Thursday, 10 March 2011

Chorro on the Cheap

As the newest recruit to Joe Brown’s I wasn’t expecting to get time off for a holiday so soon, but only 6 weeks after moving to Llanberis I happened to wrangle a 5 day break. I was planning to gamble my time and money on a trip up to Scotland, but with conditions fairly poor the week before and petrol prices at an all-time high I decided not to roll the conditions dice.

For around the same price as 5 days floundering in the white stuff up north, it’s possible to jet away to some sunny sport climbing in Spain. I decided to chase a little sunshine...

El Chorro was focused in my cross-hairs, having all the desirable qualities of a short/budget trip: plentiful No-Frills-Airline connections to Malaga, excellent public transport links, and highly recommended accommodation at a good price. There’s also a vast quantity of high quality routes in the area. Just in case you aren’t persuaded, the weather’s pretty reliable too!

We flew from Liverpool, which is serviced by Ryan Air and EasyJet, most of the other major airports have a selection of budget carriers to choose from too. Flights were under a ton, even booking only a week in advance.

The accommodation of choice was The Olive Branch B&B, coming highly recommended by everyone that has been there, including a tradition of Joe Brown staff visiting the area.

We wanted to avoid the extra cost of hiring a car for such a short trip so arranged a very easy connection by train from the aeropuerto to Alora (€2.20), then a collection from the station from Gary at the Olive Branch (€15). There are trains right through to El Chorro itself (for around €3) but the times are fairly limited, and Gary also includes a trip to the supermarket on the way so I’d definitely recommend taking up his offer for at least the outward journey. The whole connection from landing in Malaga to arriving at the Olive Branch takes just a few hours including the supply drop so we were ready to climb straight away!

Two of the major crags of El Chorro, Frontales and Arabe are less than an hour’s walk from the OB. There are so many sectors with so many quality routes at these two venues that you could spend a whole winter climbing there alone so it really isn’t necessary to get a car to access any other areas especially if your trip is as short as ours.

We left a cold wet Liverpool at 7am and were touching hot rock by 3pm! An afternoon at Sector Sergio was followed by a mellow evening on the terrace at the Olive Branch. It costs just €8 a night to stay in one of their tents (mattress included!), or a euro less if you bring your own tent. We were wary of going over the 15kg limit on luggage so opted for the inclusive tent, next time I’ll take my own as the Spanish tents don’t seem to be designed for someone 6’1!

The Olive Branch owners, Gary and Mel might be the greatest hosts of any B&B or bunkhouse I’ve been to, they’re a great family to meet. They’ve managed to provide a perfect climber’s bunkhouse/campsite with a well equipped kitchen, lounge/dining area, a covered and an uncovered terrace complete with Pool: both table and swimming. If you fancy your luck in the evenings/wet days the reigning Pool and mini-ping-pong champion Gary is always looking for competition! It is also worth chatting to resident Chorro guru Martin if you’re looking for beta or any information on the local crags.

We managed to fit in trips to sectors including Upper Arabe, Suisio, Austria/Solarium, and Castrojo, before taking the obligatory walk along the Camino del Ray through the Gorge on a rest-afternoon. The only downside to the trip was a massive downpour (which was apparently the worst rain of the winter!!!) on our last morning but it wasn’t a big deal as we had to leave at lunchtime anyway.

We were lucky enough to catch a free lift back to Alora station with a couple who were going to the supermarket, but the options would otherwise be a cheap train back from El Chorro (with fairly limited times), or another €15 ride with Gary to Alora. He also offers a direct lift to the airport for €50, which becomes more viable if there are more of you to share the cost.

Back at work today, I’m still daydreaming about the weekend of sunny climbing...

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