It’s always nice to prolong the summer with a last gasp of warm sun and dry rock before the winter really gets going in Scotland. This time the chosen venue was the sport climbing paradise of El Chorro, in the Andalusian hills north of Malaga. It was my third visit to the area, which offers a plethora of venues to suit all weathers and conditions as well as a huge amount of variety in the climbing, including plenty of multipitches. El Chorro itself sits to the south of the huge limestone ridge of Frontales, near the entrance of the famous gorge and the Caminito del Rey, and makes a good base from which to explore the area’s many crags.
Climbing as a three, our modus operandi was quality rather than quantity, but this being Shaun’s first climbing trip abroad we knew an indoctrination (read: baptism of fire) on a classic multipitch was in order too. A more pressing concern, however, was the unseasonably hot weather; with temperatures in the high-twenties during the afternoons. Anything in the sun would be an unbearable grease-fest, so the majority of our time was spent on the high, north-facing cliffs of Desplomilandia and Poza de la Mona, where the conditions were perfectly pleasant.
Poza de la Mona is a brilliant crag for hot days and the lefthand sector contains a fine selection of routes in the low-mid sixes. The rock is vertical, but highly featured with generous holds. This combined with the modest pitch lengths and generous bolting creates a friendly atmosphere – ideal for our first day.
The next day we headed to Buena Sombra, a crag with multiple 3* and “Top 50” routes in the sixes and sevens. With 35m pitches on orange and grey walls, combining pocketed slabs, bulges and steep jug-hauling, the routes here felt like a different proposition, but were much more rewarding because of it.
Having got our eye in, it now felt appropriate to embark on an adventure up the huge cliffs of Frontales. Amptrax (6a) was the natural choice being of (apparently) amenable grade, amenable length and of high quality – an ideal first multipitch for Shaun. We’d heard rumours of polished holds, poor stances and sustained technical climbing with a whiff of sandbaggery, but chose to ignore them. We were more concerned with the heat, but how bad could that really be?
We started early(ish) thinking we could get up most of the route before it got properly hot, but the sun caught us during the first real pitch and it only got harder. (The guidebook “pitch 1” really is an easy scramble and we shouldn’t have wasted time getting geared up for it). The first five pitches are very sustained but at least they are short. While it would be possible to run some pitches together the grade would need to be adjusted up accordingly. Thankfully, the climbing is so good and the rock so immaculate that the heat and difficulty only really made themselves apparent at the belay stances (which are cramped, sloping and uncomfortable, especially as a party of three).
We block led in the interests of efficiency but with three people, two 60m ropes and 20m pitches we ended up spending more time at the belays than climbing! We ran out of water around the traverse pitch but the climbing and exposure was so fantastic that we didn’t mind too much. Shaun seemed to enjoy his first big route and took the exposure and difficulty in his stride. He even sacrificed a quickdraw to gravity to preserve the on-sight – full commitment!
At the belay after the traverse I slipped my blistered heels out of my rock shoes, despite the precarious sloping shelf I was standing on. Then, to my horror, as I shuffled over to make room for Shaun, a rock shoe caught on a spike, slipped off my foot and free-fell straight to the base of the route! Thankfully the difficulty eased off above and I was able to second the remaining pitches in one approach shoe and one rock shoe with minimum drama. After topping out and descending off the back, we walked round to the base of the route to retrieve the shoe, finding it easily and with very little damage!
The next day we celebrated success with breakfast outside the villa on the terrace, in our pyjamas. It was all rather pleasant, until I locked us out without our phones. Some drama ensued, but thankfully a kind person leant us a phone and our hosts arrived to rescue us. I still got 5 stars on AirBnB too!
The following days were spent in the shade at a more leisurely pace, back at the crags of La Vida Misma and Buena Sombra, where we cruised up mellow (and some not so mellow) sixes. Everything felt like a bonus after Amptrax!
So despite the heat, blistered heels, ejected shoes and disgruntled hosts, we’d still had a superb trip. This sport climbing stuff just might catch on you know!