Costa Blanca
1-8 March 2003


“Hi Simon, I am interested in joining YAC, can you give me some details?”

“Sure, we meet on Thursday night in the Brewery, do you want to come to Spain next month?”

That was pretty much my introduction YAC and after sone nifty negotiations at work I found myself exiting Alicante airport looking for Simon, Carmen and Pete. Aboard our hire car with the spoils of an uneventful shopping trip (minus Pete’s soap, he was determined to avoid it) we execute a few unplanned laps of Finestrat before settling down and empting the car into a heap in the living room of Roland Edwards’ flat and heading for the crag.

Sella (say-ya) is widely regraded as the mecca for Costa Blanca, with a huge selection of routes, across all grades, in a variety of lengths, with easy access, good bolts and shade for those hot days – oh and the crowds. Pete and I spent most of the time uncoiling his new rope, S+C picked off a starred route. Despite being short single pitch and easy access we still managed to get benighted, finishing our last route by head torch! No wonder they called us ‘loco’. The local bar supplied us with a pile of bones that used to be a rabbit and wine and a long day ended with the sleep of the just.

Sunshine greets us on day two and we leave the bolts for trad climbing in ‘Echo Valley’ a new crag for me, with the usual pot-holed approach road and a good view of the imposing cliff of the Ponoch. S+C started up a pleasant 4+ with a tricky looking first pitch and Pete and I head up Via Esther a 3 star grade 5 (about VS) with an interesting start. Despite belaying out of place we got it together, the crux pitch involved an airy traverse on excellent holds but distant gear across a hugely exposed face to a perfect thread … just out of reach. The route exudes quality from start to finish, is always interesting and never too hard, with adequate protection throughout. S+C had bad case of Mistaken Identity bailing out after the first nasty pitch. Pete and I tackled a much harder 2 pitch 5 , with a delightful first pitch, a run out second and a troublesome abseil to conclude, but fun nonetheless. We even got back to the car before the sun went down.

Simon finds the panaderia and fresh bread greets us, or those who managed to drag themselves out of bed. Enough of this thinking about wires and friends, slings, hexes and all that malarky, we head off for some mindless bolt clipping at Marin. Quite a long drive past Alicante finds us with sun, a wealth of lower grade slabby routes and the crag to ourselves. Marin is as tall as it is wide, being compact with good two pitch routes, requiring a walk-off the back reminiscent of the Idwal slabs, except dry and warm. A dedicated team could tick all the routes here in one day, we of course managed but a handful but they were all good, if a little lacking in variety. S+C and Pete and I swapped routes and leads, and snoozed in the sun (well maybe that was just me). Post siesta I led a 6a, which provided much sport and plenty of belay practice, and later spotted an undocumented route starting over a bulge before easing into a reasonable 5+. For nosh we cook an enormous pasta fest.

Weds finds us driving to Calpe, home of the outstanding Penon D’Ifach and Toix East – one of the first Costa Blanca crags to be developed now surrounded by the huge Maryvilla complex. Starting out on a warm up climb turned out to be an exposed and quite a frightening affair, and I angrily lowered off from the crux after extensive and vocal faffing. This route required a certain approach involving brute force, a lack of subtlety and an unfailing trust in rotten bolts, and I knew just the man for the job. Pete dispatched the route with some firm grunting, one or two special words and a pair of blinkers. S+C had a similarly challenging outing and we called it a day and drove to Toix Placca, where the routes are far less scary than the approach drive. We had a very pleasant sunny afternoon on a pair of easy (4+, 5 about MVS) long slabby routes, watching the comings and going of the dumper trucks and the relentless hammering of the drills. An evening rock shoe shopping and a meal in Calpe saw us home late but satiated.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: in contrast to the lazy bolt clipping relaxed atmosphere of Marin, Tuesday found us up at most un-holiday 7am to get pole position an early start on the 14 pitches of the towering Puig Campana, visible from the flight in and conveniently, our balcony. All four of us were going to climb the classic Eposlón Central Direct about MVS with a natural gear. Arriving at the foot of the climb in 45 mins from the car, we were well warmed up, but more importantly just ahead of another party. Pete led off at 9am and I took the second, so called crux pitch, which turned out to no harder than many others. Constant movement, consultation with the hand copied route notes and banter with S+C found us approaching an arête from a somewhat novel direction, only to reveal a magnificent view over the huge face. 3 pitches of fantastic arête climbing on big holds and small stances follow - real quality. The route follows a varied sequence of chimneys, open faces, cracks, blocks and arêtes. The sun shone and a breeze helped to avoid over heating and a reasonably leisurely pace with comfy belays, most with fixed anchors, meant a relaxed approach and a smiley face. We alternated leads all the way until Pete reached the top of the last scrambly pitch. We hadn’t seen S+C for some time and as we sat scoffing our food and drinking the water we packed up and pondered their delay. The descent is a very airy via-ferrata and loose stone shoot, which takes its toll on tired legs. Arriving at the car we waited for any signs of their descent, knowing they had head torches (and probably spare batteries to go with their nocturnal reputation), but none was forthcoming.

We were only about a mile or two from the apartment, and we drove back showered had a cup of tea and returned to see … nothing. A drive around checking the bars and back to the car park just, spotting the lights from afar a mere 2 hours after we had arrived. Relieved we quickly returned and had a celebratory beer or two, or three…

After a long day we decided a short walk in and wide choice of routes was the order of the day so we drove back to Calpe to visit Toix West. Another well-established crag close to our previous visit to Toix Placca where I had spotted some quality routes worth a return visit. On arrival we were greeted by the sight of an ambulance and a very stressed young woman. A group from Rhyll were climbing and one of them had taken a bad fall. After offering our help and chatting to some ex-pats we decided to move on. At this point I had intended to mention the incident of Pete driving headlong at the oncoming traffic and scaring us witless, but as Simon said “Why single out that occasion rather than all the others ;-)”.

So after an eventful and more roundabout than magic journey we arrived in the Jalon Valley famous for its wine and almonds. Font D’Axia is given a mediocre write up in the guide as it’s quite small (single pitches up to 25m) with a limited number of mostly lower grade routes, but its idyllic location, well-protected natural lines and enjoyable moves make it a great venue for the not-so hard team. We ticked many routes, a highlight being Perrell el cacolat, a delightful 5+ (VS+) with good holds, excellent but spaced gear and no stars! While scoping out the rest of the climbs we came across some crag swag left by socially challenged bunch of brits who’d vacated earlier – and we pocketed it! We got back to the car before it got dark, and S+C arrived, predictably, just after.

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