Tuesday, March 04, 2008

El Chorro

I just got back from my annual pilgrimage to el Chorro a couple of days ago. It was my fourth trip there in as many years and whilst I accept that the climbing is better in some places I totally love it there. You don’t need a car, the sun always shines and the punter atmosphere is more of a laugh than the more serious crags in Europe. Actually the sun doesn’t always shine. I arrived on the back of 10days solid rain but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as my main objective for the trip was in pretty much the only perma-dry crag in el Chorro, Poema de Roca Cave.
The first night I was assured by Team America that absolutely nothing was dry in El Chorro but that they were driving to the nearby Archidona Cave the next day if I wanted a lift. Ever since i first browsed the Rockfax for Andalucia I had wanted to climb here so I jumped at the opportunity.

I have absolutely no idea how a crag like that forms. It looks like a rolling hillside that’s been hit my an asteroid leaving a 50meter high cave. When I first arrived I was a little disappointed by how poxy the do-able routes looked but once you started climbing you quickly realised it was just an optical illusion created by the truly gargantuan 8c’s and 9a’s. Indeed the cave is home to the still unrepeated ‘Orujo’ which was the first route in the world to be given 9a+. Sharma, Ondra, Usobiaga, if you’re reading this, pop round for a repeat. The line is stupendous. It must be 50metres long and steeper than 45degrees the entire way.
I was chuffed with the way I was climbing as I haven’t sport climbed for about 8months and haven’t done any onsighting for over a year. I managed a 7a+ flash, a 7b+ flash, a 7a+ onsight and a 7b+ onsight that day but I was kept in place watching the machine, Malcolm Smith climb. It had been several days on for him yet he flashed more routes that day than the rest of the crag sent despite claiming to be off form. Watching him try to onsight an 8a+ was cool. He got to this undercut i watched others struggle to clip off and shook out for ages. He has the power. I watched another wad nearly send 8c, sketching for longer than you can feasibly sketch without falling and barely making any clips- he was pretty run out at the top!
After the first day I started heading to Poema de Roca to try the amazing Swimming through a Shark Attack(8a+/b) which I had tried a bit last year. As soppy as it sounds STASA was the first route that I ever really wanted to do. I still remember the first time I saw the route with someone on it. I was 16 and it was my first trip to the continent sport climbing and when I saw the guy power shouting across that 20 meter roof on tufas, I was totally convinced that it must be a 9a or something. When I found out it wasn’t I decided I wanted to climb it one day and it’s always been at the back of my mind since. First day up I did all the moves and some short links and left feeling optimistic. Second day the conditions were so damp and muggy I could barely do the moves and decided to give up. But, as I was dogging up the route to get my draws back I found a good knee bar rest before the crux and American rock legend, Timmy Toula (aka TNT) persuaded me to leave my draws up and try again on a better day. Day 3 my goal was to get through crux 3 of 5 to the good rest I’d found on day 2. Attempt 1 was a bit pathetic, getting to the third bolt and having to give up after managing to get the rope wrapped round my leg. Attempt 2 my shoe’s heel came off on crux 3’s heel hook and attempt 3 wearing socks dumby Dave stylee, after I’d given up all hope for the day saw me get through crux 3 into the knee bar rest i’d found the day before. Only the knee bar felt different that day in the cool dry conditions...like hands off so i spent about 3 minutes there instead of the planned 45seconds, totally recovered and got through crux 4 (matching an undercut stalactite at full stretch) getting to another hands off knee-bar rest. It was hanging there, 4meters from the chain that i began to get redpoint nerves. I’d said to all my belayers that this last boulder problem would be trivial but all I could think about was how easy it would be to miss the final slap (again for an undercut at full stretch). Luckily i didn’t and I was psyched out my mind to clip the chain ultimately because the route gets a big grade but to a lesser extent also because it was perhaps the coolest route i’ve ever done. The euphoria was short lived however- stripping 20meter roofs sucks.

I spent the rest of the holiday onsighting. Was chuffed that i seemed be fairly solid onsighting 7b+(maybe they were just soft touches) and frustrated at how solid i was onsighting 7c to the last move. Other stuff that happened- Sarah made me a headband and a hat with curly out ear flaps and a condom top and I trekked up to Makinodromo to try Lourdes but fell asleep and woke up as it was getting dark.
It’s a bit depressing to be home and having to catch up with uni work but it’s only 24 days till I go to Catalunya on an onsight rampage...7c’s beware!!!