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Guide to Becoming a Spanish Sport Climber (SSC)

Blog By Chris Shepard

“Chris, this is what ERASMUS is for.”

Once again, Lucas is repeating this familiar mantra as we head back to Madrid after another fanatical weekend of sport climbing. I’m covered in battle scars, everything aches and I’ve been sleeping in the dirt for the last two days. In short, I’m on my last legs. It’s midnight, and early classes tomorrow are going to be tough.

Sunset through the car window: a familiar sight.

Somewhere between fun experience and military boot camp, this weekend is one of a long series of trials in my transition from British guiri to Spanish Sport Climber (SSC). The latter type is a well-known character in the climbing world, and SSCs are the target of countless stereotypes. These stereotypes, in my experience, are mostly true. SSCs drive beat-up vans; they rock dreadlocks and their filthy crag dogs probably have dreads too. They are undeniably cool, and you probably want in to their Vida Pirata lifestyle. With this in mind, let’s say Adios to self-restraint and bashfulness, as I give you my Top Tips to aspiring members of the SSC club.

1. Never stop talking.

Anyone who knows me will be familiar with my big mouth. However, the Spanish have gone one step further and transformed crag-chatter into an art form. With Dani Andrada famously only stopping talking if he’s climbing a route harder than 8c+, Spaniards never exhaust their topics for conversation. For the aspiring SSC, some good topics to start include beta for routes you have no interest in trying, and long discussions about which post-climb bar does the best tortilla de patatas.

Who needs UKB when we see each other at the crag every weekend?

Although it can leave you exhausted, this tendency has its upside. If your friends are blurting out any thoughts they have as they come into their head, you never feel like you’re being withheld their opinion. Honestly is assumed, and there’s no talking behind your back while you’re away – an SSC has to rest their jaw some time.

2. Eat everything (or nothing)

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the effect of nutrition on climbing, with many British climbers adopting extreme approaches to eating. However, the aspiring SSC will have to eschew the false idols of the Ketogenic Gluten-Free Vegan Diet and embrace a new tactic. This crazy new methodology is called Common Sense, and it consists of eating fairly healthy food in substantial amounts, when you’re hungry. Plenty of fresh vegetables, meat and grains – the Spanish are proud of the Mediterranean diet, and often enjoy it by eating enormous meals. In general, Spaniards eat a lot more than Brits, but an active lifestyle keeps them skinner than their housebound cousins.

Tostada Spanish Market

Octavio, enjoying the Mediterranean diet as he moves on to his second tostada.

My local market is quite nice.

SSCs have taken this approach to another level. As anyone who’s fought a few rounds with a forty-metre tufa route will attest, these stamina beasts leave you hungry enough to consider eating your belayer’s left leg. Consequently, post-climbing meals are enormous, and a rite of initiation for the SSC club should include at least a kilo of instant ramen noodles. This monstrous meal should be enough to keep you going through the day, sustained only by rice cakes and liquorice. Spanish crag food is weird.

The next step in the self-sabotage game was fancy dress. The Mad Professor and Kung Fu Master bring Carnival to the Barranco Fin del Mundo (where beasts are made).

Fancy Dress Climbing Spanish Party

Housemate excursion to the Templo de Debod. Also pictured: Laso shows off his wonderful elbow.

Meanwhile, the typical SSC has a tolerance to hedonism that borders on being a superpower. Countless times, I’ve seen friends party until 6am, wake up hung over and drag themselves to the crag. At this point, they swing their arms about a bit, rinse their projects, lower down and skulk off for a siesta. Are you listening, Barrows? Get pissed more often and you’ll climb 9a+.

5. Dodge injuries.

In spite of Points 3 and 4, SSCs are extremely prudent when it comes to injuries. The climbing is so good, they argue, why risk a missed season for the sake of a moment of silliness. As a result, the rate of injury among seventh and eighth-grade climbers is far lower than in the UK. After a long period on rock, Spaniards return to training very slowly and listen to their bodies.


What’s more, Spain offers dry rock and quality climbing all year round, so there isn’t a single “season” per se. The continuous nature of the SSC experience leaves climbers less inclined to dig themselves into a training-hole and emerge from the climbing walls as broken men. Of course, this injury avoidance could just be another SSC superpower.

Sharing the wall with Guille in Somaén.

In order to qualify as a true SSC, you have to be as psyched for your friends’ successes as you are for your own. Invite strangers to dinner; buy the next round; teach your belayer some swear words in your language.

To my Spanish friends: you guys have unreservedly welcomed me into your SSC world, and in doing so you’ve made this the best year of my life so far. Thank you so much, and here’s to the rest of the summer!

And thanks to you for reading. Soon, I’ll be back in the UK and it would be great to catch up with friends. I have plenty more nonsense to spout yet…

See you at the crag,


(L) Teamwork: Felix and Gerard work together in the arduous task of washing Felix’s feet. (R) My current whereabouts. Let’s get to work..

Other Non-Climbing Observations

- Give up on tea: they just don’t get it here. If you ask for a cup of tea at a bar, you normally get a coffee cup full of lukewarm water and something that tastes like soap suds. If you ask for milk, prepare to see the barman make a face that’s normally reserved for murder witnesses. It’s a good thing the coffee is so good.

-You can never buy everything you need from one supermarket. Except for jamón, which is offered everywhere in unimaginable variety. Spaniards love cured meat.

- Spaniards are obsessed with pipas: sunflower seeds in their shells, that require approximately ten minutes of opening per calorie of nutrition. I never figured out the trick, opting to impatiently chew the whole seeds. Around half the resulting salty wood-paste never really leaves your mouth. I reckon this could be the final SSC-test.

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Oh dear, Guille. Yes, those six burgers are for him.

The author “warming up” on a classic 8a in the Cabeçó d’Or.

3. Skip the warmup.

A familiar experience for Brits who visit Spanish sport crags is the sheer number of wads who jump straight onto the hardcore routes. While visitors slowly get going on the crag warm-ups, the Spaniards will only be ever found at the base of their projects, or on those projects. Any SSC knows that warming up is a waste of time that could be spent sleeping or talking.

Consequently, a characteristic feature of the Spanish climbing day is the “warm-up burn” on their project. This advanced SSC technique consists of getting on your project completely cold, having a sub-maximal attempt and getting flash-pumped. That said, countless friends swear by this tactic and send on the first try of the day.

4. Par-tay!

If Point 3 gave you the impression that Spaniards are invincible, it’s because they basically are. We’ve all heard the stories about the Foundry raves back in the day, and some UK climbers are famous for not being slowed down by a party lifestyle. However, these individuals tend to be the exception to the rule.

(Top Left) Toasting to the author´s first 8a+. As further proof that Spanish beer is magic, I did my first 8a+/b in two goes the next day. (Top Right) This, however, happens quite a lot. Fourth day on in Terradets: a hefty dose of Monkey Fist was needed that night. (Bottom Left)Training for Rodellar. Ironically, I now have a leg injury.

If you’ve followed all the above advice, you’re well on your way to become a punk-listening, kneebar-milking máquina of the first class. However, we have yet to mention the most important point. Above all else, what characterises an SSC is their passion for sharing The Good Life with others. From belays and beta to the post-climbing beer, it’s the shared nature of the experience that makes the Spanish sport climbing life so sweet.