El Chorro | ‘New Kid on the Rock’
This weekend has been one of the most exciting / terrifying I’ve had in a while. My destination: El Chorro - a mecca for climbers in Southern Spain.
It’s important at this stage, to point out I’m not a climber. Aside from a few clumsy sessions at the local bouldering wall, I’m one of those ‘got the shoes, but not the moves’ kind of people.
Thankfully, Paul, my other half, is a big enough climbing nerd for the both of us, so he sorted our climbing kit while I fretted about whether my bag would meet Ryanair’s standards.
After a 2-hour flight from Bournemouth to Malaga, we picked up the hire car and arrived at the rock for late afternoon - it’s only an hour drive from the airport. Just enough time to get aquainted with the lump of limestone I’d be spending the majority of the weekend with.
We booked flights through Ryanair for £45pp return and car hire cost £12 for 4 days through RecordGo.
You can also get a train direct to Alora or El Chorro very easily.
My First Ever Multi-Pitch
After a night of smiling and nodding along at my newfound travel buddies talking excitedly about planned routes, kit and grades, I was beginning to feel massively out of my depth. (See below for my newfound knowledge of climbing terminology).
Saturday was the big day. My first ever mutipitch route.
A five minute drive lead us directly to the foot of the intimidating rock face. Vultures (YES vultures!) soared above.
We began a slow, steady ascent of a multi-pitch route called Rogelio. It’s mix of small ledges, gently angled slabs and the odd olive tree along the way - bloody beautiful stuff.
Paul lead the route and I followed, dutifully collecting the quickdraws as I climbed. It helped distract me from thoughts of death and kept me moving forward to the next bolt.
I’ve never climbed something ‘slabby’ before; it meant I could concentrate on my footwork and conserve some energy in my arms (they need all the help they can get!).
Things were going great. The views were epic. The sun was shining. Paul was finally getting some climbing enthusiasm from me… and then came pitch 9.
A bitch of a pitch. Shit just got real.
My safety net of ledges and angles disappeared. Cue steep, open rock and dizzying heights.
It suddenly hit me:
- I’m really, really high
- I’m really, really scared
- Do vultures eat climbers
- Does this harness work
- I don’t trust this stupid yellow rope
The panic rose, tears sprang to my eyes and all I could do to get myself to the next pitch was to take deep breaths and swear. A LOT.
I reached Paul’s feet and hugged the rock, grateful of a rest but to my horror the next belay point was a ‘hanging’ belay - my feet teetering on a few centimetres of rock, with my body hanging over the edge.
I’d unwittingly ascended from my fluffy 4a world to 6a+ terror. More swearing ensued.
It’s surprising how a bit of fear can rally you into action. I was so determined to get to the top that I attacked the next 6a pitch like my nemisis. It may have made me cry but it wasn’t going to get the best of me. A lot of huffing and puffing later and I had made it - crying, laughing and panting.
Strong look. My first ever multi-pitch climb was complete.
We walked off the top 5 hours later feeling super proud and a bit giddy with excitement. It’s been a long time since I’ve done something out of my comfort zone - what a buzz.
Sunday was thankfully a more relaxed affair of shorter climbs in caves and on arêtes, basking in the Winter sun. We even managed to squeeze in a beer at El Chorro’s Station Bar before the sun dipped behind the mountains. Perfect.
Accommodation | The Olive Branch
The Olive Branch is a hub for climbers and hikers, nestled at the foot of El Chorro’s climbing routes.
We stayed in a great ensuite double room for £45 B&B per night.
They also have a campsite and a bunkhouse on site too. Prices start from €9 a night.
It’s wonderfully relaxed, with incredible views. The eclectic staff team (mostly climbers) work in the kitchen on a rota in return for bed and board. They serve monumental dinners and breakfasts - perfect fuel for a long day’s climbing.
All the volunteering staff bring their own expertise and personality the place to offer great little extras; Yoga lessons on the deck, massage on the terrace and the BEST Minstrels flapjacks.
There’s also a swimming pool, which although ice-cold in November, is perfect to dip your feet in after a day spent scrunched in climbing shoes.
Things I’ve learnt
- Dragging myself out of my comfort zone was a massive buzz - I really should get out more
- Climbers are actually nice to newbies. I met some great people who were excited to share my triumphs, including complete strangers
- Climbing for me is currently ‘Type 2 fun’. i.e It doesn’t feel fun at the time but amazing once I’ve done it!
- Thinking about my feet was a real game-changer
- I swear A LOT under pressure
- El Chorro is bloody beautiful
The Newbie’s Guide to Climbing Chat
Slabby - When the rock is angled at an incline (it makes me feel safe and happy)
Polished - When the rock has been climbed so much that the rock turns shiny like glass
Greasy - If a route has been climbed a lot it becomes slippery or ‘greasy’
Pumpy - The state of being exhausted to point of fear of falling (A very familiar feeling to me!)
Chalky - When a route has had so many climber’s chalky little hands smothering the holds
Smearing - When you have to spread your limbs wide across the rock, usually on tiny holds
Arete - Small ridge-like feature or a sharp outward facing corner on a steep rock face
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