Friday, 22 June 2012

Spanish Rock: A magical mystery tour

Photo: Steve George 
Rucksack club sun/rock Spain 13th February 2012

We came round the corner in the dark, back to the marina where the car was parked and Steve said, ‘Oh no… the gates are shut’.  These were like electric prison gates.  My heart jumped, because for the last bit of finding our way though the deserted apartment-land, I was working out what we should do if the car was locked in.

I am shaking my head, one of Steve’s wind-up jokes; then there was this very small sign, we didn’t notice when we left the car- Prohibited Parking-.  Holding my breath we checked for wheel clamps or a ticket.  Let’s get in the car and drive, logically came into my mind. ‘One drink at the bar’, said Steve without a care in the world, so I followed, easily persuaded and after the second or third toast to the route, I ceased to worry.  We listened to Iggy Pop on Spotify with a great barman, who had just given us a free ’one for the road’ cerveza when the text came though from Chis and Pete,  ‘Where are you?  Everyone but Tappers and Alison and us are worried about you!’….

The route came about because I wanted to climb on a sea cliff. ‘Magical Mystery Tour, your route’, said Dom, ‘I had a magic day with Helen on it’. Ant told us about the scoop traverse with no hand holds, in my head imagined the top of ‘The Slide’ on Lundy.  I vaguely remember someone mentioning a big abseil, I’ve done some big free sea-cliff abs into’ Spellcaster’ and ‘Street Legal’ in Pembroke, so must have dismissed this bit of vital information.

Not so early in the morning we set off (due to me faffing around, I’ve put this in for Steve).  It was perfect weather, dawdling at a view point, taking in an impossible looking sea cliff, where ‘The Missing Link’ is, (we found this out later) we chatted away.  All seemed straight forwards until we lost the path.  We made our own path which was ok at first but became harder and harder going and no sign of a path at all. After a few hours we sat pulled thorns out of our legs and worked out that today would be a recce day to find the top of the route and the proper path. We identified herbs and worked our way down to incredible turquoise holes dropping down to the sea.  Then, out of the blue, by chance, we found a ledge with three good bolts.  It must be the abseil for The Magical Mystery Tour.

It was 2.30pm. I sat and soaked in the sun, looking at the glittering sea and skyline of Benidorm, not a worry in my head.  After a bit, Steve started doing gear stuff, getting out the rope ‘What are you doing?’
‘We can do it’, said Steve, ‘we’ve got four hours’.  Bloody hell, better focus, get my climbing head on.

I tore out the route description from the guide and Steve started setting up an exceedingly complicated knot; this was a triple bowline and uses up lots of rope,  ‘Is the rope long enough to reach the bottom?’
‘I’ll check’, said Steve disappearing over the edge, muttering, ‘I hate abseiling’. Strange for a rope access man?  ‘It’s ok, there’s a ladder’….‘The rope reaches’, and he was gone….

Rope went slack; I clipped on my descender, checked buckle, screwed gate and followed.  By the old broken wooded ladder there was a free section, just thinking…mmmm; when I got to the lip of the gigantic cavernous cliff.  Nothing for it but to go slowly and carefully down like a spider on a thread; thanking God for the thick rope, wishing I had my little ab gloves, should have done the prussic thing, started spinning round and round, feeling sick heading down to huge cactus plants ….

‘Pull me in Steve’, I yelled.   At last the bottom, looking up at free hanging iron ladder and rope; there’s no way I’m going out up there!  That was the scariest ab I’ve ever done in my life. Steve cracked on along the ledges, so I coiled the end of the rope and went to find him, thinking, we’d better get up this pretty slick or we’ll be in trouble. Good job we took the description.  We checked it at each stance, everything fitted round an arête, up, down and along the ledges.  Gradually the exposure grew from below and the overhanging rock above got nearer.

My lead, I read the description about three times, 4-, 20m /traverse left, two scoops, pull over an overlap to belay, 2 bolts.  There were in fact three scoops.  The first was insignificant and I put three bits of gear and set off telling myself, ‘Don’t fall off’, thinking, ‘ just round the corner and I’m there.’

Undercut rock dropping to the unknown, traversing, stepped round the arête, too high, getting pushed off by the overhanging rock and saw two massive scoops strung out down below and up, the first with one old rusty bolt for protection.  No hand-holds, perched on little square foot-hold, I slowly got my balance and worked towards the bolt (better than nothing).  I left the bolt and traversed looking for holds telling myself it’s only 4-, pulled into the next scoop with two wonderful bolts for the belay, clipped in, safe and breathing again.  I suddenly felt isolated hanging there in this scoop of overhanging rock; until Steve ambled round the corner smiling and said, ‘ How did you get there?’  It looked difficult to get out every way.  Bolt to the right, two pitches left.

Steve led off to the bolt, an arête and traverse, he went on to the second belay good gear. We didn’t risk using any of the ENP nut holes.  Last pitch 40m 5a crux Steve set off with a few grumblings, steep rock, not much pro and in no time at all he was at the top. 

‘Hope I can follow’, crossed my mind as I got the gear out; followed the rope then the huge adrenaline buzz of topping out. We’d got it in the bag, a traditional alpine handshake, sorted the ropes and followed the well cairned path as the sun was setting over the towers of Benidorm, what a great magical mystery adventure.

With muchas gracias to Steve George, Dominic Oughton and everyone at the sun-rock meet.

Jill Sumner 2012