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El Chorro – Camino del Rey

El Chorro
El Chorro

I love travelling from place to place and it suits my propensity for boredom – doing one thing for too long. Having said that though, I am a homely creature in many ways and love to find a spot to settle in and call home even if for only a little while.  It’s a constant fight in my head really. So the opportunity to stay still for a little longer was appealing and El Chorro in Malaga was it! El Chorro is a small village in Andalusia, southern Spain. Being located next to the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (“Gorge of the Gaitanes”)  means that rockclimbing is pretty high on the things to do list in the area. No denying that we were there to sample that but there were other delights of the area and the the Camino del Rey (being a climber helps)  was a definite for me. More on that later.

Gorge at El Chorro Camino del Rey
Gorge at El Chorro Camino del Rey

Granada, which houses the Alhambra (design obsession coming to the fore again) is two hours away so rather than stop and stay overnight there, we decided to do a day trip from El Chorro. Stay tuned for my Alhambra experience – look away if you don’t like architectural and archeological design! More of that in another blog post.

Railway bridge at El Chorro
Railway bridge at El Chorro

We had obviously timed it just right as the roads in the area had only just opened after being washed away from the floods over the past couple of days we were in the Costa Blanca. There were tell tale signs as we drove closer, of mud washed houses and deep ruttings in the olive plantations situated on the steep hillsides.  People had been working diligently in order to get these narrow roads open.  For many of the smaller villages in the area, these roads are vital.  I am glad we drove in whilst in was still light.  It allowed us to see the washed away and collapsed sides of the road.  This meant that we were at least aware of them when driving along them in the dark for the following week. Always important to know when the road is really only wide enough for one car. My girly protestations of not playing chicken with the other oncoming car were thankfully taken on board by Cam.

We stayed at La Finca La Campana which I have to say was a great choice. A choice of accommodation options is on offer, camping, bunkhouse etc but we chose one of the great little bungalows. I am an interior and design obsessed climber so whilst I am more than happy to just camp wherever there is a bed, I do love to stay where my eyes can feast on interesting details. So indulge me here for a moment. A cute and quaint little bungalow with Spanish and Moorish little design details, painted white stone and shuttered windows to lock out the hot midday sun. A private courtyard with wrought iron doors. Nothing fancy mind you – just a rustic moorish feel to the residence. Perfect for whipping up a quick meal after a day at the cliff, sipping on a Spanish red and planning the next day by spreading guidebooks across the hand hewn table. A pool with slackline about 10 metres away, a number of shared community recreation areas, bar, kitchen, small shop and regular visits of resident cats that will either give you the attention you want or leave you alone. I’m a cat person so loved sitting down with my glass of wine whilst attending to the needs of the finca’s cat population.

Cam being clever on the slackline
Cam being clever on the slackline

First morning saw us waking up to a sunrise fighting it’s way through the low lying mist. There was a lovely calmness about it and I just knew that we were going to have a great week. We chose to start off our climbing adventures in a nearby area that was home to a variety of climbs from 4a up to about 7a.  Once again, after a few quick warm-ups which were pretty unmemorable, we jumped on a couple of 5b+ and 6a’s. These were much more enjoyable but the sun was starting to develop it’s bite for the day so it was time to head off for less strenuous activity. When I say less strenuous, I don’t mean, chilling out on the lounger by the pool.  I mean climbing and walking along the Caminito de Rey. (the Kings little path).

Cam at the start of the Camino del Rey
Cam at the start of the Camino del Rey

This was  a path built along the gorge walls in 1905, that  gave access to a hydro-electric plant and took its name after an official visit by Alfonso X111 of Spain in 1921. In quite a dilapidated state, it was officially closed to the public in 2000 by removing some of the path access at the start. There are numerous reports that people have died on the walkway but from my research, whilst people have died, it hasn’t been because of the state of the walkway, or from it collapsing. More from human error such as a tyrolean traverse that went wrong.

Tracey crossing the start of ca
Tracey crossing the start of the Camino del Rey

Being a climber, and also someone who has no issue with heights, my experience would no doubt be different to someone who doesn’t climb much and who does feel nervous at heights. I am not going to go into too much detail about the complete access as that would be a complete blog in itself but basically, the first part is the sketchiest. You need to access it via a number of steel posts that stick out from the cliff.  There is a thin cable that has been installed so you can use it as a via ferrata of sorts. This first section does require you to hug the cliff face and take steps of about a metre apart to reach each steel post.  Once you have passed this section and up a number of stacked blocks you reach the walkway proper. As you can see by the photos, some sections of path are ‘solid’ whilst other bits are ‘holey’. Another missing section of path requires you to step long and reach long.

Cam crossing the void
Cam crossing the void

 

For long limbed ‘ape factor’ people like Cam, not a problem.  For short limbed normal people like myself it was reachy. Still not an issue for me though – I loved it.

Tracey over the void
Tracey over the void

As the day was hot, walking the path was a cool adventure. Both in terms of temperature and of awesome rating. For me, I would recommend doing it if you had the chance. From reports, it appears that the pathway will be rebuilt to make it safe and accessible for all. Inevitable I suppose, considering the interest in it, but no doubt the element of fear or adrenaline that people may experience in its current condition will be lessened.

Tracey on Camino del Rey
Tracey on Camino del Rey

For those interested in the history of this kind of infrastructure, it really is a great spot to visit. Walking along it and seeing the various little caves and tunnels that were used by the workers throws your mind back to the goings on of the time. And might I say, there are a couple of cool looking climbs you can access from there. Just a couple of grades out of my current reach though. Next time……

Boy, was I tired at the end of that day. One glass of red, plate of rice, beans and chorizo, a pat of the brutish but friendly beaten up tomcat that I named One Ear Malloy and the bed was calling my name. I collapsed. And I think there was a smile on my face.

Sunset at El Chorro
Sunset at El Chorro
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Costa Blanca – Sella. And Rain.

View from the Orange House, Finestrat
View from the Orange House, Finestrat

The drive from Siurana to the Costa Blanca was indeed a long one. Due to rain and some flooding, there were numerous closures along the various freeways and highways so a certain amount of backtracking was inevitable. Whilst driving along the coast on smaller roads was probably more scenic, this also added some extra time.  Cam and I amused ourselves about alien stories on how the endless, endless, endless sea of plastic greenhouses in the Almeria coastline area came to be. Yes, these are the things you do on long roadtrips. There is a certain delirium to it when one starts to amuse themselves to while away the time. The reality of it though is not quite as amusing. It really is quite unbelievable. Hundreds of square kilometres of plastic structures.  As far as the eye can see. It certainly doesn’t make for an attractive sight and the piles of disused plastic are everywhere.  This is where the bulk of the fruit and vegetables for the UK and  elsewhere come from. It has obviously brought some prosperity to the area but the stories of underpaid migrant workers living in slum conditions abound. Compared to some of the other areas of Spain we had driven through, this did look like people having a hard time living. There were little pockets of villages that looked pretty and were trying to look after themselves but for many of the people that live here, that is probably a low priority.

The Orange House
The Orange House

By the time we reached The Orange House at Finestrat on the Costa Blanca we were well and truly worn out. The Orange House is a great set up run by climbers pretty much for climbers. Or those interested in outdoor pursuits such as hiking, mountain biking canoeing etc.While they do run organized activities for groups and those wanting some training, we were there to do our own thing. They were really helpful in providing an overview of what was on offer  and suitable climbing areas. Unfortunately the two and half days we were there were the only days that we experienced rain on our entire trip. They had been having some unpredictable weather and some flooding from there down to Malaga. This flooding was quite bad – made the news in Australia! This didn’t mean however that we didn’t get any climbing in. We just needed to make sure that we chose shorter routes reasonably close to where we were staying.  Sella looked like it was the pick of the bunch and with drizzle and sun in equal quantities, we headed off that morning, fully prepared to climb as well as fully prepared to just do some scoping around whilst getting soaked. And we received equal quantities of both!

Culo de Rino. Just before the rain ruined our fun.
Culo de Rino. Just before the rain ruined our fun.

The first day we started off on a small contained section called Culo de Rino.  Good selection of do-able grades once again. The grades seemed to feel a little harder than those we had previously climbed on.  Granted they were quite polished and we had just come from the Siurana needles experience where the friction ground your fingertips off. Or possibly, it was just one of those days and I was climbing crap. Equal measures again, of enjoyment and frustration.  A few routes under our belt and we were starting to get the hang, and slide of it.  The skies above though had other plans and the drizzle started again.  No problems, it’s only a bit of drizzle – keep climbing. By the time it came around to my turn though to lead the route, the drizzle wasn’t quite drizzle and the thought of polished rock coupled with added water wasn’t that appealing. So I wimped out. Call me a fair weather climber. As it was quite warm and we were already soaked, we decided to go for a nice stroll along the track and check out possible climbing options for the next day. On the other side, we came across just that.  Endless options. Damm the weather, damm the weather.  Having said that though, there was a group of about 6-8 english climbers there on their holiday for the week who were not fair weather climbers and were beating off the rain from their foreheads in between clipping the bolts.  My justification for them climbing and myself not, was that as they are english and they would of course be used to climbing in crappy weather and the rain.  Right? Ok, they were being hardcore and I…. well, I just wasn’t. So drenched as we were, we remained in our hardcore recce mode checking out the routes for the following day. We were hoping to get on a route called Marion which is a real area classic in the Sector Marian ( has it’s own sector name so it’s got to be a classic.)  Only a  5a, it was a 3 pitch 70 metre climb with 2 abseils included to descend.  Tomorrow’s weather would need to be suitable.  Not too much rain(yes wussing out again) or not too much sun. The list was growing as we walked along the cliff base.  What we would warm up on – when we would climb this one – then we can jump on these ones etc, etc.  Excitement. The day was set and it was starting to near grazing time for us so we headed off back to The Orange House to eat, drink sangria and be merry about the next day ahead.

Rainy days at Sella
Rainy days at Sella

And……..we awoke to drizzle and thunder murmurings.  Ever hopeful though and not wanting to wuss out over a little rain, we packed our racks.  Well, our quickdraws, rope and harness anyway. It was a bolted climb after all.  Off we drove to Sella, fingers and toes crossed and no backup plan in place.  We were going to climb.  Oh yes we were. The day appeared to be changing for the better.  The sun was out, skies were blue and the way it was warming up, we thought that Marian might end up being too exposed to the sun(noted in the guide as a suntrap.) There were a number of lovely looking routes that were in the shade and after doing some of the easier warmup routes we planned to spend the rest of the day thrashing about on those. Hmmm….best laid plans hey? Happily climbing away on the last warmup I turned to look over my shoulder. Oh dear. Black skies. We had unfortunately climbed one warmup too many and our window of opportunity was gone. There were no more days to play with. We were booked into some accommodation in El Chorro the next day. The positive side of it was that it was another reason we would need to return to Spain again. In order to climb more on the Costa Blanca.

So, El Chorro? I hear you say. Yes, a little more climbing heaven in the famous El Chorro area in the Malaga region. A long drive ahead….