Sally Ozanne, a legitimately cool and generous person, put out a message on Facebook offering cheap accommodation in Calpe for anyone wanting to climb or bike. I was really fancying a bike trip, but was finding it hard to figure out the logistics. So when my mate Seb said he was also interested in getting out there for a climb, I bought straight in. Having climbed in El Chorro, I was super psyched for some more Spanish rock.
Arriving in Alicante we made a beeline for the hire car and got straight on the road to Calpe. Immediately out of the airport, neither of us paying attention, we headed down the coast as opposed to up the coast. We were so busy talking, that we just anticipated that Benidorm or Calpe would soon show up on a sign. It only dawned on me after about 80km, that we were heading towards Cartagena, and that didn’t sound familiar. We pulled over for some food and a regroup and established we were both idiots.
Now heading back up the motorway in the right direction we cruised past our starting point, which we had left some hours ago. We were soon seeing familiar signs for where we needed to be heading. At last arriving in the neck of the woods of where we needed to be, we could see the grim skyline of Benidorm. I had heard about this place so many times, but I didn’t realise what it looked like. It is completely different to the somewhat more chilled out Calpe just round the corner.
Having arrived we headed for the nearest location that we could find, a place called Sierra de Toix. It was a typical roadside venue, well used but of a reasonable quality limestone. The first thing I noticed was, this was not like El Chorro at all. The bolts were somewhat further apart from each other, and routes needed to be located properly. So much for the convenience factor that I expected. As me and Seb got cracking on a route or two, it also became evident that the grades were also similar in nature, they were harder for the grade than El Chorro. I signed up on the basis that I was going to have a nice week of easy route finding, safe clipping and soft touch grades to boost the self esteem.
We finished the day having completed a few routes and headed back to the villa that Sally had booked. It was a lovely venue. A couple of the guys that were staying there were familiar, which makes for a very pleasant and enjoyable week, not too mention the wine and beer evenings. The beer and wine evenings though are in line with Spanish appreciation of alcohol as opposed to the British standard.
We cracked on for the next couple of days having a good couple of routes to show for all our efforts, and one day was by far the best and stood out for me and Seb. That was the day we both had a go at The Toix Ridge, followed by the sea cliff route Magical Mystery Tour. What fantastic routes. We managed The Toix Ridge without much drama, but then descending to the sea cliff to find the path to our next route was a mystery in itself. Thank god we clapped eyes on other climbers making their way there, otherwise I think we would have never found it with enthusiasm to still climb.
We got to the cliff edge, where Kieran the day before had told us that the three bolts at the top had been connected with piece of tape, by him. We located these bolts, but before we committed to an abseil we wanted to confirm that it was the correct route. We located the ladder after much a faff, which led to the top of the abseil, but was tucked back under the cliff edge making it hard to see. Abseiling in, we both admitted that neither of us had done a sea cliff route before, and that the open sky with the sea made it feel very exposed. We definitely had nerves about us.
Getting on with the route I led the first pitch to a stance, where I cracked on with rigging the most uncomfortable stance in my history of rigging stances. I was egging Seb on purely because my knees and waist were killing. He eventually reached me and reaffirmed, as did I, that he was scared. On with his lead and he looked comfortable at first, until he turned to me with a face of worry and said, ‘I have never been this fucking scared in all my life’. The illusion was shattered. I needed him to tell me he was feeling awesome and super confident. As I reached the next stance, Seb appeared far more comfortable on his stance than I had been. He also, as per the photo opposilooks far more happy than I was.
I cracked on with the final pitch, supposedly the crux pitch. I made good progress at first, until I started making what can only be described as elementary errors in my clipping. I was about to get a solid workout, this was due largely to placing quickdraws of lengths in all the wrong places. Where I needed long ones, I put short ones and vice versa. The drag was immense. Not to mention the bolts were well spaced out to maximise my agony. The route wasn’t hard as such, just made hard by yours truly. Never had I made such a range of attempts to make my life so hard.
I eventually acquired enough rope to climb on the top of the cliff. I was knackered, both arms were fit for nothing, except maybe as clubs. I belayed up Seb with difficulty due to the rope drag. It was unanimous, we needed more practice at sea cliffs, but for the time being lets go and find some beer.
We had a relatively relaxed climbing day the following day, with Sally, John, Kieran and Ben. The venue was great allowing us to gradually warm up through a range of 3’s and 4’s, after a savage day the day before. We had a stab at a range of routes, and thoroughly enjoyed it until the rain came in. The rain then persisted unfortunately, causing us to pack up. We believed this might be putting a dampener on the day we had planned the following day. The venue was the iconic thumb of rock that sticks out of the ground in Calpe, called PeÃ±on de Ifach. It looked amazing, but looking at the forecast it was set in now for a few days.
Doubting that we would get out again, we conceded and rearranged our flights to go back home early. It was a disappointment, but we’d had a good time. I do however look forward to the opportunity to head back and have another go at some of these routes, and maybe get over the fear of sea cliff climbing. I just couldn’t get over the fact that it was so different to mountain routes.