Friday, February 17, 2017

King's Highway hike is one of Spain's finest and most challenging


When Cookie first set eyes on this bridge -- one of several
on King's Walkway, not far from Malaga  -- she nearly turned back.....


...but Cookie persisted and joined Bruce Keller and guide Jose to scale the walkway and survive to climb again.

RECOVERING COWARD FINDS HER METTLE TESTED 

HIGH ABOVE THE TREES IN SOUTHERN SPAIN



STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER


Relaxing on a lovely train ride from Malaga, enroute
to the village of El Chorro, Cookie anticipates the climb.
IT WAS NOT going to frighten me.
I could do it without shaking hands.....
Thousands have climbed it through the years. Come on, Cookie, calm down....
When something frightens me, I try to approach it logically and overcome my fear. In the case of Spain's famed Caminito Del Rey, "King's Walkway," I considered this fact: it has been safely climbed for more than a year since it re-opened in 2015. I also considered why it closed after nearly a century:  five walkers plunged to their deaths between 1999 and 2000 when the eye-popping paths and bridges fell into disrepair.
Cookie and Jose enter a cave leading to the start of the famous walkway. 
Still, we would climb with a skilled guide. Jose, an anthropologist, historian and native Spaniard, is an accomplished climber and hiker. He had navigated the pathway dozens of times.
Jose helps suit up smiling Cookie up with hard hat and hair net. 
   THE TRAIN RIDE through the lovely Spanish countryside took us in a few relaxing hours from beautiful Malaga, where we spent an enchanting week, to picturesque Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola, Marbella, Ronda, Ardales and El Chorro, where we met our guide for a half-hour drive to the climb. The narrow gorge is actually in El Chorro, near Ardales in the province of Málaga.
We knew from research that we would wear hard hats and hair netting and that we must not have a fear of heights (I lied -- I suffer from vertigo.)
My climbing partner and photographer, Bruce Keller, is unafraid.  He is a scuba diver, water skier, hiker, climber -- adept at navigating the unknown -- both literally and figuratively. Only on the train did he tell me that the climb was closed for 14 years, with a multi-million dollar "redo" and that many consider it "the world's scariest walkway."
I FELT LIKE a cowardly extra in an Indiana Jones film as we bent down to climb through a cave that would lead us to the entrance of Caminito del Rey. No turning back now...
Grateful for strong reinforcement along much of the walkway, Cookie still found it
reassuring to touch the stone walk to her right or hang on to her guide Jose.

The walkway has held a mythic history
 in Spain, since 1901 when construction began -- finishing in late 1905. Its original purpose was practical -- energy related -- not designed to provide entertainment or recreation.  The project was conceived to provide a means for workers to reach an important pair of hydroelectric power plants located at waterfalls along the route. It would also provide a way to transport supplies and equipment.
A breathtaking view of the hillside is available -- if one can look down.

ITS NAME CAME about in 1921 when King Alfonso XIII braved the Caminito for the inauguration of a dam at the site. A decade later, Alfonso was forced into exile when the second Spanish Republic was declared in 1941. But the clever name stuck and Alfonso's great-grandson, the current King Felipe, cut the ribbon on the new improved Caminito when it opened March 28 of 2015. The king, son of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, posed for photos on the walkway.   So I would follow these royal footsteps.
A pair of  Swiss walkers pauses. 
The dam was built to provide water to Malaga's residents. 
Climbers killed on the walkway are honored.
Nearing the end of the walk, Cookie looks straight ahead -- not down. Keller is calm.
AS WE THREE WALKED -- I with one hand on the rock wall and the other on the steel bars much of the time --  Jose described the evolution of the walkway.  Before closing for the   "redo," it was a thrill for daredevils such as Jose and his college buddies. When he told me the reason for closing the walkway for 15 years, I nearly turned back.  (It's not a roundtrip -- there's one way in, one way out -- so this would have been inconvenient.) Five people fell to their deaths in 2001 -- three of them careless thrill-seekers forcing a redo of the three-plus kilometer trail and bridges. We did encounter one 60-something woman going against foot traffic, turning back only a fifth of the way in. "Demasiado para mi," she muttered, head shaking.  ("Too much for me.")
Despite this unnerving meeting, we pressed on. "You'll be fine," Jose reassured, suggesting I hang on to him for strength.
THE NEW walkway is sturdy and industrial strength, a massive effort of aluminum and stainless steel attached to vertical walk face. Skilled mountain climbers were hired for the construction, swaying in the breezes more than 100-plus meters above land and water.
The renovation weighed in at over 3 million Euros with the Andalusian government and city of Malaga footing the bill. They hoped for a major tourist attraction and that is materializing. The tourism bureau touts extra safety measures. This recovering coward was grateful for every one. And thankful for a tall glass of white wine after in the nearby tavern.
You may book the walk for a full day, including lunch, with pick-ups and transfers, or just the walk. To book: www.smartholidaysandalusia.com; www.viator.com

UP NEXT: Malaga's magnificent Museuo Automovilistico is a wonderland of gorgeous autos and vintage finery, equally eye-catching. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us late Friday  when we post for each weekend.














3 comments:

  1. Melbourne MeanderersFebruary 20, 2017 at 1:18 PM

    Wow. Go, Cookie. Although we have not met, I feel a kinship to this "recovering coward." She and Mr. Keller encouraged me through their wonderful description of the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, to do it! I am forever grateful.

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  2. Breathtaking views, appreciated all the more because I'll never see them in person.

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  3. These photos took my breath away. I will remain an armchair climber bit salute you two!

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