Straddling the axial Pyrenees and the calm Mediterranean Sea, between the French province of Roussillon and the Catalan province of Girona, lies the region of La Garrotxa, a land of volcanoes, forests and legends. With enviable environmental and landscape characteristics, La Garrotxa has become a popular tourist destination. For this reason, in the year 2000 the Consortium for the Protection and Management of the Alta Garrotxa Area of Natural Interesta public entity in charge of protecting the cultural and natural heritage, as well as revitalizing, revaluing, improving, disseminating and managing the Alta Garrotxa area.
Sport The climb in Sadernes
If we pass the town of Montagut heading north, where the road ends, we will arrive at Sadernes, the heart of Alta Garrotxa. Surrounded by leafy mountain holm oak forests, old paths that come to life and crossed by the Llierca river that over the millennia has shaped imposing gray limestone walls and beautiful pools of crystal clear water, Sadernes is the living history of climbing in Girona.
The climbing boom in Sadernes began in the late 1980s, coinciding with the international expansion of rock climbing. Relatively easy access, good weather conditions due to the predominant east and west orientations, and the potential of the site to open new roads, made the school grow unabated until today, which houses more than 500 climbing routes sports and some 15 routes of various pitches about.
The type of climbing is varied and diverse; strips, blunts, edges… On slabs, overhangs and even caves. The hardness of the rock is usually rather soft -although it depends on the sector- and often the rigs have been forced to reinforce some dams with epoxy resin -of the Sikadur type- to improve their stability, this practice being a source of controversy among the group of climbers
Due to the type of rock and the possibilities it offers, most of the insurances that have been used up to now have been bolt bolts or chemicals, leaving the practice of climbing with floating insurance relegated.
However, the Summer Festival route (6C/A1compulsory. 7b, 80m), opened by Adrià Feliu and Xavi Sabater in 2017, was opened from below and without fixed expansions, thus generating a turning point in the school.
Both its outfitters and associations such as Bare Rockclaim this practice as a possible solution towards a more sustainable and less invasive climbing.
A valued and vulnerable area Sadernes is relatively close to three Catalan capitals (Vic, Olot and Girona). Due to its beauty and the wide range of activities it offers, the canyon has become a very crowded destination.
In recent years, and especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of visitors to the place to enjoy nature has increased exponentially. In Sadernes we can find families walking along the main track that crosses the canyon, people who want to enjoy the magnificent pools in the increasingly hot summers, tireless cyclists, as well as people who go looking for mushrooms on the shady slopes of the forests, even barraquistas and hikers who make hard walks through the surrounding peaks.
All of them, together with a settled and enlarged climbing community, compare on the same playground. A playground that, at the same time, is fragile and vulnerable to crowds.
If we talk about nature, Sadernes is unique. Its rugged geography, together with the different orientations of the slopes and the oscillation of altitude, among other climatic variables, provide it with a large number of environmental gradients.
This rich environmental variety generates different habitats and ecological niches for a large number of species of fauna and flora. Birds of prey, such as the Egyptian vulture or the bearded vulture, the peregrine falcon, the golden eagle or the griffon vulture, among others, are the queens of heaven. Rupicolous plants – those that inhabit cliffs – frequent the steepest walls. Mountain barbels nimbly cross the course of the river, lichens and molsas embrace the most humid forests and goats are the owners of the scree.
All this rich diversity of species generates a very valuable and fragile ecological framework at the same time. Uncontrolled overcrowding inevitably leads to increased disturbances and constant degradation of habitats, leaving some species relegated to the mercy of spatial fate. According to official sources of the Consortium, during the weekends and holidays from Easter and all of July and August 2022, 7,250 reservations were recorded in the Sadernes car park -with a capacity of 100 vehicles- and 28,399 people arrived at the Sant Aniol, at the end of the canyon. (Only people who registered during the indicated dates were taken into account). A number of people that, without a doubt, can be very harmful to the environment if it is not managed properly.
Sport a frozen conflict
The management of overcrowding in rural areas and, especially, in ecologically important areas, such as Sadernes, is a necessary task that the competent authorities have to deal with. Studies show time and time again that uncontrolled human concentration and environmental degradation are directly correlated.
In Sadernes there has been a regulation of motorized access for more than twenty years (where it is possible to enter with a private vehicle during the months with less frequentation) and another for the nesting of protected bird species in some of the climbing areas.
However, these regulations can be a source of conflict between local climbing communities and the governments that manage the territory if they are perceived as prohibitions and not as a regulation for the good of all, and can generate an anarchic environment and mistrust between both.
The conflict between the Consortium and the climbing community it intensified after the pandemic with the exponential increase in tourist pressure in the canyon that forced the Consortium to impose more access restriction measures. During the days and months of maximum influx, the Alta Garrotxa Consortium began to request an appointment to access the canyon and implemented a paid parking lot, a highly controversial solution and not well received by those who regularly frequent the place. -among many of them, climbers-.
Sport Ban or regulate? the eternal dilemma
With the new climbing boom in recent years, the number of climbers accessing the walls of the Alta Garrotxa is increasing and they are part of the crowd that causes environmental damage. However, the local climbing community feels helpless and attacked by the authorities.
They affirm that they bear all the responsibilities for the environmental degradation of Sadernes, as if they were the only ones who frequent the place. The latest restrictions and regulations are perceived as an imposition by the authorities and they consider that the decisions made by the Consortium have not been democratic.
Sport Regulation yes, prohibition no.
This is the maxim with which the climbing group has cast itself in a position of defense for their rights. They know that there is still a long way to go to make the entire climbing community aware of environmental education and for this very reason they want there to be a regulation of climbing in Sadernes.
Although, they emphasize, not like the one that exists today. They demand that a dialogue table be generated between the authorities in charge of managing the territory and the collective to reach more satisfactory agreements for both. They also call for new and rigorous scientific studies as the basis for a dynamic regulation where the objectives are molded based on the results obtained.