Intrepid explorer I am not.
Twice I set out with my dad to find and climb the “Arabic Staircase” (La Escalera Arabe). And twice we returned with our tails between our legs.
The first time was because we were mapless, clueless and didn’t know where we were going. The second time, having found the right place, was because we saw what was ahead of us on the track and chickened out.
Day 1 of our hunt for the staircase, we started off in El Chorro and parked by the station. I managed to communicate successfully enough in basic Spanish with a local guy to get a rough idea of where we were headed.
We set off away from the station and up the path to side of the little railway café. The path goes past a tiny supermarket on the right. We had the trusty Jack with us and many of the local dogs barked insistently as we approached the front few yards of their owner’s homes, then continued even more loudly as we walked away. They were loud but left us completely alone. Jack ignored them after looking slightly alarmed at the first bum sniff.
There are signs which we followed and from then on we followed the GR7 route posts with the red and white circles around them.
Coming away from El Chorro, the route takes you onto a drivable track which veers round to the right out of El Chorro and then winds its way at an incline all the way up to where the footpath to the Staircase angles off to the left. At the time, however, we didn’t know this was going to be a drivable track, so we walked for about an hour and a half uphill, with plenty of pauses for breath. As you progress along the track, which takes you through lovely shaded forest and opens out into stunning views, you get closer and closer to the large rock face which is so popular with climbers.
My dad, who is in his late seventies, and not used to walking uphill, was amazing! He verged on grumbling about the incline only once. We unknowingly walked straight past the footpath we should have taken in our misguided but eager quest to go higher and higher. However, our persistence paid off in that we ended up enjoying some fantastic views, both through the forest and opening out onto the surrounding mountains and landscape.
The following day, armed with the knowledge that a ten minute drive would take us as far as an hour and half’s walk had done, we drove up and parked roughly where we had stopped before. We then followed the track and ended up curving round the back of the El Chorro rocks and heading through some lovely coniferous woodland, which eventually opened out onto a fantastic vista which we assumed was at the back of the Staircase. We still didn’t know where we were going – we just knew that the Staircase was around the top of the rocks above us somewhere.
As we walked out from the shade of the forest and emerged onto the edge of some kind of cultivated crop (no idea what), a huge herd of Ibex was startled by our arrival and bounced lightly away, hotly pursued by Jack, who, I feared, we might never see again, as he vanished with the Ibex round a corner in the distance. A few tense calls later, and his white head appeared in the distance, visible against the verdant green of whatever crop he was dancing through.
After brief refreshments (thanks to Dad and his Kendal Mint Cake) and appropriate view admiring, we headed back the way we had come. We bumped into some lovely friendly people who told us exactly where the pathway was and, after some shared laughter about the general lack of signage and maps and some distraction with landscape photography, we headed along it. The views from up here, right underneath and at the foot of the imposing El Chorro rockface, were spectacular. It is impossible to do them justice with a verbal description. My attempt would be to say that we had an 180 degree view with our backs to the rock that took in the sparkle of the lakes in the distance, the green of the forest below us, the majesty of the mountains in the distance and the space and sky and sun in between. It really was phenomenal. I hope dad’s photos have captured some of it.
Ahead of us we could see that the small footpath we were on headed up steeply to bend around a sharp corner round to the right of the rockface we were standing beneath. Dad didn’t want to do it because he’d had enough of walking uphill and it looked too steep. I didn’t want to do it because I’m not good with heights and was already struggling a bit with the drop to the side of us. From where we stood it looked like the drop got worse and more scrambly ahead so we turned around.
So, although our mission to conquer the Arabic Staircase was thwarted, we actually ended up with two amazing walks and stunning views all round. Jack was a happy lad too, having met other friendly dogs as well as startled Ibex along the way.