SCARPA team member and frequent climber, Scott Bennett, recently spent a few months in Spain on what he calls an “everyman’s Spanish climbing trip.” Bennett hails from Michigan but once he discovered climbing moved to Boulder, Colo. where he works part-time for SCARPA and spends the rest of his time at local climbing spots or planning his next expedition.
When I told my friends in Colorado that I was planning a spring climbing trip to Spain, the most common reaction, after jealousy, was a quick glance at my meager forearms followed by “Better hit the gym, huh…” In the minds of most American climbers, Spain means steep, hard climbing: the mega caves of Oliana, Siurana, and Santa Linya, giant crushers like Sharma, Andrada, and Ondra. My friend Blake Herrington and I consider ourselves to be traditional, alpine climbers, and so we weren’t sure how we would fare in the land of 9a.
After six weeks, and 5,000 km in our rental car, I now know that there’s a lot more to that magical country than shouts of “Venga!” and enduro pump fests. We visited seven different provinces and dozens of amazing crags, found adventurous multi-pitches, stellar moderates, beautiful views, and of course, more lactic acid than our anemic forearms could handle.
So, if you’ve always wanted to visit this idyllic Mediterranean paradise but figured you needed a hundred more laps at the gym first, here’s a quick guide to two of our favorite areas with great routes across all grades:
Located along Spain’s southern coast, Andalusia is laid back and traditional. Most people still live in small villages that dot the hilly interior, and olive and grapes rule the economy. Scattered among the hills are several excellent limestone crags, mostly centered around the village of El Chorro. Here, the Rio Guadalhorce cuts a gorge 400 m deep, offering climbing and another adventure: the Caminto del Rey. This century old walkway, essentially a via ferrata, offers plenty of exposure while requiring only basic climbing skills (plus, a harness and some daisy chains).
Big walls directly above the town of El Chorro offer multipitch climbs, as well as a huge cave with a few harder routes. A handful of moderate routes in the back of the cave stay dry in a downpour. Nearby, the cliffs of the Makinodromo, Desplomilandia, and Loja also offer excellent cragging.
Famous for citrus and British retirees, the “Costa Blanca” also hosts world class climbing. We stayed in the resort town of Calp, and took advantage of “off-season” pricing in March to find a four-person seaside apartment for about $200 per week! A short walk along the beach brought us to the “Penyal de l’fac”, a gorgeous 300 m tower of white limestone jutting from the blue Mediterranean. About a dozen high quality routes, from 5.9 to 5.12, trace paths up this promontory, and a crazy tunnel provides a walk-off descent back to happy hour drinks on the beach.
The surrounding coast and hills offer many other excellent crags, including the world-class zone of Sella, which is worth a trip by itself.
I hope after seeing these photos and reading these descriptions you’re stoked for a Spanish adventure, even if you don’t climb 5.14! For more info on the climbing and logistics, Rockfax has great guidebooks to both areas.