Sierra de Toix and Penon de Ifach are two 330-meter-high rocks located right by the sea between Alicante and Valencia. Recently, I had the opportunity to climb them on several-pitched routes. Read how it was and where else on the Costa Blanca you can do multi-pitch climbing. I write also about attaching the belay device wrong way and what to do to avoid making a mistake like me.
Multi-pitch climbing in Sierra de Toix
Sierra de Toix is a 338 m rock, located, like Penon de Ifach, in the town of Calp (Calpe), located on the Mediterranean Sea. It offers climbers over a hundred routes with 1 to 8 pitches. When it comes to multi-pitches, most routes are graded as approx. V.
At the beginning we chose the easiest route on the rock – Toix Integrale. 150 m and 6 pitches, of which the first three are graded as III+ and the next as IV.
My skin was torn on my fingers after two days of sport climbing, so the route so easy that everything could be done with gloves seemed just right for this day. Besides, before we went climbing fives, I wanted to see what it means that sometimes there are big run-outs, what I read about in the guidebook and heard from friends, and what it means that there is much loose rock, which the guide also warns about. I mean, how big are these run-outs and how much loose rock? We didn’t have the equipment for trad climbing, because I thought that we would be climbing easy routes anyway, so we would manage it. 3 years ago I took the trad climbing equipment to Spain and I didn’t use it at all, and in the end everything was stolen. So this time I wanted to avoid unnecessary equipment.
Toix Integrale is one of the first routes looking from the west side of the rock, i.e. one of the first routes from the parking lot. Just a few minutes’ walk up.
The first pitch ends at the tree that can be seen at the top of the photo below.
The second pitch goes about 2 meters up and then traverses sharply to the right, then slightly up again to the belay station. The half rope came in very handy for this pitch.
The third pitch is short and goes with the dihedral shown in the photo.
Behind it the first pitch graded four, which I found strangely easy. Only later, after taking a closer look at the topo, I noticed that our pitch was going a little more to the left and I followed the terrain graded two. I kept climbing looking for fixed points that I had only seen there.
There is a large, comfortable shelf at the end of this pitch, just in time for a break. To the next pitch you need to go along the path to the left, slightly downwards, about 15 m. The last two pitches go straight up and on them I really felt like in a four-graded terrain.
Below is a photo from the belay station at the top of the fifth pitch.
Overall, the bolting all the way was sufficient for me. The fixed points were different – sometimes it was bolts, sometimes it was pitons, and sometimes it was slings, which didn’t always inspire confidence. They were usually 3-6 m apart.
Only at the end of the last pitch there was no fixed point for about 10 m or maybe a little more. There was, however, an old stuck friend and a stone that the sling could be loop on, so it went without problems and without feeling like I was risking a lot. There was no big problem with loose rock either. There were a few places where something moved or looked suspicious and the helmet is definitely worth having there, but I think that in the Tatras it is worse in this respect.
The second route we climbing on Sierra de Toix was Cilber. 150 m of climbing on 8 pitches (IV, V, IV, III, III, IV, III +, III). The key pitch, graded as V+ on the rock mark, is a short climb along the crack, which I marked in red below.
The green is the easier version – IV+ from the two-pitches Chabito route. Initially, we planned to start with Chabito and then move to Cilber, because after the experiences with Penon de Ifach, which I will write about later, we decided that we don’t want any more five on these multi-pitches ;) Before the star, however, we decided to try to climb all the way Cilber, because the number of bolts on the first pitch was encouraging. And in case of problems on the second pitch, it could be bypassed. There was no need to bypass it though, as I leaded it without any major problems. Admittedly, it was not easy and it took some effort, but it is very well bolted. Just like the sport routes on the Costa Blanca, so I felt that I could fall and nothing bad would happen.
We did the third and fourth pitch in one fell swoop, and then we reached the belay stance where three routes meet. There is a lot of space there, so you can rest, eat and watch the beautiful views comfortably :)
The next, short and easy pitch, goes left.
The next pitch, graded as IV, gave me some problems. Maybe because in dihedrals I often don’t feel confident. The first bolt was at a height of about 3-4 m and the vision of a fall from such a height onto a ledge, hitting my friends on the way, did not look good ;) If I had something, I would definitely add. And since I didn’t have one, I started by clipping into the bolt from the neighboring route, which was a bit lower, and then it somehow went :)
It’s easy to go on. The seventh pitch is very short and the last one is also short and on level three.
As on Toix Integrale, except for the beginning of the sixth pitch, the bolting of the entire route was sufficient for me. And here, if I remember correctly, they were mostly bolts, looking fairly new. However, there were slings too, in some belay stations. Ie. one bolt and one sling. Just in case, I was adding my own sling. And without trad equipment, as you can see, you can do there, although the friend who climbed the last pitch would prefer to have such equipment. I do not belong to particularly fearful climbers and if I feel confident because the route is easy, I do not mind several meters long run-outs. However, if it’s too much for you, take the equipment for trad climbing. There are quite a lot of places where you can add something.
Finally, you will have beautiful views of the sea and the Penon de Ifach rising from it.
To reach the bottom, you need to go on the ridge to the pass (approx. 50 m). From there turn right down the via ferrata (approx. 30 m) and at the end there is 60 m of rappel (can be divided into two).
Multi-pitch climbing on Peñón de Ifach
Peñón de Ifach (also Penyal d’Ifac) is a rock that is even more impressive than Sierra de Toix.
Here, in addition to the beautiful sea views, you will also be accompanied by talking and laughing gulls all the way.
In the Costa Blanca Climbs guidebook, by Roberto Lopez, there are only a dozen or so routes from Penon de Ifach, and there are the more difficult ones (from 6c upwards). Easier, ie from V+ (probably there aren’t easier) can be found in the guidebook of Craggs and James, published by Rockfax.
Initially, we thought about the Via Valencianos route, but after we read in the guidebook that the most difficult pitch (V+) is very polished, we decided to bypass it by climbing a part of the Direct de UBSA route. That is, we changed the V+ and IV pitches to V+ and V, but we hoped it would be easier, because it would not be slippery. In the photo I have marked the first five pitches of our route. The last three lead on the other side of the rock.
The path to the climbing routes begins at the end of the footpath along the sea.
From this perspective, the rock looks even more magnificent!
On the first 35-meter pitch, graded as III, I saw only 3 (or 4) fixed points. So a bit less often than in Sierra de Toix, but somewhere along the way, slings on a stone could be added. From the belay stance you can see the face, which we bypassed on the left side with the III pitch, and in the distance a second face with the key V+ pitch.
The second pitch is nothing interesting. Mainly breaking through the bushes. I don’t remember if there were any fixed points at all, except for the bushes and trees that didn’t look very strong.
But the third pitch was interesting! It starts with an overhang that I had no idea for. There was some jug, but it was very slippery and it didn’t hold well at all, and I didn’t reach for another grip, which looked good. Going out on this overhang looked like requiring a lot of strength for me.
In addition, we noticed the first fixed point only at about 5-6 meters. Admittedly, a moment later, while trying to bypass the overhang, while climbing on the right side, I noticed that there was a piton at the bush, about 2-3 m below, but it did not help me. It was too difficult for me and therefore too risky. It’s good that we had a friend in the team who climbs much better than me and was able to lead this pitch. Then, going as second, I still didn’t manage to overcome this overhang. Finally, I passed it to the right, carefully, holding on to almost nothing. I wouldn’t dare to lead!
I thought that after the overhang would be over, the rest of the pitch would be easy. From the bottom it looked like a slab, but while climbing up, I had the impression that it was at least a vertical and in places nothing good to hold. I was even wondering if we had mistaken this pitch for the 6b that goes nearby, but no, according to the topo it really was V+ …
Another pitch, traversing slightly to the right, was me leading again. A long five-terrain climb and here I really felt like on a five. Vigilant, because there wasn’t many bolts, but it was quite easy. From time to time I looked down to assess how risky it is and for most of the pitch I had the impression that it was good, i.e. a possible fall could be several dozen meters, but it should be safe, because there was nothing below me. Even so, I had no ambition to necessarily climb my route, and I was going just how it was letting go. So I guess I went too far to the right and joined the four level pitch from Via Valencianos. That’s why at some point I lost a lot of time struggling with a bush that would not let go of my rope.
Eventually, however, I got to the belay station. I made a clove hitch, attached the carabiner with the Mega Jul, the ropes to it, checked, as always, that I attached them correctly, i.e. they lock on the climber side, and on the other side I can take up rope, and told my friends through the walkie-talkie that they could climb. They had already climbed a few meters, and then suddenly I noticed that the belay device was hanging on a cable and not on an eyelet! Fortunately, it ended without any damage to people, even though when I asked if they were standing well, my friend said that not so well ;) And I am writing about it because I know how this error came about. I’ll explain at the end of the article because I think it could happen to someone else, too, and maybe my analysis will make someone else prevent it before it happens.
Coming back to climbing, another four-level pitch leads to the ridge, which offers a nice view of the entire area.
However, we did not have much time to admire the views, because the late start and problems on the previous five-level pitches meant that the sun was already approaching the horizon at that moment. In front of us there was a 30-meter IV+ pitch, which leads a few meters along the ridge and then straight up.
The lights in the city were starting to come on and there were two more pitches ahead of us, 50 m in total. Fortunately, very easy. Not even graded in the guidebook, I/II for me.
We got to the top when you could still see the panorama around the rock :)
Descent on the tourist trail, about an hour away.
In general, Penon de Ifach, and certainly the route we climbed, is worse bolted than the routes we saw on Sierra de Toix. Here, for the second time, without trad equipment, I would rather not climb. As for loose rock, similar as on Sierra de Toix.
Short multi-pitch routes on Costa Blanca
Apart from Sierra de Toix and Penon de Ifach, there are several sports areas on the Costa Blanca where you can climb 2-3-pitches routes with a wide range of difficulties (e.g. Tardeo near Elche, Cabeçó d’Or near Alicante, Sella and Guadalest near Benidorm). A bit longer, approx. 100-120 m (or even one 500 m) routes can be found in La Pancha near Orihuela.
I only climbed one multi-pitch route in La Moleta in Sella. It was the 3-pitches Marión route. Pitches are graded as IV+, V and V+, but for me the crux was before the first bolt on the first pitch. The whole route is very well bolted, except for the last approx. 12 meters, where there is nothing and the terrain in this place, in my opinion, is four difficulty. According to the topo, the route is 56 m long, so we decided that we would take advantage of the fact that we had a 60 m half-rope and a lot of quickdraws and we would do it for one pitch. The rope was barely enough.
How did it happen that I attached the belay device incorrectly?
This is the second time I made this mistake. First time on the mountaineering course in 2019. Then I was using the ATC Guide and before I started belaying, I noticed that something was wrong, because I saw that the belay device was hanging in such a position that the ropes could not get blocked. But I looked at it for a moment, before I realized it was because it was hanging on the cable. How did it come about?
A day or two earlier, when, after completing the belaying, I wanted to hang the carabiner with the belay device on the harness, the instructor asked me why I was disconnecting the device from the carabiner, since I was also leading the next pitch. I thought he was right, no sense in disconnecting. Let it hang on the eyelet, then at the next pitch I will only hang the carabiner and the device will be properly mounted.
And so I started to do. The error appeared on the route where I was leading 2 (or 3) pitches, then I belayed from the bottom, and then I led again. After the pitch, which I belayed from the bottom, the belay device was hung on a carabiner by a cable. On the next pitch, I attached the carabiner to the stance and immediately the ropes to the belay device, without changing its attachment, because I got used to it after the previous pitches. Already then I understood why I made this mistake and then I should return to my previous habits. However, I did not return because I thought that this mistake happened to me exceptionally, the next time I will remember it, and besides, nothing happened, because I didn’t start to belay it this way.
The situation was similar on Penon de Ifach. I leaded the first two pitches, so at the second stance I didn’t have to change the device attachment position, because it was already hanging on the eyelet after the previous pitch. I belayed the third pitch from the bottom and led the fourth one. And I instinctively did the same on the fourth as on the second, that is, I attached the ropes to the belay device immediately after attaching the carbiner to the stance. Checking that the ropes are properly attached was not enough to notice this error, since it was the Mega Jul and the ropes ran as they should, even though the device was not hanging by the eyelet.
After this incident, I returned to my old habits, i.e. when I hang the carabiner with the belay device on the harness, it is always in such a way that the device hangs on the cable. Thanks to this, if I have to belay from below, the device is always hung in the right way, and if I have to belay from above, I always have to change it. There must always be the same procedure, not that I do not have to change once and then I have to, because as you can see, you can then make a mistake and do something wrong instinctively . And of course, another thing on the checklist. In addition to checking that the ropes are properly attached to the device, you need to check if the device itself is properly attached.
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