Cruising Costa Blanca Classics - Spain Trip Report and Photos January 10 2015
Cruising Costa Blanca Classics: Spain Trip Report.
Gerry leading Tai Chi (6b+ - 21) at Olta, with the Penon and city of Calpe in the background
The Costa Blanca area of south-east Spain is one of the best destinations for a climbing holiday I’ve seen. Day after day of winter sunshine and over 40 major crags ranging from roadside buttresses, multi-pitch sport and trad routes on 200m faces, super steep sport climbing, dramatic sea cliffs, and all generally on excellent rock. So where would I rather be? Back home in Tassie or cruising classics in the Costa Blanca? It’s a silly hypothetical because I’ve chosen to be here and I’m very happy with that choice, but this is the first summer in 34 years of climbing that I haven’t climbed in Tasmania, so it’s a big departure from the norm.
So if I was climbing at home, what would my summer have looked like in comparison? For a start, I wouldn’t be scaring myself on new trad routes on Ben Lomond, something I’ve done most summer holidays for as long as I remember. Summer does not feel complete without a new route at Africa or Stacks Bluff, those scary dark faces 150m high with sketchy gear and imaginary lines. Instead I’m clipping bolted slabs on perfect pocketed grey limestone at Sella. Just when you think the face has blanked out, a one finger pocket materializes and the dots are connected. Sometimes the pockets seem so perfect, one wonders if they were manufactured by a not so subtle drilled hole, but some Spanish new routers don’t seem to be fussed about chipping, and chipped climbs are often mentioned and recommended in the guidebook. The steep pocketed crack of Kashba (6c+ -23) was a highlight.
The Divino, in the Sella valley
In Tassie I might have gone to the sea cliffs of Mt Brown for some new routes with that inspirational fanatic Garry Phillips. Instead, we went to the sea cliffs of Sierra de Toix with a 5 minute approach through a luxury estate of seaside villas, and did a fabulous 70m grade 19 sport route called El Dorado, then from the cliff top watched the sunset over the skyscrapers of Benidorm.
We climbed El Dorado (6b - 20) at the Sierra Toix sea cliffs, the central crack line.
Sunset over Benidorm
Sierra de Toix sea cliffs. The route we did is on the shaded face, the central crack, bolted 70m pitch
I usually spend the summer camping and sleeping in the back of the Subaru at the base of Stacks Bluff, Bare Rock at Fingal or wherever the latest new routes are. At Costa Blanca, we are at the Orange House, an excellent accommodation place for climbers, run by Rich and Sam Mayfield from the U.K. We have a double room for 30 euros a night, shared bathrooms, big kitchen facility, swimming pool, bar with an honor system tab, huge TV with climbing movies and lots of climbers from around the world to talk to. Rich is an old climbing mate of Nick Hancock and while his wife manages the Orange House, he’s off guiding or putting up new routes. Lucky bastard. In fact, this is one place in the world I could be tempted to move to – comfortable lifestyle and an endless supply of new routes. The Spanish won’t walk an hour to develop a crag, and yet there are literally hundreds of undeveloped cliffs here; Garry would be frothing.
Road tripping with my 16 year old daughter Jemimah is fun and a great relationship building, memory making time. But when she is DJ on the car radio, it’s hard to bear the musical diarrhoea that dribbles forth. Back home I usually rock along to the crag to some Black Sabbath, ACDC, or Iron Maiden. Instead I’m listening to some screeching haggis named Sia swinging from the chandelier. Then Pharrel Williams tells us to clap along if you feel like a room without a roof, cause I’m happy…clap along if you feel like that’s want you want to do. What I want to do is smack that happy little prick, because that stupid song gets stuck in my head for the day. Thank goodness for Rock FM which plays all the family favorites such as TNT, Paranoid, some Status Quo, Jimmy Hendrix, or Deep Purple. Echo Smith wishes she could be like the cool kids, but when Sweet comes on Rock FM singing Ballroom Blitz, I explain to Jemimah that in 1976, songs like Ballroom Blitz and Fox on The Run were number one in Australia, and all the cool kids listened to Sweet…or ACDC, or Status Quo. But Ballroom Blitz gave her a headache.
Jemimah leading a 5+ (16) at Sella, perfect limestone pockets all the way.
It’s a crazy mix of urbanization and crags on the Costa Blanca. Within 15 minutes of the ultra-touristy hotel skyscrapers, amusement parks, Pommie tourists and crassness of Benidorm, you can be at a beautiful crag with huge and serious looking mountains all around. In Tassie, we’d have the crag to ourselves, but at Sella, Gandia, Olta or Guadalest, it’s a circus of people queued up for routes and the obligatory party of Spaniards with their pooing dogs in tow. It is a revelation to see how popular and mainstream rockclimbing is in Europe. But with that you get the accompanying crowds of bumblies, unsafe practices and lack of cliff etiquette. At Sella, there was a helicopter rescue when a German guy unclipped his safety from the anchors and fell 5m to the last bolt, and smashed his head and ankle. It’s disappointing to see the rubbish, cigarette butts and uncovered human waste right next to the cliffs. I’m not sure whether the popularity of climbing and the balance of looking after the environment is sustainable at most of the crags I’ve been to in Spain.
On a route called Perestroika (6b - 20), steep Tufa climbing at Gandia, probably the best small crag we went to on the Costa Blanca
I’m surprised at the star rating of some of the routes here. When I get home, I’m going to upgrade all Andrew Martin’s zero star new routes to immortal 3 stars in comparison. We did a 3 star 6a+, top 50 in the guidebook, route at Guadalest. Honestly, the rock looked so terrible I thought some pre-historic Spanish dogs with super powered sphincters had spray painted the crag with their turds to create the cliff. And yet the climbs were terrific. It was literally a roadside crag with a 20 second approach, an 11th century castle on the summit and the most kitch tourist trap of a village right beside the cliff.
Roadside cragging at Guadalest
At Olta, we climbed the 3 star routes of Tufa Groove (21) and Tai Chi (21), with glorious views out to the Penon, a prominent mountain and major crag beside the skyscrapers of Calpe. Tai Chi is the front cover photo of the guidebook. They were both fantastic routes, but nevertheless, 10 bolt climbs on a 25m buttress. I think that many sport routes in Tassie are of the same quality; Ghost Rider (19) at Hillwood, Antimatter (23) at the Star Factory, After Midnight or Inflagrante Delicto (24) on the Organ Pipes, Cluedo (23) at the Cluan Tiers, most of our new climbs at Fingal, not to mention truly world class climbs such as the Totem Pole or Pole Dancer at Cape Raoul.
Jemimah enjoying pocketed perfection on a 6b+ - 21 at Gandia.
So would I rather be climbing in Tassie or the Costa Blanca this summer? Obviously I’d rather be in Spain because I’ve chosen to be here. Fabulous place for a holiday; terrific, safe, fun, quality climbing and great for a change. But add the crowds, queues for routes, polished rock, dog turds, skyscrapers, traffic, approach via freeways and toll roads, then maybe I’ll reconsider my thought of moving here for the new routes, and stay in the paradise which is Tasmania. Stay tune for my next installment on El Chorro, our destination for the next 10 days…if that’s what you want to do, cause I’m happy…clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth, cause I’m happy…