El Chorro

In my opinion, climbing in Spain is the best in Europe with many crags offering a variety of climbing venues, an interesting culture and history, friendly people along with a climate that allows year round climbing. 
 The town of La Chuilla with rock all around

Over the years, we have visited Spain to climb a number of times and have climbed at many areas. While there are a lot of crags in Spain, I was amazed by the amount of rock that I saw that had not been climbed. All the areas that we climbed were very good. Siurana is a crag that sits about 1000 feet on top of a massive that overlooks lush valleys. The setting is gorgeous and the climbing varied. La Riba, a small area near an industrial area, offered some good climbs. La Chuilla, a town surrounded by cliffs, offered excellent and varied climbing in all grades. Montserrat, a huge massive north of Barcelona, with a crown of pinnacles and a Monastery on top, offered unusual climbing on strange conglomerate rock. Both single and multi-pitch climbing in a magical setting is available at Montserrat. La Mussara is a large crag with excellent single pitch routes of all grades. Montanejos offers single and multi-pitch climbs at all grades. The steep tufa climbing at Gandia was memorable. Alcoy, a small crag, has classic, difficult sport routes. The crag at Sella has sport climbs of all grades located in a beautiful setting. The Penon díIfach near Calpe, a 1000-foot monolith overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, offered multi-pitch sport and traditional climbs. The cliffs of Toix sit high above the Mediterranean in a place that seemed like the end of the earth. 

Information regarding these and other Spanish areas can be found from various sources. We found the Rockfax guidebook to be very useful. Their web site at http://www.rockfax.com contains a lot of information including area updates. I have been told that there are many other areas that we have not visited in Spain such as the Mallorrca or Pyranee crags that are as good or better than the ones we visited. 

Looking down the Gorge with the Camino del Rey on both sides of the canyon.

In 1996, we visited an area in the south of Spain that stood out as a particularly special place to climb. El Chorro is one of the strangest places that I have ever climbed. The Camino del Rey, a walkway constructed on the gorge wall that travels the full length of the gorge and sits a hundred meters above the canyon base is an unusual feature. Walking out on this 80 year-old suspended sidewalk had me shaking in fear from the sudden exposure. The walkway is no longer in the best shape, with sections of concrete broken away. Even though parts of the walkway have fallen, walking the full length is still possible. It is said that the walkway was built so that the King could observe the engineering work taking place in the gorge. Instead of Royalty, the walkway now carries climbers to their chosen climb. Climbs are positioned above and below the walkway. Access to other climbs can be attained by walking through the train tunnels and following the train tracks, preferably between trains.

Spring and fall are the best seasons, with summers too hot while winters are said to be chilly. However, chilly in Spain is not the same as chilly in Canada. Head for Malaga and then take a train or car to El Chorro. A car is not essential at El Chorro since most climbs are in walking distance of the train station, but nevertheless, a car is useful to have to visit surrounding crags like El Torcal, not to be missed. There is a Refugio in village of El Chorro, a small hotel, a café and other accommodations along with a few shops. Lodging is limited and since there is no camping, this can be a problem. We couldn't get a place to stay for the first 2 nights and had to drive about an hour to find something. Booking ahead would be a good idea. 

It was rumored that a climbing permit must be purchased to climb on some cliffs although no-body seemed to have one. Apparently one can be purchased from the station and from the warden. It is also rumored that climbing is banned at the Poema Roca Cave. Unofficially people were climbing there. There is a climbing ban at the Upper Gorge due to a rare plant that grows there. Ask around for the latest news on closures since it seems to change from time to time.

The climbing at El Chorro has everything that climbers seek. Multi-pitch bolted walls, excellent limestone slabs, tufa and flowstone, exceptional steep walls, sport and traditional routes, most of it within walking distance of the town, are available at all grades. Climbing grades in Spain seem to me rather stiff, with at least a one-grade difference compared to French grades even though the French grade system is used. 

The huge line of cliffs that tower above the village of El Chorro are known as Las Frontales. The majority of the routes here are single pitch climbs, but a few snake up the huge wall to offer multi-pitch climbing. Climbs of all grades are available here.

The obvious impressive gorge presents a full range of climbing. Climbs are accessed via the Camino del Rey or the Train tunnel. Climbs off the walkway are exposed, but fortunately, vertical faces allow climbers to lower off to the walkway. There are some multi-pitch routes. Generally, the climbing is difficult and scary. Other areas can be approached via the train tunnels, also occasionally nerve racking when a train comes through. One of the most famous routes at El Chorro is Lourdes, located on the Makinodromo in the Central Gorge.   Climbing on The Makinodrono consists of steep overhangs and tufas. Los Cotos, a crag that is passed on the approach to the Makinodrono, with technical slabs on Limestone is said to be the best Limestone slab climbing in Europe.

Climbing the steep, tufa on Lourdes on the Makinodromo.

For a different experience, a small national park called El Torcal, near the town of Antequera has hundreds of pinnacles and spires that sit on top of a peak. There are many routes of all grades in this magical place.

View from the top of a tower at the 
El Torcal wonderland.

On rest days, donít miss a visit to Granada, a beautiful city that sits beneath the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here you can visit the Alhambra, a Moorish castle. In my opinion, if you see visit one historic attraction in the South of Spain, visit the Alhambra. 

El Chorro offers unique climbing in a fantasy like setting. When combined with some of the other crags in Spain, there isnít much more that a climber could ask for.

Bob Bennell
Oct 2001