2 in 1- Anna’s Adventures blog & PRIMOlife magazine!

Anna Hartley, good friend and blogger excelsior tells about her rock climbing adventures with Volta do Mar!

” I’m in a tough position and I can’t see a way out. My chalky fingertips are pressed hard into the rock. The knot at my waist grates against the wall, and my legs are zinging with tension. I look like a ninja mid fly-kick, splattered against the front of an unyielding cliff. It seems that every muscle in my body is flexed, straining to keep me perched in this unlikely position, and I’m burning energy fast. My right leg begins to ‘Elvis’, shake uncontrollably under the pressure and I know I have to make a move soon. I really, really don’t want to fall.

Rock climbing in the wilderness is well, exactly as tough as it looks.

Rocha da Pena national park in the southwest of Portugal is a gorgeous, rugged landscape. The natural habitat of wild boar, mongoose and foxes, there are also Iron Age stonewalls here, evidence of ancient fortifications by long-gone people. On this hot day, we are the only ones around. ‘We’ is me, Kristi and Zeke from Canada, and André Gloria, owner of adventure tourism company Volta do Mar and avid local climber.

Emerging from the dense underbrush, we come to the base of our first climb and begin to put on our gear: harnesses, tiny climbing shoes and a helmet. André busies himself setting up the safety belay lines and ties me on at the harness with a figure 8 knot.

Apparently I’m ready to go.

I look up at the rock. It looms over me, silently.

“So…” I hesitate. “I just climb up, I guess?”

“Yep!” he grins, holding the belay rope in his hands.

I approach, and reach out. The rock is hard and gritty and easy to grasp and I quickly get off the ground. I look around with my eyes and then with my fingertips, and when my holds feel secure, I follow with my feet. The ground moves further and further away. There is a good, big ledge just near my left knee. I reach for it, but André stops me.

“Baby steps! you don’t want to waste your energy on big lunges”.

l look for something smaller, and I wiggle my toes into a small crevasse lower down. I tentatively put some weight on it, and it holds. Actually, my toes feel like they are stuck to the wall, the grip is incredible.

“Trust the hold!” André calls out, as if he’s read my mind. “And trust the shoes”.

I begin to steadily climb up the face, finding holds, testing them and moving on. For a while, I seems like every time I reach my hand out, I find the exact shape I’m looking for. It could as well be climbing up a ladder, and it feels more than a bit like cheating. A smile creeps onto my face.

Soon enough though, I come to my first blank. Moments earlier full of secret, helpful holds, the rock now appears completely flat and featureless. I can’t imagine how I’m going to proceed. I feel around and around without success, and for the first time begin to feel a nervous. I’m far from the ground, hanging by my fingertips, and the longer I’m here, the more tired I’ll get.

“Breathe!” André yells up to me. “Relax, and enjoy the view!”

I turn to look around. It is spectacular. Dense scrub and trees give way to cultivated land, neat rows of olive trees and vineyards, crops and the tiny roofs of houses. This ridge is the highest thing for miles around, and I can’t see a soul.

I enjoy the view, and regulate my breathing, while trying to quieten the voice in my head screaming “aaaaaaah get down, what are you doing up here you’re gonna die aaaaah!!” I’m beginning to appreciate how incredibly challenging rock climbing is, both physically and mentally. Most of the battle, André tells me later, is overcoming fear which can paralyze even the strongest climbers.

I return to the face. I close my eyes, and slowly feel around me again. I know there is a way, and I find myself trying to connect with the rock, to allow a path to emerge.

I move sideways a bit and suddenly I have great holds again. I scoot up for another couple of meters until I’m facing my next challenge: a big overhang that will require me to pull off a tough ‘Van Damme’ split and shimmy up. This is ‘the crux’, the hardest part of the climb. I need to take a side hold, where I put lateral force on a vertical crevasse, but I’ve never done this before, and I don’t quite understand how it works.

My hand keeps straying away from the hold that it doesn’t like. Time is ticking. My leg is Elvising. I will have to heave my way up and trust my hands to find something to grab so that I don’t fall.

André counts me down. Here goes nothing…


I explode up and my hands connect. I did it! André cheers me on from below. Reaching the top soon after is just the icing on the cake, and as André lowers me down, I can feel the fresh blood stampeding through my now off-duty legs.

Over the next few hours, we all take turns climbing again and again, finding better techniques, gaining confidence and challenging ourselves both physically and mentally with each ascent.

On my last climb, I get to the bottom of another gnarly overhang, and pause. The shadows are getting long, my tired arms and legs are trembling and I can feel that I need to make a break for it, or it will be too late. The moment passes. I’m too tired. I won’t make it to the top of this wall, and that’s ok.

The rock’s not going anywhere.”


Read the full PRIMOLife magazine and Anna’s blog here.


@ Alman’s Portuguese Adventure’s blog

Last October, I had the privilege to take Manon and Alain out climbing at Rocha da Pena in the Algarve. They were great company and so kind in writing on their blog about our day together. Thank you guys!

” Fresh air, shining sun, snug in my harness, hands and feet on the rock, clipping the rope as I ascend the mountain; I smile and think to myself, “there’s no other place I’d rather be but here”.

When Alain and I decided to travel to Portugal, we both wanted to go sport climbing outdoors (form of climbing that relies on permanent anchors fixed to the rock). I emailed many rock climbing companies but was not successful in securing a guide. Finally, I received the much appreciated suggestion to contact VOLTA do MAR:

I received a prompt response saying that the “handsome” guide would be contacting me shortly to secure a date. The moment I started interacting with André (and yes, he is handsome!), I knew that Alain and I would get along really well with him. Our exchange was quite amusing with discussions about being “hangry” and listening to the “Eye of the Tiger” to stay motivated. This was the right guide for us!

At 8:00 a.m. he was at the front door of our B & B and greeted us warmly with a good handshake and a smile. This was going to be a great day! We made our way to Rocha da Pena where there are a large number of bolted routes. Our goal for the day was to first, lead routes outdoors (in this instance, the rope is not already anchored at the top of the route) and second, learn to set an anchor and/or clean the route (this means learning how to tie the rope in the big bolts already in the rock). Our past experiences rock climbing outdoors (in Italy and Red Rock Mountains – near Las Vegas) comprised of multi-pitch climbs (ascending a mountain with more than one stop at a belay station) where our guide lead the route.

We hiked to the base of the routes. Alain and I both had a small backpack. André hauled all of the rock climbing equipment in two backpacks – we felt like he was our “Sherpa”. Our very handsome Sherpa 🙂

From the moment André picked us up at the B & B, we felt like we were hanging out with a friend rather than being guided to the mountains. He suggested that we start by top roping two routes that we would later lead. Perfect! This way, we were able to learn the moves and become comfortable on the route before leading it.

Rock climbing outdoors is a completely different sport than indoor rock climbing. It is never clear where you should place your hands and feet. However, it feels so much more organic and natural than to climb “plastic” in the gym. The views at the top of the mountains are also priceless.

We flashed (did not fall and made it to the top on our first try) all the routes we tried during the day. Our guide had chosen the perfect grade of rock routes to teach us how to lead/set an anchor/clean a route outdoors. Nonetheless, I did sing to myself Taylor Swift’s “shake it off” more than once to keep my cool as I was anxiously trying to find hand/foot holds! The beautiful thing about climbing a mountain is that nothing else exists in the world while you are climbing – your focus is completely on the task at hand (and feet!).

Setting an anchor/cleaning a route is one of the scariest things I have ever done while hanging on the top of a mountain. Once you are at the top of the route, it consists of untying yourself from the rope that is attached to your harness. You secure yourself with temporary “ropes” but your brain does not want to untie the main rope. I think I quadruple checked all the ropes before untying myself. We had thankfully practiced all the maneuvers several times at the base of the mountain before trying it at the top. Also, it is important to note that André was hanging right beside us (and rubbing our backs to calm us down! Ha!) at the top of the mountain when we were setting the anchor.

André is truly a one-of-a-kind guide and teacher. He was patient, friendly, funny, and lets not forget, handsome! We feasted on the food that he hauled up the mountain (cheese, ham, fresh bread, strawberries, Portuguese pastries, chocolate) for lunch talking about everything and nothing.

Surprisingly, one of the highlights of our day was celebrating our climbs with mini Sagres beers at a local pub in a tiny village (I think the village was called Penina but I may be wrong). André explained to us that it was common to find a small general store attached to the pub, as was the case in this village. One lady was peeling her potatoes (most likely for the dinner she would prepare when she returned home) while talking with other patrons. I could have stayed there all day to watch the “comings and goings” of the locals.

If you find yourself in the Algarve area, contact André ( and book a tour (it does not have to be rock climbing) with him. Every tour is private and tailored to clients’ needs.

We will be back! We would love to return to this little piece of paradise and climb the beautiful cliffs in Sagres that have won our hearts.”


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