Tuesday, 3 February 2015

El Chorro

Back in October I had the clever idea that in order to finish off my PhD thesis I should go and live in El Chorro... Needless to say I still haven't finished my thesis!

Bron and I arranged a kind of job at the Olive Branch guesthouse, which involved 2-3 hours work a day, mostly washing up/making beds, in return for room and board. The place is amazing, such a friendly atmosphere and full of perma-psyched climbers, I'll be going back for the season next year for sure.

Going out with a finger injury I didn't have any specific goals or routes in mind, I just wanted to get comfortable on the rocks again and have some fun. El Chorro is an amazing place and so much more than a sunny single pitch sport destination. Over my two and a half months I did single pitch sport, multi-pitch sport, adventurous trad, aid climbing and even some solo aid climbing!

Towards the end I started feeling quite fit and managed to onsight three 8a's (Antidoto, Pepe El Boludo and XXL). Unfortunately, despite being great personal achievements for me, these probably aren't so interesting to read about. Roughly the story goes:

"I got really pumped, I thought I was going to fall off, then I didn't!"

Of potentially more interest is some of the multi-pitching and more adventurous stuff on offer. I was particularily psyched to climb all the multi-pitch routes in and around the Poema De Roca cave area.

So much fun to be had!
Poema de Roca itself (number 14) had long been a dream of mine and didn't disappoint. In a feat of extreme foresight and wisdom I decided to set off on the route at 4pm, about two and half hours before sunset. I linked the first 3 pitches together into one mega-pitch of about 60m! At dusk I managed to claw my way up pitch 4 on my second try and decided that having done all but the two "easy" pitches, it would be a bit of crime to ab off. Bron followed in the dark to join me at the fourth belay, seemingly unconcerned that she has a maniac for a boyfriend. Climbing the remaining two run-out pitches in one, by the light of a dieing headtorch was the highlight of the route for me. Since we only had one 80m rope we couldn't descend down the nice vertical line of abseil stations on the right. Instead we had to back-aid down the way we came up, in the dark... all very exciting.
Christmas night climbing...
Looking up at Frontales (the main cliff in El Chorro) I noticed some ABSOLUTELY SPLITTER cracks, up an otherwise completely blank wall, high in the center of the cliff. The guidebook confirmed they were all existing aid routes, "that looks about E5, I 'll go trad climb it" I thought...

It's safe to say I got my ass well and truly kicked. What looked like a splitter crack turned into more of a seam and my only runners were rusty pegs which I could bend with my fingers. About two thirds of the way up I had resorted to full on aid climbing to finally reach the sanctuary of an old bolt belay. No longer facing a ground-fall I was able to press on with more confidence, until a boulder problem stopped me dead in my tracks. After several sizable falls I had to admit defeat. I think ultimately it will make an amazing E7/8ish trad route, which would be a 3 star classic were it in the UK. It's still there for the taking, get to it!

Other highlights were this day tradventuring on a big cliff with Jimmy "fingers" Marjot.

More trad cracks on "Cerro Christo".

Climbing on Makinodromo, the tuffa-drenched super crag!

Taking our non-climbing "boss" Gary, the owner of the Olive Branch multi-pitching.

Climbing all 5 routes on the "Amptrax wall" in a marathon El Cap-sized day.

Sprinting for the speed record on Amptrax (line 1 above). Our best time, simul-climing the whole thing, was 32 minutes and 36 seconds. It's definitely not crazy fast and it's a fun challenge if anyone wants a crack at our record!? I also free soloed the route which felt like unfinished business after backing off from past halfway in 2011. This time it felt calm, steady and under control.

My first time bolting a sport route, creating what is sure to be a future classic: "Leg vs Crowbar" f4+!

And finally this:

Let's just say this was the wettest non-approach to a crag I've ever experienced...