Source: Gabirulo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Caminito_del_Rey_3.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.
If that walkway that can be made out halfway up that gorge in the above photo looks intimidating, that’s because…
Located over 100 metres above the El Chorro gorge near Álora, Málaga, the 3 km long, one metre-wide pathway is not some relic from ancient times but is actually rather recent in origin and owes its origin to a most modern development: hydroelectricity. At the bottom of the gorge lies the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes reservoir on the Rio Guadalhorce. Along the length of the gorge are various hydroelectric plants, including two plants at the Chorro and Gaitanejo waterfalls. In 1901, workers at the two plants realised the need for a pathway between the facilities for the purposes of inspecting the channel gorge below and transporting personnel and materials. The only means the workers had to build the pathway was to pin it to the side of the gorge, making for a very narrow, death-defying journey. Metal beams and wires were drilled into the wall of the gorge, upon which a concrete base was laid. There were no handrails (small amounts were added over the years); those travelling the Caminito would have to hold onto the wires and chains embedded in the rock.
On this part of the Caminito, the concrete base has eroded, leaving those who want to cross with no choice to move from exposed beam to exposed beam with the help of the chains and wire on the gorge wall. Source: goesberlin, http://www.flickr.com/photos/10243/2094680404/. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence.
The pathway acquired its name in 1921 at the opening of the Conde del Guadalhorce dam (the one that created the current reservoir), when Alfonso XIII crossed the pathway (many of the few improvements that had been made to the walkway were made in advance of his arrival), creating a tourist buzz. Despite its popularity, no real maintenance was performed on the route, and the concrete base began to crumble away, leaving only the exposed beam structure for much of its length.
Not only does El Caminito del Rey remain the only path between the waterfalls, it is also a shortcut to a popular climbing area at El Chorro. Even though the pathway is officially closed due to disrepair, many still use it every day in order to access the climbing area or just to experience the thrill of traversing the trail. In December 2010, the Malagan government announced a 2011-2015 restoration of the walkway at a cost of €9 million. And those repairs are sorely needed, for there’s a reason the trail is officially closed: the initial part of the walkway has been removed entirely in order to prevent ill-equipped people from attempting it (travelling in groups outfitted in climbing gear is a necessity these days), and the bridge spanning the gorge looks ready to give away completely.
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