stars',15],['3 Stars',32],['2 Stars',18],['1 Star',4],['Bomb',0]
Classic Climbing Routes in Margalef
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in Margalef
Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for Margalef:
Featured Route For Margalef
El Sistema 5.13a 7c+ 29 IX+ 29 E6 6c Europe
: ... : Raco de les Espadelles
El Sistema climbs a spectacular gray tufa streak, with the aid of the "juggy" pockets at the start of La Gomorra (to avoid the 8b+ direct start). This is not as bouldery as many routes at Margalef, requiring mostly good stamina. However, a good bit of finger strength is required for the strenuous crux traverse between the fourth & fifth bolts.Begin with La Gomorra's burly start to reach the big hole below the fourth bolt. Rest well, then charge up and right into the gray streak. Awesome text...[more] Browse More Classics in International
Fun climbing in Margalef (can't remember the route...
The rock at Margalef is an unusual combination of ...
The future will be mine - 5.12a
The "Embassement". There is free campin...
The "Ermita Sant Salvador" shrine, built...
The Ermita & Cabernet cliffs have some of Margalef...
The sleeping level, an incubus of viral plague.
The refugi cooking/hang out area.
The Can Severet Refugi is the most modestly priced...
Dimensia Senil, 9a+ (5.15a), currently Margalef's ...
Can Llepafils (above) and the far right end of El ...
El Laboratori is home to some of Margalef's most d...
Feb 2, 2012
is not possible to oficial guide. you have to go to 'refugi'
By Alan Burgess
Jun 16, 2016
I just got back from Margalef (last 2 weeks of May 2016) During the last year things have changed quite a lot with regard to accommodations. Although it is still possible to "Van Camp" around the area it is now discouraged due to overuse of the forest areas as toilets. Two new campgrounds have been opened by the village. One is just across from the village with excellent bathrooms and showers and a cafe/bar at 9 euros per night for 2 people a tent and car(discounted if you stay more than a week) The other campsite is up near the dam but does not have a cafe/bar. This place is cheaper although we never stayed there.
The refugio still operates as do a few private studios/ apartments. The best being casacatalunya.com
run by Ian McDonald ( Mac). Mac lives in an RV on the village campground and is a wonderful source of beta.
A common misconception around Margalef is that you need to climb 12+ to enjoy the place, not true. There are lots of great routes in the 5.9 to 10+ range in both sun and shade.
It would be very easy to find climbing partners at the village campground for the solo traveller.
The bar in the village and the refugio both provide cheap restaurant service. Just tell them what you want and they simply charge you for what you eat.
A rental car is useful but not 100% essential (you could hike or better hitch hike to the crags.) Rentals in Spain run at about 15 to 18 euros per day with full insurance.
CAMPGROUND WITH THE VILLAGE BEHIND