El Chorro by Mark Glaister, published by Rockfax (www.rockfax.com)
Guidebooks: we love to bitch about them as much as possible – they offer a convenient scapegoat when we can’t find the crag, can’t find a route, or having accomplished both of the above, discover the climbing more difficult than we expected. We want guidebooks to inspire us, guide us to and up the climbs accurately, and give us all the information we need to get us the best cliff for our abilites, or the prevailing conditions.
For the past two decades, Rockfax has been busily producing a series of guidebooks to areas around the world that do their best to give us as little excuse for not getting to (and up!) the route of our choice. Their topo-based format has since become standard, and much imitated. Although they have changed the original drawn topos for colour photos of most of the crags they cover. The new El Chorro guidebook is the first they have produced that covers this excellent area on its own: previous editions included the Costa Blanca and Mallorca in one book.
Initially, I thought the book might be selling itself short being titled El Chorro, since it covers a fair few crags over a significant area of Andalucia. However, on closer inspection, most of the supplementary areas included are of fairly minor interest, and El Chorro really is the main event in this book. Archidona is famous, but probably mostly of intererst to ardent fans of massive quantities of guano or forty-metre 8c’s. Loja (which I have not been to) does look very good, however.
This brings me to one of the best things about Rockfax guides – the photo topos allow you to get a good idea of what the crags are like in a way that simpler guides rarely do, and get really enthusiastic about your climbing holiday before you go. In use, this book is excellent – even with my awful sense of direction, I didn’t get lost getting to any of the crags, the maps are clear, easy to read, and tend to give you just about the right level of detail. The vast majority of the information provided seems accurate and well expressed. The crag conditions planner on the back cover is particularly handy.
I have a few criticisms – notably the time given for the Makinodromo walk in for their recommended route through the gorge is wildly optimistic; 30-60 minutes would be pretty heroic. The quality of the photographs in the guide is somewhat variable, to say the least. The front cover shot seems a bit pedestrian – I would have chosen something with significantly more drama. Although there are some excellent, inspiring shots, one or two slightly spoil the otherwise professional look of the guide.
Some of the route information seems, at times, a little cobbled together. The symbols are often useful, but it often seems as though a route has been denoted ‘pumpy’ or ‘fingery’ from a quick look from the ground. I understand that no guidebook writer (well, not many) can climb every route in a given book, but I feel that no information is better than guesswork.
These are relatively minor beefs though; most of the guide is excellent. Its popularity in the refugio in the evenings bore testament to this – I regularly lost track of my copy amongst the international hubbub, and am slightly surprised to have returned from Spain still in possession of it! El Chorro is also covered in a local guidebook, and in David Munilla’s Andalucia book. Despite the excellent photos in Munilla’s guide, the Rockfax is easily the most functional book of these. And since I want to go climbing rather than look at pictures, I would recommend the Rockfax.
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