RockFax: Cost Blanca
by Alan James and Chris Craggs
The new Costa Blanca RockFax guide is upon us, and what a tome it is. At 368 pages its slightly larger than the previous edition, which also covered Mallorca and El Chorro. This is the 4th edition of their Spanish guide and credit is due for making the effort to keep this guide updated and fresh looking.
The first impression that strikes you when you glance through is how colourful this edition is. All of the previous hand drawn topos and the black and white photo topos have been replaced with full colour photo versions. The guide is also packed with colourful action shots. In fact, from the orange cover onwards the whole impression is that the guide really exudes a feeling of Spanish warmth.
This edition is the first time that the new alliance of Alan James and Chris Craggs has been applied to the Costa Blanca. The two used to produce separate, competing guides to the region, but the benefits of their collaboration are obvious in this combined version. There are a number of crags from Chriss guide which have made it into the new publication, and I think many would agree with me that Alans Rockfax format is second to none when it comes to presentation.
So what is new in this edition? Where have those extra hundred pages of Costa Blanca routes come from? Well, for the first time the RockFax guide has a Murcia section. This includes some stunning crags. Leyva, with its vast main wall, was in the original Chris Craggs book but Orihuella and La Panocha are brand new to any English guides, and the climbing appears excellent.
The remaining sections, Alicante, Benidorm, Calpe, Xaló Valley and Gandia have all appeared in the guide before but all have new crags and new routes and have been reworked with the new colour topos and maps. These areas cover a huge range of climbing from the new mountain routes on Cabezon de Oro to the test pieces of Los Pinos.
Another new feature that I must mention is the thumb index on the front edge of each page. Each section is easily identifiable, and within it each crag, making it very quick and easy to locate the area you require.
I have a couple of concerns. I was a little surprised to see the overview map at the very back of the book. Its placement seemed a strange decision to start with but it makes no difference really, as it is easy to find and can still be used to locate the crag you are after.
My other, more serious concern is with the photo topos themselves. Dont get me wrong, they look fantastic and make locating routes incredibly easy but they fall down in just one respect. On large crags if the photo has been taken from a position too close to the crag a problem with foreshortening can occur with the upper sections. This can be seen on a couple of the topos where the top pitches look considerably shorter than they actually are. It is clear, however, that a great deal of effort has been spent in trying to avoid this problem wherever possible. My advice is obvious, really: check the route descriptions carefully before you start on a multi-pitch route to make sure youre comfortable with the pitch lengths.
Overall this is a stunning new guide and I have no hesitation in recommending it to those planning a trip to the Costa Blanca. Even for those that have the previous edition I think an upgrade would be well worth it. There is so much new in here, new areas, new routes, new topos that you just cant help picking it up and flicking through, dreaming of your next trip.
If you do still have the previous edition then don't forget to get a copy of the update before you depart for the Costa Blanca. There is also a copy for anyone that may still be working with one of the earlier editions.
Costa Blanca Rock - by Chris Craggs
This guide is now really showing its age and has really been supersede by the new RockFax guide that is a combination of both Alan James' and Chris Craggs' efforts.
Chris Craggs produced the only English guide book that I knew of when I started climbing in the Costa Blanca in 1996. It was a small pocket sized book of some 130 pages. Since then the book has been republished in 1997 and is now a far weightier tome of some 250 pages. I think this demonstrates how rapidly the area is opening up.
The guide uses a traditional layout with rough crag diagrams and long textual descriptions of the routes. However, I still prefer the RockFax book if only for it's clearer layout and better crag diagrams. Chris Craggs' sketches leave a lot to the imagination.
Chris Craggs has introduced a Spanish grading system in this edition that is somewhat offset against the more usual French grades. I reproduce it here simply as an explanation for where I have quoted his grades in the crag pages:
A minor problem with this guide is that it was published before Rowland Edwards introduced his Environmental Nut Placement (ENP) device. It therefore gives no information about which routes this has been used on. If you are travelling with only this guide just be aware that a fair number of Edwards' own routes, particularly in and around Echo valley, use this device. If you intend to do these routes ensure that you have a few extra Wild Country rock 3s on your belt. For more information on this device check out The Climbing page.
Chris Craggs Replies:
Sorry you don't like my diagrams, though they are all drawn from original slides projected on to a suitable sized bit of paper and so must be vaguely accurate!
As to the old grading issue my rationale behind a 'Spanish' French grade was simply because of finding so many under-graded routes, not specifically in the Blanca but in other areas too. I noticed that Rock Fax have upgraded most of the routes on Majorca and many in the Sierra de Prades. When they produce guides to Chullila, Montanejos and Cahorros (to name a few) they will have to upgrade those as well!
Thanks to Chris Craggs for his reply