It was nearly ten years ago that I was fortunate enough to come across the hidden gem of Abdet at the head of the spectacular Guadalest Valley. Right:
Overview map (click for larger view). This green rugged valley lies just a few kilometres inland from the high rise "holiday hell" of Benidorm, but it may as well be a million miles away. Driving up the CV 70 the historic settlement of Guadalest Village is impossible to miss, perched on rocky pinnacles above the green waters of the 50 year old reservoir. It's a popular destination for coach parties from the coast who come and gasp at the views, buy a few tacky souvenirs and then return to their ghetto! Venture out of the village though and there is an amazing valley to explore.
It was climbing that first drew me to the area, highlights being the ever popular Sella, the sea cliffs at Toix and the huge mountain of the Puig Campana as a backdrop behind the village of Finestrat. When we first purchased a village house in Abdet the huge amount of unclimbed rock was something that just had to be looked into! My early attempts on a spectacular pinnacle were thwarted by a local who quite rightly got annoyed at our drilling a belay bolt close to his house. So we explored some other areas before uncovering the hidden gem of El Flare which was actually closer to the village but hidden away in trees behind some abandoned terraces. I enquired with one of the local climbing guides and he said bolting was not a problem - bolting doesn't have the historical stigma attached to it in Spain like it does in the UK. Over a period of about 5 years I developed about 100 routes on this crag. Much of it required a considerable amount of cleaning as large limestone flakes have to be removed in many areas, and then the remaining soil/debris brushed off. Then of course bolts have to be placed and belay/lower off points set up. It was actually just as much fun to prepare and "create" a route as it was to lead one. I did leave some "trad" lines on the crag, but these it appears are not very popular! The protection on the steep limestone faces is quite hard to place, and the attraction of bolts and "stress free" climbing is irresistible. I produced a free topo which meant that others could enjoy the routes, and local Spanish climbers also came to do many of the routes as well as Northern Europeans. It now also features in the Costa Blanca Rockfax
I also was intrigued by the possibilities of the high mountain crags of Serella to the North of Abdet, which despite being at over 1200 metres in altitude is accessible by well maintained forest tracks. A huge limestone slab of about 60 metres height was very easy to access from above as well as an amazing looking rock pillar. A few visits here over a couple of years resulted in some great routes, including a two pitch HVS up the big pillar, a bold E2 on the left corner of the slab and a 15 bolt 6a+ right up the centre of the slab with some interesting friction climbing which is quite unusual for a limestone crag. They are all accessible by an easy abseil just a couple of minutes walk from your car! Nearby I also developed another sport climbing venue on an immaculate shield of rock, it produced half a dozen long sustained pitches, again just a short walk from the car in an idyllic situation, My searches for new crags did result in some failures though, A nice buttress of rock above the village looked to be a great location, but the approach was very hard over boulders and through some of the extremely prickly Spanish vegetation. I did one steep line at about 6a+ but other lines looked to be much much harder and I decided it wasn't worth the effort as no one would ever want to tackle the walk in! My most recent developments are on a 50+ metre high barrel shaped buttress just 15 minutes walk from the village centre. It has produced 4 great lines of two pitches each, on continuously steep rock, and one friend rated the routes as the best he had done in this part of Spain. Praise indeed. There is considerable scope for more routes here as well, and certainly many more mountain crags to explore and develop. Further information: www.abdet.com/climbing/topos/
Having done quite a bit of caving in the UK I was interested in learning more about the caves in the ABdet area. There are a few show caves well to the North and South, and a search on the internet had topos of some 80 metre deep fissures on the Aitana ridge just to the south. There was also an area of deep rock "crevasses" on the Aitana that had been explored by a university expedition. I stumbled across a cave entrance just above the village on one of my crag exploration trips. Cool air flowed out from the depths and a short scramble down into the depths proved to me that it was certainly worth coming back for. Returning to the cave with torches and ropes we explored a mini maze of interconnecting passages which linked back to other small surface entrances, but also had connections to chambers further down. The cave was very dry and had very nice unspoilt formations, and eventually my caving partner sniffed out an a possible onward connection which we had to place an abseil bolt for. A squeeze through soft white calcite deposits led to the deepest part of the cave probably 100 metres from the entrance, but unfortunately all ways on were blocked. It was great fun though to visit so many unexplored passages. There must be many more such caves in the area, and perhaps somewhere a huge mastercave that leads all the way to the coast where submerged resurgences of fresh water flow out into the mediterranean sea. Further information: www.abdet.com/caving
I was aware of some quite large groups of canyoners turning up to the village from time to time. The canyon they were visiting (Barranco de Meli) had an easily accessible middle section with some great rock pools for swimming in summer, and the upper section proved to be a very amenable trip with easy climbs and 3 or 4 short abseils down waterfalls and into deep pools. In summer the whole trip (which takes a couple of hours) can be done in shorts and tee shirts, but in spring, autumn or winter you certainly need wet suits as the water flows out from deep underground and can be very cold. When I did this trip after an October storm it was a very different proposition and very exciting in the thundering torrents and rapids. I first did the lower section late one summer when the pools further down the canyon were starting to dry out, the final abseils into shallow pools were a bit disappointing in some ways as it was obvious that with enough water in the canyon the whole trip could be jumped! The next year conditions looked good and with full wet suits on we reached the last two pitches with plenty (but not too much) water flowing down the canyon. A jump through a rock slot required a bit of bottle, but the last big jump was by far the most challenging as the water at the bottom was only about 8 feet deep and the jump a good 30 feet. So it was a case of arms out and "bomb" as much as possible to reduce any chance of hitting the pool floor. It was great fun, but not a challenge to be taken lightly. A subsequent trip with slightly more water in the system gave me a bit of a fright when I was pushed by the current against an overhanging wall and held firmly in place just under the water for a few seconds, quite scary until I relaxed and let the current push me free. There is also a large dry canyon in the same area that had been rigged for through trips, and I knew there were other possibilities nearby that probably hadn't been explored. One New Year I made a descent of another normally dry canyon very close to the village with a superb 20 metre waterfall and some great water chutes, we placed some bolts to allow an abseil just to one side of the waterfall, and the rest of the canyon was done rope free and was very exhilarating. We had probably done the first complete descent of this. There are many more documented canyons nearby that I have not done, and some unexplored ones that await a first visit! Further information: www.abdet.com/water-sports/canyoning
Via Ferrata & Ridge Traverses
The view from Abdet is dominated by the Guadalest reservoir, the town of Guadalest overlooking it on it's rocky perch, and the impressive "Matterhorn" like profile of Bernia in the distance. The Bernia is actually a long limestone ridge that makes a great technical mountain traverse with some easy climbing and abseils required to make the full trip. It is a few kilometres long and most of the time you are well above 1,000 metres with superb views over the valleys below and the Costa Blanca coastline. On clear days Ibiza is visible about 40 miles to the East. You will need a 50 metre rope to complete the abseils and at least a few quickdraws and nuts to protect the climbs. It's also worth taking trainers and rock boots. Access is easy via the narrow road that allows you to drive up to the small alpine like houses on the Southern flanks. A few years ago a via ferrata (iron way) was installed on the mighty East face of the Ponoch, which guards the lower end of the Guadalest Valley with its lion like profile. This vast rock face is the location for some classic multi-pitch routes, many over 10 pitches long as well as some incredible aid routes over huge roofs. There are even some sports routes that allow bolt only ascents of the 1,500 foot rock face. The via ferrata is a fun trip, but perhaps over kill as there is so much iron on it you can virtually ascend the whole thing without touching the rock! It is steep and exposed though, so don't underestimate it! You will need a 60 metre rope to abseil down the well signposted descent route. Further information: www.abdet.com/climbing/via-ferrata-ridge-traverses
Walking & Trail Running
There have been quite a few books published about walking in the Costa Blanca, but much of it is still pretty much undocumented. The valley has returned more to its natural state after being very overpopulated in the early part of the 20th Century. Previously terraced hillsides, old mills and casitas (small farm houses) and of course the paths that connect them are gradually being reclaimed by nature. There does remain a network of paths though, connecting still remote houses with the village, and also paths used by occasional walkers as well as hunters who every so often "take out" some of the wild boar or wild goats which roam the hillsides.
The Spanish maps are not a patch in the superb OS maps we have in the UK, and the various maps I did get hold of had errors, missing tracks, and very little useful detail. The only way to find out the best walking or running routes was to go out with a GPS and explore! I knew that somewhere there was a direct connection from the village to the amazing "Neverras" or snow holes on the mountain to the north. These superbly crafted "wells" in the ground were built during the 18th Century when the climate was much colder and snow could be shovelled by hand into the snow wells to eventually create ice which was then bought down during the summer months by mules or donkeys and sold as a luxury item (for eating!). I worked out the obvious route, but several forays onto the hillside just resulted in dead ends in the thick gorse and dwarf oak clad slopes. Trying to force a way through this vegetation would be a foolish and painful thing to do. I forgot about this connection for a while, but a newly published map last year marked on the route I had been looking for. It seemed I had been very close to finding it and when I returned to the area just a few weeks ago some newly placed cairns made it very easy to find. A slightly illogical descent from a relatively new track lead down to the old path which is now being used by other walkers in the area. It is now possible to complete some more great walks and runs from the village via this "missing link". I have also used google satellite imagery to locate other paths that are not marked on maps. One such path allows a very direct line to the highest peak in Valencia, the Sierra Aitana, which is just a few miles to the south of Abdet. It made a superb early morning trail run in August last summer, finishing at about 11am just as the summer heat was getting to the upper limit of what was comfortable. There are quite a few reliable springs even high up on the mountains which makes even summer trail running a possibility. In winter you may have to contend with a few snow patches left from the occasional snow storms that blow over from the cold Spanish interior. Further information: www.abdet.com/trail-running-spain
The spanish are sporting fanatics and cycling is one of the main sports they follow. The Tour of Spain (La Vuelta) is one of the big three grand tours for pro cyclists and the route has come to the area many times, passing through Guadalest, Confrides (1km from Abdet) and sometimes finishing on the very top of the Sierra Aitana at over 1,500 metres. You don't have to be a pro to enjoy the amazing alpine style roads though - pot hole free, virtually traffic free, and even when there is some traffic (10 cars an hour coming past you would be busy) the drivers will sit behind you and wait until they can give you as much room as possible when overtaking. You get respect in these hills as a cyclist. The riding is challenging as you will do about 1,000 metres of ascent and descent for every 30 miles you ride. Although the gradients rarely get beyond 10% the climbs can go on for 20 kms or more and many of the descents will have you whooping they are so exhilarating! One of the pleasures of being out on your bike here is the obligatory cafe stop, sunshine, stunning views, there no need to rush back, although a beer (alcohol free of course) and a post ride snack on the roof terrace is a great way to end a ride. Further information: www.abdet.com/road-cycling
If you are into mountain biking, swimming, wildlife, flowers, history, cave paintings, cuisine, there is plenty more to do in the area. You might even dance the warm summer nights away at one of the village fiestas where everyone is welcome and free food is made available during the day.
Fancy a Visit?
It's very easily accessible from Alicante (Ryan Air and Easyjet can get you there VERY cheaply!) , hire a car (usually just £3 a day) and it's just an hours drive north to Abdet. Head inland up the CV70 signposted Guadalest, then it's another 15 minutes. There are a couple of great self-catering holiday houses in Abdet set up for climbers, cyclists and walkers. Website: www.abdet.com/accommodation-costa-blanca
Interact: Also check out (and like!) the Abdet Facebook page for more interesting adventure information in the area: www.facebook.com/labdet
Feel free to email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want any more information!