Sunday, 26 November 2017

Altea, Spain – Days 33 to 39

Can't beat a selfie!
After more than five weeks here in Altea, Costa Blanca we’re feeling pretty relaxed and at home. Richard and Elizabeth have, for the last week, been in Scotland visiting friends, so we have been housesitting here, looking after Pepa cat and completing a number of DIY jobs for them, as well as having a couple of social evenings at R&E’s friends and family and three days out, one climbing, one in the mountains, one in old town Altea.

The narrow streets of Altea Old Town
Our climbing was at a crag near Alcalali that we’ve been to before. That wasn’t our first choice, I wanted to do the Toix ridge, a 5c grade multi pitch route up the face then roped scrambling over the knife edge ridge, past the TV masts and back, but it didn’t happen. The car park was full of mini vans and a big group gearing up to climb and, although we managed to gear up and get there before them there were a few other groups climbing nearby making it seem very busy. Taking into account that we haven’t climbed above 4+ for some time and that we had an audience meant that our heads weren’t quite set up to tackle something that hard so we bailed out and went elsewhere.

The Capilla del Cristo church
Alcalali is a roadside crag with a big range of routes, mainly single pitch and grades from 3+ up to about 8, so we went to an area we’ve been to before to tackle some grade 4 to 5 climbs, mainly to see how we’d get on doing 5’s before thinking about the Toix ridge. First climb, a grade 4, went very smoothly, nice natural limestone, plenty of bolts, hot in the sun, but belay in the shade. Second climb a 4+, much more vertical and exposed, requiring some thinish exposed moves to clip the next bolt. I took a few deep breaths, clipped but grabbed the quickdraw to clip in – breathe, then easily to the top. Jackie led with a bit more confidence through the thin bit, we left the rope in place so we could tackle the grade 5 next door that uses the same lower off. Well, we both did it on the top rope and didn’t fall off, but we felt on the edge at some places and glad we hadn’t led it. Maybe we’re not up to the Toix ridge yet, good decision to bale! When we think we have led 6b’s and 6c’s in the past and now find 5a’s hard – we’re lightweights these days, but as long as we can enjoy what we do its OK. We’ll wait until someone else who climbs better is out here and get them to lead the Toix ridge! Alex and Rob, fancy another trip out here? Finished the day on a very long grade 4 climb, actually 26m, which meant that we only just managed to abseil down on our 50m ropes due to rope stretch. Should have noted the halfway mark going through the belay plate and several meters up and knotted the two ropes to ab down, but hey, we made it! Home for beers on the terrace and contemplate how much better we used to be!

Recreation of a scene from Jackies youth
Easy next day was spent looking round Altea old town, which dates back to 1617 and sits on a small hill overlooking the harbour, the new town and the surrounding mountains with lots of narrow streets and viewpoints. Took in the viewpoint that Jackie remembers visiting in her childhood, before her dad and Elizabeth even bought the house in Altea-La-Vella and were just visiting. Coffee stop in the square and a visit inside the Capilla del Cristo chapel, that was built in 1854 over the remains of the original 17th century church and then a stroll down to the beach and along the seafront. Lunch at the Andalucia seafood restaurant in Calpe, which was a bit of a drive away, but Jackie wanted chopitos (fried baby squid) and nowhere in Altea quite fitted her requirement.
The square and Jackie sitting enjoying the view (can you see her?)
The Andalucia is R&E’s favourite seafood restaurant, right on the beach and justifiably so. The Menu del dia (Menu of the day) is 12€ and includes starter (chopitos for Jackie, boquerones - small fried fish for me), bread with garlic mayo, mains of whole fish, dessert and half a bottle of wine each. We were totally stuffed after that, Jackie needing a power nap after as she had drunk about ¾ of the bottle of wine as I was driving!

We spotted this cat hiding to observe a bird hopping about....
And this would have been the birds view
Our mountain day hike was a great success, the book I have only covers the mountains on this side of the valley and I really wanted to hike to the top of one of the mountains we look at from the terrace on the other side of the valley. Puig Campana, the big pointy one on the left we have done before, but I wanted to tick some others off, so after searching routes on the internet, studying the route on Google satellite view and comparing it to the Navmii offline maps I have on my phone we set off with no map, but confident I knew the route via the map on my phone, our intended target, Sierra de Aitana, the very right hand peak we can see from the terrace.

Inside the Capilla del Cristo
Near the coll of the Sierra de Aitana, the path up beyond
We drove through the village of Benifato and on, steeply up hill on single track potholed roads arriving at a car park at 1000m in amazing scenery. It turn out that Sierra de Aitana is a long (5km?) abrupt wall of rock that has been pushed up by tectonic forces, steeply sloping on the other side, but a sheer 400m vertical rock wall on this, the northern side. As the rock has been forced up giant blocks of limestone have become detached forming huge voids between that seem to open to the centre of the earth, all at weird angles, with giant fissures in the ground, giving amazing scenery – a geologists dream. The hilltop village of Guadalest is in the distance, with its old buildings perched on top of vertical seams of limestone that are part of this huge tectonic movement that has formed this amazing landscape.

Making progress! The Bernia Ridgecoming into view, centre distance
Jackie is happy to point out that we did the route in the reverse of the normal way, but I like to think that I chose well, ascending on a forest 4 wheel drive track that took us east under the face, up to a coll and then back west up onto the 1558m summit with amazing views over the 400m sheer drop, our parked car a long way below, Guadalest and its reservoir in the distance, the Bernia Ridge and, below it Altea-La-Vella and R&E’s house (too far away to make out), Calpe rock in the distance set in a blue ocean and a side view of Puig Campana, showing its famous notch that we can’t see from the house. Amazing!
Lunch stop. Bernia Ridge and Calpe rock left, Puig Campana and the notch on the right
Jackie walking towards the edge of the world!
Great place for lunch. Onwards towards the secret (!) military base on the far summit with its golf ball antenna, numerous masts and building that I read are part of a joint US and EU military communications network for Europe and north Africa. We didn’t make the ascent to the base (couldn’t get in anyway), but headed down the path through the most amazing jumble to tectonically displaced giant blocks of rock I have seen, I was in awe, but Jackie seemed less impressed. Back at the car in less than 3.5 hours having covered about 9km and about 600m of ascent and home for a beer on the terrace and a distant view of our achievement!

In this photo is R&E's house, but you can't see it! To the right of the rocky summit is a distant Bernia Ridge with Calpe rock in the blue ocean. The house is on the slope of the Bernia Ridge
Jackie contemplates the amazingly broken rock
A lovely couple of evenings out, one at Jane and Michaels who cooked us a fabulous meal with plenty of wine and a second at Carolyn and John’s house for G&T’s, wine and really nice tapas. Lovely to catch up with them, great food and company.

We’ve more or less finished our DIY jobs of wall painting, floor varnishing, wood filling and staining, we have only to clean up a bit and get ready for R&E’s return tomorrow (Monday) evening, so seafood lunch at a beach bar in Altea today after a walk along the front and now we’re relaxing before dinner. Weathers a bit colder now, still reasonably sunny, but quite cold at night.

Jackie stands on the edge of a huge void between giant blocks of rock
More ruptured landscape
Next Thursday we leave here for five nights housesitting in Gibraltar then a bit of a tour to Malaga, where we hope to meet up with Jean and Jimmy who we met on our cruise from South America in May, then Ronda, then Granada with the Alhambra and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, before returning here again on 12th December. Whether we then stay here for Christmas or not depends on the snow in the Alps. At the moment it’s looking good, people are skiing there despite no lifts running yet as there’s plenty of snow. The lifts start opening on 15th December, so we may be off soon after returning if it keeps on like this…..
On our way down

Guadalest is in the valley in the centre of this photo
Steamed mussels and white wine on the terrace just before sunset

The wine has nearly gone and so has the sun

Our accomplishments so far as seen from the terrace. Puig Campana is the big pointy one on the left, just right of where the sun has just set. Sierra de Aitana, our latest one, is the highest bit on the far right (actually taller than Puig Campana, although it doesn't look it from here). But there are all those pointy tops in between yet to do!

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