(by Ben Warren, from IMC Newsletter, winter 2005)
A pre-Christmas week of hotrock climbing in Spain.
To brutally murder a quote from Easy Rider by paraphrasing it, “ I Never really thought of myself as a sergeant major but then again I love to sergeant major” (sorry Denis Hopper). That sums up what I learnt about myself on our recent trip to the Costa Blanca. “Get up you lazy *****”, tripped naturally from my tongue at 8am every morning. Only one other occupant of the flat was able to rouse himself without me, usually at about 5am, when the balcony, toilet etc., that he had fallen asleep on in a comatose state, got too cold. Must be something about sun, sea, Benidorm and sangria.
I have had a long, if not regular, association with the Costa Blanca, my first trip there was sometime in 1992/3. It was a bit less polished then (the crags and me): long term camping at Sella with no showers or money, but I was a lot stronger so I remember it fondly. Since then I have been a few times. December 2005 was the second year running that a group of IMC and Galway climbers headed for a last fling before Christmas rendered us too heavy for the rest of the winter.
There are tons of long, multi-pitch, adventurous and scary sea cliff climbs in the Costa Blanca, but if you want to read about that then someone else is going to have to write an article. For me Spain has always been about baking your bones in the sun, eating good ham and cheese outdoors, having a sociable time at the crag and climbing on lovely pockety limestone with lots of shiny bolts. Maybe it is not really climbing but there is so much fun to be had in these places and the inclusion of the bolt turns it into a different sport altogether. You get so used to them that unless it is shiny and has Petzl stamped in it you start to get worried. A shocking state of affairs since I have not once seen a bolt that really is dodgy. There is none of that shonky American rivet stuff over there, or at least not that I have seen.
For the last couple of years we have based ourselves in Benidorm, which I constantly seem to be telling people is “a lot better than you think”. Benidorm once had an old town (it probably was not that nice even then) but it has since mushroomed into a monster with two sweeping arcs of high-rises and bars along a beach, either side of a headland. The headland itself houses the best part of the town, were we have stayed on both trips. 16 of us travelled in total this year: 10 from the IMC and 6 from Galway.
Accommodation in flats is easy to come by in early/mid December. A bed in a reasonable sized, clean flat works out at around 7 euro per night. The food in Benidorm is variable, especially if 16 people are trying to decide where to eat. But it is possible to eat reasonably well (if not imaginatively) for a good price. My advice is if you find somewhere you like stick with it as you are unlikely to find better.
A motorway runs the length of the Costa and the drive to most of the crags is easy and straightforward. On one of the days we went to Aventador and it took 1.5 hours to get there, which was the longest drive of the holiday and is exceptional. In contrast Toix, which we spent 3 days on, was only 20 minutes down the road.
We had great weather for the entire trip and climbed on all but one day, the tiredness and alcohol induced rest day. On the first day we headed out to Toix Oeste. A great crag with a wall of routes starting with a trainer climbable 3+ and ending with some lovely 5+s. We climbed something in the region of 16 routes each that day. A bit of a mistake (and one we had made the previous year as well). It sounds like a great way to get you back into the groove, but you end up shattered, or at least we did.
Buoyed by the success of day 1, we headed for Aventador the next day. A good drive but well worth it. Aventador is a lovely wall of dark limestone overlooking a wooded valley. We had the crag to ourselves for the entire day. There is a train line below the crag, but the region’s trains make Ireland look well provided for as we only saw two trains all day. Aventador saw the start of a pattern that would hold for the rest of the holiday. On arrival at the crag Steve would fall sound asleep as soon as possible, claiming an illness of some sort. Personally I only know one illness caused by sangria. We did a number of lovely routes on mediocre bolts. Some nice slabby routes, an overhanging crack and a face and overlap route or two. Well worth the trip.
We revisited Toix the next day. You know sometimes you just get it against a crag. (And, by this, I do not mean the kind of hatred Steve has for Glendo because you have to walk.) Well I do not like Toix Est. However, if you are not in a fussy mood you can belay from the car and the view is good out to Calpe and the Pennon. We finished the day at Toix TV on some lovely 5s and 6s. Great climbing and a lesson in why not to tie in with a bowline if you are not sure. The rope became detached from one of our party half way up the crag, thankfully a large ledge was available and some friendly English climbers (we are not all grumpy b*****ds) were available to help and reattach Edwige who with characteristic offhandedness just ran up the second half of the route as if nothing had happened. It appears that her biggest concern in the hole episode had been that she might not get to finish what was a lovely route.
Most of the days ended at around 4 or 5pm and then we headed back to the flat for about 2 hours while our erstwhile meets secretary. had the longest showers known to man. Food was a mixed affair, sometimes we cooked, sometimes we went out to eat. But every evening ended in Twiggy’s (so called because the proprietor looks like a female Iggy Pop). Twiggy’s is a good bar, sangria a plenty, pool, table football and a view down the beach. There is something perversely spectacular about the line of high-rises lit up against the floodlit beach. There always seemed to be someone from our group closing the place out, the same someone actually.
Fully rested after a day off (as much to do with the Sangria as the sore arms) we headed south to Marin. Like Aventador this crag was new to me and I will be going back. A nice location high up, overlooking a valley makes for a good start. The rock is lovely sharp slabs, pockets and flow stone, it has it all. We were there on a bank holiday so it was probably as busy as it gets and it still felt deserted. We got in a good bag of routes, starting with some single pitch climbs and moving on to some lovely multi pitch face routes. We ended the day with a sunset climb up a lovely ridge, 2 pitches at about 4+. Probably the easiest but the most enjoyable route of the holiday, for those of us who like me can admit to being a bumbly.
We returned to Toix the next day. It is a massive crag with lots of different sectors and it appears to get more good weather than most crags. A large gang of us were there this day, all but the most adventurous two of the IMC heads. Good fun, lots of routes and a spectacular sunset, that almost, but only almost made Benidorm look good in the distance.
For our final day it was back to Forada, we had been to this crag the previous year and I had loved it (not just because it drew blood from Steve). It is in a great location, the drive is almost as much fun as the climbing, hire cars really are the best 4wheel drives there are. With the trip almost over, we were all a bit weary and not much fell beneath our shiny new climbing boots. Barry joined Steve in the extreme sleeping club sub branch of the IMC. But the sun and scenery made it a worthwhile trip, even if I will be bitter to the end that I ballsed up the lovely 6a I had spied last year and had down as the last great route of the holiday.
In the last two years we have only touched the surface of Costa Blanca’s climbing, this year we only visited 2 crags that we had visited the previous year, and there are still plenty more to go. It is varied in rock, setting and climbing style, it is close, cheap, sunny, there is sangria, and you can sleep outside during the day in December, what more could you want. Roll on next Christmas.