The Most Dangerous Hike in Spain

by John Bascombe on Monday, November 24, 2014

Camino del Rey

El Camino del Rey

Spain has many famous hiking trails and pathways. In the Picos de Europa is the famous Ruta del Cares which is a path the traverses a ravine that unites León with Asturias. There is also the Senda del Oso, also in Asturias, which winds through the mountains of Asturias along what was once a railway used by miners. Of course, the granddaddy of all is the Camino de Santiago. But there is a little known hike that is very different from the all the rest (and it's not only for its short length of not quite two miles) due to its decrepit state and the fact that it is illegal to hike it. Dangerous in Spanish is peligroso and this trail is about as dangerous as anything can get. In fact, if the police catch you on this trail you risk paying a fine of up to €6000 ($7760 US Dollars). The trail I'm referring to is the Camino del Rey (or The King's Way) located on the Costa del Sol right outside of the cosmopolitan city of Málaga in southern Spain. Fortunately paying a fine or paying with your life will soon be a thing of the past since the local government is in the process of reopening the trail for public use.

The Caminito del Rey was constructed in 1905 as part of the construction of the two hydroelectric plants that were constructed close by in a localidad called El Chorro. The path was used by workers to walk between the two plants as well as inspect the channel that unites the two. The name of this path got its name when, in 1921, King Alfonso XIII walked along the path during the inauguration of the Conde de Guadalhorce dam. Much of this 3 foot wide trail hangs almost 330 feet over the water—much of it in a state beyond disrepair. Even when it was in perfect condition this path must have sent shivers down King Alfonso's back, but today it is so deteriorated that there are some parts of the path where only the iron supports remain.   

Today, many people clandestinely walk the route, but with very serious precautions taken--since this has become an underground sensation climbers have placed guide wires along the route for hikers to use. The normal equipment necessary up to now for walking the caminito has been a helmet, harness and a kit via ferrata. Without these precautions, walking this path is an almost suicidal act. After accidents in 1999 and 2000 left four people dead, the local government clamped down on unauthorized hikers and demolished the accesses at each end of the pathway to hinder access to hikers. Of course, this has only led to more interest and mystery to this hike and people have not been deterred from taking on this mental and physical challenge.

Fortunately today the governments of Andalusia and Malaga decided in 2006 to restore the pathway. Today, the pathway is 70% completed and is ahead of schedule. In fact, they are starting to talk about a January opening instead of the scheduled opening in summer. Much of the rehabilitation work has been done by climbers, hikers and people from the world of caving who have been hanging from the walls of the ravine to recuperate this amazing pathway. The path that will greet visitors in 2015 will be wood planked (instead of concrete slabs) and in some parts glass floors will be used to permit hikers to appreciate the entire view.

Almost 100 years ago King Felipe VI's great-grandfather traversed this amazing path and the hope is that next year Felipe will follow in his great-grandfather's footsteps and re-inaugurate the Caminito del Rey. 

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