19 of us met up bleary eyed for the 7am flight from Dublin to Alicante on Sat 8 March. Half the flight was made up of Spanish teenagers, who were probably going home after a school trip to Ireland. There was a big cheer out of them when we touched down in Alicante and looking out at the bright sunshine and 20 degrees we could see why. It was a handy 1 hour transfer up to our accommodation at Finepark mountain lodge, a couple of km outside Finestrat and about 10km away from Benidorm. This was a great find by Ian Christie because the lodge was big enough to accommodate all of us, which made for great social evenings, with all the group together each night. 4 who flew in later had to put up with the hardship of staying in a house by the pool a 100m away.
The pattern from day 1 was drinks after dinner in the big common room until the wee hours (well 1am most nights) and muchos cerveza and rioja was had at bargain prices. Thankfully there was no dancing on tables but ear plugs were recommended for early nighters.
On the first afternoon, 10 of us trekked up to have a look at the start of ‘Espolon Central’, the 13 pitch monster climb up Puig Campana (at 1400m the 2nd highest mountain on the Costa Blanca). This climb ranged from 3 (VD) to 4+ (VS) but with the serious exposure applying and route finding being critical I decided it was one to aim for next year. However, Kevin Coakley, Ian Christie, Peter Woods and Barry Watts went off satisfied and ready for their assault a few days later. James Aitken cooked a great meal for us all that first night and by 10pm we had our full complement of 23 (asthose coming by the later Ryanair flight were then in).
The first day we all went to Sierra de Toix (well all bar John Duignan and Hugh Reynolds who being the cute ones with a priority car booking had made a dash for Toix straight from the airport the day before and so went elsewhere). Toix is an impressive sea cliff face about 10km north of Benidorm and with a choice of 222 sport routes (ranging from 3 to 8a+) you could spend your week just here alone! There are great views of the coast and the mountains inland from here. Just a short walk from the car park is Toix far Oest, a nice short rock face (single pitch climbing) which had some 3s, and plenty of 4 and 4+s for us to get used to rock again (after a winter indoors). Most of us amused ourselves on this face for the day, as there were 27 routes to choose from. I was climbing with Brian Lawless, as well as Aine O’Reilly and James Aitken, who shared our car.
The second day we went to the crag beside the picturesque village of Guadalest, which is perched on top of an impressive limestone pinnacle and has an imposing castle watch tower and church. We went to the Penya Alcalà area which had a number of 4 and 4+s for us to warm up on. Peter and Barry were climbing beside us and told us that Ian, Kevin, Niall and Tina Ennis had gone off to do an impressive Trad route called Esther’s Chimney (which climbs up through a vertical tunnel hollowed out in the mountain by erosion).
After lunch we moved over to that crag called ‘Penya Maura’ and we met Ian who was just back down and so able to give us details of the climb which was 3 pitches long and took about 3½ hours to do. We decided to give it a go (the first pitch at least) and because it was now mid afternoon Aine lead off up the left side (with James), following Ian’s earlier route, and in order to save time, I lead off up the right side (with Brian) at the same time. Ian had warned us that he had had difficulty getting good protection in and had found this pitch the most committing. This was certainly the case, there was some ‘psychological’ gear put in (that you didn’t really want to fall on), but we both made it up without incident. It was part HS, part VS, but climbing it ‘on-sight’, unsure of protection and unsure what was coming next definitely made it feel VS all the way. The limestone was very sharp compared to the bolted routes and really made us appreciate what the people who developed this area had to deal with in the early days (I imagine an even stronger aversion against falling than usual and a fair investment in rock shoes).
By stark contrast the 2nd pitch through the chimney inside the mountain was completely smooth and quite straightforward, but because it was so unusual it made the climb particularly memorable. The final pitch was surprisingly short and not too difficult, but exiting out of a small window in the rock onto an exposed face by an airy delicate move this proved equally memorable. On top of the climb a fantastic view of Guadalest on one side and a turquoise coloured reservoir on the other greeted us.
The third day we went to Vall de Guadar (Echo Valley) which per the Rockfax guide “is one of the more impressive mountainous limestone regions in the Costa Blanca. Compared to many of the other crags in the Costa Blanca it is relatively unspoilt and quiet which makes it a great venue for those who are after a bit of solitude far from the madding crowds.” There are 8 climbing areas and we climbed in the Echo 1.5 area (which offered a number of humane grades as well as harder stuff). We warmed up on a number of short single pitch 4s and 4+s, though accidentally did a 5 to start with, and then moved to longer 25m climbs on the upper face. The first of these ‘Romero’s birthday’, graded 4, I found more committing and difficult than the short 5 I did earlier (so certainly one that I would swap the grades around on). Meanwhile Aine and James found an extended climb all the way from the lower crag up onto the upper crag and up to the top on an oddly named route calle ‘Sesamoid’. The imposing face of ‘Aran de Batistot’ and fine views back to the coast made Echo Valley another very scenic place to climb. Meanwhile, today being the last of the very good weather days Kevin, Ian, Peter and Barry had gotten up at 6.30am and gone to Puig Campana to tackle the epic 13 pitch classic ‘Espolon Central’ climb up the east face of it.
That evening we discovered that Eric, Geraldine, Przemek and Karolina, had done the very airy and imposing grade 5 (HVS) Magical Mystery Tour route on Sierra de Toix.
Three solid days climbing done at this stage we were keen to give the fingers a break from pure climbing and so we hatched plans to have a climbing ‘rest day’ and instead go for the Castellets ridge walk. Per the Rockfax guide “sandwiched between the rock climbing meccas of the Sella valley and the majestic Puig Campana is a serrated ridge of marathon proportions – Castellets. The ridge is composed of a multitude of summits linked by dizzying, and at times difficult knife-edge aretes. There is the magnificent traverse of the first section of the ridge, the El Realet Ridge”. Unfortunately, after escaping for 4 days someone in Met Eireann discovered where we were and sent some Irish weather over our way and so the forecast for Wednesday was suddenly for high winds and rain showers. Knife edge aretes not being the best place to be in high winds and rain we quickly changed plans on Wed morning. As the wind and rain was sweeping in from the north east, we scoured the guide for SW facing crags and found that a low down crag across the road from Echo Valley was just right and so back we went to Echo Valley on day 4. In the end the showers didn’t amount to much and being Spain the rock dried out immediately after so we got a number of good climbs in.
Needing a break from climbing all the time we took the opportunity to set up a top rope from an overhang in order to practice self ascending a rope using harness and foot prussiks (and this was meant to be a rest day!) Ian and a few others were climbing up at the main face of Echo Valley. We had hatched a plan earlier that if the weather held we might walk from Echo Valley back over the mountains, around Puig Campana to Finestrat (a walk of about 10km which Ian had done last year and highly recommended). Luckily the weather held and so Ian, Aine, James and myself, set off from the top of Echo Valley over the mountains to complete this walk late in the afternoon. So much for a ‘rest day’, but I have to say, the views were fantastic (far exceeding my expectations) and ‘Ballymun by the Sea’ (Benidorm) actually looked pretty good from up there (like some futuristic space city). The inland countryside and mountain views are stunning. The view of the knife edged Castellets ridge in the twilight, with mountain ranges behind it continuing to the horizon was particularly good. We even had a full moon rise up over Puig Campana to make it a magical walk back in the last of the daylight.
On the fifth day, the forecast was for more serious rain, so we decided to use high tech methods to decide where to go i.e. we stuck our heads out the lodge door to see which way the wind was blowing and which way looked least grey. We gambled on a dash back to the coast and Sierra de Toix (as it jutted out of the coast and might escape some of the rain). This turned out to be a good gamble because we spent a full day
On our final day, we travelled to Olta (which sits just inland from the massive 300m tower of the Peñon d’Ifach which looms over Calpe). We picked Olta because there were lots of routes to choose from at our grade and because we got to finish off in style with stunning views of the Penon d’Ifach (probably the most famous landmark on the coast). We got in several climbs and finished on a brilliant climb up onto a pinnacle, which gave fine views of the Penon and the coast. That night our hosts at Finepark mountain lodge laid on a huge bbq and we all feasted, told tales, and drank under the stars. Out came the guitar, and Karl, the new voice of Finestrat, gave it socks and led the way in belting out the songs.
We climbed for 6 days in a row and had barely scratched the surface of what the Costa Blanca has to offer. We climbed in 4 different locations and in 1 / 2 areas in each. However, to put it in context, the Rockfax guide lists 50 different locations, many with over a dozen different areas in each, a total of 3,500 sport routes, and 21 featured Trad routes (there are many Trad routes, like Esther’s Chimney, which aren’t in the guide, as it focuses on sports routes). We didn’t even make it to the most extensive climbing location in the Costa Blanca, Sella which has 317 routes, albeit, mostly in the higher grades. All the places we climbed were within a 40 minute drive from our accommodation (Echo Valley was only 20 minutes away). Within a 1 to 1½ hour radius from Finestrat dozens of locations are in range and many only have a short walk in to them. The choice of climbing areas and climbs are huge. I reckon you could go to the Costa Blanca every year for over a dozen years and keep climbing new areas every year. Thanks to Ian for a great trip. I can’t wait to get back . . .
Holiday info: Fly to Alicante (c.€150) Aer Lingus or Ryanair
Car Hire: (c€50), if you add full ‘crash and bash’ insurance and petrol (c.€200 for the week)
Finepark Lodge was €17 pp per night (€119 for the week)
We used the Rockfax Costa Blanca climbing guide.
Also, lots of info online on Rockfax [Spain, Costa Blanca]
Also see – Costa Blanca Climbing