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Whether you’re a beginner or a true wallerina, Spain’s Costa Blanca offers the chance for climbers to really cut loose and enjoy themselves, regardless of standard. Outsider’s mountaineering editor Declan Cunningham has swung by there on several occasions to check out the scene. Here he fills us in on his recommendations.
The temperature on the dash was reading 1.5°C and it was blowing a gale. We were a bunch of cowboy climbers in Spain looking for some hot rock climbing on baked limestone so perhaps you can understand our reluctance to get out of the car. Maybe it was our Irish genes, the socks on our hands or just the fact that we only had the morning to play with before catching our flight. In the end, we decided to brave the elements.
We were at the Marin crag at the end of another short but sweet climbing trip to Spain’s Costa Blanca and we were damned if a bit of cold was going to put us off – after all it was December!
This Costa Blanca area is arguably more famous to sun worshippers than to rock jocks with Benidorm being the obvious eyesore on the coast. Not to worry though because if you don’t like ants you simply have to stay away from the anthill. Our little band are more anti-social, social climbers which means we’re happy to share a crag or even a rope but we’re not into the herd movements of sun chasers so we have tended to restrict our visits to the very tail end of the season in October, November or even December. Besides there’s something especially rewarding about a dip in the ocean after some hot rock climbing when you should be out buying Christmas presents!
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Generally speaking though, the Costa Blanca is to climbers what the discovery of an extra layer is to a chocoholic – a short-lived temptation. The place seems inexhaustible as a climbing venue with most abilities and tastes catered for. The area is probably best known for its excellent selection of bolted (sport) crags which are peppered all over the coast but most areas would have a few trad routes available if you’re the cool clean hero type. There are also some glorious days out to be had on some of the areas impressive ridges.
To each his own though and a little bit of both worlds could be just what the doctor ordered for some people. Either way, it’s possible to climb here year round with the exception of mid-summer because of the heat and the crowds.
Our little group have repeatedly based ourselves in the quiet little seaside town of Calpe where there is easy access to great climbing and oodles of cheap and cheerful accommodation. One particular favourite crag of ours is Toix which is just a 10-minute drive away and a great way to get to grips with climbing on warm coastal limestone.
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It’s a soft rock so it is eroded easily, and its sharp edges and unusual holds take getting used to so Toix is often one of our first outings with pretty much all of it being bolted. The grades range from 3 (VDiff) to 8 (E7) or VDoubtful I’ll go anywhere near it and there are both single and multi-pitch climbs to choose from. All this with the promise of good sun until evening means it’s a great venue for even those short days at the beginning or end of a trip.
Anyone familiar with this part of Spain will know about the Penon d’Ifach which is a 1000ft pinnacle of rock that dominates the coastline. It’s possible to walk up but it’s the kind of geological feature that just demands to be climbed. Loose rock can be an issue so we decided to opt for one of the easier routes. Via Valencianos is 5+ (HS) and plenty challenging for me but offers great airy and wonderfully mixed climbing in an unbeatable location with good protection where it’s needed and fun all the way to the top.
Another tendency with limestone is that popular climbs can become polished. The crux on that particular route was like trying to get up a vertical glass conveyor belt while covered in fairy liquid – it certainly wasn’t pretty but our grovelling was well forgotten once we all stood on top to take in the unbeatable views up the coast and inland to the next days objective – the Bernia Ridge.
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While there is literally acres of climbing I find it impossible not to fix my gaze on the dramatic blue ridges in the distance and a mountain type day out can be a welcome break from hard climbing but you wouldn’t go as far as to say a rest. The Bernia Ridge is long (6-8hrs) and requires an early start, limited gear and plenty of water and suncream.
Wet limestone isn’t fun to climb (to me at least) and we had actually been rained off the route the previous year. Winter sun, like most things in life, doesn’t come with a guarantee but this time out we were blessed with cool and clear weather – perfect for the 3.5 glorious kilometres of scrambling that is the Bernia Ridge.
The excitement never wanes on this fabulously fun route which consists of grade 3 scrambling, well protected abseils and just one section of bolted climbing. So all you have to do is follow the red dots, hang on and enjoy it. Signage can be scarce getting to and from some areas and Bernia is no exception so take care on the descent to make your way back to the start without unwanted detours and you can ride off into the sunset rather than being caught by it.
Sella is another great crag and probably the most extensive in the region. More able climbers than me could happily spend their whole holiday there and still be spoiled for choice. It would be impossible not to mention the Mascarat Gorge for location at least. Roads and tunnels have been blasted through the mountains here which makes for incredibly exposed and atmospheric climbing with cars whizzing by below and only blue skies above.
Whatever it is you like in the vertical world, the Costa Blanca has it in spades so make it your business to swing by. They even take kindly to strangers!
Its popularity means there are tonnes of web-based info about the Costa Blanca but Rockfax has loads of info, guidebooks on order and even free mini downloadable guides for a selection of areas. The Costa Blanca guide by Chris Craggs is also excellent and must for any visit.
The little resort of Calpe is only an hour down the coast from the Alicante airport and a good central location whether you’re into adventure sports or stocking up on Vitamin D.
Hotel Sol Ifach is a busy upmarket hotel with indoor/outdoor pools. It’s just minutes from the beach and offers a great buffet breakfast too.
The Orange House is also a very popular base for climbers offering great advice, organised trips if required and budget accommodation.
Hotel Porto Calpe is a great little cheap and cheerful hotel right on the harbour.
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