In September, our social media guy Dan was invited to Costa Blanca to experience a Rock & Sun holiday first hand. Here’s the story of his trip, from the routes he climbed to the lessons he picked up on the way.
By Dan from The Climbing Academy
I left the usual brits-abroad in the dusty tracks of the shuttle bus that took me through several rural and rugged towns until we arrived in Parcent – a small village in the Pop Valley of La Marina Alta and my home for the next few days. The landscape had changed dramatically over the journey, from the flat plains of dry cacti that had lay bare before Alicante airport to high-rising rock faces and steep hills which surrounded Parcent almost entirely. The Rock & Sun villa was exactly what I’d hoped for with a traditional feel, plenty of communal spaces (including a large porch out the front where we sat drinking beers every night) and a pool, which I’d describe as a little bit beyond ‘refreshingly cool’ – but what would you expect for September? Its panoramic setting captured the unspoilt beauty of Spain, far removed from Benidorm’s busy skyline I’d witnessed from the bus’ window some 45 minutes earlier. It was clear why Trevor and Desirée (the duo behind Rock & Sun) had recently chosen to relocate the holiday villa here.
As soon as I arrived, it was time to start climbing. It’s probably a good stage to mention that I hadn’t given roped climbing a go up until this moment, let alone touched real rock. For roughly a year, I’ve been bouldering at TCA as often as possible but hadn’t quite found the time to learn how to rope climb. I guess the motivation wasn’t really there either; it’s so easy to turn up to boulder on your own or with friends, yet learning a whole new trade and worrying about belaying, having a buddy to climb with, etc. put me off somewhat. To say I felt like a fish out of water at this stage is an understatement.
Des handed me a harness and a helmet and we headed straight to Peña Roja, a popular local crag approximately 10 minutes from the villa. Although a stone’s throw from the road, the curvature of the rock face gave this particular crag a secluded feel. The sun was dipping behind the rock too, allowing us to climb in the cool shadows rather than the demanding Spanish sun.
Everyone was in full action when I arrived so it was good to take a moment to see how it’s done and plan a few routes in my head. They were already on their third day of climbing, having arrived the previous Friday to start a week’s long performance coaching course. All of them had different climbing experiences, from trad to ice, and had come to Costa Blanca with Rock and Sun with the goal of pushing themselves to the next level, either by learning to lead climb or successfully climbing higher grades.
After a few practices with a figure of 8 knot and a little bit of encouragement from everyone, I hit a couple of routes – and I hit them hard! I didn’t fall or anything like that – it wasn’t a complete disaster – but my knowledge of climbing technique went out the window. Instead of focusing on footwork and keeping my arms straight, I started to depend on my measly upper-body strength to pull myself to the top. At the time it seemed to work and I even managed to tackle Through the Magic Door, 6a but it wasn’t long before I began to feel it on my arms and three routes was all I could manage. Although it felt like a terrible start, I now had an aim for the week; it was no longer about experiencing roped climbing for the first time but perfecting the technique and tackling the same routes with efficiency and skill. I wanted to prove to myself that I could become a confident and competent climber.
As the sun started to sink into the horizon, we packed up and headed back to the villa for an evening of beer and chit-chat.
On the first full day, Trev invited me to join them gorge walking at barranc de l’infern (Hell’s Gorge – a reassuring name if ever I’d heard one). We drove for approximately 45 minutes through rural Spain, climbing higher and higher up thin dirt roads until we reached our destination. From here, we descended into the Gorge on foot and abseiled deeper when necessary. Luckily for us, the Gorge was in perfect condition – at times, whole sections of the Gorge can be flooded, which can be tricky to detect until you’re already in too deep. All in all, it was a full day of walking, plenty of abseiling and the perfect opportunity to take in some stunning landscapes.
The rest of the week was reserved for climbing, starting each day at Alcalali (a crag set high up with far stretching views) and moving to Peña Roja in the afternoon to dodge the intense heat of the sun. On my first climb, Trev pretty much left me to it, only shouting up a few bits of advice if and when I couldn’t figure out where to move next. What I didn’t know at the time was that Trev had filmed the whole climb. Once I was back on solid ground, he called the whole group over and we watched it. I’d never watched myself climb before but it’s the best way to see and understand the mistakes you’re making. If you haven’t filmed yourself climb before, do it next time you hit your local climbing wall. Trev paused the video at various stages pointing out when I was stepping high for no reason, or stretching my legs out wide. The result of which meant I was putting more strain on my arms and therefore tiring myself out quickly. I knew what I was doing wrong and I understood how to correct it; it was time to implement this change.
After this I spent a little bit of time watching everyone else climb. I noticed how they often kept their body square, moving up with their feet and then straightening their legs to progress up the wall. Arms became a device for balance and support, not a means of pulling to the top. It took a few climbs to get used to the change of technique so I stuck to lower grades until I felt happy that my movement was more fluent. Since I wasn’t burning myself quicker, the number of routes I was able to climb a day increased, which meant I had even more time to practice and really nail it.
By the final day, I felt a lot more confident in my climbing. Not only was I concentrating on my footwork but I was also spending more time on each route to figure out the most efficient way to reach the top.
It wasn’t long until I approached my final climb of the week: La Llibertine, 6a+. At first, I nearly bailed on it. I still felt content climbing lower grades to focus on my technique, but I knew the chance to climb routes like this doesn’t come along often. Might as well end the week on a bang, I thought! And it was definitely worth doing. Everything I’d picked up throughout the week was solidified in the moves I made. Replaying Trev’s advice and demonstrations over and over in my head, I pushed myself forward – and before I knew it, I’d hit the top. It was definitely the highlight of my week and I felt proud to know how far I’d come in just a few days. Let’s put it this way: if you’d asked me to climb this at the start of the week I would have laughed, or more likely, jumped straight back on the plane.
We left Peña Roja for the last time and headed to a bar on the way home for a couple of drinks to celebrate the week. You could see the sheer joy on everyone’s faces as they gripped their ice cold beers. They had really pushed themselves during their week with Costa Blanca and therefore knew there was something worth celebrating. Everyone was leaving having hit or surpassed the targets they had come away to achieve and were already planning their next climbing holidays. I’d certainly achieved a lot more than I could have possibly expected and was still feeling the buzz from the final route.
Sitting in the bar was a great opportunity to hear more from Trev and Des about Rock and Sun and their climbing experiences all over the world. Their passion and enthusiasm for the sport was apparent constantly throughout the week, not only in the way they talked about climbing but in the way they coached. They knew every detail of each route we climbed and could therefore offer comprehensive and detailed advice on how to move and where to place your legs and arms. Their understanding of individual ability was also incredibly in-depth, knowing exactly what everyone wanted to get out of the trip and therefore piecing together how they could help them achieve it. They also wanted us to climb a lot and were the first to encourage us to get up early, take shorter breaks and get up the walls as often as possible. All in all, it was evident that they weren’t just there to watch us climb; they honestly wanted us to climb better, harder and safer so that we can share their appreciation for climbing culture.
They’ve got some brilliant stories to tell too. If you’re after a good laugh, ask them about the giant squid and shark incident on a beach in Thailand.
The trip was an unforgettable experience. In just three and a half days, I’d gone from having zero top-rope climbing experience to gaining the ability to smoothly and efficiently climb with confidence. I’d gone from burning my arms out on a handful of routes on the first evening, to climbing between 6 – 8 different routes a day and have the ability to spring out of bed the following morning and do it all again.
It was great to leave with a new personal goal too. Since I’ve broken the ice with roped-climbing, it’s definitely something I’ll be continuing, both indoors at Undercover Rock and on outdoor courses when I can. I’ve acquired a greater understanding of what different types of climbing demand too, so once I’m full satisfied I can climb consistently with a good technique on top-rope, then I’ll certainly start lead climbing, whether that’s here in Bristol or back abroad with Rock & Sun.
The Climbing Academy and Undercover Rock annual members can now get 10% off any Rock & Sun Holiday. Visittheclimbingacademy.com/courses/rock-and-sun-climbing-holidays to find out more.
Many thanks to Rock and Sun for inviting us to experience their Performance Coaching course in Costa Blanca.