This February, a few friends from The Castle Climbing Centre were heading out to Chulilla Valencia, which coincided with me coming down with a horrible cold. I had a few days off school & I couldn’t see a better opportunity to regain my strength, than soaking up the Spanish sun. After all the good things I’ve heard about the place, without a moments hesitation, I was in…
We were a group of six, Gav Symmonds, Mike Langley, Tim Maxwell, Juan Avendaño, Ed Ratcliffe and myself, all climbers from London. We set off Thursday night and stayed at a hotel so we didn’t have to get up at ridiculous o-clock in the morning to catch our flight. We were sitting around the bar, chatting and generally getting psych, when Tim ‘the task manager’ unexpectedly started writing a shopping list for the whole trip. The list included what each of us would need to get at the supermarket once we arrived in Spain. For those of us who hadn’t been on a trip with Tim, it came as a surprise to see such a comprehensive and epic list, that included around 40 pieces of every fruit under the sun, for just five days… After a couple of hours organising our roles, everyone felt pretty listed out, and ready to get to bed so that the next day would come faster!
We swapped snowy Britain for sunny Spain. With the hire cars sorted and the endless supply of fruit all packed in, we hit the road and arrived in Chulilla after about an hour driving on decent roads with very little traffic. The whole journey took about 4 hours from Gatwick. Still with plenty of time to climb that day, we dropped our bags at the refugio El Altico, where we were greeted by the super friendly Pedro Pons and his partner Nuria. Not only they have built a brilliant, clean and comfortable refuge, Pedro has a huge wealth of experience in the area (he has bolted most crags) and knows a thing or two about training (he is a World Champion).
The first sector we went to was “Sex Shop”: a short 10 minute walk from the refugio. Gav and I started on a 7a+ which at 32m was already longer than anything I’ve sport climbed in Britain. I didn’t think the route was that different or special compared to the rock I’ve climbed on before, except that it was orange! The next route I got on definitely changed that view. “Dale Duro Negro” (7b) was a lot less polished and followed a great line up a corner with all kinds of hold types and climbing styles. After that, every route I got on was brilliant.. I kept moving along the sector, climbing the good looking lines and getting used to the climbing in Chulilla on some low level 7’s. Soon I was tempted to try something a bit harder. An obvious ‘king line’ on the crag was ‘Ramallah’ (7c+): It follows a long line of tufas starting thin and getting wider and wider as you gain height. It had been recommended by lots of people who’d been there before, so I got on it and managed to onsight it with a burning pump in my forearms!
The next day we went to a sector called El Balconcito. This sector is a bit steeper and the routes start on powerful climbing through a bulge, becoming technical and crimpy on the upper wall. Before getting on the hard stuff, Gav and I warmed up on a ‘tufatastic’ 50m 7b. It took 30 minutes before we could feel our feet again; I’ve never had a foot pump before!
Gav set out to onsight ‘El Bufa’ 8a. Climbing up through a powerful bottom section on thin tufas he reached a good rest. From here it’s still long, technical sustained climbing on crimps to the top. After a few moments recovering at the rest, Gav carried on up the wall. However, about 3 quarters of the way up the wall, with a thundery grunt, he was off at a difficult section. He pulled straight back on, and climbed to the top.
Watching Gav on the route, the style looked like it would suit me. I thought I’d have a go at flashing it, something I have never really attempted to do on an 8a outside before. I started the climb feeling pretty nervous. I was really sketchy on the bottom section, but once I reached a clear rest I began to relax. After a little shake I kept moving, before I got too cold from the wind. I kept crimping up the route, getting closer and closer to the chains, until there was only 5 more meters to go. This section was the hardest part of the route for me. I was super stretched out on some thin side pulls and had to stand up on a really high foot to reach the top hold. After all the hard work and strenuous, delicate climbing, I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to fall off, and managed to climb through to the top on my flash attempt :-) I was really happy to climb this route: when I was younger 8a was always the hardest grade up at my wall and I never thought I would climb one, let alone flash one!
On a roll, I had a quick go at ‘Tequila Sunrise’ 8a to the right of ‘El Bufa’ and flashed that as well which was a great ending to a fantastic day, and one of my most enjoyable climbing days yet.
Two days in, I had already ticked the 2 hardest routes on my wish list, and now needed to find something harder. Pedro had suggested trying ‘Gran Reserva’ 8b at ‘Cañaveral’ sector. This area was very different to the others we’d visited. The routes were all about 30m and vertical, but very technical and the routes and grades were a lot sterner than before. It’s also a lot busier than some of the other sectors, with families, dog walkers and tourists out enjoying the gorge On a fresh Sunday morning. I warmed up putting the clips on the route and trying some of the moves. It already felt way harder than the two routes I flashed the day before. There were 3 cruxes on the route and no rests in between, which was a real test for me as every move was so droppable, testing my stamina, power and technical abilities. This is what I liked so much about the route. I managed to do all the moves in 2 sections and left it at that to save myself (particularly my skin!) for the next day.
We headed down to the crag early to guarantee the route was in the shade. I warmed up quickly and then got straight on Gran Reserva. The first crux involves a really high heel hook on a small spike, followed by a powerful move off two slopey crimps into a gaston. I fell off at this move a few times, so lowered down for a long rest. I felt like I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to climb this route because I didn’t have much time left in Chulilla. I was more nervous climbing this route than I am in comps! I tied back in and was determined I was going to do it this time. I reached the lower crux and set up for the move. This time I spent a lot longer placing the heel, and when I did the move stuck! So far, so good! The next section involved some really strenuous moves on undercuts and gastons and I even made some power noises, which rarely happens! I kept fighting my way up the route, eventually reaching the top crux. I was so determined not to fall off here, and fought really hard to hang on and keep climbing to the top. My elbows were above my head, I was so pumped. I reached the top, clipped the chain, and had to wait a moment or two before my arms had enough energy to clip the 2nd karabiner!
I was super happy to climb this route because it felt right at my limit and I think it’s the hardest I’ve climbed physically and mentally so far. Ed and Gav also had a really successful day both climbing ‘El Bufa’ and Ed also doing ‘Tequila Sunrise’, We all felt like we had earned our ‘arroz a la Valenciana’ that night!
On our last day my skin was really suffering, but after packing my fingers with Climb Skin the night before I still had enough scraps left to climb on. We went back to the area around ‘Ramallah’ to climb in the comforting sun. Ed and Gav started putting the clips on ‘Entre Dos Caminos’ 8a and I thought I’d like to try that one too. I went and sat round the corner until they were done so I had a chance at an onsight. I had so little skin left on my fingertips that I didn’t want to waste it warming up, so once they were done I pulled straight onto the route. The climb zig zagged up the wall following every tufa there was, then up a slab to finish on a powerful top section. I topped the route, which was a great way to end the trip. Rather than our usual walk back to the refuge, we decided to spice things up a bit by taking the via ferrata. This proved to be actually pretty difficult with all our bags on our backs and spaced out rungs for good measure!
I really enjoyed Climbing in Chulilla and definitely need to go back. There’s so much to do out there and so much which hasn’t even been bolted yet! The accommodation at El Altico couldn’t have been better, and the advice and hospitality from Pedro and Nuria was invaluable. I would recommend it to everyone :-)