Type El Caminito del Rey into Google.
In less than a second you’ll be rewarded with half a million jpegs of sweaty people in harnesses balanced on rusty bars 300ft above an Indiana Jones set (with a healthy proportion of them sporting one of a well practised selection of ‘MUM…MUM!! ..MUM!! I’M DOING IT MUM!!’ faces).
Should this tickle your interest, further digging will yield all sorts of articles, blog posts and GoPro headcam montages which all seem to be describing a hidden level off QuackAttack for the Sega MegaDrive rather than anything you can actually do in real life.
This so called ‘most dangerous walkway in the world’ does however, actually exist, and sits pinned to the side of the massive and absolutely breathtaking El Chorro gorge in southern Spain, about an hours drive from Malaga.
El Caminito del Rey (or ‘the kings little path’ to gringos) was built around 1901-05 to allow the workers of the two hydro electric powerstations at either end of the two gorges to cross between them without having to go right round the whole mountain, and to give them a fighting chance of inspecting the infrastructure they’d installed in the canyons. It served as a useful, yet nameless thoroughfare until 1921, when King Alfonso XIII crossed the walkway for the inauguration of the dam at Conde del Guadalhorce, and it got its present name. It remained in use until the power station closed its doors, and is still pinned to the side of the cliffs, getting progressively more knackered.
Many people used to come and casually walk the caminito without much fuss, and it wasn’t until some inattentive Spaniards fell to their death in ’99 / ’00 that the power company (who retain responsibility for the walkway) decided they’d had enough of people risking their lives on their dangerous property and demolished the first and last 40ft of the path, putting access out of the hands of the majority of the population.
Well, that was until some enterprising local climbing club popped along and bolted a via ferrata and a few phat bolts along the whole of the route, which now means you can do it in complete safety (try telling the residents of Sniper Alley in Sarajevo it’s the world most dangerous path now).
You can never really trust what you read though, and due to a stroke of good fortune, it looked like I was going to be spending some time time in the southern Spanish mountains. Might as well have have a go then eh?
After packing my bag with harness, a few climbing bits, 150ft of rope and six fresh oranges, and setting my alarm for 5.30am, I prepared myself to meet the work of the ancestors of the men who had probably built our swimming pool…
After fumbling for the off button on my phone, I went to rouse my brother and his new woman who had expressed interest in accompanying me on this trip after the rest of my family had all said yes and pussied out.
Treacherous brigands. My knocks were greeted with a “mmm.. no…” and the sound of two people rolling over and getting more comfortable in their kingsized feather duvet.
I was off on my own for this one, although it wasn’t all bad. I had some company on the hours drive up to the gorge and the promise of being picked up on the other side once I’d done it, a rather pleasant luxury that has most people who undertake this hike scratching their heads with most opting to just do the whole thing in reverse back to their car or hit the tracks and run down the railway line back to El Chorro. It was this latter fact that influenced our early start. El Networko Railo have gotten so fed up with people charging down their tracks, they’ve had to employ a man in hi-vis to nab people who run out of the tunnel near the start of the walk and direct them to the local constabulary, where you can expect to be handed a tasty fine. Senor HiVis also apparently stops people hitting the walkway itself at the behest of the power company, so I was pretty keen to avoid him, although if challenged, a simple ‘kay?’ and a quick dash to the starting bolts would have probably have been sufficient to knock that particular problem on the head should it have arisen, he’s not exactly going to follow you is he?
Pitching up at El Choro, I made up the valley with my two companions (who had decided they’d much rather spend the day sinking San Miguels and eating tapas than go on a scary walk), arriving at the overlooking ridge just as the sun was coming up over the valley. It was here all my tawdy flippancy and jaded nonchalance was knocked back a step or two.
With its huge sheer sandy cliffs and perfect blue lake, the entrance to the gorge itself really is a sight to behold, and when you spend a bit more time looking at it, you start to make out the knackered cement fault line balanced precariously along its face. This is the walkway itself.
It’s the kind of thing Eidos would have probably rejected for candidate Tomb Raider 2 levels on the grounds of cliché Proper, proper stuff.
I bid farewell to my companions and made my way down to the starting section, where a few iron pegs have been beaten into the wall to skip past the demolished part of the walkway. If you’re funny with heights I can see how this bit *might* be an issue, but to be honest you’re more likely to slip faffing about with you fall arrest gear on the line change overs than actually falling off the massive iron pegs.
Once you’ve managed to negotiate this bit, a gentle climb up a few rocks full of rebar handles awaits you, and within about 5 minutes you’re stood on the start of the King’s Little Path itself.
By this point, the sun had really started to shine through, so I nabbed a couple of photographs and made my way to the old bridge. It’s just before this that the knackered bit everyone snaps themselves on sits, which is nicely protected by a 9 mil steel cable.
From here, its a gorgeous walk along the walkway for about 3/4 of a mile to the valley guarded by the two canyons at either end. It’s well worth having a scurry through some of the other side tunnels that lead off from the main path, which offer different perspectives of the canyon, and into the hydro industry that used to run through its walls.
After the dramatic faces of the Indiana Jones canyons, the vast expanse of the valley that greets you as turn the last corner of the first canyon is an amazing contrast and no less immense. Blue sky, jangling of goat bells, a crystal blue river and not a soul in sight, it’s no coincidence that the only things I can use to illustrate the place are 80’s adventure movies.
I made my way down through this valley, and past the dilapidated dwellings of goat herders, old irrigation channels and rusty machinery, and bagged a couple of treats from some lovely satsuma trees which make an amazing addition to my already citrus heavy lunch.
The goat trail then goes up to the top of the second canyon, and you get to a large old bridge, presumably used to get supplies from railway line to the workings down the canyon, and its here you begin your journey up the last stretch of walkway, which is in much better condition than its more frequently photographed southerly brother.
You’re done with this in no time, and it’s upon completing this walkway, you are faced with your ‘how to I finish this’ dilemma. Some forward thinking fellow has drilled petzl bolts up the rocks next to the last demolished section of walk way, which is great news if you have a belay partner as you can safely scramble out. I think the free-climbing I did up this last bit with a bag unnecessarily full of 11mm rope was the most dangerous thing I did on this whole walk. Slipping here would have seen me shoot down the rock back and over the edge about 80ft into the shallow water in the canyon below. Probably would have knocked me out, certainly would have broken a leg or two, probably would have drowned. No thanks.
If you’re still feeling keen and you’ve managed to exit this way free of fractured limbs or dead party members, I implore you to have a crack and the power station just up the river. It’s live again, and full of workers, but that never stopped anyone before did it.. ;)
El Caminito Del Rey is an amazing hike, and a fascinating glimpse into the Southern Spanish hydro-industries past. It’s not dangerous if you’re not an idiot and not really that physically demanding (bar the climb out at the end). The best thing about it, is all the danger hype that puts people off, making one of the most spectacular walks in southern Spain an utterly peaceful, solemn experience.
Oh – and if you’re thinking of trekking out to El Chorro to hit the Caminito, pack a few quickdraws – the sport routes here are killer.