El Chorro Spain Trip report January 18 2015
EL CHORRO : EEEZ NICE BUT EEZ BIT POLISH
At Siurana, I asked legendary Spanish climber Tony Arbones, what he thought of El Chorro. He said; `Eeez nice but eeez bit polish.’ He was right. Amazing scenery and some excellent climbs, but many of the climbs were so polished you could add a grade. And yet, some of the routes were the best ones we did in Spain.
El Chorro is a small hydro village in a very rugged mountainous area of southern Spain. The focal point is an incredible 100m high gash in the mountain forming a gorge with just a 15m wide opening to the dammed lake. The most famous feature is the Camino del rey, a pathway fastened to the sheer cliff designed for the workers on the hydro-electric scheme about 100 years ago. But over the years the path had disintegrated to the point where only rockclimbers could access the gorge with a via ferrata type arrangement. Unfortunately for us, the camino was closed because they are rebuilding it for tourists, which meant many of the best cliffs were inaccessible. Strict policing of the railway tunnels also prevents access to several of the best cliffs. The Makindromo, El Chorro’s most famous and world class sector, is now a 90 minute steep walk approach. So we didn’t bother, but there is still plenty of fabulous climbing to be had on the surrounding mountains.
The Frontales above the village of el chorro
We spent 3 days climbing on various sectors of the Frontales, a 200m high and 2km wide rock face which you can drive to the base of. There are many multi-pitch routes, but we did 9 superb one pitch routes on excellent rock (eeez bit polish though), with expansive and wonderful views of the astonishing landscape. A highlight for me was onsighting a 7a+ (supposed 25), but it was no harder than some of the 6c+ (23) I tried. Which brings me to the point of inconsistent grading at El Chorro. Some routes are total sandbags, depending on what era they were established – old school grades from the 80’s and early 90’s. There were some 6c’s and 6c+ which were as hard as some 7a’s at El chorro and Siurana, and yet others were soft touch (I’ll still claim a 25 onsight though).
A terrific 7a (24) I led 3rd shot on sector Albercones on the Frontales
A failed attempt on the same 7a
There is some dodgy bolting going on here; bolts and even anchors fastened to detached blocks, which reminds me of a guy who died in Sicily recently when the entire block the anchors were on, fell off the cliff. Another worrying thing for pussys like me was high first bolts. On my routes, I always put a bolt in reach from the ground, but there are many potential ankle and back breakers here.
A terrific area was Desplomolandia, about 20 minutes drive from El Chorro with 6 crags of immaculate limestone. We did 5 steep routes in the 19-24 range, laybacking off weird tufas and the common technique on most Spanish climbs of inserting various numbers of fingers in miraculous pockets. Las Encantadas was also a first class crag, with a 2 minute roadside access, and very close to the village. A couple of 6c+ routes (about 23), were probably the best routes I did on the trip. It’s that elusive feeling you get from a climb where you lower off and say; `climbs like that are the reason we go rockclimbing.’
The crag at Desplomolanidia
We stayed at Finca La Campagna, which was nice but only until we upgraded from the backpackers to our own apartment. The bunk house and kitchen area was crowded, filthy and chaos. Head of chaos was Azog the defiler, a Czechoslovakian version of Crazy John who spoke like Azog, the monstrous orc on the Hobbit movie. At the crag he was bouncing around yelling beta in Czech to everyone and stoned out of his mind. It pissed me how such a party animal could onsight 7c. I was also amazed at the Bavarian boob job. She was a lady in her mid 50’s with a substantial rack (of quickdraws I mean) with a backside to match, who was onsighting 6c+ (about 23). My daughter reckons Ms Bavaria has had a boob job. She was obviously a very good experienced climber, despite the extra padding. But I thought to myself, if that old duck can climb harder than me, what does that tell you? Two things: there's hope for me yet! My man boobs are bigger than hers. But most probably that I need to lose weight. How could I quickly lose 5kg? Cut the mullet? Stop drinking 3 beers a night and start training? Live like Ingvar Lidman on broccoli and become a 60kg stick insect? Or keep sinking piss, eating whatever I want, keep growing the mullet, and keep dragging my 95kg fat arse up climbs and having fun. Depends what you want out of climbing I suppose.
Dejected fat old prick deciding whether to lose the weight or keep falling off 7a's
So after 5 weeks, we have done 53 routes at various crags at Siurana, Chulilla, Costa Blanca and El Chorro. On our rest days we have gone sightseeing in Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, Valencia, Cartagena, Malaga, Granada and Madrid; all the boring stuff like 1st century Roman amphitheatres, medieval cathedrals, architectural wonders like the Alhambra palace in Granada, and the Picasso museum. Honestly, there is a painting in my office at school by a kinder child of the hungry caterpillar, which is as good as any of Picasso’s stuff. But as Picasso once said, `It took me 4 years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’ Which sums it up really.
The Australian summer, European winter, was a perfect time to visit. In 5 weeks we had one day of rain, and every day was cloudless blue sky, about 12-15 degrees, and great friction. As far as the climbing goes, the truly world class sector we climbed on was El Falco at Arboli, about 20 minutes from Siurana. We only did one route at Monsant, but I could tell that was another world class crag. As is the case for most crags, the best rock is usually the steepest and the hardest, and anything above 7a+ was out of our league. So some of the sectors at Siurana such as El Pati (La Rambla etc), the steep stuff at Chulilla and the Wild Side at Sella, were very impressive. Climbing at our level in the 6a (18) to 7a+ (25) range at most crags involved lots of pockets on slabs with the occasional bulge or short section of steep rock, hardly any crimps, and the occasional tufa to pinch and even handjam or fingerlock between tufas. All the one pitch cracks were bolted which was very convenient, but a bit of a shame.
Superb 6c+ (23) at Las encantadas
Maybe the mainstream popularity of rockclimbing in Europe, and especially Spain, is due to the fact that there are tens of thousands of bolted sport climbs with easy access. They have bolted many climbs of grade 3 and 4 (Aussie grades 8-12). The transition from the gym to outside climbing is straightforward and anyone with a rack of quickdraws can enjoy some great climbs and progress quickly through the grades. In Australia, generally only the harder stuff gets bolted and people learning to climb in Tassie, Arapiles, the Grampians, Frog Buttress etc have to learn trad climbing skills right from the start.
Speaking of trad, I’ve got one more week of holidays so a dash out to Africa on Ben Lomond is on the cards, plus my projects at Township Creek, which are as good as anything I’ve climbed in Spain…fingertips are sweating now… can’t wait to get home… Adios.