So, when I was up in Scotland running that crazy crazy race, Rowan kept dropping a few hints about how he was going to Spain at the end of November for some winter climbing in the sun with his friend Simon. “Ha, that sound lovely” I thought to myself.
Once I’d got back from the race, Anya started hassling me. Well, it turns out she really fancied going to Spain too, and if she was going, she really needed a partner for belaying. I gave in within about 10 seconds….
Unfortunately, the week they were out was also the week where I was running the Percy Pud on the Sunday, so there were some shenanigans as I didn’t want at least a days rest before the race! Luckily, the sheer determination of Anya’s desire to go climbing meant she was able to convince Jet2 to book us a Sat through Friday holiday! Yay!
So, that meant I needed to remember how to strip a lead climb. It had been years and years since I did any outdoors lead climbing so I’d completely forgotten how. On the bright side, this year I’ve been really getting back into my top roping and autobelays at The Foundry again, so at least I could still climb on a rope. Actually, it’s worth pointing out that I’m probably rope climbing at the highest level I’ve ever done with having managed to battle my way up a 7b on an autobelay. Hurray! See the video on the right.
The Foundry has got rid of it’s belay station set up, so I ended up getting on the bus a couple of times to go to Awesome Walls to use theirs for practising on, while following the BMC video.
Roll on the day to leave, I got on a train on the Friday evening to Birmingham Airport. We’d originally arranged a friend of Anya’s floor to crash on over night on Friday for an early Saturday flight, but the family got covid, so we ended up in a last minute hotel near the airport. However, this meant us paying for a hotel room where we basically got about 3 hours sleep before getting up at hideous o’clock to get to check in on time.
Despite feeling a bit like hammered shite, the check in was easy (once we’d found where to go. Why are UK airports so bad at signage?!) and were on our flight and away.
A couple of hours later we’d landed and were transported to our Hotel, the rather lovely RH Hotels Ifach in Calp with the glorious looking Penyal d’Ifac soaring in the background. The ride there in a Jet2 minibus from Alicante airport was easy and, entertainingly, included a whole hour of cheesy singalong classic tunes. TAAAAKE OOON MEEE!
In the lobby, some tables had been set out with some chairs. We then realised that they were doing a “Sangria and Paella demonstration”. Our first opportunity to stuff our faces! The paella was very fishy so I didn’t take part, but I did guzzle some Sangria. Oh yes!
Soon after that, we partook in our first of the 3 meals a day that were included in our Jet2 package. The restaurant consisted of about 7 distinct sections of buffet style eating which was particularly impressive. Oh and had free ice cream with every meal. RESULT!
Once we’d stuffed our faces with a frankly bizarre mix of things (buffets eh?) we decided to go for a wander to the beach and eek, try going in the sea…
The beach was about a 10 minute walk from the hotel past an inland lake fill with pink flamingos! :O
We wandered up the sea front, checking out the restaurants making vague completely unacted on plans for places to eat before reaching the end of the strip and ventured out on the beach a bit before choosing a place to enter the sea.
Over the past 20 years or so I’ve become really bad at water. I’m not sure what happened, but I went from a crap but enthusiastic swimmer into a big cowardly, panic filled dufus when I end up having the option to go for a swim. But, it was really nice and warm and I knew this was going to be a holiday for pushing some boundaries, so went for it.
It was cold. This wasn’t surprising for me, but Anya had quite recently been dipping in The Med over near Italy a month ago and she was expecting it a bit warmer! I mostly bobbed around a bit and tried to avoid getting my head wet!
We only managed about 12 minutes in the sea (yes yes.. I’d started my Garmin…) before we ran for our towel and got our clothes back on before posting for a selfie with the Penyal d’Ifach in the background and made our way back to the hotel.
Soon, Rowan and Simon arrived, just in time for the evening meal where we stuffed our faces yet again. I think I had 5 plates of food including a plate of puddings and then a load of cheese.
You know? I might like it here!
Day 1 – Bellús: Getting my head in
The first day was upon us. Breakfast opened at a very late feeling 8am (These Spaniards eh?) so the routine was set for me to roll out of bed at 7:30 and meet the rest for breakfast at opening time. We’d arranged for our included lunch to be a picnic bag which we picked up, and tucked into fruit, “muesli” (which was actually more like super sugary granola), toast, pastries and if you fancied it (which I did…) a full english. Or a freshly cooked omelette. SO MUCH FOOD.
Our first climbing destination for the holiday was Bellús. The scenery was really dramatic, with a tall, sometimes overhanging cliff on your left with ground falling away to your right. Down in the bottom of the valley was a cute stream and a train line with the odd train going along it. Further up from there were more cliffs. CLIMBING EVERYWHERE!
We chose an easy spot for me to get my head in. This took a while as we navigated the language and habits I used to have with my rope climbing to make it “compatible” with how Rowan, Simon and Anya climbed. I.e. I had to forget everything and relearn it. This was rather confusing for a bit but we worked through it and eventually we go there.
As usual my first day out of real rock was really limited. It takes me at least one sleep to remember that I can stand on real rock pretty much anywhere and it will stick, and to get the bravery together to go for it.
Overall, I climbed about 7 different easy things (between 3a and 4c) and one slightly tougher thing at 5c. It took a bit of a decision to get on the harder one as on my first day climbing there is usually a point where my brain at the end of the day just says “no!” and I end up having to stop there. This didn’t happen. Great!
Fairly knackered, we set off home as it started getting darker and treated ourselves to room beers and dinner, which included a rather yummy blast from school dinners past:
and then.. BED! ZONK.
Day 2 – Redován Via Ferrata and a sneaky trip to Callosa
Day 2! More of the same for breakfast, but this time we decided against the “picnic option” as the sarnies were obviously made the night before so were really hard and the bag contained an insane amount of plastic covered stuff. Instead we did that very British thing of surreptitiously making sandwiches and smuggling them out of the room. Ha. As if everyone doesn’t do it….
Instead of climbing today, we decided to go to to the Redován Via Ferrata with perhaps a sneaky bit of climbing in the afternoon if we survived it.
I’ve never done Via Ferrata before and it sounded fun! Anya had bought herself a Via Ferrata Kit and borrowed a friends so we had enough to cover us. They are a strange looking thing that you attach to your belay loop on your climbing harness and has two carabiner’s attached to a shock absorbing system to catch you if you fall.
The courses consist of loads of installed obstacles, like ladders, bridges and traverses. usually climbing up the side of mountains, with a set of metal ropes next to them. As you move along them, you attach your ‘biners to the ropes, one at a time so you are always attached to the hardware. If you get tired, you can use a sling with a ‘biner on to secure you to the route and sit in your harness.
This route had two halves, an easier kiddies friendly first section and then a much more serious and strenuous section.
It was A LOT of ladder climbing basically, on big steel staples into the rock. You had to pause every 4-5 metres or so to swap your ‘biners, one by one to the next section of wire to protect you. It was a PROPER workout for the upper body, and as it got higher and high, your head.
You really need a head for heights for it especially once we got to to one of the “special moments” which was the “Hinge”. Basically you paused at the top of a rather long climb section and pulled on a big chain to your left. This brought over a big metal hinge with a ‘biner on which you attach to your harness. You then moved your kit ‘biners to a wire on the wall and just KICKED OFF THE LADDER INTO THIN AIR. AAAAARRRH
The hinge them swings you outward over certain deathy doom below you and to the continuation of the ladder over to the left.
Check out Rowan on The Hinge on the video to the right. EEEP.
After The Hinge, we had a scary boxed ladder where we had to face outwards instead of to the stone of the cliff and then after a really scary, sketchy feeling traverse (where you don’t stand on metal staples, instead some rather polished and slippery looking bits of wall) we came to the grand finale, a 42 metre rope bridge, a mere 130 metres above the ground. EEP.
Now, for some reason, the weather decided that I really didn’t deserve an easy run on the bridge, whipping up a big breeze as soon as I stood on it. I paused, not sure if it the breeze had just suddenly turned up (it had..) or if it was just windy and I couldn’t wait it out. Eventually, with the bridge wobbling around in front of me, I just got on with it…
Once over the other side, it was a few more sketchy looking traverses and then we were done. After some victory photographs, we followed the Shepard’s path back down the hill (which was a bit exposed itself and a bloody good trail run!)
Done on the Via Ferrata, we headed over to…
Just up the road from Redovan but with an energetic walk in uphill from a carpark next to a children’s playground (with a really awesome slide!) There was also another Via Ferrata here which actually looked a bit more serious than the one we’d just done…
We climbed the hill up to the climbing, choosing “Sector 1” as our spot, just down the hill from the end of the Via Ferrata. As Rowan was stood around ready, I grabbed him as my belay partner and we started getting some climbs in.
Immediately I was feeling a bit more comfortable on the rope today. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest as the Via Ferrata was tough on the noggin, but the first couple of climbs La Larga and Dias de Lluvia went well. Rowan, being his usual self, encouraged me to get on something a bit harder and so we picked the first 6a along the crag: Ahora y en la hora.
After a bit of a strong, bouldery start in some thin cracks, this was wonderful. A few really lovely moves followed the start before it got easier. Recommended! My first 6a Onsight of the trip!
Next, we moved down the crag and tried a 6a+ behind a spiky bush Ahora y en la hora. OOOF this was a wake up for the arms and brain. The first few moves went ok, but I just kept getting stuck running out of feet! After a lot of hanging around I succumbed to sitting on the rope a bit and having a proper look at it. 4 attempts later, I figured it out, needing to get my feet really high and trust them and throwing for a good hold and it went. Pretty much a one move climb really, but it was great for waking the brain up.
Climbing done for the day, we finished up and headed back, getting in just as it was getting dark.
Over another enormous meal, we discussed the plans for the next day. Both Rowan and Simon wanted to climb Vía Pany on the North Face of Ifach. This would be a serious undertaking: 7 pitches, with a mix of sport and trad climbing as well as handling double ropes. Urk.
While researching it, I discovered some notes about needing to apply for a permit to go to the Ifach. In the last few months they’d put a permit system in place to limit the numbers of people who could access the rock, so we spent a good while trying to work out their really broken permit booking system. Christ, who did their systems? Crapita?
That evening Anya and I spent 2 hours going over the basics of multipitch and how we’d manage it as she’s be leading so we’d need to play with the rope at each belay point.
I started to realised that I might have to bail. I prepared to give things a go, but the sensible part of my brain was point out just how many brand new things I’d be having to deal with on a very big climb……
Day 3 – Sierra de Toix instead of Ifach
At breakfast, before I could say anything Rowan announced that they’d changed their plan. On reflection, it was probably pretty silly to try and drag me up Ifach, especially as Rowan himself wasn’t feeling too great as he was recovering from a tummy bug the week before. Let’s face it, no one wants a tummy bug 200m in the air above your friends! 😀
Instead, we had a new plan: Sierra de Toix, a crag a mere 15minutes drive from the hotel. PLUS it had a section of 2 pitch bolted problems so I could actually lean how to do it, in a much safer environment. This is a good plan!
So, Anya and I got to it, taking our sweet time on two 2 pitch climbs Bernd and Eve. Bernd was easy, and included a huge ledge for the belay point after the first pitch. I followed Anya up, made myself safe there and we flaked out the rope so she could continue the climb. I then followed her up, taking out the extra bits of trad gear she’d put in for fun on the way up. Once at the top, we had a bit of an abseiling 101 lesson as I needed to get back to the belay ledge! I’d done a bit of abseiling, but nothing where I’d set up any gear for it! I also learnt about a prusik knot and how I could attach one below my belay plate to help protect the abseil. Brain overload yet? 🙂
Abbing down was ok, but as I got to the ledge, some other buggers had decided to climb the first pitch! Cue me hanging around on the ledge waiting for them to sort themselves out so I can sort the rope for Anya to follow me. It’s remarkably hard to communicate when your partner is out of sight and 30m away…
Once done, we decided to tackle Eve, but instead of abbing off, we’d scramble over the top of the crag to meet Rowan and Simon who’d disappeared off to find something fun on the upper tier (Tropical Dreams).
The belay point on Eve was not the nice roomy ledge we had on Bernd. There really wasn’t much there! It was made worse by me needing to flake the rope out so Anya could lead again. I ended it up doing it on my right knee which turned out to be a bad idea once she started climbing. I had to keep that calf engaged while she climbed to stop the rope dropping away which was really uncomfortable for quite a while. DID NOT ENJOY!
Eventually though I could follow, scrabbled my way up (I don’t really remember enjoying this climb much!) and the scrambled off the top which was… interesting. Not on a rope, on quite spikey rock and short scrubby, sharp scented plants. It was also BOILING up there. Eventually I found somewhere which was more flat so I could stop and change out of my climbing shoes without risking topping over back down the cliff! Eep.
Soon we found Rowan and Simon and had some lunch in the sun while they climbed Banana Joe (I think). This included a rather spectacular catch of Simon by Rowan when he pinged off the hard first few moves before he could get a clip in.
Next, Seduction. Right in front of me was a rather tasty looking 6a. It was down in the guide book as being harder for the short, and blimey, it really was! Bit of a slabby start to a huge ledge (which you can see Anya on in the photos below). The first bolt was miles above this ledge so I whacked a cam in the break to give me something to pray on to do the move. Making the ledge (and spotted a snake skin in it which we took home) I got the bolt in and the tried to work out the next move. No hands! Just a huge ledge for your feet keeping you firmly grounded. Eventually I got a plan and went for it… Basically, shuffling my left foot around to get an extra inch of height so I could get a finger in a little pocket and cranking on it while smearing on the wall got me up to a decent hold so I could get up to the second bolt. Yes!
A few moves later I chickened out on a move and ended up sat on the rope. Damn! It wasn’t that tough either, just what happens when you don’t commit! From here, it wasn’t so bad, but it seemed long. Climb climb climb and then I looked left and saw Rowan sat at the top of the climb next to us. “Where’s the belay?” “Just keep climbing” was the response, so I did. Climb climb climb. It wasn’t hard, but then it started to thin out and I was worried I’d completely messed it up.
Actually, yes, I had. I looked back down left and spotted the belay about 10m below me. Crap. I’d followed a line in the rock which had gently led me right, instead of left to the belay point and not spotted it. OMG now what? A teeny bit of panic set in. What could I do? No way I could down climb this? But, if I kept going, what would I see? Would there be anywhere to tie onto?
Then I spotted that just a few meters up and to the right was another belay point. PHEW! I scooted right and got myself safe on there.
What a little adventure!
We were all a bit tired by now, so after getting off we packed up and headed back. Instead of dropping down the crag to the left (which is apparently a bit sketchy) we instead decided to walk right to the road on top of the hill used for access to maintain all the antennas up there. It was a lovely walk once we’d found the road. Just tarmac, but we had a great view of the sea and once we were awat from the crag we got a nice cool breeze.
It should have been a 10-15min walk around around the crag back to the car, but we confused by the winding roads and got lost. Twice. 40minutes later we were back at the car. Doh.
Day 4 – Gandia
Next up! Gandia!
So, we were a bit naughty here. Without meaning to be.
After a drive out there, we parked up and followed the instructions in the guide book to getting there which were basically, head left from the parking, cross the gully then follow the path to the crag.
We did that, and found a little concrete bridge over the gully to a gate in the fence. This gate was welded shut. Weird! Scratching our heads we checked the websites we knew about access for the site and everything said it was open. Just to the left of us you could go around the fence so we assumed that the gate hadn’t worked for a while and that was the route. Off we went.
It turns out that actually access to Gandia was banned. We climbed with someone the next day who said a few weeks ago when he went there were loads of signs saying access was banned. (Which weren’t there when we went!). A bit of Googling when I was back revealed that the owner of the strip of land behind the gully was calling police on the people that trespassed on it when trying to get to the track up to the crag. Seems like we got away with it!
Gandia is fab so I hope they sort out the access as it would be awful to not be able to climb there again. We made our way and attempted to locate ourself on the crag by finding the “dong” on Pepestroika. Ho Ho! We didn’t actually want to climb on this bit though and instead went left trying to find the Sector Critic part of the crag. After getting a bit confused about if we were in the right place Anya spotted the interesting looking “Pequeño saltamontes” (Little Grasshopper apparently!) in Sector Hidraulics so we were went there instead.
This was a 5a which went up a tube! But, while checking it out, Rowan spotted that there was an extension called Erupción on the end, which involved a rather epic looking tranverse… That piqued Anya’s interest enough for us to need the longer rope. (34m of climbing!)
As you can see in the pictures below Pequeño saltamontes starts by climbing into a tube which had some prefixed slings in for us to pop gear on. It was actually a tricky move for me to get established with my lousy hip opening flexibility, but once in the tube it was fairly easy chimney climbing. It got tricky again once out the tube as you had to move out of the really safe feeling ledge you were onto onto a sketchy looking face of the cliff. Urgh.
Here the extension started with Anya climbing WAAAAY out to the the right in a traverse. When I followed, it was seriously scary. You were reasonably high up, and moving sideways is just so alien if you haven’t done it for a while especially this high. There was also the risk of falling which mean even if though you’d be caught by the rope you’d fall down below the line and depending on how far away your last bolt was, you’d have a bit of a big swing making it really hard to get back up to the route, and in the case of me following, strip the route of the gear we’d placed!
Well, that was a journey!
Next, we headed to Sector Topdeckio, which was somewhat of an epic journey. To get there, we headed left to a gulley before the next bit of cliff and then scrambled up it, following some rope that had been attached to the top. Some of this was definitely easy scrambling rather than a walk, and getting back down later on was significantly sketchier!
It was lovely up on the ‘Topdeckio’ in the sun. It was tempting just to lay out and absorb it, but we got on with it. Anya and I started on Mal del tord at 5c which I lead. It was… ok? The rock was REALLY sharp and sore on the fingers and I was starting to feel it in the hands! Also, weirdly, it probably wasn’t hard enough as I kept being bamboozled by where the holds were and so got some serious headwobbles going on. Also, it was a bit bulgy meaning I really didn’t want to fall and leave most of my face up there!
Once done, I felt a bit dejected. This was probably the last day of climbing as the weather was turning for our last day tomorrow and it looked very wet, and here I was struggling on a 5c. The last time I was in Spain in 2013 I’d managed a 6c and I was nowhere near that right now. I was being a bit daft really as back then I’d been doing loads of outdoor climbing in the peak so I had much more of a head for being on real rock.
I suspect sensing this, but also knowing I could climb harder, everyone started bullying me to try out something a bit harder. I decided to push the boat out a bit and get on what should be the best harder climb where we were: Gandia Topdeckio 22, a three star 6b+.
Wow. This was AMAZING.
It was hard, meaning it didn’t have loads of ‘options’. Just use the holds you can find. This immediately made everything make sense. It started on a big slab which I padded up before reaching the slightly overhanging cliff face with a series of great looking pockets. From here it just flowed through the pockets in that amazing sort of climbing where you have to cross your arms and legs and ‘unwind’ through the moves and I loved every minute of it. 2/3 of the way up, the character changed with the holds becoming smaller and more spaced out, needing me to almost jump for to two tiny crimps and smear my feet for a sketchy left hand clip. The top loomed and it was one of those moments where it was hard but you knew you wouldn’t drop it, because then you’d loose the onsight!
It went with a cry of “How strong are you!??!” from Rowan watching at the bottom. “Sticky pants good” I yelled back in response. This is all Fontainebleau in jokes..!
Yes, I enjoyed this one and it was definitely worth it’s 3 stars.
Last climb of the day was the 2 star 6a Kamari which I really didn’t like! I’m sure this was just because now I’d run out of climbing brain. Hit the buffers with no psyche to give!
Is it pudding time?
The Last Day: A sneaky Pena Roja
Now, the weather on our last day was supposed to be rainy, but we got up to find a small window in the morning had opened! We decide then to head to Pena Roja as it was close, but bring water proofs and then walk up Ifach in the rain. So, we scoffed breakfast quickly, went and got our stuff sorted when I realised I was missing all my waterproofs. OH NO.
My dry proof back with my Inov8 waterproof trouser and Montane running waterproof was missing! This was like, £400 of gear!
I was wracking my brain as to what I’d done with them. They were in my pack when I did the Via Ferrata. Did I leave them there 3 days ago when I repacked my back at the base of it? Oh no.
I went down to check with reception. Anya and I had changed rooms earlier in the week because we could hear all the entertainment down in the lobby till after 11 in the evening and we wanted some sleep. Perhaps I’d left it in the room in the move? A 20 minute wait ensued as they checked with the house keeping people and YES they’d picked it up.
I have NO IDEA why they hadn’t come and given it to me over the past few days. They knew we’d moved rooms, rather than checked out. Hmm
Slightly delayed, we got on the road and tried to get some climbing in before the rain hit. I’d climbed at Pena Roja before back in 2013 so after a bit of a debate I got on La Llibertine, a 2 star 6a+ I followed Kiri up last week and found I was still running on empty. No brain at all! I managed it, but not without scary myself a little bit silly. Anya followed up with no issue and I decided that that was that for the climbing. I’d just belay!
Then, a random German fellow turned up and asked if he could climb it on our rope. He was spending a few months climbing in Spain with his partner and she was having a rest day so needed a partner! Anya belayed him up La Libertine and it was immediately clear he was a great climber.
Once off it, he starting trying to convince us to climb something harder. I was done so said no, but he went up Lliberpool, a 3 star 6b+. Again, he floated up it while I watched laid on the ground on my back. Anya then had a go and did it on the top rope he’d left up there. Suddenly I fancied a go.
Wow, that was a corker of a route. Again, harder so there was less options, but also the top rope made it much less of a head game. I really enjoyed it and flowed through most of the moves, only having one sketchy moment near the top where my feet popped as I over reached for something and had a moment with only my right hand on the wall. Oops.
Amazing though and thoroughly recommended.
The German guy was on a roll though and decided we needed to try the 6c next to it, Siempre en alguna parte. Again he lead up it and it looked fab. Fingery at the start, with an interesting rightward traverse a 1/3 of the way up, before drifting back left. He got to the top, set up the rope and abbed off and the THE RAIN BEGAN. NOOOO
That was it, we waited a bit to see if it eased, but it settled in for the long run so we packed down and headed back.
Once back at the hotel, we had some beers and Rowan and Anya decided to climb Ifach. Simon and I decided to stay drinking and instead nattered about work and traded tunes on Spotify.
That was it for the holiday! The trip back was pretty uneventful but it was a bit of a shock to be back at the UK temperatures.
Same time next year? 😀
Photos by me, Simon, Rowan and Anya!