Climbs 3949 – Crags 42
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It's March 2013, and it's feeling like the end of the world. Cities are swathed in snow and ice, no-one has that Springtime readiness of picnics and bright flowers. It is dreary, grey, and damp. Usually, I would've been packing up my tent and heading to the Cornish coast for a week of soggy climbing attempts, spending the majority of my time and money in tea shops and pubs. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy this (especially the latter) – however, I've been itching for some good climbing for several months, and am very tired of thermals. Instead, I hopped on a plane and set off for Spain.
I really love getting stuck into Gritstone or the coastlines of the UK for some gnarly climbing, numb fingers, and good fun. The climbing itself is of good quality and usually has an excellent range of abilities. But the Costa Blanca provides incredible scenery, hot sun, and beautifully slabby climbing that make for an idyllic holiday as well as training opportunity.
Over the course of 7 days we visited 4 different crags, getting in 5 climbing sessions and 2 rest days to enjoy the beach. Don't forget, rest days are just as important (and why miss out on spotless sand?!). For my first experience of climbing abroad, I couldn't have been taken anywhere better by my highly experienced climber boyfriend, with a chance to push myself as far I wanted in terms of grades, whilst soaking up the culture and atmosphere of Spanish cliffs. The Sierra de Toix was a fantastic first day, up high on a hill overlooking Calpe and Benidorm, with excellent routes that are technically multi-pitch, but make good starts ranging from 3-4 to 6a+ and much higher. Though not the best climbing in the area, it's an easily accessible and good place to begin, particularly the Toix Oeste area. The following day we headed to Gandía – this is a little tricky for those leading less that 6a, but of course if you're wanting to explore a little harder it's excellent. Described in the guidebook as 'incredibly sheltered', we were somewhat surprised to be hammered by gales – but nevertheless, the Spanish sun kept us and the green lizards warm. Be warned however, a snake was encountered in one of the (frustratingly large) jugs... nothing like a bit of wildlife to keep you motivated!
Olta had the hardest walk-in of the four we visited, slogging uphill for 20-30minutes depending on your fitness. But you are rewarded with an incredible view of the Peñon d'Ifach which makes it worthwhile. Luckily for us (amazing to say), it was more overcast when we headed to Olta, which made for very pleasant climbing again with a wide range of abilities, including some good high 6s and 7s to get your teeth stuck into should you be that way inclined. We kept company with many friendly and slightly creepy goats too, but had the rest of the crag entirely to ourselves. A fairly small range, but peaceful and enjoyable if you're after a leisurely day's climbing after the approach.
The highlight (or so I've been told) of Costa Blanca climbing is the Sella range, which we visited on two days in order to get as much out of it as we could. With roadside or very short walk-ins, it's a haven for sport climbers in Spain, with a huge range of climbs for every ability. Many climbers spend an entire week only at this crag, staying in the campsite or hostel nearby, and I could instantly see why – we were spoilt for choice on both days, exploring different sectors. Varying from easy ledges and bridges, to balancy and technical climbing, every grade has its own variations which will challenge you regardless of your ability, and leave you satisfied with the result. Again very sheltered, and some sectors being suntraps (though your belayer gets to cool off under the trees), they were both incredibly productive days and I've no doubt I'll head back there soon enough to tick off a few more. Our second day at Sella, which happened to be Good Friday, was very busy at the crag, but with so many routes available you're not left waiting, and there's always more to try out.
I'm not a hugely strong climber – I'm worse than I was 3 years ago, better than I was 6 months ago – but I'm adventurous and eager to learn and explore new places. I've been wanting to climb abroad for years, even more so after having to cancel a trip to Font last summer due to injury. So a week in Spain, in 23 degrees, with sunburnt shoulders, and 20 ticked climbs, was a perfect climbing holiday. If you want a balance between good adventure, excellent routes, variety, and relaxation, I'd highly recommend the Costa Blanca. We were based in Benidorm (which off-season doesn't live up to its reputation) which kept us within an hour and a half of all the crags I've mentioned, with more we didn't even look at. Check it out, hunt for deals, and go crush!!