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Third Canyon Desfiladero de los Gaitanes and the Southern Wall

Third Canyon Desfiladero de los Gaitanes and the Southern Wall

The access to the third canyon is a stage that consists of a100 m-high hanging boardwalk. This is more breathtaking than any other part of the route. The last stretch of the path includes stairs and a hanging footbridge, which go over the old boardwalk on the southern wall. If you look down, you will be able to see the new El Chorro Hydroelectric Power Station.
This section includes:

  • Beginning of the second boardwalk
  • Hundred-year-old juniper
  • Peñón del Cristo Caves
  • St Christopher's niche
  • Glass Balcony
  • Fossil Beach and ammonite
  • Zip-line and the aqueduct
  • Hanging footbridge
  • The end of the boardwalks after you have walked over the bridge and under the railway tunnel.

 

Beginning of the Second Boardwalk (2500 m away)

A hanging boardwalk gives access to the third canyon. These much higher and narrower boardwalks wind along leaning walls all along the Gaitanes Gorge, including the Falla Chica and its sharp edge. This part of boardwalks is 800 m long, and its walls can reach 250 m above us and more than 100 m above the river level until you get to the aqueduct and the Hanging Footbridge. Some stretches are 1 m above the old boardwalks, and first reach a large curve under Peñón del Cristo rock and the Bend (Recodo), where a series of caves can be found. There are two chalky pillars along the route with a protection cable. They mark the entry to the gorge called The Three Crosses Cliff with St Cristopher's Niches (Tajo de las Tres cruces con los Nichos de San Cristóbal) on the left, and Peñón del Cristo, a rocky outcrop, or Castillón de la Ermita on the left.

This last canyon is the best place for looking at the vertical mountainous strata. Start at the river and then look up the railway, and higher to the mountain tops, which are more than 250 m above. Mind that you can feel a bit uneasy, but if you take a glimpse between the boards of the new boardwalks, you will be able to see the ruins of the old Caminito del Rey, more than hundred-year-old and rather damaged. This route will make you feel as if you were getting out of the river and into the mountains on several occasions due to the faults made by erosion.

Pasarelas del Caminito del Rey vistas desde el lecho del río Guadalhorce. Tercer cañón, desfiladero de los Gaitanes

 

Hundred-year-old Juniper (2550 m away)

When you start walking along the boardwalks, some 100 m away, and having gone past the glass old lamps and the old electrical grid, you will reach a curve where the viaduct can be clearly seen, as well as the large natural St Cristopher's Niches. At this spot, you should look up in order to see the hundred-year-old Maritime Juniper, a unique example of the plant life that grows on the rocks among other scrub in the Gaitanes Gorge. What is rather incredible is that this juniper literally grew in the rocks, and survived hundreds of years in extreme conditions.

Some metres away, at the small bend, you should look up again in order to see a commemorative plaque, attached to the rock with a climbing screw, which reminds about the fatal accident happened to a Swiss climber in 2010. The text on a plaque, where his face was drawn, starts with 'In memoriam Raphael Pyffer 14. März 1985 - 14 Februar 2010....'. There are many screws and nails, chains, carabiners and other climbing equipment hanging all over the wall. Do watch some of the videos you can access on this web page to see how climbers had risked their lives before the path El Caminito del Rey was refurbished.

You surely wonder how is possible that all this plant life exist in the canyons, which have never been in fire nor humans have been able to approach them and alter the natural conditions. This is a real vertical forest which can finally been observed again thanks to the refurbishment of El Caiminito del Rey, after it had been abandoned for decades.

Desfiladero de los Gaitanes. Tercer cañón. La Sabina Centenaria

 

Peñón de Cristo Caves (2650 m away)

After you go past the commemorative plaque dedicated to the Swiss climber, there is a bigger curve that leads to the Gran Gaitan Bend along some stairs, where from you can admire the old boardwalk, the St Christopher's niches and the end of the new boardwalk, called Glass Balcony (Balcón de Cristal), which comes out of the wall. When you get to the middle of the latter boardwalk, you will see the railway viaduct opposite, and two exits from the Peñón del Cristo Caves above your head. Its wall is ochre clay colour, as it comes from tierra rossa caused by erosion inside the caves, which can be seen from the train and were topographically surveyed in 1980s.

In some of them, the ruins from the Bronze Age were found. After the bend, you can fully see them from a distance.
All the caves were catalogued and studied by speleologists and archaeologists. One of them, marked as AD-05b is the largest and includes the most complicated route with many different formations and openings. In order to access and exit this cavern, there is to rappel even if you come from the boardwalk.

Las pasarelas y el balcón de cristal del desfiladero de los Gaitanes en el tercer cañón vistos desde el Cerro de San Cristóbal

 

St Cristopher's Niches (2690 m away)

The high rocky hill of St Christopher has large holes in the shape of niches, which are known as St Christopher's Niches. Absolutely surprising, they can be seen from different angles from the beginning of the boardwalks. Nevertheless, there is to stop at the Glass Balcony, when they are opposite us, to be able to observe well their shape. At this spot you can also see vultures flying high above you as their colony, El Chorro Vulture's Nests, is close by. The rocky hill is also called 'Tajo de las Tres Cruces' [The Three Crosses Cliff or Three Roofs Cliff] by climbers due to its three large overhanging faces. Its high rock faces and climbing walls have welcomed many official  championships.

If you are lucky, you will be able to see some of the climbers climbing some of the routes and getting to the tops. The walls have a great effect on observers, so we can only imagine the adrenaline flowing those sport people can get while climbing them.

El ferrocarril visto desde el Caminito del Rey restaurado

 

Glass Balcony (2690 m away)

As you could see, the most beautiful part of the route up to this symbolic spot is the Gaitanes Gorge, not only because it is geologically peculiar, but also because of its old infrastructure which was built for the sake of the railway (tunnels, viaducts, service ways, and so on). But there is more: 'El Balcón de Cristal' [the Glass Balcony], which comes out of the rock and makes the part of the boardwalk, is a place where many visitors feel dizzy, above all while walking across the glass floor, as it seems as if you were hanging in the air. Here, you can observe all these structures and the vast canyon with vertical folds from a very small distance. There is a warning which says that no more than four people can stand at one place at the same time, although the trials have been run for heaviest burden.

This viewpoint offers the view over the railway and the service way, besides the tunnel and the viaduct which substituted the iron one, the same as the other viaducts. The tunnels were dug with dynamite, and it was done so often that there was a lack of it at certain point. Nevertheless, the line between Málaga and Córdoba was carried out in six-year time in spite of difficult terrain.

Las pasarelas y el balcón de cristal del desfiladero de los Gaitanes en el tercer cañón vistos desde el Cerro de San Cristóbal

 

Fossil Beach and Ammonite (2750 m away)

Having gone past the Glass Balcony and the viaduct, the bridge and the canal will be right in front of you. Now you need to walk for a while until you see a bend where is a bush coming out of the wall. Some metres before that, under the cable handrail, there is the trace of ammonite, sea cephalopods which existed from the Devonian (400 Mya) to the Cretaceous period (65. 5 Mya). This fossil was protected by a methacrylate plate in the area called the Fossil Beach due to the undulating traces which confirm this entire zone was under water during these geological periods. There are more fossils, which you cannot see under and above, the boardwalk, though you can see some on the wall opposite you. From there on, a narrow way goes from the Falla Chica and its edge in the shape of the letter 'V' with folds, where you will change direction and see how the underground canal comes to the surface protected by a vault from the landslide. There is also a small bridge which belonged to the old boardwalk.

The above wall bears traces of a Jurassic beach with sandy bottom, which are perfectly crystallized along hundreds of square metres and, therefore, compose a rather large trace fossil. Ammonite is a Greek name which refers to ram horns. For example, ancient Egyptian deity Amun was represented by the head of a ram. These fossils come from sandy sea bottoms, which turned into vertical rocks during their uplift.

Huellas de ammonite. Caminito del Rey. Itinerarios por los paisajes fluviales de Málaga

 

Zip-line and the Aqueduct (2900 m away)

When you leave the edge of the small fault (the Falla Chica), the boardwalk becomes curvy due to the change of direction, so you will be able to see the route you have walked along on the left and the viaduct until you take a bend close to the canal bridge.  Here, the boardwalk ends at some stairs and concrete surface where the zip-line used for bringing materials from the railway was fixed. In this long zone, where canal supervisor's booth used to be, a wooden bench is placed in front of the commemorative plaques which remind about the accidents at the zip-line. Here, visitors can wait to go over the hanging bridge. As for the old aqueduct bridge or Eugenio Ribera's Aqueduct, it was a complex engineering project, which was carried out in 1904 in order to transfer water from one to another side of the gorge. Just before going up the stairs, you will see the exit from the underground part of the canal on the right. This cave in the rock was refurbished in 2017, so it can be used as an alternative exit.

The aqueduct bridge transferred water along 35 m between two vertical walls (300 m tall). It was projected by engineer José Eugenio Ribera Dutaste, hired by Leopoldo Wener and Rafael Benjumea. The project was based on a risky technique, which consisted of using some taut cables which supported a board that was a base for a wooden formwork (shuttering). The works on the gorge were carried out by experts who had to hang in the air, 105 m above the river. Some of them were sailors.

Ribera Aqueduct Bridge or the Canal Viaduct, which was 30, 000 pesetas (round €180 worth) in 1904, was created not only for crossing the river from one slope to another, but was also used by people who walked along El Caminito del Rey. Today, it is used for water transfer from one side to another through pumps or pipes.

Llegada al Puente de Ribera. Caminito del Rey

 

Hanging Footbridge (2900 m away)

When you get to the top of the wooden stairs, there is to go across the high metal bridge, called Hanging Footbridge (Puente Colgante), which is sustained by long braces (105 m high and 35 m long), stretched from one wall to another. This wideness and deepness will make you see the void beneath you, as it is possible to see the abyss right through the floor grid. Sometimes you can see what local people call 'water butterflies', which are rain drops that fall down to the void and reflect sunlight. Once again, you can look up in the sky above you to admire vultures if you can keep your balance. This footbridge was tested with the weight of 50, 000 kg before it was opened in 2015, so you can feel safe when walking over it. Once you come to its end, you will be able to see the group of Jurassic chalky rocks in vertical layers which stretch towards the water, making a large column at the entrance of the canyon.

Before reaching the footbridge, on the concrete landing which substitutes boardwalks, there are some commemorative plaques in front of the bench which remind of the accidents happened in the Gaitanes Gorge before it was restored in 2015. These plaques were placed there because the families of the deceased wished so.

El Caminito del Rey. Foto de Juan María Álvarez

 

The end of the boardwalks after you have walked over the bridge and through the railway tunnel (from 2950 m to 3200 m southwards)

The last stretch of the path includes stairs and a hanging footbridge, which go over the old boardwalk on the southern wall. If you look down, you can see the new El Chorro Hydroelectric Power Station. On the right and a bit upwards, there is the balance chimney of the upper reservoir of La Encantada Cliff, which receives water from a pipe that spans a drop of 400 m. Right there, in Mesas de Villaverde, there are ruins of the fortified town of Bobastro, an important Mozarabic site where muwallads' leader Omar Ben Hafsun (Ibn Hafsun) rebelled against the Emirate of Cordoba. The boardwalk will take you to a small bend with two benches, where you can rest before going up the steep stairs that span the bridge and the railway tunnel, and end at the gate with the wheel opening mechanism which gives access to the exit path.

You probably do not know that these steep walls, railway and some other areas along the route appeared in films featured by world-famous actors. One of these pictures was 'Von Ryan's Express', directed by Mark Robson in 1965, and stared by Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard and young Raffaella Carrà.

El Caminito del Rey. Foto de Juan María Álvarez