Spain : El Chorro Rockfax Review

Spain : El Chorro Rockfax Cover © Rockfax
Even this far into my climbing life, guidebooks provide inspiration: photographs, route descriptions, pitch lengths and descent information are all digested to be used 'for real' at some point in the future.

This guidebook, put together by the Rockfax team, certainly provides inspiration and is, I feel, much needed. The pace of development since the last guide (2008) has opened many new crags, while existing crags have been looked at again and great new lines have been added.

I've been climbing and running climbing courses out in El Chorro for around seven years, visiting most of the crags numerous times. The details really matter to climbers and they are crucial for those new to the sport who may not yet realise the importance of pitch lengths and detailed (and accurate) descent information. It's great to see that kind of information clearly available in the guide and the all important accuracy is getting there too. A good example is the descent information for Three-Sixty, a multi pitch route on El Corral. It's quite likely to be a first multi pitch for many and the abseil anchors are not easy to find - a nice photo clears up that particular mystery. The guide advises a 30m abseil suggesting a minimum 60m rope - it will be a close one on a 60m rope!

Spain : El Chorro Rockfax example page 1 © Rockfax
Big overview photo on page 44 - curiously not one of the drone photos

The Rockfax format and symbols are pretty well known and for first time visitors all the key info is presented in a user friendly way with crag aspect, approach information, crag photos and descent information all easy to find. I've not tested all the GPS information or QR codes but it's great to have those details, especially for first time visitors.

This guidebook is littered with great photos: action shots, crag shots and a particularly useful main crag overview (page 44) showing the location of accommodation and many of the main crags. Drones do cause quite a few problems (!) and not everyone likes them in the outdoors (me included) but they do provide high quality information.

Spain : El Chorro Rockfax example page 2 © Rockfax
Detailed photo-topos and descriptions including the all-important descents

It's nice to see the 'climbers code ' in there to keep things working harmoniously with other users and also to reduce environmental impact in the area. Access and the upkeep of fixed equipment are hot topics in all climbing areas and El Chorro is no different, with major changes in access that are clearly described. Good to see the Rockfax team committing to the upkeep of fixed equipment in association with The Olive Branch and through the UKBoltfund.org.

Spain : El Chorro Rockfax example page 3 © Rockfax
Some stunning action photos

There's a clear and very useful section on gear including pitch lengths and keeping things safe (when lowering off) which is well worth reading. Clear advice on the wearing of helmets is also in there - some of the crags on Frontales see regular rock fall caused either by climbers or more likely Ibex high on the crags above, way out of sight.

In summary, this is a solid guide with many new routes and crags included which should keep previous visitors interested and make it easy for first time visitors to choose and find the right crags. The format and information included is accurate as far as I can see and the photos are inspiring! Good job Rockfax.


Andy Swann © Andy Swann Collection
Andy Swann is the main man behind Climb for Life and runs climbing, coaching and mountaineering courses in El Chorro and many UK areas. He has been climbing since the 1970s and does everything from bouldering to winter mountaineering. In El Chorro he is a regular on the scene and where he coaches sport climbing to those wanting to get started up to those after pushing their grade or getting some multi-pitch experience.




12 Jan

The book seems a bit rushed to me; lots of question marks on grades and stars, as well as a few route descriptions that include the words "probably". This is not to say that the guide wasn't useful and I have big respect for the work that goes into putting these together, but maybe a lack of research in some places e.g. Makinadromo and Desplomilandia especially given the price tag.

Thanks for your feedback. 

The problem with these routes is getting any information. That is just the way it works with sport climbing areas in Spain. New routers are always exceptionally protective of their new routes and so, at any point when you publish, you will always be playing catch up with the information.

There is nothing rushed about the guidebook, in fact we have been hassled to produce a new one for about the last 5 or 6 years and Mark has been making trips out there regularly. Anything that we would have produced before this one would have had fewer definite names and grades, and around the same number of question marks. The unknowns and the improved info increase at about the same rate. That said we have very much focussed on getting good information for the routes in the low-to-mid grades since this is what 90% of people climb. In most cases you will find the question marks are only on the hard stuff. 

The double page spread at Makinodromo with a lot of unknown routes was included at a very late stage and we only got route names for those in late October, about a week before going to the printers. They are all recent developments that we thought were more useful in the book, where feedback will establish grades on UKC. It was a similar situation with the left-hand side of Desplomilandia where there was another bunch of routes that we found out about at a very late stage. 

We have established a much-improved contact with the local climbers and have our first significant donation to be made to the bolt fund ready (pending bank exchange). Hopefully this will make information more forthcoming although that isn't certain.

Alan

 

12 Jan

Alan - I've often wondered with these guides how feasible it would be to produce a perhaps yearly update, either as a basic list like the SMC or a glue in picture page as per the Rockfax kalymnos page?

 

Hi Jamie

We already do much better than that in list form on UKC Logbooks - an interactive list that everyone can contribute to which is accessible via your mobile. I fully expect the routes on  El Makinodromo to have information added in the next few month as we get it. This was the main reason for including them in the book in their unknown state - at least now the feedback can be tied to a route so that everyone knows what is being referred to. 

PDF updates are an option but historically they have proved to be a lot of work to maintain and tend to get very few downloads. 

The much better solution that we have been working on for the last few years, and will be making major changes to in the next few, is using the digital version of the book as the master data. Previously we have produced a new book version and released an app version that mirrors it. With some of the books we have produced updates to the app versions but these tend to be minor and we have been seriously hampered by Apple's very restrictive data system which makes updating the books a right pain.

In the next month or so, when we switch to the subscription-based app, we will be bringing the control of the data back to our own servers. This should mean that we can apply minor data changes much more easily to the app packages and release them instantly.

This will mark a change in they way we deal with the master data since the digital version will then become the top copy and, in many cases, start to build up a more extensive version of the data. The books will then become selective 'best of' snap-shots of the digital record at a certain point although how selective remains to be seen. 

Chris is currently working on a Kalymnos update for the app version and we will be producing updates to other areas once the system starts functioning. I am currently working on Peak Limestone and this is likely to be the first primarily digital version that we publish around spring 2020. That doesn't mean there won't be a book version, but the app version will contain a lot more and will start to be a rolling updated record.

That said, we are still only a small team with limited time. For example, Mark has been working on El Chorro for the past 3 or 4 years. He now needs to transfer his attention back to Mallorca which means that he can't make trips to El Chorro. Chris has a similar situation cropping up with the Costa Blanca. 

This means there will inevitably be lags between what we are able to cover properly in full app topos format, and the UKC Logbooks listings, and then again to the reality of what is on the actual crags. However the changes we are making should mean by keeping a single digital master copy that we can tweak as we go along should help disseminate the information more quickly and efficiently.

Alan