First Impressions of Costa Blanca – Sun, Sea & Climbing
Having joined the IMC trip to Nice last November, we were keen for some more continental sports climbing in the sun but unable to make the dates of Ian’s trip to Costa Blanca. Undaunted, within a couple of weeks of returning from Nice, we had booked passage to Alicante flying out the Thursday before Easter and returning the following Friday.
Being our first visit to the area, we decided to stay at The Orange House in Finestrat. It is well located, pretty much 30 minutes drive to crags in all directions, and whilst situated in a nice, quiet country area, it is only 5 minutes away from a large retail park with Lidl, Carrefour & more. As well as that all your fellow guests are climbers, so at breakfast, sitting in the sun by the pool, you can chat away and get their insight into crags & climbs.
If you’re going to Costa Blanca, you’ll need a hire car to get around. We used Lara Cars and have no complaints, we were met off the flight and taken straight to the car a few minutes away in the short term car park, 5 minutes for paper work & payment and we were on the road. Navigating Spanish roads is easy enough, I had a freebie satnav (Navmii) on the phone which we used together with a bit of cop on which got us where we wanted no problem.
I’d got the Rockfax book well in advance and figured out where I wanted to go, which areas would give us best value for our abilities (at the moment I climb VS tops, which according to Rockfax is equivalent to grade 4/4+, but in reality we found grade 5/5+ to be more equivalent to VS and I even dipped my toe in a couple of 6a’s).
Good Friday – Sierra de Toix – Far Oeste
For our first day we opted for simple, easy access single pitch routes of which there are plenty at Sierra de Toix (pronounced Toysh), especially at the Far Oeste crag. The first few we got to were occupied by families top roping their kids but further along, from Gracias Uwa 4+ onwards were some nice little climbs with stings in their tails, the best being Grand Grill* 5+.
Encouraged by this we went back to the now emptier main section to do some easy multi-pitch revision, the 2 pitch Bernd* 4.
Saturday – Sierra de Toix – Este (Left)
Back to Toix for some multi-pitching. An educational visit. The Este(Left) crag is more remote & exposed, in comparison to yesterday, we were the only ones there. On impulse I opt for 4 pitch Espolón Arta 4 to get a feel for things.
We haven’t done much multi-pitching, so I fancied something easy that would get us into the rhythm and see how fast & efficiently we moved. I took the first & third pitches which (not entirely by chance) were the best. After the first pitches these climbs tend to become a bit scrappy and there are a profusion of bolts leading to a little route confusion. Due to the more slabby nature of these upper pitches, in places mud & gravel had been washed over the rock which made for an awkward traverse at one point. We got to the top by a line that was probably right allowing for foreshortening in the topo photo.
There was then a bit of discussion about the way down. Supposedly a straight line abseil down the line of Horst would bring us to within a few metres of where we started, but from the ab point I felt we were too far over – and the line of Horst was not obvious at all; we could easily end up bashing through thorn bushes and not being able to locate subsequent ab chains. We ended up abseiling down the line we had climbed. In retrospect, it would have been better to climb Horst first so that we then knew where it was and where the chains were.
Back at the bottom we met a friendly self-belaying German who told us he only climbed the first pitches in this crag as it was so scrappy above. So we did the first pitch of Horst* 4+ (a dropped belay presenting a first chance to use an Italian hitch in anger) followed by Spatz* 5, the latter notable for it’s razor sharp holds and for snagging our rope after ab’ing off.
Easter Sunday –
Olta – Sierra de Toix – Placa
On Sunday we decided to head to Olta which takes a winding road up to a forestry car park & campsite. Unfortunately, many of the locals had obviously forgone a morning of munching chocolate eggs and got there before us. The car park was jammed and the road approaching it nearing gridlock. Having lost time we decided to head back to Sierra de Toix, as it was the nearest crag, and try a different area.
We wanted more multi-pitching, the popular routes on Oeste were taken but the Placa area was empty. We started on the 3 pitch Lara** 4+ although pretty much ran pitch 1 & 2 together.
I took pitch 3 which was quite exposed and slabby with well spaced bolts leading to some focused contemplation at times. The chain was taken by a party who had started up Ana after us but we had a good chat at the top and enjoyed the view. At least with 60m half ropes we could (just) get back down to the bags in one go. After that we went for the 2 pitch Anto* 5, again I took the final pitch which is where the fun was to be had, a great climb.
Easter Monday – Guadalest – Esther’s Chimney
Guadalest was fairly busy, as you’d expect for an Easter Monday, but the parking for the crag is out of town, down a fairly narrow windy road (I’m glad we had a small hire car). We wanted to do Esther’s Chimney*** S(4a) having heard about other IMC members visits there. It’s not a hard climb but has definite novelty value. It’s not in the Rockfax book but starts around the corner from the Penya Maura area, a topo PDF can be downloaded from the Compass West website.
The first pitch is now bolted and is a nice climb in itself with a good chain at the top.
The second pitch is merely a via ferrata style traverse to the foot of the chimney. The third pitch is where the fun begins, heading up 20m of vertical passageway in the rock. There’s no bolting here and not much protection but it’s safe enough and has an ab ring at the top. It’s one of those climbs that’s so enjoyable you find yourself laughing as you make you way up it.
The fourth pitch is interesting, seemingly committing at first as you step out of a window in the passageway onto the main face again, now some distance above the road. There is a single bolt to confirm you are headed in the right direction but after that nothing, so you will need a bit of gear to get you to the chain up above.
From the chain I’m pretty sure you could ab straight down and find the chains at the top of Makarrereta & Inevitable, but not 100% sure. With two 60m ropes you might even make it down in one, but the chances of the ropes getting snagged on rocks or thorn bushes thereafter are high. I’d asked Ian before and he said he’d always ab’ed back down the climb, so we went back the way we came. Tricky swinging back into the window at the top of the chimney but at least you get to go through it again.
After that we fancied a go at Amber Lights** S(4b) to the right of Esther’s Chimney. Dorota lead off, taking the line of The Haze 4 to start, again a great climb on it’s own. But the weather changed, it had clouded over and a cold wind had come up (for those stood around in shorts & T-shirt) so we called it a day and headed for tourism & ice cream in Guadalest town.
Tuesday – Day Off
On Tuesday we took a break from climbing and did a spot of tourism including a brief (but not brief enough) visit to Benidorm and further on to the more amenable Altea.
Wednesday – Echo Valley – Echo 1.5
Echo Valley is a phenomenal outcrop of crags. The potential of this area has only been scratched (and in places, subsequently polished). Echo 1.5 is a popular roadside crag and the lower section was nearly full when we arrived. The upper section was empty and looked more interesting anyway, so we went up there. I did Synovial* 5 which certainly got me warmed up, a great climb with, again, some brutally sharp edges for holds. We took it easy doing the rest of the lower grade climbs and when the party from the lower crag came up, we went down.
I did Phantom* 5+ which has all the work at the start and then took a go at XMAS* 6a which was fine until it became polished slab, so I crossed over onto the upper half of Regalo por Ali** 5 which was much more work than the 5+ I had just done. A balancy rock over finish with screaming finger tips tensed into the merest of limestone dimples. It was good but it was time to call it a day.
I’d wanted to have a look at the El Castellet/Wasp area in Echo valley but it was definitely time for an ice cream. And you have to save something for next time.
Thursday – Guadalest – Penya l’Alcalà (Right)
Our final day of climbing and back to Guadalest for single pitches. Penya l’Alcalà (Right) is a good area on a sunny day as the trees come right up to the crag (hence the confusing topo image in Rockfax). There’s a series of climbs here that consist of polished bouldering problem starts with easy finishes. We did a few of these and then dropped further down to Aprendieno a Escalar 4+ an interesting little route up a rib and then stepping across a large chockstone to the main face.
Later, sat down at the foot of this eating lunch, a red squirrel appeared, looked up the line and followed the same route we’d just done. Free solo. Fumbling with the camera I managed to take a picture of its tail as it leapt onto the chockstone.
After lunch we decided to head back to Amber Lights** S(4b) and give it a go. I started off, again up the line of The Haze 4 traversing left at the end to reach a good chain. The next pitch looked a bit more challenging closer up, so I got lead again. It started fine with ample shiny new bolts but then required a bridge into a groove of freshly exposed rock. It was still a bit loose here and the only hold a wobbling but seemingly sound piece of rock. I started across and up but my second obviously picked up on my uncertainty and revolted. The bolts at this point had become sparse and as the rock was recently exposed it had a totally different character, much more blocky with far fewer cracks & crevices for fingers. I decided to move off the line, out to the right and drop some gear in. Ahead I could see an abseil ring but I was obviously off line and on looser material, favoured only by the birds. I was barely 15m up the pitch but had reached one of those “it’s probably better to keep going up than down” moments.
With bloody knuckles I mantled onto the ledge near the ab ring, looked for a fleeting moment at the continuation of the proper line – it looks like a great climb, but not today – I made myself safe and rigged an abseil with shaky fingers whilst my second sunbathed and casually took photos.
Back down at the bags we decided it would be best to make sure the ice cream shop in Guadalest was still in business.
Lara Cars (www.laracars.com/rentacar/) – Skoda Fabia 9 days €149 + €61 for a full tank of fuel (which lasted us just about perfectly)
Navmii Free SatNav (http://navmii.com/#action) – quirky at times but you can download maps and so don’t have to be online to use it. Also, it helps to predefine the crag parking locations as favourites so you can just hit the button and go.
The Orange House (http://theorangehouse.co.uk/) – lots of useful info on their website, even if you don’t stay, and some additional topos for newly developed areas.
The Book (http://www.rockfax.com/climbing-guides/books/costa-blanca-2013/)
Compass West Topos (http://www.compasswest.co.uk/topos/) – you can find Esther’s Chimney & Amber Lights here:
Guadalest Lower Amphitheatre