Around the beginning of February, I was talking with a few mountaineering friends (who were, as I was, admittedly very intoxicated). Great start to a story, I know. They were discussing their upcoming trip to El Chorro, Spain in April. Having never been to Spain before I started to ask questions about the trip. It was a sport climbing trip over Spring Break to a small rural area outside of Malaga in Southern Spain. A lot of club members were going, both old and new. They asked if I was going, but I said I wasn’t quite sure… seeing as I didn’t really know how to sport climb.
But, I thought about it for a couple of weeks and late February I booked tickets figuring that if I wanted to learn how to rock climb I had to start somewhere.
For non-climbers reading this, my experience with rock climbing so far had only been top-roping at the CSE (the University gym). Top-roping is when you are tied into the rope from the top anchor. I had never climbed outside before or lead. Lead climbing is when you are tied in at the bottom and bring the rope up with you and clip into bolts, or in the case of Trad, gear as you go.
By booking the trip, I knew that I needed to not only buckle down and finish my essays but train as well. For the next couple of weeks, I worked on my climbing, took a course with a few friends to learn the basics of outdoor leading (bolt clipping and making an anchor at the top so you don’t lose gear), and bought a rope.
On April 5, a few days after I submitted my last essay for the year I packed everything in my Grandpa’s old USAF parachute bag (which by the way is a little bit of a hassle to move but great for packing everything) and set off for Spain.
I couldn’t be happier with my decision to take this trip.
Everyone stayed in a small B&B/campsite called the Olive Branch. It’s located in a great central spot with a 5 minute walk to the nearest craig and 25 minutes to the farthest. It was a great spot for everyone to come back to in the evenings and cook dinner or just hang out. They even had a small library and on my rest days I found a worn copy of a Bernard Cornwell book (a great historical writer, if you haven’t read his stuff… I recommend Azincourt. For obvious reasons.) In the evenings everyone gathered around for drinks and cards, it was honestly a great time getting to meet new people and getting to know friends better. I learned how to play a lot of new card games… and lost a lot of them. One game ended with the loser having to jump into the icy cold pool at 1 AM… that loser was me.
Being a sad, pale, albino teen I got terribly sunburned. Actually that’s an understatement I got absolutely fried. However, because of my enrollment in Albino Survival 101 I very early on identified the wondrous and wild Aloe Vera plant. I looked ridiculous cutting up plants and then rubbing the inner goo all over myself… but guys, seriously it was either plant goo or imminent death.
But on to the climbing!
My first day out on the rock was, honestly, a little nerve wracking. The walls at the CSE are only around 8 meters while the smallest climbs in El Chorro are 10 meters. I started off slow, gaining more confidence as I moved upward. And like I said, everyone has to start somewhere.
I can say though that pole vaulting definitely had gotten rid of my fear of heights. Looking down from my climbs, I was never nervous from the height… in fact I found being up high sort of exhilarating. Maybe it’s because I’m a short human.
To try to recount all my climbs over the past two weeks would be a little silly… and honestly I don’t think I can remember all of them. But here’s a few of my favourites.
Las Cosas de Lucas (5+) This one was an easy climb up the right side of the rock. I really enjoyed the bridging and crack climbing aspect of this climb. Plus it was really awesome to get a photo from the top. Everyone agreed this was ‘the Narcissus climb.’ This craig was also just really cool… you had to walk up stone stairs built in the 1500s to get there. #historyyyyyy
El Beso de la Flaca (5) This climb was a higher than than other ones that I had previously done and had a lot of different holds and moves. But, this climb was memorable because of the caves that you had to crawl in and out of to clip bolts (read: embrace your inner cave creature). It was a lot of fun getting up to the caves and looking out at the view.
Geisha (6a) This was one of the first 6a leads I did on the trip! It was another crack climb with a small flake. This was probably my favourite single pitch route of the trip. This climb was extra memorable as just as I finished the crux and made it to the anchors to rethread and lower-off, it started to downpour. I was soaking wet while trying to work with the rope to get down!
Solo Afeitar (6a) This was a really enjoyable slab climb. It was one of my first experiences on a slab and I found trusting the small holds a little tricky at first, but I felt like I got the hang of it.
Lluvia del Asteroides (5+) My first ever multi-pitch! I seconded this climb with Sam (yet another EUMC friend) (meaning I followed up/removed gear). This climb was one of my favourites of the trip. At 250m and 8 pitches (although we did it in 7), it was highest climb I’ve done to date. To say that it was a step up from the indoor 8m wall at the CSE is an understatement. I remember looking down off this climb and thinking ‘holy shit that’s high,’ but I was so taken aback by how beautiful Spain was that being that high up didn’t really bother me. All the pitches were different from each other so I got to try a little bit of everything on this climb. Topping out on this climb was one of those experiences you remember for a long time afterward. It was a lot like how I remember so vividly standing on the top of the Duomo in Florence looking out over Italy. I kept thinking how lucky I was to be in Spain and to be experiencing such a beautiful day rock climbing.
I flew back to Edinburgh on the 18th so I decided to spend my last day to visit Malaga. Craig, Chris (More EUMC friends YAY!), and I took the train from El Chorro to Malaga early that morning. We got to see the Cathedral, a 10c Moorish Castle that had been built on a Roman Amphitheater, and eat fresh fish from the big local market. Despite having been in Spain for two weeks, we had all really just been camping out in the middle of nowhere and hadn’t really gone into any Spanish towns. So, I was glad to have had at least one day to experience a bigger Spanish city. From Malaga I took the train to the airport and then waited there for my flight. I arrived back in Edinburgh around 1 AM (my flight was delayed by 2 hours….) and finally made it home by 2 AM.
All in all it was a fantastic trip and I am so grateful I was able to have this opportunity. I cannot wait to see where my climbing goes in the next three years at university! I hope to get more into Trad climbing soon. At the end of the day, that’s how I treated the trip. I took each day as it came and just enjoyed being out on the rock with my friends. I pushed myself to climb harder but I made sure that I was still having fun. I ate a lot of food and fully embraced the Spanish siesta.
One thing I learned over my years playing competitive sports (between tae-kwon-do, softball, basketball, track, and cross country) is ‘that if it’s not fun then why are you doing it?’ This was especially true in the case of softball were I pushed myself to continue even when I no longer enjoyed the sport.
That’s why when I came to university I decided to finally give myself a break. Competitive sports were a great way of learning valuable life skills like being a teamplayer, setting goals, etc. I am so grateful for the opportunities I gained through them, but I knew that my time with them had come to an end. I just didn’t feel like competing anymore. I felt like I don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. I just have to do what makes me happy.
Which, I think is a pretty positive outlook on life and one that I am happy to continue with.
As for now, my dad is currently visiting me in Edinburgh which is awesome because I haven’t seen him in four months! My 19th birthday is in 8 days!! For my birthday, I’ve finally decided to get my tattoo done. Exams are quickly approaching with my first one the day after my birthday. And then next month, it’s off to excavate Neolithic skeletons in Romania.
I guess that’s all for now… jeez this was a long post to write.