A Short Walk with Terray

March 1963. I am living with Linnea in an eleven room apartment in Barcelona. The apartment is on the fifth floor, and at the front a small enclosed balcony overlooks the street below, overlooks the lamplighter as he comes at dusk to light the street lamps. He turns a gas valve at the base of the lamp and then reaches up with a long pole that has a flame on top to bring the light to life. Gas light has a soft but warm glow more conducive than electric light to walking quiet streets, especially if your life is suffused with romance. Linnea and I are not usually up when the lamplighter makes his rounds in the morning to turn off the gas.

Royal had written me, giving me the address in Barcelona of Manuel Anglada, one of the better Spanish climbers. Anglada and I got in touch, and he invited me to go with him and some other climbers for a weekend trip to Montserrat, an area north of Barcelona with many conglomerate domes, spires, and faces. As it happened, the great French climber, Lionel Terray, was also in Barcelona to show movies of his climbing and skiing adventures, and he would join us. Indeed, the trip was organized for him, not for me, but Anglada was a good fellow, and we got along well.

We drove to a restaurant near the trailhead. Outside, a very large perron, a glass wine decanter that one drinks from like a bota bag, sat on a wooden pedestal. Most perrons hold a liter or less, but this one held several gallons. The wine was free for anyone who could drink from it using only one hand. Some of the other climbers tried but failed to bring the spout close to their lips. Somehow, I managed to lift it into the air and direct the stream into my mouth. The wine was warm from sitting in the sun all morning, but I didn’t care. I think it may have been more a matter of technique than strength, technique acquired through regular wine drinking. Terray, however, didn’t seem thirsty and didn’t try to lift the perron.

At the trailhead, Terray was the first to put on his pack while the rest of us were talking and kidding around. Then he started up the trail with an unusually measured stride, as it someone had wound up a giant key in his back and set him on his way. His whole body spoke determination, and there was a decided lack of ease or grace. I suppose such an approach might account for his numerous first ascents all over the world. We knew about determination in the States, but it was for the tough times, not for when we could be having fun.

Anglada had planned the trip mainly to show us the area, not to do any serious climbing. The rock was surprisingly solid for conglomerate (one thinks of Pinnacles in California) but also had few cracks. The locals left the pitons on a route so it was hard to tell how good the protection was. One route that we passed under was about a thousand feet high and dead vertical. They told me that all of the belays except one were in slings and that there were 300 pitons and eighty bolts on the route. The fastest ascent had taken fourteen hours. Another thousand foot route, however, went all free in seven hours. Anglada and I planned on climbing it on the following weekend, but things didn’t work out. Instead, we did some short climbs, one an eighteen bolt ladder, but another two pitch climb with few pitons and some definitely interesting moves after a long run out. Again, I wondered about the soundness of the pitons.

At the end of the day we arrived at a large cave where we were to spend the night. The Spaniards cooked food for us, and bottles of wine appeared. Terray spoke a little English, and I tried to talk to him but didn’t find out much except that bong-bongs (he knew about them) sounded very nice in French. A little later in the evening, however, I overheard him say to Anglada’s brother, (and here I translate) “The American is very strange.” Whether his observation was due to some quirk I had inadvertently revealed or whether it was just that I was an American I have no idea. But then I thought Terray was strange, too, so perhaps we were even. It did occur to me, though, that if he thought I was strange he should get to know some of my climbing friends back in Yosemite.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *