A Trip Report by Dan Horwitch, RMF Board Member
Trip type: Rock Climbing
Destination: El Chorro, Andalusia, Spain
When: February 2/14/19 – 2/22/19
Logistics: Fly to Malaga (via any one of multiple airlines); drive approximately 30 km/1 hour or take the train to El Chorro.
After landing in Malaga, Gypsy, Joe and I met Brian and found our way to our respective rental cars in the airport. Brian, having learned the previous year that shopping is extremely limited in and around El Chorro, led us to a large supermarket to load up on supplies for the week. We then caravanned to our destination via the scenic route, i.e. through one village with roads barely wide enough for our cars and entailing one stream crossing.
Due to doubts about my fitness after a little bicycle mishap back in August, I signed on for the trip to El Chorro too late to secure a bed in the house that Brian had rented. So I rented a “cottage” for a reasonable price down the road at Finca la Campaña, somewhat reminiscent of La Posada in El Potrero Chico (Mexico), except I had a little kitchenette enabling me to make breakfast and prepare a lunch every day. Camping is also available there with a common cooking area, basic groceries, pool, washing machine, among other amenities.
I connected with Andy the next day to climb. We hadn’t met before but he was part of Brian’s RI/Mass crew and, like me, wasn’t staying in the group house. Andy had opted to camp at the Olive Branch, a place similar to mine and conveniently located right up the road. Andy was an experienced mountaineer and trad climber but didn’t have much experience clipping bolts. Not aware of how strong he was, he was happy to start out on easy, single-pitch routes before getting on the multi-pitch routes that are one of El Chorro’s attractions. That suited me just fine because I wasn’t sure how strong I was after my climbing and hiking layoff.
On our first day we headed to Rocabella, a crag that hadn’t made it into even the most recent guidebook but Brian had found an online topo for. After driving up a dusty, bumpy road, we parked in the obvious lot and hiked the ten-minute approach. Although small (some routes were shorter than routes I’ve done in the gym!), there were several nicely bolted easy and moderate routes. Best of all, the limestone was of the gritty, sharp, confidence-instilling, high-friction type. We climbed 10 routes that day and agreed that, in El Chorro, we had come to the right place.
The next day we picked up Lee Ann and drove about 30 minutes to Valle de Abdalajis and climbed most of the routes in the Central sector. The grades were similar to Rocabella but the routes were a little longer. I liked the way the bolts were relatively close at the start of the routes and got progressively, but not unreasonably, further apart the higher up and out of danger of ground fall one climbed. That night we had dinner at Rocabella (same name as the crag), probably the best restaurant in the area. Except for Monday and Tuesday when it is closed, many of us met there for dinner every evening. There are a few other options in the area for when it is closed, just not as good.
Day three took us to Escalara Arabe, Suiza sector to do the 6-pitch Los Arcangeles. After a little thrashing around and one false start, we got on this very pleasant climb. Since the anchor at the top of the 5th pitch isn’t in plain site, Andy blew by it to the top. Fortunately, we were using a 70 meter rope which was just enough to link the last 2 pitches and enabled us to easily descend in 5 rappels.
We decided to make day 4 a rest day and use it to find the approach and start of our goal for the following day. Three-Sixty in lower Corral East is another easy 6-pitch route, one of the attractions of which is the 360º view from the summit. Parties on the route that day helped confirm its location and enabled us to find it quickly and be the first ones on it the next day. I should say, though, that it was pretty easy to be the first ones on the day’s routes. Usually, I would pick up Andy at 9:30 or so and invariably we would be the first ones at the crag or route. Maybe it was the weather, which was colder than I anticipated, or just the culture, but often we wouldn’t see other climbers drifting in until noon or later.
The next day we had a good time on Three-Sixty. We were inspired by a goat we saw off to the side of the route up the equivalent of one pitch. Andy opted to test himself on the 6a (5.10a/b) variation for the final pitch and had little difficulty with it – and that with a large pack in which he was kind enough to carry my hiking pole for the walk-off (with one rappel) descent.
Except for day 2 with Lee Ann, we hadn’t climbed with any one else in the crew. The consensus for day 6 was to climb Three-Sixty. Andy and I were fine with it, agreeing it would be nice to hang with everyone and we could lead the opposite pitches from the day before. Deb, who doesn’t lead, needed a partner so she tied into the middle of our rope and went second on every pitch while Andy and I leapfrogged. We went last and after descending, all met up where most of the crew another single pitch route or two.
The next day, I drove back to Malaga for my noon flight home. I never returned a car as dusty as I did that day, thanks to all the dirt roads we drove in and around El Chorro. But for a family commitment I had made, I would have stayed longer. There are many more routes to do – more crags, and longer and harder routes. I would definitely go back!
Story and photos by Dan Horwich.