Access Changes for El Chorro's Gorge

by Tom Ireson May/2014
This news story has been read 13,339 times

With the refurbishment of the Camino Del Rey walkway in El Chorro underway, access to many routes in the gorge was threatened. However, with the teaming up of local guides, businesses and climbers, an access solution has been agreed and the creation of two Via Ferratas will allow access to the majority of routes in the Gorge.

Save El Chorro Graffiti (This has been there for years), 179 kb
Save El Chorro Graffiti (This has been there for years)
© Tom Ireson

El Chorro local Tom Ireson explains the situation further:

El Chorro, one of the first European sport climbing destinations ever to reach the world stage, is about to change forever.

The ‘Camino Del Rey’ or ‘King’s Walkway’ was originally built to provide access to workers on the Guadalhorce hydro­electric dams. After it had served its purpose, sometime in the early 1930’s, it was abandoned by its owners and left in a state of disrepair. Since then, the slowly crumbling walkway has served a different purpose as a unique and exposed route through one of the most impressive rockscapes in Spain.

President Primo de Riviera on the Camino Del Ray in 1924, 122 kb
President Primo de Riviera on the Camino Del Ray in 1924
© Archivo General de la Administracion

Climbing began in the gorge sometime around 1970, but it was the sport climbing boom of the late 1980’s and early 90’s that really brought it to life, with many of the classic lines starting directly from the walkway. These routes all possess an intimidating feel, since making a just a few moves up is all it takes to brings on the easily forgotten about height and exposure.

Many routes there would have a historical significance that extended beyond El Chorro itself. Musas Inquietantes, the first new 8a to ever be done by a woman in Spain, still stands a a test­ piece of hard technical climbing. British climber John Dunne’s rarely repeated contribution Hari Kiri, F8c+, remains one of the hardest pitches of climbing in the area, with it’s Spanish counterpart, Bernabe Fernandez’s Cheroki providing El Chorro’s first ever 9a.

For those brave enough to take it on, the wildly exposed 9 pitch adventure Zeppelin, F6c+, is often quoted as the best route in El Chorro, and this is due in no small part to the fantastic view of the Camino from every pitch of the route. New routes continue to appear too, with multipitch trad epics such as Cuatro Estaciones, a 345m F7b, and El Salto de los Vanatus, a 200m F7a+, eliminating old aid lines and paving the way for even harder propositions in the future.

The Camino Del Ray from the top of Zeppelin, 223 kb
The Camino Del Ray from the top of Zeppelin
© Tom Ireson

Work has now started to refurbish the walkway to allow a much wider range of people to see the inside of the gorge in relative safety. This is a great thing of course, but has come at a cost. Until very recently, access to all of these historic routes was threatened with a permanent ban.

Restoration work taking place on the most famous section of the Camino Del Ray, 110 kb
Restoration work taking place on the most famous section of the Camino Del Ray
© Tom Ireson

The possibility of such sweeping changes has prompted many discussions, and has brought about a new sense of solidarity in the community. For the first time in many years, the people of El Chorro are coming together for a common cause. A new association has been formed for the local area, the Asociación Montañera de El Chorro. Collaborating in this way has allowed us to speak with a loud enough voice to be heard.

Fortunately, the Malaga tourism board have taken a very positive approach to the negotiations and are taking all our suggestions for solutions seriously. It is of course a delicate situation, since despite all the history that has been attached to the Camino, it is in fact a private industrial access walkway. However we look at it, Endesa, the power company that owns it, has no real responsibility to preserve any of the legally dubious climbing routes.

This week was the largest meeting so far, with around 50 of the local business owners and guides in attendance. In a bold and encouraging move, the chief spokesman for Malaga Tourism Carlos Vasserot pledged 50,000 Euros to the installation of two new via ferratas. One of these will run around the base of the gorge providing legal access to many of the routes, and the other will create a new way to experience the full exposure of Frontales, the largest piece of rock in El Chorro.

Not all of the climbs in the gorge can be saved as they will be too close to the public walkway to be deemed ‘safe’, but another organisation, the Association of Andalucian Climbers (AAEE), is making the case for each of the most important and historic routes that start off the walkway, and solutions are being worked out one by one.

What is certain though is that some level of support for El Chorro from the Malaga authorities will continue for the foreseeable future. For the first time in its history, an area that has always been overlooked and put aside is now being taken seriously.

Existing projects such as the El Chorro Bolt Fund now have the chance to gain more funding and continue to both establish new routes and repair old ones. Plans are also being made to improve the infrastructure of the area in many ways. With the continued efforts of the local climbing associations and businesses, we can direct this toward many positive outcomes. There is a great feeling in the area that the events happening right now will help this historic and still developing climbing area to thrive once again.

Frontales, El Chorro framed by a rainbow, 154 kb
Frontales, El Chorro framed by a rainbow
© Tom Ireson

For more information about access, restoration work and new routes in El Chorro, check out these websites:

Tom Ireson has been living and working in El Chorro for over two years and runs the El Chorro Bolt Fund

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