Week three – El Chorro

Sorry it’s been a while guys! Had some trouble with the laptop connecting to the WiFi, managed to sort it, so there will be a few posts really close together now, I’ve been writing still without the internet, so they’ll be plenty to catch up on over the next week or so.

Since our last post, quite a few things have happened, some more were quite unexpected, the sort of things you know are going to happen at some point, but you’d rather have them happen after you’re a bit more adjusted to “the lifestyle” than we are at the minute, but we’ll get to that.

We decided to start the week with a couple of rest days, do some food shopping and go to the coast for the day, so we made the 40 mile trip down to the coast, popping into a strange looking castle/monument to Christopher Columbus on the way. From a distance it looked like an enormous structure, that was hundreds of years old. In reality it was probably no more than 15 meters tall, and it’s construction started in the 1980s. It was still pretty interesting to have a look around, but thankfully it wasn’t the main reason for the trip. After a quick food shop in Aldi, we drove to the beach for some lunch. We ended up in Fuengirola, a coastal town that was certainly built for tourism. All of a sudden we were walking the streets of a little sea side town like you might do on a more conventional holiday, it was a very sudden change, but a pleasant one, we spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach before heading back to El Chorro to get some climbing done, and to do the gorge walk.

The main attraction of El Chorro for non-climbers is the gorge. We’ve posted pictures of the face of it a few times already, but you can actually walk down the whole thing, mostly on suspended walk ways, which at points are about 100m above the surface. Although climbing in the gorge is now banned, because of the new walk way, it’s still well worth heading down for a look.

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This next morning the order of the day, climbing, 4 days of it in fact, which is something we said we were going to avoid, but I think we’re both pretty glad we did, as a lot came from them. Our first day we decided to go up to Desplomiladia. It is known for long steep routes, at once we go up there, it was easy to see why. To get there you have to travel out of El Chorro a little, north, which is where all the lakes in the area can be found. The walls are easy to see from the road, and are just a 5 minute walk up the hill from the parking. Normally this can “spoil the mood” somewhat with cars constantly passing, but there can’t have been more than 1-2 car in the time we were there, so the short walk in was a blessing. The routes here really are impressive, the wall is immensely steep on the left side, and has a roof at about 15 meters. Almost everything on this side was a little out of our grade range, so after warming up on two fr5s, which stop at the roof, we walked along the base of the crag to the side with the easier routes were. After about 15-20 minutes of trying to work out which route was which, we took on Sin mantenimiento, a huge 35m fr6a, which must have taken me about 25 minutes to finish. The lower section consisted of three over hanging sections, with big holds, and rests in between them, after that a just-off vertical wall littered with pockets leads you up to a final steep section and the lower-off. This at the time, was the best route of the trip, if not the best route I’d climbed to date, but that didn’t last for long.

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On our second day, we went to a different section of Escalera Arabe, looking for a few more routes for Beth to get stuck into. Unfortunately that’s not what we found, the easier routes appeared to be either much harder than described, or just so polished that they were much more difficult than their grades suggested. She got some good advice from a couple who were climbing there that day too, there will be another blog post about that soon. They also suggested trying El canalillo de la mari, a 3 star fr6b+ which they were convinced would feel easier than the more softly graded routes. At this point in time fr6b+ is about the hardest route I’ve climbed clean, outside anyway, but we decided to give it a go. What an incredible piece of climbing it turned out to be, It’s got a bit of everything, the start is steep corner climbing, after a rest there’s a more open corner with some more difficult moves, and then the final section you head out right, onto what looks like a fairly blank face, but all the holds you need present themselves. Due to our previous experience I took the clip stick with me, this ended up being a lot of trouble, and in the second half of the route, when the bolts became more spaces, and the climbing more difficult, I had to abandon the on-sight attempt on the route for fear that if I did fall, with 2-3 feet of metal rod clipped to my harness, the results could have been nasty. We returned to the crag a few days later and I sent the route, Beth also managed to get through the first 20 meters or so, which is the harder part of the route.

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The next two days were definitely the most eventful of the trip so far. We’d booked some time with Silvia Fitzpatrick, to learn a few more skills, to help us be safer, and hopefully to help us learn the skills needed to do multi-pitch routes. For anyone who doesn’t have a clue what that means, basically what we do most of the time at the minute is called single pitch, climber A goes to the top of the pitch being belayed by climber B, and comes down to the floor again. Then climber B does the same if they want to, being belayed by climber A. Very simple, you’re always able to make it to the ground with the rope you have. Problem is ropes don’t get much longer than about 80m, and they start to get very heavy if you go much longer than that, this limits you to about 40m of climbing, half for the way up and the other half of the rope is used to get you down again.  Multi-pitch allows you to climb, effectively an unlimited height. This is achieved by climber A going to the top of a pitch as before, but then, after securing themselves at the top, they bring climber B to the top, and then to process is repeated from there up another pitch. They length of these routes varies, sometimes they’ll be two pitches or 20m each, other times they could be 10 or more pitches, and 100s of meters tall in total.

So for anyone looking to learn this sort of stuff, we’d definitely recommend Silvia, she was fantastic, she helped us look at a huge number of rope skills, but on top of that, she looked at how we were climbing and gave us advise on how to improve our climbing both mentally and technically which was fantastic. The material covered in each day was a combination of what we said we wanted to learn, and what she thought was important, and what she thought we were ready for. Each session was 5 hours, which was a perfect amount, and after each day we both came back feeling like we’d learnt just the right amount, enough for it to be useful, but not so much that we couldn’t retain it all. So overall we learned different approaches for belaying from above, how to abseil safely with a few different ways of managing the rope while doing so, options for bailing out of a route, how to safely secure a climber so you can take your hands off the belay device, and a loads of other bits a pieces.

Our biggest issue this week as gas, it ran out on us this week. We can only carry a 4.5kg gas tank, which is fairly small, and every petrol station we’d been in hadn’t had anything that kind of size. So we went on the internet to see if we could get any more information, that was a bad idea. Everywhere we looked was saying it was quite hard to get hold of gas in Spain, there was talk or contracts, vehicle inspections all sorts. So we decided that we were going to just wait until we’d met Silvia, and ask her for some advice as it turns out she’s quite the motor home enthusiast.

After a quick conversation we discovered that getting a gas tank our size shouldn’t be too difficult, most hardware stores stock them, so after the first day of our course we headed into town, phrasebook and gas bottle in hand to see if we could sort something. The first place we went to and asked, whipped a gas bottle out from the back, and we thought we were sorted, we couldn’t be more wrong. It turns out that in the UK gas bottles generally come with a tap on them already, which is what we had, in Spain, they don’t. So we could buy the bottle but we had no way of getting any gas from it. The lady in the shop disappeared for a minute and came back with a guy who then started to try and remove the tap from our old bottle, I’m assuming so that we could use it with the new one, but we really had no idea what they were saying at this point. After 5 minutes of trying in the shop, he took us upstairs to a little workshop where we continued trying to remove the tap for the another 5-10 minutes, no joy. At this point I think he told us that it was stuck, and if we tried too hard to take it off, it could go bang, so we said thank you as many times as we could and left. The rest of town didn’t have anything either so we went back to the van to eat tuna sandwiches for tea.

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The next day we had a few free hours in the morning so we decided to try a nearby motor-home showroom that Siliva had told us about the night before. It was about 30 minutes down the road back toward El Chorro. They had a few bits that sort of looked like the right thing, but they were big bulky units, which isn’t what we needed at all. There was a big looking hardware store around the corner, so tried in there. We eventually had a bit more luck here, but not before missing all the signs saying take a number and wait for it to be called, and then missing our number when it was called. After about 15 minutes of terrible attempts at Spanish, pointing, hand gestures and googling words we came away with everything we needed, we fitted the new tank and tap there in the car park, just to make sure we weren’t going to need anything else, thankfully we managed to solve the problem, and it only cost us about 50 euros. Most of that was on the tap, the bottle itself, and the tap, so when this one runs out it won’t cost us half as much because we’ll be trading an empty tank for a new one.

So we originally planned to stay in each of our locations for 4 weeks or so, but we’ve decided to move in, we’re actually going to head to a  place called Albarracin. Originally the plan was to head here in January, after Costa Blanca, but due to restrictions on the climbing in Albarracin from January onwards we’ve decided to go before hand, we’re also hoping it’ll be a bit warmer now than in Jan.

 

As always we’d love to hear from you guys about what you think of our trip so far.

 

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