Jake McCrary

Climbing in El Chorro, Spain

From March 20th to 30th I was traveling in Spain. Most of this time was spent climbing in El Chorro.

El Chorro is the pin

El Chorro is a small town found in the mountains of southern Spain. The views around town are inspiring. Almost any direction you look contains beautiful cliffs or rolling green hills.

While in El Chorro, we stayed at the Olive Branch. The Olive Branch provides a few different accommodations, ranging from space to pitch a tent to shared bunkrooms to private en-suite rooms. While there, we both camped and stayed in a private room.

The climbing in El Chorro was great. The routes are long and well bolted. Navigating the area was mostly straightforward. The other climbers are friendly and helpful. You can tell El Chorro is a European climbing hotspot; you hear many different languages at the crags.

Trip Details

March 20th

The trip starts today. Edwin and I take an evening flight from Chicago to Madrid. We land in Madrid around 7:30 AM the next day.

March 21st

We’ve arrived in Madrid and now need to find our way to the central train station, the Atocha Railway Station. We’ve already bought our Madrid to Málaga train tickets and with those allow us to snag free tickets from the airport to the Atocha railway station.

We arrive downtown and have some time to kill before our train leaves to Málaga. We wander around and end up in Matilda Cafe Cantina. This cozy cafe serves us toast topped with ham and espressos.

We catch the early afternoon train to Málaga. It is about a three-hour train ride through the Spanish countryside. I love taking trains, and this ride does not disappoint. Between moments of sleep, I take in as much of the view as possible.

We had an hour to kill before the Málaga to El Chorro train and spent that time walking around the Málaga train station and picking up a SIM card. A short 45-minute train ride later and we’re in El Chorro.

The train rides may have made it obvious, but we did not rent a car for this trip. That meant our next step was to hike up to the Olive Branch from the El Chorro train station. Luckily, about halfway through the hike, some locals pulled over and offered us a ride.

The hike to the Olive Branch

The walk from the train station to the Olive Branch should take about 30 minutes. The walk is mostly uphill and carrying all of our gear was a pain. We had been carrying our gear all day, and our shoulders were raw. It was great to be picked up.

We get to the Olive Branch and check-in. For our first few nights, we stay in an en-suite room.

March 22nd

View from Cocina Caliente

We were eager to get on the rocks, so we opted to climb at one of the closest sectors (what I usually call crags), to the Olive Branch. We hiked about ten minutes to Cocina Caliente.

Once there we enjoyed a beautiful day of sun with moderate temperatures. We managed to knock out every line at the sector. Difficulty ratings ranged from 5 to 6b with heights between 20 and 30 meters.

We had a blast here. It was great knocking out so much climbing in a single day, especially after having a slower start in the morning. Highlight route was probably “Happiness is a Warm Pasty.”

  • Shake your money maker, 5+, 20m
  • He’s got the Jaén, 6a, 20m
  • Mongi, 6a+, 20m
  • Odios los espárrragos, 5, 20m
  • Pie Slice, 5, 20m
  • Happiness is a Warm Pasty, 6b, 30m
  • Autovia de las Cabras, 6a+, 30m
  • Toast, 6b, 30m
  • Stay on the scene, 5+, 30m
  • El Nazareno, 6a, 25m
  • ¡Soy Caliente!, 6a+, 25m

Happiness is a warm pasty

March 23rd

We decided to hike through the forest to the Frontales area. This area is nearly always in your view as you walk around town. It looms over the city.

Edwin and I set out with the plan of going to sector Los Albercones. This is one of the westernmost crags in the Frontales area. From the Olive Branch, we opted to walk through the woods until we hit the cliffs and then hike west.

While making our way to Los Albercones we stopped at The Solarium. There we knocked out Las Amigas De Lula (26m, 5) and El Osito Polar (26m, 5).

Next up was climbing in Los Albercones. We started with La chica pelirroja, an incredible 6a+ that felt like it just kept going and going (probably 30+ meters). This was one of my highlight routes of the trip. The climbing was pretty much vertical until you hit some slab near the top. Your toes disappeared into tiny slots as you edged your way up.

Staring up Los Albercones

The other route we climbed at Los Albercones was Putifero. This 30-meter route had a 5 rating in our Rockfax guidebook and, at the time of publication, it was considered one of the top 50 climbs in El Chorro. This route gets a lot of traffic, and it shows. The start of this route is extremely polished, and this makes the lower part of this climb the crux. Still a fun climb, but I thought La chica pelirroja was much more enjoyable.

If you like long, nearly vertical routes then Los Albercones would be a great crag to visit. If you have a car, it is also near a parking lot.

After those two routes, we started the hike back to Olive Branch. We were unsure how long it would take us to get back and wanted to make sure we made it back for dinner. A lot of our day was spent hiking as we figured out our way around and gained an appreciation for the size of the various sectors.

March 24th

View from Alcazaba

We took today off climbing and rode the morning train into Málaga. We spent the morning walking around Alcazaba and the Roman Theatre. Málaga is on Spain’s southern coast, and we were able to enjoy beautiful ocean views from the walls of Alcazaba.

Another friend, Seamus, joined our trip today and met us in Málaga. The three of us enjoyed tapas and beers in random plazas. We all came from Chicago, and weather at home wasn’t warm enough yet to enjoy spending time outside. This made the pleasant weather in Málaga all the more enjoyable.

Eventually, we made our way back to the train station and, while we waited for the train back to El Chorro, we bought groceries in a market.

March 25th

Las Encantadas

We wanted to get Seamus on some rock as quickly as possible, so we opted to climb at Las Encantadas. This crag is within a ten-minute walk of Olive Branch, and you’d only have problems finding it if you hiked with your eyes closed.

Seamus pulling the double pinky monos

The Rockfax book is particularly out of date with this crag. Luckily, we were able to download a topo from the Climbing Lodge.

Below are the routes we climbed. One of the highlights of this crag was Crisis de identidad. This shorter route had a great small roof/bulge you had to pull. Guerrera and La de Seba felt pretty adventurous.

  • Bohem destrell, 6a+
  • Variante, ?
  • Crisis de identitad, 6a+
  • Clandestina, 6a
  • Guerrera, 6b
  • La de Seba, 6b
  • Geisha, 6a

Me before the bulge on Crisis de identidad

March 26th

We set off with the intention of climbing some powerful pumpy routes at Sector Suizo (a crag in the Frontales area). We were told that the climbing here was reminiscent of climbing at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. The Red River Gorge is where we’ve spent most of our time climbing and we were excited to try out a comparable area in El Chorro.

It should have been easy to get there, but we grew impatient hiking in and prematurely stopped at a neat looking crag which we think was Sector Momia. There Seamus saw a fun looking line and started climbing. We didn’t know what we were climbing and are still a bit unsure. In the end, I think we linked a few different sections of various routes. Whatever route we climbed, it was pretty neat and was one of my favorite routes of the trip.

After that adventure climb, we continued hiking until we hit what we thought was the climb Quatro elephants, a 5 and the start of Sector Suizo. Well, we were wrong here too. We climbed the first two pitches (as a single pitch) of some multi-pitch route. We’re not sure which route this was either. It started pretty casual and increased in difficulty as you went up. The height, the wind, and the sense of the unknown made this an exciting climb. Our 70-meter rope was barely enough to link the first two pitches.

We continued hiking and made it to Sector Suizo. Once again, I’m not sure what we climbed, but I think they were the left most routes since those were in the shade. We either climbed one or two routes in the same little area of the crag. The one I remember had a neat and powerful bulge you pulled to get to the chains. It was fun.

One of the neat things about climbing in El Chorro is that occasionally you’ll hear some bells ringing and getting closer. This ringing is a shepherd grazing a herd of sheep. The sheep will get quite close to you. This happened to us at Sector Suizo.

Sheep trying to be our new friends

March 27th

Someone at Olive Branch encouraged us to hike up to a newer crag, Serena. This was a long hike, made longer by us not knowing exactly where to turn off the road. It probably took about 50 minutes to get there. This crag is the top of the mountain. You have an amazing view of the countryside from the base of this crag. You also don’t have any trees for sun protection. Luckily, it was a cloudy day.

We hiked to this crag to hop on the highly recommended route Hashfield (a 7a). None of us got it cleanly sent it, but it was a ton of fun. It starts with a slightly overhanging, powerful face climb on thinner holds with minimal foot options. Then it smacks you with some slopers and slots to transition to a few bolts of delicate slab climbing. This was such a fun route.

List of routes climbed at this crag:

  • Cervecita fresquita, 5
  • ?, 6a+
  • La Hippie, 6a+
  • Hashfield, 7a
  • La gimnasta, 6c+

These were all great, and it was a great end to the climbing portion of our trip. We all wanted to stay longer and keep climbing.

March 28th

A couple of train rides later (El Chorro -> Málaga and Málaga -> Madrid) and we’re in Madrid. Edwin bought a class of train tickets that was one step above the cheapest for a few Euros more. This entitled us to food and drink service in a slightly nicer train car. This was great since we didn’t have time to eat breakfast in El Chorro before we had to rush off to catch our train. Cruising on a train through the Spanish countryside, drinking wine and coffee, is a great way to travel.

We have an Airbnb a few blocks away from the train station and check-in. It is a minimal setup but we’re just sleeping here, and it works great. The location is prime for walking around.

We spend the day walking through the streets, meandering our way towards the Mercado San Miguel. We didn’t realize this was a market that sold many delicious looking things and stopped and ate at Cafeteria Alces Resaurante. There we had a hilarious experience of having the Spanish menu translated into Cantonese to Edwin which he then translated to English.

Edwin and I

The weather and beautiful scenery made our walk great. We went through the Plaza de Oriente and just kept walking through parks around there enjoying views, statues, and buildings. We managed to be on of the last groups let into the Templo de Debod.

Templo de Debod

We ate dinner at Asador de Aranda and stopped in an Irish bar to catch some of the Spain vs. France soccer friendly. We then had drinks and tapas at Matador. I’d recommend Matador. It was a great place for grabbing a snack and drink. We finished the night with some outdoor beers from Automático.

March 29th

We spent most of the day in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. This museum has a ton of great art in it. Closures stopped us from seeing some of the highlights, but this might have been a blessing in disguise. We saw a ton of art and left bit exhausted and ready for a change.

We spent the remainder of the day walking around and enjoying the city. Madrid is pretty neat and, at least in the areas we visited, vibrant. People were out and about, enjoying plazas and full of energy. The major park we walked through was the Madrid Río.

March 30th

Seamus and I have early flights home to Chicago. We take public transit to the airport and buy a ticket from an actual person at a counter. We couldn’t get the automated machines to work. Next time I’m in a similar situation I’m just going to go straight to the counter. Speaking to a person let us get directions on where to wait for the train and made the process easy.

My flight doesn’t take off from the main terminal, so I have to find a bus to the other terminals. This was stressful as it felt like I was running out of time. Had my flight not been delayed, I’m unsure I would have made it.

I make it home and am exhausted. I was hit badly by jet lag and am out of sync and tired for the next few days.

Review and Recommendations

This trip was great. The climbing was fun, and the weather was perfect. The Olive Branch was a great place to stay. I’d stay there, either camping or private room, again in an instant.

What would I do differently? The main thing I’d do is rent a car1 in Málaga. I loved not driving and riding trains, but it would have been nice to have a car in El Chorro. El Chorro is very walkable but having a car would have unlocked some of the surrounding areas and saved us some time. Also, if camping again, I’d rent the Olive Branch’s tents and pads. This would have saved some packing space and been one less thing to lug around.

By the end of the trip, as with every climbing trip, I wanted to stay longer and keep climbing.

Would I recommend this trip to others? Yes. Would I go back? Probably. There is so much more to climb and having some experience in the area would make the trip go smoother. The abundance of climbing in Spain is the primary factor in my hesitation to go back. Would it be better to explore a new area?

  1. As a warning, Edwin spent a lot more time in Spain and warned that he met people that got very screwed over by renting cars. Long waits and massive tolls. Something to be wary about.