El Caminito del Rey acquired notoriety after five deaths occurred there from 1999 to 2000. Indeed, some say that there have been 27 deaths on the path since it was opened in the early part of the 20th Century. El Caminito is legendary as the world’s most dangerous path.
The deaths didn’t keep the climbers away. And a string of vertigo inducing YouTube videos only further popularized this via ferrata. As soon as Becky saw the videos, Caminito del Rey was on the top her bucket list. As a voice of reason I suggested that if she was going to do 1,001 things before she died, perhaps attempting the walkway of death should be left until the end. It is a practical thing. Otherwise she might leave 1,000 things undone at the time of her demise. You wouldn’t want to do that.
As it turned out the authorities intervened before Becky could fulfill her death wish. After three years of work, a sanitized and stabilized version of the El Caminito del Rey was opened to the public at the end of March in 2015. The route is now a popular tourist destination.
As a sensible precaution access to the new pathway is limited. Only a fixed number of hikers are allowed each day onto El Caminito del Rey. To pass through the access gate you need to have a ticket. The tickets are sold via the Internet but, as we soon learned, they often sell out months in advance. Indeed, all of the passes were gone before we even decided to go to Spain a month and a half earlier. It took some research but we found a work around. Guide agencies buy up the tickets as they are released. If we went with a guide, they could find a ticket we could hike the path.
When the day of our hike arrived we met our guide at a bar and restaurant near the trailhead. Soon our group headed the short distance down the road to a dark narrow tunnel. At the far end of the tunnel is a gravel road that leads to the formal start of El Caminito del Rey.
Aside from the all-important ticket, there’s not much reason to hike El Caminito del Rey with a guide. With the recent improvements the King’s pathway is no longer the domain of adventurers. The ropes and climbing harnesses once needed are no longer necessary. All of the seriously exposed sections now have guard railings and all steep sections have steps. As long as you don’t have vertigo, the eight kilometer long route is easy enough for all but the mobility impaired.
On a few occasions our guide did stop and tell us some of the history of the pathway. The original route through the gorge was built at the start of the 20th Century. This path was constructed to provide workers at the hydroelectric power plants at Chorro and Gaitanejo Falls a way inspect and maintain the channel in between. When the first walkway was built it was routed low in the gorge. After floods damaged part of the low route it was decided to upgrade the path and move it higher. In the 1920’s, a newer walkway along an aqueduct were added higher up on the gorge’s walls. It is this second pathway that became known as El Caminito del Rey and later became infamous as the “world’s most dangerous path”. The path we traveled in 2015 is the third walkway built in the gorge; the new route follows closely the alignment of the infamous second path.
Another tidbit that we learned concerns the path’s name. It is said that “El Caminito del Rey” got its name after a visit in 1921 by King Alfonso XIII of Spain. As the story goes, the King walked the first section and then hopped onto a train waiting on the tracks that appear between two tunnels on the far side of the gorge. Because the King didn’t walk the full route what might have been the King’s path or El Camino del Rey became the little path of the King or El Caminito del Rey.
Unlike the King, we walked the entire route. As we proceeded along the new walkway the infamous second route, the path the King traveled, was visible at many points. In person it looks far scarier than it does in the videos. Narrow, exposed, and collapsing, traveling the poorly maintained second path near the turn of the 21st Century would have quickened the pulse of all but the most serious climbers. Nevertheless, Becky, who is not a climber, was not deterred. If it were possible, she would have climbed through the gorge on the derelict second path in a heartbeat, even though it might just be her last one.
El Caminito del Rey ends soon after the gorge opens up and the stream at the bottom spills into the reservoir. Nearby the railway enters a tunnel bored directly into the rock face. All that remained was to get back to our car parked at the bar near the trailhead. Unfortunately the King was not with us; a passing train did not stop to pick us up. Instead we walked a short distance to an air-conditioned bus that took us back to the trailhead. No doubt King Alfonso would have been envious of our luxury.