*many of these pictures are not my own; I let those on the trip take pictures with my camera, so I ended up with an assortment of photos.
Journey to El Chorro
April 8 || 9:30pm
I headed to bed. Well, more accurately, I took a nap.
April 9 || 1am
I woke up from my nap, gathered my belongings and met Tailor at the entrance to our village. We walked the 20 minutes to the bus stop to meet up with our Irish friends, beginning our journey to El Chorro, Spain for a week of climbing.
April 9 || 5am
We arrived at the Dublin airport where Conor and Anthony were meeting us. Our bags strewn across the floor in the airport (in a more or less chaotic mess), we sprawled out waiting for the two to arrive. Conor arrived, but Anthony was still nowhere to be seen. He made it just before 6am. We checked some of our gear bags and headed through security. It was a fairly painless process and we all made it on our 7am flight to Malaga, so it was a great start to this adventure.
April 9 || 10:30am (Spain is 1hr ahead of Ireland)
2.5hrs later, we landed in Malaga, picked up our checked bags, met up with Dave and Patches who were joining us for the trip (Imogen met us in El Chorro), and caught the train to downtown Malaga so we could find lunch. After wandering around downtown for a little bit, a bunch of us decided to get a tapas meal with paella and a variety of seafood dishes. I love seafood, so I thought it was really good, though some of my friends are not the biggest fan of seafood, so the octopus tentacles and shrimp that still had the shell/eyes on it was a little much for them.
We then spent some time in a small Decathlon and people picked up sunscreen, sunglasses, a foam soccer ball, a small plastic disc, and other random knick-knacks before heading to the train station.
For the week in El Chorro, we split into cook groups of 4-6 for ease of meal planning. The six of us in our group partnered up with each other to make meal planning/food buying more efficient. Tailor and I bought food for two different pasta dishes! Unfortunately we couldn’t find all the ingredients to make gato gato, so we couldn’t share that magical meal with our Irish friends. We then relieved the lads from watching our bags and let them shop for their food. Looking at our watches, we realized the train was leaving very soon and not everyone had purchased all their food. A few of us began lugging gear to the train so as many of us could make it on the train as possible while others went to go hurry up those who were still shopping. We sit on the train watching out the window for the rest of our group, sweating from nerves because this was the last train of the day. 1 minute until the train leaves. We see the rest of our group running and hop on just before the train starts to move. Well, that was a close call. But, everyone made it, so we were good.
About 45 minutes later we arrive in the beautiful, tiny town of El Chorro. Limestone monoliths towered over the town with a gorgeous blue-green river running through the valley. We all grab our personal gear, food bags, and club gear bags and start the walk to the hostel. All of us being used to the cold, overcast, rainy Irish weather were dripping with sweat as the large, unfamiliar, glowing orb beat down on us. The road seemed like it went on forever and kept going uphill. Finally after what seemed like hours of of walking (I honestly have no idea how long it took, but it seemed like ages), we made it to the hostel.
Climbing in El Chorro
Who knew I was going to study abroad in Ireland and get to spend a week climbing in Spain with some of the coolest Irish people I know!? I definitely didn’t think that was going to happen!
Before I go into details about the adventures I had climbing, let me preface this with the fact that yes, we were in Spain, but this was a group of Irish I was climbing with, so we were still on ‘island time.’ Back home I’m used to heading off to the crag around 7am to avoid climbing in the heat of the day, but that’s not how this week was (for the most part). Also, I’m going to use the French climbing grading system, so refer to this link if you want to convert to the Yosemite Decimal System.
The whole group went to the same crag, having a nice variety in difficulties so everyone could have something that would challenge them. I led a number of 5+ climbs, none of which were very challenging, but good for warming up. And, I had many more days of climbing ahead of me, so there was no need to go too hard on day one. Though, I hopped on a 6c to play around on because I could. I didn’t make it very far, as the start was the most challenging part. I tried so hard, but ended up just swinging around for most of my attempts.
That evening, Tailor and I made some delicious pesto pasta with veggies, we hung out in the cottage, laughed a lot because we were tired (well, maybe it was just me that was tired loopy), and went to bed.
Another “island time” morning, but not as bad as it could be. I think we got out of the cottage around 11am for our 45 minute walk uphill on a gravel road in the heat. That walk felt like one of the longest walks of my life (besides the walk a couple days prior when we had all the gear and food when walking to the hostel). We made it up to the Arab Steps, where there was a nice variety of climbs again, as well as a pillar with an amazing view from the top. The joke of the week was the “pumpy 3” on the pillar as the guide book said. We were all wondering how in the world a climb that was a “3” difficulty could be pumpy (pumpy: strenuous; tires out your arms quickly). It wasn’t pumpy. In fact, it was the opposite of pumpy, as it was practically a slab climb. But, the view was so worth the nice little warm up lead. This climb made for a great laugh and some wonderful photo opportunities.
A little later, Aislinn came over to me and asked if I wanted to lead a 6a. I looked at her thinking about how I really did. But, I’ve never led anything as hard as a 6a, so that was nerve-wracking for me. “Yes. I want to lead a 6a.” We ended up deciding to do the 6a+ because it was shorter and in the shade. Aislinn let me go first. I knew if she went first, I would end up psyching myself out and wouldn’t be able to convince myself to lead it. Conor was there to help coach and encourage as well. Psyching myself up for it was a challenge; I was practically in tears (though they were hidden behind my sunglasses) at the start of the climb. I took a few deep breaths and began to climb. Climbing to the first couple of bolts weren’t too bad and I even found some humor in the fact that I jammed my hand into a spikey crack multiple times even though I already knew it was spikey. Making it past the second bolt took a lot of coaching, deep breaths, and courage. I was finally able to push myself past it and clip the bolt. Getting the rest of the way up wasn’t too difficult, but I ignored all technique and muscled my way up because I was so shaken. But I did it! It was a proud moment for me.
I rested for a while after getting down from that climb so I could decompress. I took in the amazing scenery and snacked. A little later Eoghan asked me if I wanted to climb Rogelio, a multipitch described as a 4+ with several short pitches. Based on the picture in the guidebook it looked like there were 3 pitches. We alternated leads as we climbed up. Pitch 1… pitch 2… pitch 3… pitch 4? …pitch 8…9…10. Wow! Our 4+ climb with 3 pitches turned out to be a 10 pitch climb with the last few pitches being 5+ and the final pitch (which I led) having a 6b+ move supposedly (we found a different guidebook that listed all the pitches). Either I’ve gotten way better at climbing or the climb was over graded (probably a little bit of both). Eoghan and I both agreed that it could have had a 6a move, but 6b+ is a little high.
Then we got the “joy” of abseiling (rappelling) down all 10 pitches by headlamp. It was the most awkward and frustrating rappel I’ve ever done. There were so many ledges as well as plants and boulders to navigate. But, we finally made it back down to the ground and walked back to the cottage by the light of the moon (it was the day before the full moon!), making it back at 1am.
I took a lazy morning after having returned at 1am. Aoife unfortunately rolled her ankle on the first day, so she took day 2 as a rest day. But today she wanted to walked out with Eoghan and me to meet up with the rest of group because we were going to be taking the morning and walk slower. The three of us started the walk back up toward the Arab Steps area. We rounded a corner to see a horse acting a little weird. It kept following us and coming much closer than my comfort, sniffing my backpack. Eoghan and a local worked to get the horse back to the owner as Aoife and I slowly continued walking to the crag. Horses are large and strong; I’m already not an animal person, so it was a little stressful. We finally made up to the crag to a hammock set up in the shade. I took this day easy; I led a stiff 5+ (probably felt stiff just because most of the holds were sweaty because it was in the sun and we were all dripping sweat). A little later I led a few 4+ climbs, all of which were super easy but some of the most enjoyable climbs!
That evening, Tailor and I talked about how we wanted to do a multipitch together. We decided Nitti would suit us well: 2 pitches, 5+. The two of us as trip leaders back home are used to getting up early for trips, so we decided leaving the cottage at 7am would be a suitable time; that way we weren’t climbing in the heat of the day. Eoghan and Aileen decided they also wanted to do Nitti the next day, so we told them our plan. When I mentioned 7am, they looked at us probably thinking, “are you guys crazy!? 7am is so early!” But, we convinced them that they will be happier waking up early rather than climbing in the heat of the day, so they agreed to wake up with us.
6:30am came early. My alarm went off and Aileen rolled over and groaned, “you can poke me in 5 minutes.” So, Tailor and I got up and we were ready to go by 6:45am. I climbed back up the ladder to the loft and “trip leader Katy” came out, kindly waking Aileen and Eoghan. I knew neither wanted to be up at that hour, but that’s how it is with most participants, so I was used to having to convince people to get up (though, this time I couldn’t tell them I had breakfast waiting for them like would typically be the case back home). The four of us were ready by 7:10am which I was pleased with. We walked to the crag and watched the sunrise on the way.
Tailor and I were all roped up and ready to start climbing the rock at 8am, which was our goal. I led up the first pitch, which was really fun, though had a puzzley section. Tailor followed; I refreshed her on belaying from the top and then she was off, leading up the second pitch. Her lead was definitely more challenging than mine, but neither pitch was out of our abilities. And, they were both super fun pitches!
Tailor and I reached the bottom of the climb at 10am and then Eoghan and Aileen hopped on it. Tailor and I then climbed a single pitch nearby, but then decided to sit in the shade and relax until the others were done with their multipitch.
That afternoon, we relaxed in the pool during the heat of the day before Aoife, Tailor, Eoghan, and I headed back out in the evening (Aileen ditched us right after the multipitch to meet up with Aislinn and Conor for the rest of the day). We headed to a close crag which was shadier. Those climbs were super fun. My favorite was a climb called, “Happiness is a Warm Pasty.” Who could not like a climb named that? I decided to lead it because it was a 6b that Eoghan said was very doable and fun and I wanted to keep pushing the mental block that I struggle with when lead climbing. I get very nervous when lead climbing things that I have the potential to fall on, so I’ve been working to reduce that fear (you need a healthy amount of fear to still be safe). Clipping the last two bolts was definitely challenging for me because that was the crux, but I did it!
Back at the cottage, people were planning what they wanted to do the next day (aka trying to figure out which crags would be the shadiest because it was supposed to be about 85F). Eoghan really wanted to lead a 6b+ on a multipitch located right next to Nitti and knew that I was capable of following on a climb that hard as well as getting up early. So, he suggested leaving at 7am again. My jaw hit the floor; an Irish person suggesting we leave at 7am!? Of course I was down, but still shocked me.
We were out the door at 7am, heading to the rock to again beat the heat of the day! I led up the first pitch (5+) and then Eoghan, the second (6b+). The 6b+ started with a slight overhang, which I found a little tricky, but not too bad, transitioning into a small traverse on nice ledges, ending with stepping from the nice ledges onto a technical slab (I love slab, so that part was really fun for me!). It was a really fun route! We then walked over to meet up with the rest of the group at a nice, shadier crag.
This rock was formed very different from many of the other rocks I’ve climbed on. There were lots of horizontal layers with horizontal cracks you could hold onto. I hopped onto a 6a that looked fun (and it was fun!). I got a little bit off the ground and realized how tired my arms were. I was hanging off of super nice holds and my arms were pulsing from exhaustion, which resulted in me taking a number of breaks up the entirety of the route. I was about halfway up and no longer in the shade and quite puzzled by a section of the rock, so because I was just below a bolt I had clipped, I asked Conor, my belayer, to “take” (that means to pull in all the slack in the rope, allowing me to rest/take a break on the rope). I stared at the rock, created a plan of action, and then went for it. Next thing I knew, I was falling. I took a lead fall! (Don’t worry Grandma, lead falls are safe. I am still attached to the rope). After collecting myself from the shock that I took a lead fall, I climbed back up and tried again. I made a little farther the second time, but again fell. Two lead falls!
*Backstory: when I started climbing. Or, I should say, when my friends first forced me onto a rock, I would make it about 5-10ft off the ground (if that) and panic because of a fear of heights and a fear of falling. Now I’m lead climbing and just pushed myself far enough that I took a couple lead falls!
I climbed back up below the bolt and took another rest before I attempted one last time. I told Conor I would try one more time, but if I didn’t make it, then I needed to be lowered and get out of the sun/heat. I take a deep breath and go for it, this time working my feet up high enough, grabbing the crimp (tiny hold), then the sloper (flatter hold that you use the friction of your entire hand to hold) and finally grasping the jug (aka super nice handhold), which I hadn’t managed to grasp previously. I kept climbing and next thing I know, I was at the top of the climb!
After this climb, I felt accomplished. That was the last climb I did of the trip, as we headed out the next morning and it was too hot to climb the rest of the day (and I was exhausted!). My goals of the trip were to push myself to lead a climb or two harder than I thought I could lead as well as take a lead fall. I did both, so I have returned happy.
I am happy to be back to the colder, drizzly Irish weather. I’m definitely not a hot weather person, but I will have to say it was nice for a week! This trip helped to solidify the realization of how many friends I have made and how wonderful all of them are. I have about one month (only 6 of the days in Limerick) left before traveling back to the States. I have very mixed feelings about returning home because Ireland now feels like home to me. It’ll be a weird next few weeks, having to say goodbye to my home away from home. Though, much of it will be spent traveling around Florence, Italy, climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland, and exploring southern Ireland, London, Edinburgh, Belfast, and Giant’s Causeway, so that will be very enjoyable!