Learning to Lead | Climbing in El Chorro, Spain


It usually doesn’t take long after a trip away before I start craving the next one… In fact I must admit that I really can’t stay in one place for very long at all. It’s embarrassing actually. A trait gifted by my parents whose adventurous spirits were passed on to myself and my four siblings. So… give me two weeks tops before my feet start tapping, my mind whirring, dreams blazing with all the places I want to explore.

With that feeling potent one evening, I checked the cheapest flights for a random few days in December I had off work. Malaga was £30 return. So my boyfriend and I checked if there was climbing near there. Indeed there was — at a place called El Chorro, just an hour north of Malaga, there were over 1000 routes. We were sold. And so just like, one Thursday in December we whizzed over to El Chorro, Andalucia for five glorious days of sport climbing.

Jessie climbing an amazing 7a route at the Arab Steps, photo by Harvey

Jessie climbing an amazing 7a route at the Arab Steps, photo by Harvey

Learning to Lead

This was my first sport climbing holiday and I wanted to take the opportunity to become confident lead-climbing. Lead climbing in sport climbing means placing your own quick-draws and rope into bolts as you climb — rather than climbing with the rope above you (top-roping), the rope is behind you following you up. The reason it’s a little bit scarier is because if you fall, you fall as far as the nearest bolt below you - rather than just hanging from a top-rope. For me, lead-climbing is all about confidence. Indoor, I’ve become pretty used to falling off the plastic wall and swinging my feet in as I fall, but outside it’s completely new and completely terrifying - the idea of craggy outcrops and ledges and tufas getting in the way of a clean fall can be pretty scary!

I actually ‘learned’ to lead-climb outdoor when I was in the Alps over summer, but only managed a couple of easy routes on that trip. In Spain, I wanted to really become accustomed to leading outdoor. I set myself a goal to be able to climb a 6a sport route by the end of the trip. When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. But after leading a 5c on my first day, I started to feel a little more confident. But climbing is unpredictable - one day you’re feeling great, and the next your mind might be a little more frail and you feel nervous on every route. One of the things I love about climbing is how much of a mental game it is. Physical strength and technique are, of course, so important, but I really feel that the mental side of climbing is just as significant. Figuring out routes, breathing through fear, concentrating only on the challenge ahead of you. Every time I climb I learn something new, and I’m completely addicted to that.

After all the lovely comments on my last video, I decided to film my journey learning to lead climb in Spain. So watch to see how I got on!