When in Benidorm…climb!?!
In true After the Send style, we got to the airport with five minutes to check in. In this short space of time, Pymn went and bought some drinks at the most expensive bar in the world (yes, the airport bar), Tom waited with the bags and I went to get my Euros. We had just about finished our drinks as the queue to get on the plane died down. We were lucky that Ryanair didn’t seem to be checking the size of your hand luggage as our three giant rucksacks filled with climbing and camera gear were not going to fit in the test slots, and we breezed through.
On the plane ready for a nap before the nine days of climbing in extreme heat… queue the hen party and stag do shouting match…
Saturday morning, we awoke to the burning heat of Spain, and no cloud cover. We made a plan the night before while we had dinner and some beers: we would start by heading to the shops to get breakfast and lunch, after smashing down some food we would head to our first climb. The climb was a 425 metre route up a mountain which you could see from the hostel, called Puig Campana. This impressive route follows a selection of cracks, chimneys and an arête to the top. We set off in the middle of the day with the bare minimum and lots of water. Pymn had a rope tied around him like a rucksack, Tom had a couple of bottles of water and I had all my camera gear. In addition, we each had hiking shoes, a harness, climbing shoes and a few quick-draws. Our plan was to solo the 425 metre climb but we brought the rope, harnesses and quick-draws as we read in the guide book there were a few bolts and thought it would be a good back-up just in case. After the first 70 metres, we could sense there were no bolts and, while overtaking two groups on the lower section, they confirmed it.
The climbing was easy, with big holds and plenty of them! We seemed to be storming up, barely resting on the very comfortable ledges. 200 metres up and the views were getting better and better. We caught up with a few more groups and that made for a bit of a wait on a ledge so we could follow them up a tricky pitch. At one point, we had to wait for five minutes as the group in front of us were leading and seconding the next pitch. That much time 250/300 metres up gives you enough time to chill but also to think about how high we were, and how dangerous it was. Although I definitely was fearful, it was never enough to make me think I couldn’t do it. It’s not something which excited me in the normal way – rather, it tuned me in to extreme concentration.
Not to sound dramatic, but if you were unlucky enough to pull off one of the great selection of loose rocks or just slipped while in a tense bridging position, well, it would have taken a while to hit the floor. The last couple of pitches definitely tested your ability to block out exposure, as many of the moves were moving on to or above hanging rocks. Trusting they were not going to move was imperative.
When we sat down at the top, we got chatting to some Spanish ‘old timers’ about the descent and about how we were apparently ‘crazy’. This made me think about how nuts it actually was. My hands were vibrating with excitement but my stomach sick with nerves. It was a strange, but great, feeling. In the guide, it says a quick ascent of the ‘Espolon Central’ (while placing gear, mind) is about six hours with a long one taking up to ten hours; we climbed continuously for two hours and reached the top.
The problem was with the descent. It was long and tiring and it didn’t help we were still in the boiling sun. Now that our minds weren’t hooked on the climbing, you could feel it drying out, and crisping up, your skin. After the two hours back to the car walking down steep, unstable rocks and sliding down scree slopes, we were exhausted.
On Sunday the burn turned up. I thought maybe a dip in the pool the night before may have helped but the bright red skin on my arms, neck and calves said otherwise. We were still up nice and early with plans to head to Sella which is one of the most beautiful crags I have ever seen. There were beautiful dirt tracks leading through and around big cliffs and mountains. The rock in Sella was incredible and the roof on top of ‘Martin Galas’ was massive. It must have stuck out 10/12 metres horizontal above a 32 metre cliff.
We went to get warmed up on some 30+ metre pitches. This was my first time sport climbing in Spain and I found it difficult to understand the foot work. I’m used to standing on little edges and crimps but there, it’s more about getting your toe in a pocket and twisting. The day consisted of some great climbs and an introduction for me with a couple of nice falls for myself and Tom. The day before just did us in and we didn’t have the energy levels to fight it, so we all found a shady patch and napped – a lot.
The rest of the evening consisted of eating, drinking and general messing about on the ping pong table back at the hostel.
Monday morning was hard. The heat had stripped our energy – and our skin. The climbing had been fantastic but we were so low on energy we decided to have the morning off and just chilled out. We waited for that afternoon and headed out just after the hottest part of the day. I drove to an area called ‘Olta’ which is near Calpe, as we had seen some top 50s there which needed to be climbed. After driving up the tight corners of the winding dirt track all the way to the top, we jumped out feeling ready to climb and started the 30 minute walk in.
One and half hours later we reached the crag. Unfortunately, we missed the main path and bush wacked our way to the bottom of a cliff. It turned out to be the wrong wall and to be honest, we didn’t know which way to walk to reach the right one. A decision was made and we slowly traversed the bottom of the cliff, made our way down a dodgy gorge, scrambled through lose rocks and scratched our way through spiky bushes. The hour’s detour still did not stop us climbing some of the best rock in the Costa Blanca. We started on a super classic, the climb from the front cover of the guide, called ‘Tai Chi’. The route looked like a slab but when you are climbing, it felt like a flat face climb keeping everything tight and balanced. It was an incredible route but it wasn’t a touch on ‘Tufa Groove’. An American guy at the hostel told us about this route and said it was his favourite climb in Spain and he wasn’t over-selling it. The route was maybe 25 metres high with maybe a five metre overhang which slowly steepened. It was in a corner with holds made from perfect tufas. This was the kind of route I was excited about climbing when the trip to Spain was planned. After all of us had fun swinging around on that, we jumped on a ‘Lyenga’ which has to be one of the longest 7a routes I have ever got on, it was 32 metres to the top.
Tuesday, I woke up feeling so excited about climbing. The tiredness was there but I could push past it. Pymn was still feeling tired so he sat the morning session out. Tom and I headed out to Guadalest. We parked at the wrong place for what we had planned to climb, and had already payed the parking fee, but it was fine as there was a crag lying just under a castle – so we climbed there instead. The town was beautiful when we arrived at 9:30ish. Charming cobbled streets, amazing twisting, sleepy pedestrian roads and lovely old buildings. I would recommend it to anyone. When we came back from our climb, we grabbed a coffee and it was different, the cobbled streets you couldn’t see for all the stands selling hats which you could only wear on holiday, the sleepy roads were now full of tourists buying said hats and the lovely old buildings were now draped in Coca-Cola banners. If you do decide to go, just get there before 10 and you will love it!
When we arrived at the hostel we grabbed some food and within the hour we were heading 1 hour in a different direction to a place called Reconco. Luckily, the boys had been there before so they knew the way up. No problem – things had gone well. We didn’t get lost on the way, we didn’t get lost on the walk up and now to pick a climb! How about a two pitch top 50 to get warmed up on? Great!
We knew it was going to be a little awkward with three of us climbing but no one realised what a pain in the ass it was going to be. Pymn climbed the first pitch, Tom followed and then I followed up removing the gear and then got on to lead the second pitch. It was fantastic climbing with pockets and delicate moves up a steep slab. We all reached the top fine and we dropped Tom back to the top of pitch one, which was now in the shade and quite cold, suffering from a nippy wind. 20 minutes of faffing around and Pymn was on his way down but somehow, we managed to run out of rope so he was about half way down/up (don’t worry Sue and Dave, he was still safe). It wasn’t the biggest deal but it did take a lot longer than we wanted. Tom managed to belay him down and we all got to the floor with the cold inside us. We needed to warm up quick so we got straight on a couple of 7as, which seemed to go down quite well. Tom and Pymn smashed out both with a flash for Tom on the second. The first was called ‘Chunay-Free’ which had one very hard move on a tiny hold. I didn’t get it clean but really enjoyed it. The second was a very similar climb called ‘Gemma Boom’. This slab had a much longer crux but without the super hard crimp, this one I flashed and things felt like they were starting to click and the tiredness finally wearing away.
Wednesday, we had to pick up the fourth member of the team from the airport at 23:30. So we headed out for an early climb at Sella. This time we went for the wall which was in the shade all morning, it was perfect. The routes again were amazing and never-ending. We climbed a top 50 6b called ‘Calfamusculus’ which was just lovely and offered up 30 metres to enjoy. Then we hit up a three star 7a called ‘El Endemoniado’ which has the most intense, longest crux I have ever tried. It starts on the fifth bolt when you move right through some tiny crimps, you then have five bolts until you are on easier climbing. Most of the holds were small crimps with terrible feet for your left the whole way up until there are no footholds and you had to do a long reach right and then cross arms and hold the swing. It was a marathon and each of us took around 45 minutes to get to the top. This 30 metre 7a with at least 12 metres of very hard moves makes a three star 7a in Spain and completely fair enough, it was incredible. After we burnt out on that we headed for the hostel for a lot of chilling and then off to the airport for Alex.
Thursday turned into an afternoon session after our late night Wednesday. We headed for ‘Gandia’ a super overhung crag made up of caves and a little bit of slab. The routes are much smaller, only around the 14 metre mark but most of them had overhangs which meant you are climbing horizontal for a good 8 metres. This style of climbing, for me, is the most difficult as we don’t get a great deal of it on Portland. The routes we tried were awesome with giant holds and big distances between them meaning lots of upper body strength and using techniques we tend not to use so much like drop knees.
One 7a we were trying called ‘Joc de Manos’ is a monster! The only way I could work out getting over the top was with a heel hook above your hands around the lip right over the top, then you lock off with one arm and bounce up to the next hold and rock over on this heel hook which was still above your head. Making this move, I made a noise which is impossible to replicate as it comes from the very bottom of your stomach and is the purest sound of fear. It was so cool but it also reminds you how good the professionals are as this wouldn’t even be a warm up for them!
Friday, we gave up! Six days of climbing in a row is enough for me and Pymn so we had a day off. Alex and Tom went to the closest crag, Sella, for an afternoon on the ropes. They found a small roadside crag at the foot of the hill leading up to the main crags at Sella and with Tom also suffering from the Spanish fatigue, he opted out of putting shoes on. Simple belay duties he thought. After Alex warmed up on a few nice looking overhung routes on good, if awkward holds, he selected a route up the steepest section of an already steep wall. It’s worth mentioning here it was of the famed hardest grade in the world – no, not 9b+, the infamous 6c+. After some steep swinging reaches, a stopper move was hit. Whippers taken and fingers deskinned, Alex threw in the towel, and Tom dutifully put his shoes on to retrieve the gear. Tired arms were having none of it so topping out wasn’t happening. It seemed ridiculous to use a mallion when only a few metres from the ground, so some sketchy down-climbing, undie-staining ensued. That was enough of that for the day – back home for the best barbeque ever. To prove our masculinity we purchased a steak bigger than the elephant man’s head – so manly.
Saturday we headed for Forada. This place had some serious climbs and we were keen to see some locals smashing the tough stuff. As we drove down what looked like a walking path, we came to some steep rocky drops which the boys egged me on to take the hire car down. As we got past the rocky drops and up the steep muddy hill on the other side Tom read ‘This track can be very hard going after rain’. This did make me nervous as driving on sketchy terrain in a hire car with Alex has landed me stuck in snow for several hours in the dark where we had to be saved by a drunk French man on a quad… anyway, that’s a different story.
So we walked in the sunshine up to this crag; towering above us was 55 metres of the steepest rock I have ever seen. There were locals here and there, super friendly and letting us warm up on their draws. The first couple of climbs were 6b+s (‘El Golfo De La Guerre’ and ‘La Guerre Del Golfo’) which are both worth more than the one star ratings they have. The locals pointed out a few different climbs but we were all still a tad tired and taking some silly slips. A local kept telling us to get on a lovely 6c called ‘Disturbio Vertical’ which had a 3 star rating, meaning it was one of the best at the crag. The rating was spot on as this climb ticked every box with a steep start and a crazy wondering line up an indecisive crack finishing with a selection of hand jams. It was incredible and everyone had a blast on it, apart from Alex… and Tom.
Alex was on lead and through the first section it was committing making you climb right to the second clip on steep terrain. Unfortunately, Alex slipped just over the bulge, well above his first clip but not clipped to the second, and Tom (the belayer) had to make a big catch. The catch consisted of Alex falling a good length but, thankfully, not hitting the floor, instead hitting Tom on the head with his knee. It was a big fall and, to be honest, we were very lucky Tom didn’t see stars! The smash was heavy but Tom being the trooper he is managed to stop his brother hitting the floor. As if that wasn’t enough, he had another go and with the shake from the last one he down climbed as he didn’t see himself reaching the same clip. Again, he popped off and took a fall into Tom. We all had a little breather, collected our thoughts and Alex got back on… and smashed it!
The crag filled up with a couple more locals which we watched smash one steep route after another. One of the more impressive things we saw was this guy who I thought was a ‘belay bitch’ take off his jacket and link a 7b (running it out with no effort at all) straight into an 8b. This route was 55 metres long and the bulge at the top of the 8b must have stuck out at least 8 metres. This climber was smashing it until he popped off at the top and took a massive fall; it must have been 12 metres of rope he dropped – crazy! This inspired us and with the help of a couple of 8a+ climbers we managed to get another 7a, ‘Son Goku’, clean, even though it wasn’t the climb we had aimed for.
We ended the day around the corner with a couple of flashes on another 7a (‘L’Hivernacle’) but then the rain came, hard! I was pretty eager to get back to the car but you have to remember, the more you rush Alex the longer he takes. After about 30 minutes of him deciding to do one last climb, we got back to the car and had to tackle the off-road section. The Skoda Fabia isn’t known for its off-roading skills but, somehow, we managed to bump, bounce and pray our way back to the top of the dirt track and made it back safely. Praise!
Sunday was our last day and we saved an incredible looking multi-pitch for it. I cannot describe this well enough but, basically, it is a massive cave with two huge holes at the top. From the top you look over a beautiful bay, Benidorm and the mountains. To start the climb, first you must abseil through one of these holes and hang 60 metres above the bottom of the cave. It is always a strange feeling floating in space so far from the ground and the top but such a great way to start this climb. As we reached the bottom there were tourist boats floating by taking photos of the ‘crazy climbers’. The climb is split into three pitches, which were all easy, but the environment added something extra. The route climbs up the left hand side of the cave and you top out through one of the holes in the roof. It is a climb which is a must if you head out there, so remember ‘Parle’.
The whole trip was a success and I would recommend climbing in Costa Blanca to anyone! It is a beautiful place with some of the best rock, best routes and still tons of potential. Go and check it out!
Check out more photos Here!
We had an incredible time staying at Orange House, which is the perfect location for all the climbing on the Costa Blanca. Also a massive thank you to the amazing Fernweh for the chalk bags and hats, their gear is awesome! Holdbreaker also helped us out with a great Bluewater Rope go and check out their store.