"Oh I wish I was a halibut now...." The ridiculous lyrics of a bastardized shanty circled around my brain like a doomed ship caught in the grip of a gigantic whirlpool. Memories of eccentric evenings drinking rum, making merry and eating nothing but the finest fruits of the sea.... The notorious Clam Friday.
At the same time, spinning tungsten carbide edges tore into fresh, untouched limestone, destroying a few million years of history and making way for a glistening steel bolt to be placed. A new route was being born.
Las Encantadas (or The Enchanted) is a beautiful name for a piece of rock, and when I see it in the early light of the sun, sometimes I really get it.
|Photo by Emilio Bachini|
From my home at The Olive Branch, one line of climbing stands out above all others on the crag. Known simply as Redders, it follows a stunning buttress peppered with holes and pockets, and has provided hours of enjoyment for people staying here, although most of them have been spent sitting round the pool with a beer and watching other people struggle.
But my eyes kept drifting leftward. The huge gully was sure to offer some treasures, but it was the wall beyond I became fixated on. It was the last unexplored wall on the crag, and due to the difficulties getting to it, no-one really knew what it was like.
One wet day in the autumn, I was eager to escape the madness and cabin fever that ensues from too many rain-fearing climbers being trapped in the same room. I packed up my rope and gear and trudged up the hill toward the airy summit of Las Encantadas. Reaching the top of the wall, I weighed anchor and set sail down the sea of dark, soaked rock into the uncharted waters below. What I saw excited me, classic features on a definite line through solid rock. A true hidden gem.
Why it was there I am still not entirely sure, since there was no evidence at all of anyone trying the obvious route leading to it. There are only two logical conclusions I can draw from this - either someone intended to bolt this wall and just never got around to it, or they were simply using it to gain access to the ledge below so they could bolt another route below that. Either way it provided as good a point as any to work from, and the new line was still there for the taking.
Months passed, other distractions prevailed and I pushed it to the back of my mind. But eventually the right partner, right motivation and right time all came into some kind of cosmic alignment and I found myself back at the top of the wall with Emilio. This time we were armed with marking chalk, brushes, tools and helmets. We meant business.
|Emilio sitting at the top of the buttress just before we got ready to abseil in|
|The view from the top of the wall, The Olive Branch can be seen just below the road on the left|
|The view from the ledge, with Emilio descending from the top of the wall|
Standing on the ledge, we were already a little unnerved. Aside from the questionable quality of the anchor we had our top rope set on and the inevitable loose pieces of rock that would soon be joining us, there was something about it that just instilled fear. Perhaps the fear of the unknown.
Since I had already taken the first look and worked out the basic line, it seemed fair that Emilio get the first taste of the rock itself. Watching him picking around above the starting block, it quickly became apparent that the first few meters would be no pushover. Gradually he pieced together a sequence to lead up to the prominent roof and found the real stopper move, the definite crux of the route. Some desperate, thuggish moves got him past the overhanging block and into the features above. From that point he was out of my line of sight and I was no longer able to glean any information on where to go or what to do.
When I started on the top rope I got through the the first few moves quite quickly. These things are always easier once a way has been found. Feeling confident, I switched the two finger pocket to an undercut and started to reach to the next hold.
Suddenly I was airborne. Though perfectly safe, the rope was angled so that I fell away from the wall and out into space. The small piece of rock now flying down toward the bush had detached unexpectedly and I was shocked to have fallen off. We were both caught off guard by that, but also quite happy that the crucial two finger pocket had now become quite a comfortable three finger pocket!
I found it very interesting how much fear was involved in those first attempts. The objective dangers we faced were incredibly small, but the uncertain nature of climbing a new line in an exposed position felt out of control, and not knowing how difficult it would get added a level of apprehension too.
The crux provided some interesting holds and features, but on my first few tries I really could not fathom what to do. After much flailing and udging I finally broke through and the beauty of the upper section was revealed. A wide crack with amazing hidden jugs inside it. A handjam crack with just enough holds around it. A ledge with just enough room to rest. A thin crack with surprisingly good holds all the way. All this lead up to a large block jutting out which provides great holds but has all the exposure of the route and the extra 30 metres below the ledge. Pulling onto the small ledge above would make anyone feel like a hero. From the top of this, only a couple more airy moves on small Verdon-esque 'gouttes d'eau' to a fantastic finishing hold.
We were excited. Very excited. Not just a new line on new rock, but a great new line with soon-to-be classic climbing on wonderfully featured and varied rock.
As we strolled down the hill, bubbling with thoughts about the route and the potential around it, a name was conceived.
"Well it is friday today....."
Out of respect for the country we live in, the name in the guidebook will be in Spanish - 'Viernes de Almeja', but I am sure it will become known by its English translation too, such is the bi-lingual nature of the route naming in this region.
A shortage of bolts provided a temporary delay, but soon enough I was lowering myself down the wall again, armed with all the tools of the trade. Once the anchor was placed, the route felt like it was finally coming into existence. I had marked all the places I thought the bolts should be while top roping, but still I took plenty of time to think about where each one would be clipped from, how the rope would run and where the best quality rock was. The line had waited this long to be bolted, it deserved not to be rushed. I took time to make sure each bolt was as perfect as it could be, and took pride in each one.
Round and round the drill bit turned, as the Clam Friday theme song circled around my mind -
"God clam them all,
I was told we'd sail the seas for American gold!
We'd fire no guns, shed no tears....
Now I'm a broken clam on a halibut's ear,
The last of Robbie's Clamateers"
It makes little sense, and we rarely got all the words right anyway, but the mere mention of the word 'Clam' will always bring me back to those merry winter nights. Fitting then, to have a route by that name looking over the place where it all began.
We decided to wait til Friday to try it on lead.
In the following days, Emilio and Charly helped me to finish off the tidying and cleaning, leaving a pristine route ready to be climbed, and on Friday we were ready.
Charly was keen to try to onsight it, and since both Emilio and I had already tried it, we all thought this was a great idea. Unfortunately it was not to be, and one by one we all tried and failed.
Maybe it was a bit harder than we thought.
Saturday brought yet more sunshine and for some reason we decided to embrace it and climb right in the middle of the day. I went up once and worked out some more things, found more holds and got a better sequence. It felt like the next try it would go.
Sure enough it did, and just in time for Patrick to appear at the top and take a couple of his great trademark shots.
|Grunting through the final bulge in the heat of the midday sun - Photo by Patrick Pearce|
|The last move to the chain - Photo by Patrick Pearce|
The return trip two days later saw Emilio making the second ascent, Charly making good progress on lead, and Roy getting the first top rope flash.
|Emilio Bachini cruising through the hard technical starting sequence|
|Emilio getting into the crux roof|
|Emilio coming down from the second successful ascent|
We left the crag that evening in high spirits, full of ideas about the other new lines that may exist on this wall, and soon after Roy and Charly sent it too.
After much discussion, we decided on a grade of F6c+. We had thought it may be a little harder at first, but over these four ascents many new holds were discovered and better sequences established. I still think it is quite stiff at the grade, and certainly a tough onsight, but this keeps it in line with the rest of the crag quite nicely.
In honour of all our friends who shared shanties, seashells and shenanigans of only the most nautical kind, The new wall will be known as El Clampadres Sector.
Viernes de Almeja. F6c+, 35m
Below is the route as seen from our home at The Olive Branch,
with Charlotte Latter claiming the first ground-up ascent.
Photos taken by Roy Goddard
Big thanks also to Andreas at Aventur El Chorro for providing the drill and bolt hangers. The El Chorro climbing shop is one of the best independent outdoor retailers I have come across - he knows his stuff and the prices are good. Please support the El Chorro climbing scene by popping in there if you visit.
All the bolts and hangers, the anchor chain and the drill bits were paid for by the bolt fund collected at The Olive Branch this season, so thanks to everyone who stayed here and contributed!