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Chop Chop Machete Galore HVS 5b

Date: December 7, 1998
Climbers: Mathias & Frederik
Climbing: Vegetated Limestone
Area: Semuc Champey, Guatemala

[Frederik]We woke up fairly late, and had a bit of muesli with dried milk (and some water!). Very quickly all the boys and men from around were back to look at our stuff again, and ask us how much it costs! This got a bit out of hand when we started laying out our climbing equipment to sort everything out. We had decided to attempt to put up a route on the rock faces that were barely visible to the East of the pools. We brought a lot of gear a lot of water, but no food which we regretted later! We set off a bit after noon with high spirits.

We followed a farmer's path up the side of the hill for a few hundred meters, and then headed left into the jungle to find the base of the rock. The machette was absolutely necessary to chop through the dense vegetation - it was fun to feel like a couple of oldfashioned explorers. We fairly quickly arived at some rock - of course very vegetated and unfortunately without many features for climbing or protection. Optimistic we follow the somewhat undefined base of the rock. Perhaps 100 meter further chopping leads us to a promising looking spot: first about 50 meters of steep broken ledges completely filled with plants and trees but then some clean looking rock above it. The first second seems doable because we can sling one of the many trees for protection, but we really have no idea what the top section will be like. Luckily, the sun is still not shining on the face so the temperature hot but bearable.

Fred starts the climbing. Mathias is in much better climbing shape, so Fred can contribute on this section by leading up using roots, twigs, trees, loose rocks, mud etc for holds and protection. The machette is still needed occationally and we are happy that we bought one with a sheath that we can simply clip into our harness. It is great to be climbing again! We haven't climbed on the same rope together since Coronation Street three years ago! How fitting - the type of climbing here is very similar to "The Cheddar Experience" which typicaly involves loose rock, and lots of vegetation. At least here, the line is not polished! Fred sets up a stance in a tree, standing on some loosely attached roots and Mathias joins. We swap leads, and Mathias traverses right over a technical little section, switches back left and belays in another tree. Fred joins and leads on a little further to the base of a *great* looking little corner. Yes! (If anyone should be stupid enough to repeat this route, the first section can be done in two pitches with little problem.) About 25 meters of the corner is visible and it looks promising: near vertical, holds here and there, and probably some places for pro.

Lucky for Fred, it is Mathias turn to take the sharp end. He sets off with a determination only equalled by Cortez' conquista of the Americas...

[Mathias] Rock was finally on the agenda full time. Fred had with usual enthusiasm stormed through the first fifty meters or so of serious scrambling up to the bottom of this our first encounter with Guatamalan limestone. The crag look climbable, steep, but with a continous corner all the way so it looked like a bridging escape would be possbile at all times. In what appeared to be the top the rock seemed to steepen and it looked like the crux of the line.

Loaded with most of our equipment plus the bolt kit and the machete I headed up the corner trying out the jamming qualities of the corner crag. This quickly proved unusable as it was just full of munge and the rock was a bit damp and loose. Out on the right face though the rock was immaculate and and I quickly realized that this was where the majority of the focus was going to be laid. I was still in a bridging start trying to figure out how to get on to the main right face. The bridge turned out to be really strenuous on my right leg as I was pretty heavy due to the load of equipment. A few commiting pulls and foot changes and I was on the face. Yoist! This was good stuff! I had to really be carefull everytime I tried a new hold as it might be one big loose block and Fred was directly underneath me. But on this right face the holds were very much in-situ being pockets and small ledges. Perfect. I had put in a no 1 friend in the section below me and I became aware that friends was the business in this Guatamalan medium as I seated a bombproof no 2 camalot in a clean rock solid pocket.

I reached up for what turned out to be a mantleshelf to a small ledge some 30 feet of the ground. I got up to the ledge for a welcomed rest and had a look down at Fred. I had been shuffing a lot of stuff down on my poor old brother the whole of this first part of the climb - a few loose rocks, plenty of chopped of vegetation and truck loads of spider web. He looked fine, and I could focus on what lay in front of me. It looked like I was about to enter the crux of this so far glorious pitch and I had two options. Either bridge the whole way up to the left or try to head for a big conglomarat feature on the right. This big feature looked quite promising and I perpared myself for heading up there to have a look. I placed a good number 10 rock and managed to get yet another bomber of a camalot in a perfect pocket slightly to the right. Perfect, ready to explore a bit further. I get my feet sorted out and try a blind reach as I can't quite reach the actual feature yet. I "crawl" around with my right hand a bit and suddenly -thugh- a hidden pocket! Yoist, this is what dreams are made of and I gain loads of confidence as the rock unvails its secrets more and more. Anyway - I pull on the little sharp and perfect pocket, bring my feet and vupti I am within reach of the big feature. My first visual encounter is positive but as I scrape of the tons of spider web my heart sinks - the stuff is less firm than it looked, and after a bit of contact I decide that this is not the way. If I used the feature full on and the stuff pulled of, it would be a minor catastrophey by obvious reasons. Disappointed I have to retreat to my ledge again, but not before I had a good look at the stuff on the left of the feature. From below it looked more or less bare without holds, but from this closer look it reveals an obvious jug and a possible traverse line which would bypass and take you over the feature. Wow. I need to use an undercling, which I so far have only used for the placement of two friends, full on to reach the obvious and hopefully solid jug futher up. I remove one of the friends to release a bit of space for my hands and go down to the ledge to rest.

I shout to Fred that I might have found the weakness of the rock and we have some shouting conversation about rock which just get me fired up even more.


The rock has steppened and I need to move and think fast

A couple of minuttes later and I am up here again - now determined that I need to make full use of the undercling, reach a bit to the left for the jug and then see what happens. Plim, everything falls into place and I am suddenly in the middle of it. Full commitment, get a small wire in, waste time getting a monsterthread in, and then look around. I am well on the face. Hmm. Left no good - loose munge and I now know this crag well enough to know that the good stuff is to the right. I am in level with the feature and I need to get above it and if possbile get around it. Calm down, shake out, chalk up, look. There it is - I can't believe it. An absolutely perfect traverse line a little up from my jug. Wow, can this really be happening? I move up relatively easy and seat my right hand in the horisontal crack. Fine! I can do this. This is serious commitment time, no time for pro, just f*cking go for it and enjoy it. And this is excactly what I do and a few moments later I am at a good tree above the feature, and I happily throw a sling around the tree and shout "Standplads" to Fred which is some Danish way of saying "safe" and it's over.

Fred leads through the next bit of vegetables growing on a steep arete. It is fairly easy climbing, again with active use for the vegetation for holds and protection. "Ten meters up, however, I feel really light-headed. We haven't had anything to eat all day, and at this point we are getting really tired making our way up the rock face. I am really dizzy and try to lower my head a bit, but cannot perched here on the rock. I have been known to faint before (mainly when needles are involved) so it doesn't look good... We quickly decide to lower me down and take ten minutes rest. Feeling better, I take off again, and finish the pitch. The top is full of vegetation again and I stop when I cannot move any further because of rope drag. Mathias joins soon afterwards." There are a few small bits of rock above but we decide to traverse right to find a way down. We rope up alpine style with 15 meters between us, and finally we are at the top. There is a gully going down to where we think the path is.

And then we were lost in the jungle.

... we wonder around some hidden rice fields for quite a while before we finally find the path down to the pools. We soak in the pools completely drenched in sweat and generally exhausted and very very hungry. We agree that we need to be more cautious on bringing food as this hot climate in particular really wears on the salt and sugar supplies.

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