Costa Blanca 2019 – The Belated Blog Post

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Me again. Thought I should write of recent escapades with Portsmouth Climbing, so aquí va. 

Disclaimer: Significant climbing jargon within. Find a climbing geek to interpret if necessary…

Some time over a month ago, I arrived back from a seven (excluding travel) day trip to Spain, in the province of Alicante, near the town of Calpe, where the scenery was excelente – all with the all time greatest student society, the University of Portsmouth Mountaineering and Climbing Club (UPMCC) for company. First time in Spain as well, in fact! So, what happened of interest? I’ll skip our flight, and our journey to the villa, as well as the rest of the travel day, (it was quite standard) so we can go straight to Day One, Adventure One.

D1A1: A path not well traveled

Picture the scene: It’s the morning of the first full day, and you’re wanting to get some climbing in right away. Sounds good, right? So we vacate the villa at a reasonable time in the morning, arrive at the car park and head in the direction we believe the crag to be in. The weather is gorgeous, and soon enough, we’re on a forest track, cutting through spectacular Mediterranean forest beneath the rock face above. So after going along this for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, we’ve decided that it’s time to turn left (after all, the guidebook says it’s only a thirty or so minute walk, so this must be right?). Overall, what could possibly go wrong…

A bedraggled party of adventurers fights its way through the dense hillside thicket, thorns and thistles shredding equipment and skin alike. The unyielding Mediterranean sun renders everyone thirsty and exhausted. Even as the bone dry stones that form the jagged terrain slip and slide underfoot, causing miniature landslides every now and then, the party knows they must carry on, if only to once again find salvation…
*Record scratch*
*Freeze frame*
Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got in this situation. Well, perhaps it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but clearly, we had gone the wrong way, and were now required to plan our course of action. And this was quite a steep sided hill. Now, whilst my dramatic depiction takes some theatrical liberties, it is also quite accurate. We were, much of the time, on a 35-45 degree slope, walking sideways in the opposite direction to the one we had originally gone in, and indeed, most of the surface we were walking on was loose rock, something I suppose myself and many of my colleagues are not entirely used to, considering the soily and often damp nature of British terrain. Furthermore, the vegetation was indeed treacherous in places, although this I am somewhat more used to. After realising we had gotten lost and having gone on for so long through this terrain, a decision therefore had to be made; do we carry on trying to find the crag, or do we try and head down and back to the car park? After some back and forth, the team eventually went for the latter option, although either presented the logistical challenge of the party being somewhat separated, necessitating the relaying of messages, and the additional trek for those further away. Well, the going down was fun, particularly with further loose rock, thorns and the risk of falling into each other. As well as big ole ants. 

Having traversed several boulders, ledges and spiky bushes, the group finally found itself on terrain which was starting to level out. Then, finally, a track. Hallelujah! After all this, somehow, despite wearing shorts, my legs were not slashed to pieces, although many in the group did end up with numerous small cuts. Well, tis but a flesh wound. We also met another English guy on our way back who was running in the opposite direction to us, and he said he climbed as well. Offered us his contact info, although we unfortunately didn’t get the chance to chat later on. Nonetheless, we make it back for some lunch (at about half three in the afternoon or whatever time it was, but no one cared – it was just good to sit down). Following this, half of us decided to actually go up and do the climb, but I elected to join team lazy, and go back to the villa and enjoy the pool for the rest of the afternoon. Thankfully, the rest of the day went more or less as it should, although now with the introduction of a game. I will include the day there, and mention the game further in Day Two.

D2A1: Better climbing, worsening paranoia

Today was another day to climb, and this time, after an interesting drive through the beautiful yet extremely windy backstreets of Calpe, we got to our crag of the day; a rocky outcrop near the coast, with a gorgeous scene of mountain to the North (roughly), vast landscape to the North East (roughly), the distant skyline of Alicante to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the south (again, roughly), with winding streets and lush swimming pools in the foreground below us. It was the kind of view that was perfectly framed by the scenery, and couldn’t be more postcard worthy if it tried in fact. And all of this to go with some great climbing, and without any difficulty getting to the crag base this time! I cannot remember exactly how many climbs I got on this day, but they were mostly around 5/5+ sport, so I’m happy with what I did, considering I hadn’t done sport lead in some time. The rock was limestone, and evidently, despite the not too difficult to access location, was nonetheless not too polished by other climbers, so that was nice. A good way to properly kick off, I felt. Now, back to the game…

The name of the game was assassins, which some of you may or may not know. Each person was assigned another person on the trip, an item, which had to be both attainable and transportable, and a location that we would be in at some point on the trip. Once in the desired location, you are able to “kill” your target, by touching them with the item, rendering them out of the game. This took place over several days of the trip.
You knew who you had to kill and how, but not of what anyone else had. Anyone could get you anywhere, with anything, as long as you were in the right place at the wrong time. The result of this? Most often, frequent paranoia. Trust no one. Also, other people messing with you, making you worried that your time has come. Fun, when you’re trying to concentrate on climbing…
Nonetheless, great day overall. 

D2A2: Wine night

Dare I talk about alcohol? Well, I suppose I’ve started, so here goes. Wine. Much wine. And another game, the name of which is Amy Winehands…
This game, as the name suggests, involves wine, and hands. Wine which is taped to your hands. Both of them in fact. And you cannot remove the wine until said wine containers are fully consumed, which makes for a fun evening. It’s a tradition the club has kept up from previous years, and can make for an interesting challenge. For us, it resulted in 2am deep conversations and an extended lie in the next day. Standard, really. Try it, if you want (or not). 

D3A1: The villa

So this became a rest day for some, including myself, allowing time for clearing up, the enjoyment of scenery, and most importantly, the pool, which is something that is understandably not uncommon with properties in Southern Spain. The pool area is probably the best place to enjoy the surroundings from the villa, with scenic mountains and hills in nearly every direction, each one a nice shade of beige. As usual, it was extremely sunny, so the intermittent periods of reading under the shaded gazebo and taking full advantage of the pool was really nice. Not the deepest or the longest, but enough to cool you down plenty in the heat, and also to practice my stroke. I also managed to get killed in the game of assassins, only by the items and location that I put in! Still, it was fun to watch it carry on with others from hereon. 

At the same time, some of the group went off up the nearby Calpe ridge, and I can only imagine the views there being quite spectacular. Can’t accurately recollect something I wasn’t there for, but it definitely seems worth mentioning, and is a possible thing to do in the future if I go back.

D3A2: The night climb 

Having had essentially a day off laziness, I kind of had to join in when the majority of us opted to go to the same crag as day 2, but this time at night. Worth it. See the description of the crag and the view from D2A1, but this time the sky is dark, and all the streets and swimming pools below are lit up, as well as the skyline of Alicante in the distance. So, what looked good during the day looked even better at night, which is why I’m disappointed that my phone camera isn’t really up to capturing good night scenes. I took what I could nonetheless.


If I haven’t said it enough, doing this was really cool.

As for the climbing itself, I first attempted to lead an interesting 6A. I probably got two thirds of the way up, after which my arms had begun to fail me, because this route was in fact quite arm intensive, and also fairly well polished by other climbers. Thankfully my esteemed colleagues are happy to put me to shame and do the gear rescue. I went back to it just on top ropes later on, and it was a really fun route. Upon clearing it, I did have to forcefully prize my carabiner out of the bolt, which did leave its mark on it, and gives me a good example to show people of why you shouldn’t belay on the same screwgates used for gear. Maybe in different conditions, I would have lead it successfully. So, all of this was Day Three, and the night climb was particularly fun

D4A1: Calpe

The nearest settlement to the villa was the sizeable town of Calpe, and so it made sense that on one of the days, we should swing by to look around. And so we did. Punishment clothes included. Oh, what’s that I hear? I haven’t told you about those? Well…
The punishment clothes, on the summer trip, are allocated every day, and usually involve an item for various arbitrary acts. That day, the day we went into town, I was allocated all three garments, for reasons I cannot even remember. You can’t really escape them, and I was unlucky enough to wear them through town. Just see the picture. 

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Have you ever laid eyes upon such majesty?

Anyway… Calpe is nice! Mostly went round tat shopping, didn’t find much, had lunch and ended up at the beach. Calpe, like a lot of places in that part of Spain, seems a very modern place, which isn’t surprising given the tourism, and with the big rock visible from all around, it is quite photogenic. This wasn’t the last time we looked around, of course, so more on Calpe later. For now, the other half of the day…

D4A2: Breezy leading

In the afternoon, our party took to climbing again, in a crag that a few of the group had already visited. This was a really nice crag, I’d say nicer than the one earlier; a nice flat, open floor area, a great view back towards Calpe, and a nice selection of sport routes with varying grades. The one thing that was difficult to ignore, particularly when climbing? The wind. See, at least at the time when myself and UPMCC went Spainward, although it was consistently hot, there was, at times, also a powerful Southerly wind coming up from the Med. On this afternoon, particularly at the crag facing the wind, it was quite pronounced, which made things interesting. Well, naturally I had to lead something, so I chose a nice 5+ lead in the corner. I suppose the wind was mostly just a distraction, but it still wasn’t the most helpful thing when I was trying to clip in the final few quickdraws. Managed to clip into the wrong bolt near the top on the route next door, so I went through the fun of unclipping from that, before shimmying back over what was a particularly precarious bit of the route. Well, I eventually got to the top bolt, and it was actually really enjoyable. I only did one or two routes that day, but they were quite worthwhile.

This was also the day we made Paella. Didn’t think it warranted its own section, but it was delicious, or at least the veggie version I had was. The paella dish, seen below, was also one of the murder weapons at one point, ensuring hilarity.


Tasty.

D5A1: The sun trap

This day’s crag was a bit further afield, and took our hire cars along a not too well travelled forest track, consisting of stones, with the vehicle’s stopping on a verge before everyone disembarked. After a bit of losing our way and backtracking, followed by a hike up the hill, the lot of us reached the crag base; a wide, rugged area of terrain that was host to many rocks, with a view down the forest canopy of the valley leading to distant terrain behind us. Shortly after arrival and setting up, the clouds descended briefly, and we actually got what I believe was the first and only bit of rain that came down that whole trip. And it was refreshing, after the hot hike up! It came down for probably a few minutes at the absolute most, but was not to last, and soon enough, good old Sol pushed its way back through the clouds. Just in time for my climb, funnily enough! It was yet another 5+, because, if you notice the common theme, I need to climb more if I’m to be doing 6As & 6Bs more often. Because this spot was so remote, the rock was very nice. Mostly, if I recall, this route involved a lot of smearing (roughly speaking, holding yourself partly in place with your feet in awkward positions, for those unaware of the lingo). It was quite fun, and I managed to make it more fun, by clipping to the wrong bolt at the top, so I actually went higher than I was supposed to. This made coming down… interesting… after I’d enjoyed the view up there of course! 

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It was enjoyable coming up, although this… what shall we call it… creative deviation, did make me swing out a bit, which I’m sure was fun for my poor belayer. Nonetheless, I’ll count it as done, chuck it in the logbook when I get round to it, etc etc.

After belaying a couple of others after that, having lunch, etc, it became notable just how hot the Mediterranean sun can get if you’re in it without shelter, so it’s a damn good job that there was plenty of sun cream to go around! Fast forward to leaving the crag, yeah, this was a pretty good outing. 

D6A1: Calpe (again)

Self explanatory, really. The group decided that Calpe was interesting enough for another look around, which was helped in part by our proximity. All whilst this was happening, a smaller group of our party were headed up Calpe Rock, which I am jealous of, although I am also happy with what we did in town – we got to look around for a bit longer this time. One of the first things our group did, naturally, was to find a nice looking cafe, sit down and have some sangria, which was lovely, particularly with the included horderves. The outing included that, a spot of hide and seek among other tomfoolery, some shopping, and then beach. Busy as before, although this time, I wasn’t going to miss out on a swim in the Med, so in I went with several of my colleagues. Down there, the beaches are much less steep, so it takes ages to get out of your depth, making it warmer and possibly safer than what I’m used to. Then, we met back up with Team Rock, who reported on great views but well polished crags. To be expected, really.  Overall, nice to just have some freedom to look around.

D7A1: Aqualandia!
Thought I’d add the exclamation mark because it was such good fun. Aqualandia is a water park near Benidorm, and is probably one of the few things that would make me want to go there. We’ll start big, with slide number one, which was the first one myself and others did – Verti-Go. Let’s go through some facts and figures: Verti-Go is a 33 metre high slide, with a 28 metre one next door, that drops straight down. You go up many stairs. You get to top. You go in capsule (yup, it’s that kind). Trap door opens beneath you, and you descend those 33 metres, at speeds sometimes exceeding 100 kph (or about 62 mph in Queens English). The water is then coming at you so fast that a severe wedgie is obtained, and then you’re in the pool below. Fun, really! Fun enough to make many only do it once. Next, then, was possibly the most visible slide, the Cyclon. Cyclon, like all the others, also involves many stairs, but this one requires four individuals per go. At the top, the four of you then board an inflatable raft type thing with said others, and are then sent down the tube…

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Verti-Go (Aqualandia, n.d.)

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Cyclon (The Sun, 2019)

And that’s what it looks like, you go along the tube before coming out in the big cone, then you get thrown around a bit before descending into the final bit of tube that leads to the bottom. It’s a lot of fun when you can share the pain fun with others, which I suppose is relatively uncommon for a waterslide.

Throughout the day, several other slides were tried out, with varying speeds and queue sizes, before rest time. One thing that some of us, including myself, did not anticipate, was the capacity of extremely high velocity slides to strip off sun cream. So, although slightly overcast, myself and some of the others managed to gain a decent enough sunburn from that. Nonetheless, it was a damn enjoyable day out, and just about made the price of the ticket worthwhile…
Also, three of the group were not with us during this, as they were leading some crags near by, so collectively at least we managed to get some climbing done that day, even if not the majority. We also did a punch night that evening (as in the beverage), although that’s another story for another time…

D8A1: Homeward bound
Know I said I wouldn’t bore you with the travel, but the final day and the journey back had some interesting highlights. Most of the daytime activities included tidying up, enjoying what time we had left to make use of the pool, and doing our final rounds of shopping. Having eventually done all of this, it was finally time to depart for Alicante Airport, but not before leaving a small token of appreciation for the owner, in the form of wine. Can’t speak for the other vehicles, but I was able to provide good entertainment for the occupants of the car I was in, starting in a chat about languages, various other subjects, and somehow ending up in a miniature roleplaying game – like Dungeons and Dragons, but much simpler, where the people in the car played adventurers stranded on an island. Such is the joy of car journeys. I had a story going somewhere with that, but alas it was cut short when we arrived at Alicante, where our plane awaited. It was an overnight flight, with us landing back in the small hours, ruining the sleep pattern for a day or two, but that was okay – successful trip, good memories, and no one got eaten by cannibals. What more could one ask for? For some of us, myself included, it was also our last activity with the club as actual University of Portsmouth students, so it was good to conclude with some proper farewells afterwards. I will be back, of course, to haunt UPMCC as an old boy. Unlimited power!!!

Concluding thoughts?

I would definitely recommend visiting this part of Spain, given the large number of different things to do there are. Are you outdoorsy? Do what we did, basically. More inclined towards walking around town? Places like Calpe can offer some really interesting little shops, particularly if you’ve got time to look around, as well as great food and drink. We went in the summer, which isn’t the usual climbing season in that part of the world, so from that perspective, we got a decent amount done. At the same time, I’ve heard that spring and autumn are normally better for activities like climbing, so if you’re wanting to go and do it with a bit more comfort, then’s probably the time. Love the Spanish scenery, which is not something I’m used to, and possibly love the food and drink even more. Overall, I am happy with how this went, as the climbing was great, the company was greater still, and if I were to come again, I think I’d try to do all the things I might have missed out this time around.

Hope you enjoyed reading, and see you in my next post!

 

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