Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Climbing the "Big Rock"

When our friends from Egypt were driving down from Barcelona to visit us in El Campello for a few days, they saw this “Big Rock” not far outside El Campello and decided they wanted to go back to see it while they were visiting us.

Now it is not really called the “Big Rock”, although that is certainly a good way to describe it. The actual name is “Penyal d'ifac”, and is in fact a Spanish National Park. It is a 45 hectares park and the rock itself is 232 m high, so I guess that the description as a “Big Rock” is actually pretty accurate. I'm no geologist, but there must be a term for this type of natural formation, and the area is full of similar “rocks”, many of which have been turned into locations of fortifications and castles. The city of Alicante has a spectacular fort built onto a rock like this that provided protection from invading hoards. What makes this formation special is that it juts out into the sea, and has a gentle isthmus connecting it to the mainland, allowing easy access.

Entrance to the park is free, as is parking at the base, which is very nice in this time where you seem to have to pay for everything. It was a cool and very windy day, so there were very few other cars in the parking area. Although there were not many people exploring the rock with us, I was surprised at how many there were. Another indicator that the Spanish are not as dependent on their cars to get around. All the other folk climbing the rock had to have gotten there somehow, but when we left there was only one other vehicle parked with us.

Climbing the rock is a two stage event. The first part is relatively easy and safe with a steep but well maintained pathway paved with rocks and protected by wooden handrails. There is even a wheelchair accessible section allowing access to a spectacular viewing platform part way up the first section. It took us about 20 minutes to climb up the first part of the trail, but we made numerous stops to look back over the town and beach as they grew smaller as each switchback came to the edge of the rock and fell off to the sea on either side. At first we marvelled at the views each time and snapped photos, but quickly realized that the next viewing spot was going to be even more spectacular, so we waited until we got to the top.

The first part of the climb ends at a solid stone face, and I am not sure how access to the higher elevations was reached in the past, but in 1918, while the rock was owned privately, a tunnel was cut through from one side of the rock face to the other, allowing easier access to the rest of the climb. The tunnel is actually quite treacherous with the passage of many feet wearing the rocks to a smooth slippery and uneven surface necessitating holding a rope the entire way through.

When you come out the other side of the tunnel, you are presented with an entirely different type of trail. Gone are the paved paths and wooden handrails. The remaining trail is simply a natural pathway along the rock face. There are ropes added to the inside wall in particularly dangerous places, but the entire trail is listed as dangerous and it is not recommended unless wearing actual climbing shoes and children are strongly discouraged. Although I was wearing a sturdy pair of walking shoes they did not have an aggressive “climbing” sole, and one of our party had regular shoes on. After venturing out along the remaining trail to “have a look” I reached a section of smooth warn stone sloping off at a 40 degree angle to a sheer drop to the Mediterranean Sea a hundred meters below. A rope hold was provided, but this convinced me that we had gone far enough, and I reported back that we might not want to go all the way to the top.

We cannot actually say that we climbed to the top of the “Big Rock”, but we certainly climbed part of it, and it was still a wonderful adventure added to our Spanish trip.

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