A week in the Costa Blanca. Mountains of Costa Blanca
Pippa and I have been visiting the Costa Blanca for a week of climbing in the sun for some years now. We normally go in February or early March.
I first learnt about the climbing potential of this area while storm bound in a tent high on a distant mountain. Rock climbing in the sun seemed very attractive in contrast to getting out of my warm sleeping bag every few hours to dig the tent clear of snow.
But oh dear, Benidorm? Ugh!! High rise tower blocks. The very worst of English and German tourists!!! Fish & Chips & bloody Watneys Red Barrel!!
It wasn't until it was explained to me that the concrete jungle along the coast is very narrow, "You only have to go a few miles inland to discover a completely different world," that I was prepared to give it a try. I'm so glad I did.
Another myth I should expose straight away is that, "All the climbing is hard," It isn't. Sure there are lots of high grade routes, but there are also plenty of routes for the rest of us. There's also lots more to do than clipping bolts.
We normally go self-catering and buy our food in one of the excellent supermarkets. Really cheap deals can be found on the internet. But this year we decided to go a bit up market and stay in a farm house with full board.
Hort De Gloria
We booked the first week in March at Hort de Gloria with a company called Aqua Ventura. Flew with BMI Baby from Cardiff to Alicante and arranged to pick up a hire car at the airport. All this done in advance with a credit card over the Internet. So simple!
The food & accommodation really made the holiday for us. Hort De Gloria is the Farm house of an organic farm. Our hosts Violeta & Jonathan Herrandez really made us welcome and with their easy going way provided us with all we could have wished for. Our room was comfortable with views across an olive grove, it had ensuite facilities including an excellent shower with unlimited hot water. We had access to a wonderfully comfortable common room and a spacious dining room. Our fellow guests were interesting and friendly and we thoughroughly enjoyed swapping stories with them each evening.
A room with a view
Breakfast was continental style with a choice of cereals, Spanish bread & jam, copious tea & coffee, juice & fresh fruit.
Our packed lunches were so big we couldn't eat it all, so, after the first couple of days, shared one between the two of us. Ham or salami & cheese baguette, chocolate, fresh fruit, juice.
Dinner was always a feast. We never got near to eating all that was provided and were delighted at the consistent very high standard of all the meals. An enormous salad, soup & crusty bread, meat or fish, fantastic vegetables and an ice cream based pudding. Wine was provided as part of the meal. We had as much as we wanted and didn't feel the need to buy a drink all week.
On Sunday morning we headed for Marin for a warm up day. We climbed four routes of two pitches each in the 4 to 4+ grade. That's Severe to Hard Severe. All good quality routes of 2*or 3* and fully bolted. As the climbs put us on top of the crag, it wasn't necessary to abseil off. We just scrambled down an easy gully back to the base of the cliff. The sun shone all day and we had the crag to ourselves. We had really arrived in Spain.
Cabezon De Oro
We did a long Trad route on Monday at Cabezon De Oro. The route 'Via Gene' is a seven pitch 5. (VS & 2*). The protection was good throughout, with medium wires, small hexes and a friend or two. Sometimes there was a bolt at the belay and also the odd peg now & then. The route was easy to find most of the time, but I managed to go off route at one point and headed up a very steep crack that just got harder and harder. I had missed a much easier traverse line that would have avoided the difficulties. None the less we were both very pleased with the route and as a bonus had the whole mountain to ourselves. The decent was easy with two abseils on the other side of the cliff and a simple walk back to our starting point.
Hill walking in the Costa Blanca
Our fingers were feeling the strain of all this unaccustomed exercise so on Tuesday we had a day off climbing and went for a mountain walk / easy scramble. And very good it was too.
Stunning rock formations, interesting walking and fine views. Hill walking in the Costa Blanca should not be overlooked. One of the things that kept taking me by surprise was the heady perfume given off by the multitude of herbs as we brushed against them. The plant life in these parts is really is something to see, and of course March is spring time here.
Wednesday saw us climbing at the local crags of Sella. This was the only time we encountered other climbers on the routes we wanted to do. After climbing a handful of one pitch fully bolted routes, I found the midday sun was rather too hot.
Do I really want to climb that?
A Siesta was called for. We headed back to the Farm House and I sat in the shade with a book while Pippa braved the surprisingly cold water of the spring fed pool. Our stated intention of returning to the crag in the evening didn't happen. But what the heck, we were on holiday.
We tried a completely new way of climbing a mountain on Thursday. Invented by the Italians during the 1st World war it was something I knew little or nothing about and certainly hadn't thought of doing in Spain. One of our fellow guests supplied us with a downloaded description of a Via Ferata on a massive face of rock on the mountain of Ponoch.
It was a novel experience to be sure. Technically very simple, but frighteningly exposed. We didn't get too bogged down about the ethics of drilling a metal ladder of galvanised staples into a mountain. But as they say, "Don't try this at home!" We found it lacked the freedom of movement you feel when climbing. You can only climb the metal rungs, there's no decisions to be made and no real skill required. Just clip in, pull up and clip in again. Never the less, I'm glad we gave it a try. And perhaps it's better in its homeland.
Castellat Ridge (centre)
Friday was a day we had been planning for some time. We were off to explore the stunning Castellat Ridge.
We had seen the ridge from several other climbs and had been given tantalising glimpses of it from the roads between Sella and Finistrat. What we didn't have was any sort of route description. We had read a little about it on the internet but had not thought to bring the information with us. So it proved to be a fine mountain exploration day in the truest sense of the term.
We spent some time driving around unmarked roads with no map or sign posts until our luck changed and we got close to the ridge. No path obliged us so we traversed a couple of terraces (half of the Cost Blanca if not half of Spain is made up of these superb terraces) to gain a faint ridge that led to the Castellat.
The scrambling was easy enough at first but rapidly got harder until the rope was called into use. The exposure was breath taking, the rock very sharp and rather loose in places. Before long we were stopped or perhaps we just chickened out. On the principal of discretion being the better part of valour, we abbed off, found a shady spot for a very late lunch and just enjoyed being in the hills.
One last walk
Saturday was of necessity a short day, so a simple walk in the hills above Sella was called for. Our chosen route proved hard to find. New roads had been built and both map and guide book were unreliable.
However, we persevered, eventually found our mountain and had a very pleasant morning with lunch on the summit.
A very old Olive tree