It has been a while since anything cool has happened in my life; as a matter of fact this year has ended at an all time low with me breaking my back, my father needing work done on his heart and all over the world fellow climbers loosing their precious lives. As 2006 abruptly turned into a hopeful 2007 the waning days were shrouded in a cloud of dark and foreboding as our elite fell one by one into our memories instead of back into our lives with amazing achievements and unique personalities. It was on this note that I decided to take a dream trip to El Chorro, Spain. Friends indicated that I was in for a bounty of Spanish tufa filled limestone caves, long multi-pitch wonders and perfect weather just off the Mediterranean Sea.
After a pre-climbing climbing trip from my home in Salzburg to quiet Osp in Slovenia just three and a half hours south, I knew that I was in terrible shape and in dire need of good old fashioned rock wrestling with friends. So the plane landed in Malaga, Spain and my journey began with a comfortable train ride to the tiny town of El Chorro. Forty five minutes later after winding through tunnels, small towns and a fading Mediterranean coastline I stepped off the train and was in my soon to be happy place. I was supposed to meet friends at the Finca, little did I know that there were a few in the town (Finca happens to mean place of lodging or camping or something like that). I find whether or not travel is supposed to be easy that when I go to new places that I seem to do everything twice. This trip was no exception. My friend Chris and I managed to ride trains over the same location while attempting to get somewhere new, when returning the rental car we did loop de loops from freeway to freeway and gas station to gas station each time getting closer to the rental car drop off point. Ah, all little traveling hiccups make things more memorable.
The sun didn’t seem to rise very early and most folks get a lazy start from the dark mornings. The sunrises were spectacular those times I was awake to behold them. Colors split from a varied skyline scattered by faint high clouds sending out a peaceful morning vibe throughout the camp setting a positive tone for the day. Normally the only thing that would spoil it was someone smoking in the kitchen or burning a gourmet breakfast. There are certainly other ways to ruin a perfect morning and one of the campers shyly offered up this tale at some point during the trip. He had waited for a restroom and was unable to get in between folks taking showers and ended up going for a walk deep into the olive tree grove on the step terrain of camp. He ended up slipping on loose rock after relieving himself only to fall and dirty himself and clothes, we laughed for quite some time when we heard that story. Anyway that is not the way that you want to begin a day.
Each new day began with a walk to a new crag, making new friends and getting really pumped on each and every pitch. When there was no breeze and it became too hot, a nap in the shade was a welcome rest to the hiking and onsighting. My confidence on the stone and with the style of climbing grew with each new route and the fitness slowly began to come back. I also became accustomed to the hike home ice creams in the fading colors of the day.
We woke early only to be locked into what some would call a tenement hostel, but the price was right and I didn’t find any bed bugs so we tried it out. After nearly breaking down the door and missing the boat across the sea someone showed up to let us out and we stood in line like tourists to get on the boat to yet another adventure. What I noticed was that other then tourists there were no women traveling across the Mediterranean. I guess it’s a cultural thing. The place was full of men and it wasn’t long before my friend was being offered hash by some cross-eyed man local in a nearly drunken stupor.
The African soil well let me tell you was… wow. Well, it may not have been so dramatic and we walked till our feet were sore taking in the touristy sites and hit the local market for food and headed back to Europe. The rest of the time at El Chorro went well, there was a wild and catered New Years Eve party that thumped until I woke up in the morning and I guess that everyone had a great time because the crags were empty the next morning. In the last few days we had the opportunity to bum rides on the twisty roads that make a veteran driver sick to nearby crags and right when I was in need of something more I was shown crags that made me want to stay for weeks. Steep huge north facing caves with wild and exciting routes of all grades and styles. When I hopped on the plane home I knew that there was some exploring to be done and Spain would be the site of my interest.
Rob Pizem is one of the most enthusiastic climbers you'll ever meet. When not climbing he is a High School teacher in Salzburg, Austria.