El Chorro 2024 Trip Report

El Chorro 2024 Trip Report

In a scene reminiscent of a snuggle of sloths being released back into the wild, 34 intrepid but rock starved IMCers took a full 5 days to arrive in El Chorro, the locals looked on in wonder as these pale foreigners, who had endured a long wet Irish winter, were finally let loose to run amok among the Andalusian mountains of Southern Spain.

Poets claim that “In spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” but IMC members know that “In spring a climber’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of dry rock”. Of course, some are made of stern stuff and plot to get to ice, snow or scrambles to enliven the winter months. Others are wiser, patiently watching the weather to seize that rare moment of dry weather for Glendo or Barnbawn.

Most of us, however, pass the long winter evenings content with guidebooks and climbing walls, counting down the dark nights until Easter with its promise of lighter days to come. So when it became known that a sports climbing trip was being planned for Spain and that anyone and everyone was welcome to join, Ryanair staff were very nearly trampled by the stampede of well over 30 club members (including 2 who joined specifically for this trip).

El Chorro was a small sleepy village until first discovered by climbers over 40 years ago, the only employment being maintenance work on the local hydroelectric plant. That was until mountain mad outsiders came looking for accommodation & adventure amid the crags and rock walls – 2 climber friendly hostels became established, Finca La Campana & The Olive Branch.

The climbers explored the local gorge on crumbling walkways built by dam builders in the 1920’s – 20 years ago El Chorro boasted the “worlds most dangerous hike” El Caminito del Rey (the King’s path), originally stepping across gaps in concrete with 100m drops to the torrent below, delicate traverses, finally ending with a sketchy zip line descent on an old and rusty iron cord, unfortunately the hike lived up to its name with a series of tragic accidents which motivated the local government to carry out extensive repairs and renovations making it safe for tourists and families, nowadays up to 10,000 people a week wander through the scenic gorge. El Caminito has been positive for the local economy – the village’s main hotel has been upgraded and our hostel owner proudly told us that now they open all year round, rather than closing during the summer. The attractions have grown with a via ferrata above the town (guides available for the nervous).

With light touch organisation this was very much a build your own adventure trip, we mixed and matched – flying out over 5 different dates with several permutations of flights. Once in the village the 34 of us were spread over 2 hostels, a BnB, the local hotel and at least 2 self-catering villas (whew). With such numbers there was no central hub so WhatsApp proved valuable for coordination– as did meeting up at the railway station café for al fresco beers, chips and excited chats about that days adventures.

There are limited food options in El Chorro – the railway café was good for toasted sandwiches and chips; the stalls at the gorge exodus close early as walkers finish. Groups also ventured to the nearly metropolis of Alora and up the mountain road to Finica Rocabella, a limited menu but amazing steaks. The local hotel La Garganta, which has been revamped, provided superb views and good food (and other treats). Their orange cake is heartily recommended, in fact one person, who will remain nameless, thought the food & service was so good that they left their entire wallet behind as a tip.

Weather in early March was mixed – some sunny days warm enough for shorts and t-shirts; some overcast with a breeze but climbable with layers; the Saturday before we returned was a wash-out with just enough rain to ensure that none of the climbers became too homesick for Ireland. Groups broke off and went to Malaga for the day to explore food markets and museums or indoor climbing gyms, others chilled or went for a soggy hike.

El Chorro was one of the earliest sports climbing venues in Spain and climbers have been soaking the rays and the rock for over 40 years. New crags and routes are still being developed while the rock seems to mostly retain its grip, some of the the lower grades 4 and below were a little worn in places.

The majority of routes are well bolted and the grading friendly. A 60m rope goes well but not everywhere, 70m is better – especially in the Frontales sector, the most intrepid found a route on Escelera Arabe that required their 80m. There were many enjoyable routes at each crag each day, too many to list here

Suffice to say that club groups patronised various multi-pitch routes, all came back happy and satisfied:

  • Rogelio (11 pitches mainly 3-5 but with a 6a move) Mostly easy climbing with scrappy lower grade pitches
  • The Blue line (5c 12 pitches) amenable grades, recommended
  • Lluvia del Asteroids (waterfall of comets – 5c 8 pitches), hard start eases off after pitch 4
  • Amptrax (6a 9 pitches)

Single pitch favourites:

  • Rocabella – short and north facing but amenable routes and a short walk in
  • Serena – a newly bolted crag, only 15 min walk and a sun trap, again with some very amenable routes (but with 1 5c sandbag)
  • Escalera Arabe – a superb crag with longer routes; sectors Sergio and Suiza in particular attracting acclaim, Sergio contained excellent 3 star 6a pitches
  • Frontales – near the railway line; an older crag with shorter walk in and longer pitches. Sadly some of these now off limits due to proximity to trains but still enough to play on
  • Valle del Abdalajis – the next valley over and a selection of vertical / slab and crack climbs on south facing rock

Dave & Tony’s Excellent Adventure on “The Blue Line” multi-pitch:

Wednesday morning, with the finesse of seasoned queue dodgers, Dave & Tony found the start of The Blue Line (12 pitch 5c) by 8am and set off without another climber in sight. As they ascended, the vultures circled lazily overhead, perhaps hoping for some drama to unfold below. But with a breeze so gentle it could put a newborn baby to sleep, and a sky dotted with just enough clouds to provide intermittent relief from the sun’s relentless gaze, the conditions were nothing short of perfection. And even their minor wander off-route felt like a scenic detour through nature’s wonderland, each pitch revealing a more breathtaking panorama than the last. Topping out just 4 short hours later, a quick lunch was followed by an easy walk off back to the car and a short drive to a couple of well deserved drinks.

It wasn’t all climbing

Many of the group walked the El Caminito del Rey and found it impressive (despite the number of other walkers).

Others went for the via ferrata – with an early start recommended to avoid queuing. Gerard was one of the first to brave it, in fact Gerard was so eager to start early that he forgot his harness, and then when he returned with the harness, he realised he’d forgotten his helmet too, but like the intrepid IMCer that he is, throwing caution to the wind, he dug deep and went on anyway. Hauling himself ever higher up the seemingly never-ending steel rungs steeper and steeper he climbed, no doubt thankful that he had chosen to wear dark coloured underwear that day, with occasional rain drops flecking the rock, he finally made it to the dreaded zip line – looking a lot longer and higher than had been expected, thoughts of retreat entered his mind, the missing helmet a worthy excuse. But backtracking was not an option and knowing that so many others had gone before him and survived, he valiantly pressed on literally into and over the abyss.

In his own words: “I backed up the pully with a sling and crab. Put on gloves. Stepped back from the edge Stepped out again and down a little to the last possible ledge, with slings at full extension. Took a deep breath, grabbed the 2 slings (pully and crab). Pushed off and SCREAMED… Not surprisingly the extra friction from the backup crab meant I hadn’t enough momentum and had to haul myself the last few metres to the next section of the via ferrata. But I’d done it; after that the 2 wire bridges, even swaying in the wind, were a doddle.”

Overall a great trip and a much needed dose of spring rock – though perhaps less so for one climber who took a fall on the final day; hurting his ankle and was last seen being chauffeur driven in a wheelchair around Malaga airport.

Special mention to Moira’s crew for promoting goodwill for the club, they were kind enough to help out a fellow climber who’s funds had run out and needed a lift to the airport.

And John Ryan who stepped up during a medical emergency on the return flight to heroically save a fellow passenger from some dodgy cooking

Credit: Gerard O’Sullivan, Dave Homan & Pierse