By Road, December 1998 – February 1999
Who Fred, Mathias
Date October 1998 – February 1999
Sports Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Caving, Scuba Diving, Cave Diving, Surfing, Jungle Trekking
Note Vehicle: VW Westfalia 1984 1.9L water-cooled. Beige
3 December 1998 – Departure
(M) London Heathrow – the Shakespeare pub.
Getting my last pint before the big trip. Packing went fine, and everything looks a-okay. Left the boat this morning in gray cold weather – I hope Lancer, the Boat will be okay for the next two months without me.
4 December 1998 – Salama
(F) up at 5. arrive at airport at 5:45, United flight is more or less on time.
(M) flight was good. thanks. smooth landing with some bumps. hello fred, and through custom.
We are now together again with much rejoicing.
After fitting Mathias’ stuff into the van, we go past a welding specialist shop in Guatemala City called FabriGas to pick up carbide for the caving lights.
We head straight north on a little road. Lunch in the middle of nowhere in a comidor. A comidor is just a normal house where people can come to eat in their kitchen and pay a little for whatever is brewing that day. No choice of meal as in a restaurant, no signs to show that there is a business going but we find it by asking someone where we can get a meal. This is Mathias’ first meal in Central America, and very much out in the middle of nowhere. Very bad roads, very slow, turned out to be not the optimal road in that direction.
Teachers partying in Salama. Great little hotel with courtyard. Playing tunes on guitar and flute, and it gets a lot of interest to say the least.
5 December 1998 – Lanquin
Stephan and Annabel
Had lunch at Coban. Ran into Stephan and Annabel, a Beligan couple living there on a UN peace mission. They were both very keen to start kayaking, so when they saw our van arrive they rushed to ask us how they could get equipment. The closest place might be in Mexico – there is not many river shops here in Guatemala. They were also keen to get their rock climbing equipment exercised, and they told us they had seen some promising looking rock faces in Semuc Champey – a popular tourist place with some beautiful pools for swimming.
After lunch with the Beligans, we headed towards Lanquin – a place with a showcave, but apparently some more unexplored stuff further inside. The road was very bad! Dirt road, with lots of holes and very narrow spots that had to be negotiated with huge trucks and buses coming in the opposite direction. Mathias sat on the top of the van some of the way – very beautiful views from up there, like riding a motorbike! Just before dark we arrive at Lanquin. We decide to camp next to the caves, a kilometer or so outside the village. It is a really cool spot – the huge river Canaban starts here. It spews out next to the cave, coming from somewhere inside. The cave has a locked door, but it is fairly easy to walk around it. We decide to wait until tomorrow, exploring it. We pop the top of the van, and go to bed very tired after a long days driving and Mathias still with a bit of jetlag in his system.
“We spot a huge crowd
with candlelights, slowly
moving down on the road”
Mayan cave ceremony
Before we fall asleep, we hear voices and see the shines of some flashlights. Somewhat unexpected in this quiet place. And also a bit unnerving – we are very far from any bit of civilisation out here! We peek out of the van, and see more lights and hear more voices. We can also hear some drums and humming noises in the background. Very scary. Now we spot a huge crowd with candlelights, slowly moving down on the road – right towards our spot. YIKES! Lots of flashlights point inside the van, and then away. Most people are behind the van, but there are people all around us. Then a guy starts some ceremony right outside, with the people in front of him and right around our van. He speaks or sings in some Mayan language that we obviously don’t understand a word of. We decide to take the bull by the horns, put on some clothing and head outside – still somewhat uneasy about the whole situation. Outside we are right in the middle of a crowd of about 600 people! All little Mayan Indians, some with their huge working machetes by their sides. They don’t pay much attention to us, except for a little boy who explains that it is a religious ceremony.
Soon after, the crowd begins to line up and head down the path to the cave. It is very spectacular with all those people and all those candles. The generator to the cave lights has been started – they obviously plan on going inside and do some praying or something. We ask an old guy if we can follow, he says that there are a lot of people, but we can feel free if we want. We grab our two candles in their camping holders and mingle in with the crowd. Of course, we stand out a bit! Everybody is very friendly though, and *extremely* curious about our camping lights! They ask how much they cost etc. We are in the last part of the procession and inside the cave everyone is lined up along the path, holding their candles. The path winds up and down and around, and it is a brilliant sight! We can see through some holes in the top part of the walls, that the light continues a long way in. Everybody stop at this point, and a preacher starts his singing speech again and we all sit down in prayer. What a place to pray! Wow. Then a few minutes of complete silence, followed by everyone putting their candle onto a rock next to them. Then we head out. Outside we sit in front of the van while everybody gather again, waiting for the priest who is way inside. This was a bit unnerving again, because everybody was touching the car, shining their lights in the windows. They were now paying a little more attention to us! But they were just curious, of course, and too shy to go up and ask what on earth this vehicle with a raised roof was. When asked, someone said that they had this ceremony once a year. When the priest came out, they all left very suddenly and there was quiet again after only a few minutes… What an amazing experience!
We head for bed, but then it occur to us that the cave must be really cool with all the candles lit inside! We are not particularly tired anymore because of the experience, so we put on our caving helmets and head back to the cave. The locked door is easy to get around, and once inside we are glad we went! Wow. Holy Jesus. Now the place is completely silent, only with some strange water noises coming from the depths.
The candles are everywhere. We had only been in the first chamber, but now we go into the second *huge* chamber with even more lights. It is filled with smoke from the offerings they made, and our lights cannot see the ceiling and even some of the walls. This place much be bloody enormous! We are pretty fired up because it is so eery in there and because of some strange sounds we keep hearing. In the huge chamber there are lights that appear to be really far up on the wall. We follow the path up there and this is where they must have had their offering session. There are some children cut to pieces, and.. No just kidding. There is a platform with huge candles and some smoking offerings. After some pictures, we head quietly out. That was just a unique experience, complete luck that we happened to be camping there at their yearly Mayan ceremony!
6 December, 1998 – Semuc Champey
After the caving experience we head to bed tired and with an real closeness to the Guatemalan Indians here from day 1. We sleep like two little rocks and the next morning we wake up to the sound of the waking jungle at a leisurely 8am. We met a Dutch guy the day before who asked us if he and two others could get a ride up to Semuc Champey and we’d told him to come around at 9am.
Being camped just next to the river Mathias heads down to try and fish some breakfast with Fred’s little fishing rod. While Mathias is trying his luck on the riverbed the party of Dutch guy and his two Swiss friends arrives at the van, and having failed on the breakfast duty we leave after a quick cup of mocha. The destination is Semuc Champey some 10 kilometers of serious dirt road – later we read in the Loney Planet that 4 wheel drive is recommended! But we know that Daisy is eager for some of the more hard stuff and half an hour later we are bumping along, Mathias in his usual seat on the roof and four passengers plus Fred (we picked a fourth German guy up on the road) and she (Daisy) loves it.
The Guatemalan people
On the way out of Lanquin we are held up by a religious procession with a hundred or so people walking slowly down the street singing and carrying a big wooden cross – made of two big logs in a very crude but honest fashion. “…with his plastic crucifix”. As we see the procession approach we quickly park the car, jump out and sit in the road side and watch the happening.
It is a very simple procession which we both find very moving – we spot one or two Indians who we saw at the ceremony the previous evening and it is really nice to see these very friendly and very real people in this fascinating manner in an extreme contrast to all the stories and warnings about bandits and savage Guatemalans who shoot you and then drive away in your car. This is not the Guatemala we have experienced so far. The impression we have – as the end of the procession passes us – is one of a people who are trying their best to maintain their country despite hurricanes, civil wars and perhaps increasing tourism. The people – only after two days – stand out as an incredible strong and proud yet soft and vulnerable – tall and short yet wide and narrow. Nej okay – vi proever igen. The people – only after two days in the country – stand out as and incredible strong, not proud but just normal, minding their own business, and yet very helpful and easy to talk to. Nobody is trying to sell us things as one would experience in most other countries blessed by western tourism (Egypt, Bali, Nepal etc)
“It is a very simple
we both find very
Anyway – these Guatemalan dudes just seem pretty sympathetic, and they have all so far laughed when either of us makes a little classic “look like a complete idiot” scene… yes yes.
After an hour or so of beautiful driving we arrive at Semuc Champey where we might do the first bit of rock climbing on this part of the trip.
Later that day… We have just finished our supper consisting of 10 tortillas which we preordered at noon at a little shed close to where we are (for 3 quetzales), spiced up with some frijoles boenos and some boiled rice. Very good and very filling and very much the same thing we had for lunch/breakfast . We have been accompanied by a local farmer and a crowd of kids for the whole evening and after we gave him one of the numerous t-shirts that Mathias brought from back home as gifts from the Danish People all the kids got one as well, and now they are all wearing Mathias’ old t-shirts. Quite cool. Fred is doing all the talking with his impressive set of Spanish words that he learned last week. We are really have proper conversations with these local people which really is quite amazing. This guy – Martinus – is a farmer, and tomorrow he was going to harvest some corn for eating in March. Fascinating and a very similar concept to The Willerup Brothers. We work to get money to spend on extravagant trips later in the course of the year as well . No seriously – very fascinating to get to know these peoples simple way of living, and yet they seem very on top of things – he had for example rescued some French woman recently from the nearby waterfall (we saw it earlier today – pretty cool), and he got some reward for that, and he told us lots about various other incidents down the waterfall. It was like a Guatemalan version of good old Tim – this Martinus shared the same fascination for good war stories.
How much is the lantern?
A funny thing which all the Guatemalans seem to have in common is a curiosity for what all our stuff cost. They asked how much the candles from Las Vegas was, how much the Van is, how much the caving helmets are etc etc. One item in particular has caught the eyes of our Indian friends.
The little candle lantern that we had one of each. We gave one of them to the friendly kid yesterday at the cave ceremony – he deserved it explaining us that we needn’t be afraid and stuff. We have one lantern left and they all want to know how much it costs, if it runs on gas (when we tell them that it is a normal candle inside it creates a lots of acknowledging nods). Again it’s quite fascinating – these Indian dudes all speak in an Indian language as well as Spanish. They speak this dialect amongst themselves and speak Spanish with us turistas. But we already learned ourselves a few words like Na-tchek (hello – female), Da-tchek (hello – Male), and Bu-schikok (thanks – any gender). Anyway – it’s very interesting to listen to this truly savage tung, and quite nice from a historical perspective that these old Maya-dudes still keep their heritage very much alive through their language.
Chan sha quil (como estas?)
I saw some fireflies in the dusk – fascinating creatures Shackleton.
Rock? We did a recce down the canyon and the place might turn out disappointing from a rock climbing perspective. We had heard rumours from Stephan and Anabel that the rock was a somewhat vegetated, but we where confident that our excursions on Cheddar rock in England would make us well equipped for the more unclean of rock. We might be proved wrong. This rock looks like Shorn Cliff the local crag near Bristol but with the tree-rock ratio somewhat different. There was a heck of a lot of vegetation on the stuff we saw. And not only might the rock be well occupied by little green plants but the approach might prove to be a great challenge as well. The jungle stuff looks seriously impassable and even with our huge newly purchased machete we might be in over our heads. But anyway – let’s see how it goes, if we can’t establish some new routes we will just have to move on on the Ruta Hermanos.
7 December 1998 – Lanquin
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.
Bungle in the jungle
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 machete was absolutely necessary to chop through the dense vegetation – it was fun to feel like a couple of old-fashioned explorers. We fairly quickly arrived 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 machete is still needed occasionally 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!
Bungle in the Jungle
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 typically 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 equaled 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 Guatemalan limestone. The crag look climbable, steep, but with a continuos corner all the way so it looked like a bridging escape would be possible 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 had. 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 committing pull and foot changes I was on the face. Yoist! This was good stuff! I had to really be careful 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 Guatemalan 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 and head for a big conglomerate feature on the right. This big feature looked quite promising and I prepared 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 = I gain loads of confidence as the rock unveils 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 further 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 obviously boosts my confidence.
A couple of minutes after 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 – the rock has steppened and I need to move and think fast. 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 possible 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. Whoa, can this really be happening? I move up relatively easily and seat my right hand in the horisontal crag. 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 exactly 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.
“The rock has steppened
and I need to move and think fast”
Finishing the climb
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 lightheaded. 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 climate in particular really tears on the salt and sugar supplies.
8 December 1998 – Lanquin.
We wake up fairly early as usual and start the morning by spreading our stuff all over in front of the van. Soon we are joined by the first hombre of the morning – Alberto who is out walking his pig. Yes, he was indeed coming up the road with a big fat pig which he “parks” next us and then he joins us. Alberto turns out to be quite a festive guy, who has this funny habit of whistling and making elaborate gestures while he spoke – hard to explain, but it was quite amusing. After a while we offer him a bit of our “Gammel Dansk”, the Danish bitter snaps, which he drinks with a awkward facial expression. Good good fun. When his mate later joins us and tries a sip of the same stuff and doesn’t like it at all Alberto tells his friend that he was enjoying it and didn’t feel a thing, and his friend is a bloody softy. A classic. The third person who enters the scene turns out to be the local policeman, we find this out when – as we give him a cup of coffee and demand some money for the coffee (for fun of course), he pulls his huge gun out of his little shoulder bag! He was a very nice guy and we give him a boost of Gammel Dansk as well.
Well after having made the third bucket of coffee (enough for everyone) we put our caving gear on and head off caving. The police guy turns out to be the guy with the key to the cave as well, so that’s pretty convenient. We give him 10Q as the entrance fee and when he asks if he can come with us we gladly accept as he obviously knows the cave very well, but hasn’t been all the way in – the perfect team for a deep exploration. He borrows one of our spare head torches and we have geared up with the whole shooting match of helmets, carbide lamps and all that stuff. We’re off.
The first bit we know from the previous days experience, but Nicholas can tell us a good deal of additional stuff and spot some really cool features. After half an hour of so we reach the end of the “tourist” track and the real caving can begin. Yoist! Nicholas knows pretty well where to go, but we both head off left and right to investigate the numerous sideways several of which nobody has seemed to bother looking at and a few which has potential for further exploration. We head further in on the main path though as we enter deeper and deeper in the system.
After an hour of interesting caving we stop in a narrow walkway and listen. We can hear a strange hissing sound like leaking gas or something like that. We ask Nicholas “Que es ese sonido?” and he replies “Batman!”. Bats. We enter a *massive* chamber turn on the halogen and look up. Bats, thousands and thousands of bats. It is absolutely unbelievable. Most of the little creatures are hanging in the ceiling but many (hundreds) of the are flying around making the experience quite freaky.
It only adds to the animal experience as Mathias looks up on the ceiling right above him and spots a big evil looking spider hanging and waiting for something to jump down on and eat. Yeiiekes! The senses suddenly get an extra boost this is definitely a different story than the good old Goatchurch cavern back in Britain. Yoist! The spider looks really nasty, but Nicholas assures us that it doesn’t eat humans – we can but trust him. But we make sure to take an extra look before squeezing into narrow passages from now on.
and thousands of bats”
Under- ground Lake
This Bat chamber is maybe the size of a couple of Sanct Peter’s churches and we try to get an idea of where to head of next. There is a significant sound of water running from the far end of the chamber and we decide to try for that. Going through the narrow passages takes a little getting used to – all you see is bats flying straight towards you, veering off in the very last minute. This leads us into yet another big chamber – still filled with bats but also with a big lake in the edge of it. Wow. We carefully get ourselves to the shore of this lake and discover that is opens up further in on the water and it look like it continues deep in – the lake must be massive. Fred and I look at each other. Why did we not bring a little inflatable raft? :-\ The approach to this place looks virtually untouched although there are occasional years marked on the stone (one from the 1852) so imagine this lake – surely noone or maybe just a selected few fanatics have bothered to explore this lake in detail. It would be such an experience in a raft. Damn – who could have known we are now paying the price for Jeppe and Fred’s joy and happiness in Roervig, Denmark last year. (Long story). Anyway. We could just swim the bloody thing, but after having met the spider (there where several) who knows what could be hiding in the depths of the dark blue water. We’ll never know.
We head further into the cave leaving the lake and the system just seem to go on and on. Great. The bats are still in high numbers but we are actually getting used to them flying directly towards our faces and then just as you think they’ll hit you they turn 90 degrees and avoid you. It’s all down to radar we heard. (Thanks Stephan).
Eventually we reach the bottom of the cave system which is a lake which quite possible sumps, but which has a violent current as well and it would be insane to jump in. To round of our caving creatures experience we luckily manage to get a good look at a white or transparent crab which runs away with something in its claws. Wow. All these little buggers look quite scary at a first sight but all turn out to be rather friendly little creatures. Fascinating.
After having spend a few moments in this deep end of the cave, we start heading back and even manage to make the trip a “round trip” by following the river for some distance another way than we came in. Thanks Nicholas you did a marvelous job. He seemed happy as well, and told us that we had been some places that he hadn’t been before either.
In the evening we go to Lanquin to eat, and return to our cave camp spot because it is getting dark again. There is still a bit of light though, so Fred puts in the kayak and paddles up the river to where it emerges from the ground next to the cave. We decide to hang around and see if the bats come out in a big flock which is what the Begian chap, Stephan, told us they did. We must have been too late because there are only a couple of bats flying in and out. We meet a German guy, Franco, at the cave entrance. He wanted to enter, but now it is closed again. We decide to have one last look at the cave so he can see it, grab a few lights and head inside. We know the first section pretty well by now!
9 December 1998 – San Luis.
Franco camped near the cave as well, and takes the kayak for a spin in the morning after we wake up. Paddling upstream, he hits a little wave and takes his first swim. No problem. Later he goes *downstream* and in the distance we see him tip over again. This is a little worrying because we don’t know what is around the corner, and there is a lot of brush so it might be tricky to get to shore safely. It all turns out ok, though. We are heading to Poptun and since Franco is going in roughly the same direction, he joins us in the van. Very pleasant company, and he is much more prepared than we normally are wrt food – so during the trip we get avocado sandwiches with tomatoes etc. Compared to our usual junk food, it is great.
The road to Poptun is *really* bad and it is raining. Mathias takes over the wheel for the first time since his arrival, and negotiates the monster holes in the road, the mud, the rocks, the sections with no road, and the oncoming trucks. It is raining all day, and there are places where we could easily get stuck, but we escape without major problems except the bottom is pretty scraped up and the van is now brown with mud.
After eight tense hours on the road we end up in San Luis – a little pueblo only 20 km from Poptun. It is best to stop though, because it is getting dark. The town is very lively but is not exactly filled up with tourists – We are definitely the only gringos here… Lots of little bars, and shops and a certain noibel atmosphere. We find a little motel and mingle with the locals who, as usual, are very interested who we are and where we are coming from, and how much all our stuff cost. There is in particular one completely ratt-assed chap who follow us around, and as I write this he is sitting on the bench next to me, almost asleep against my shoulder.
“We are definitely
the only gringos here…”
I sold my little guitar to a friendly guy that demonstrates tuning by ear. He refuses to let go of the guitar once he starts playing it. He plays a lot of Guatemalan classics for us. He is very funny, and although I sold it for less that I bought it for in Mexico it now has a good home.
10 December 1998 – Poptun.
After a varied nights sleep in the rough little town of San Luis we (The two of us and Franko) get an early start towards Pontum. Franko has heard tales of a place near Pontum which serves a good breakfast so we aim for that. An hour or so – the roads are a bit better than yesterday – we find ourselves seated in a hut in the middle of the jungle with a bowl of hot porridge in front of us. Y y yoist!
We have reached The Cocay Camp which is a little backpackers campingplace some 7 kilometers north of Peptun. We realize that we are in a little paradise on earth as we get a tour of the place after the good and filling breakfast. Just next to the hammocks there is a nice river and it’s all very green and pleasant. We quickly find our way down to the river with the kayak under the arm, and Mathias get a good deal of practice in since the fairly traumatic trip in Rio Mendoza about a year ago. Good stuff. Later we even find that the river has some more potential a bit further down. Cool place. If this kayaking business wasn’t enough we also rent a couple of horses and head out for some cave spotting but a slight misunderstanding between us and our guide and a bit of a lame horse makes the horseback riding experience less of a fiesta. We do manage to show off a bit of our horseriding skills though and it seems that we are both riding a pretty fine gallop these days.
“We quickly find our
way down to the river
with the kayak”
The place is run by a pleasant German woman, Kristine, and Paco. Their dish washer is really happy boy, Agner, who unfortunately has polio so he can only walk with crouches. There are two german guys staying there, not very friendly, our very nice friend Franco from Lanquin, and a very festive French chap, Patrice. He talks about stuff using a brilliant mixture of French, Spanish and English – spiced up with lot of arm movements. Classic.
11 December 1998 – Flores.
Although Cocay would be the perfect place to chill out for a few days, we decide to head north today. But first we want to explore a cave that is supposed to be nearby. We lend Franco a spare helmet and head torch, and we drive off with Paco and Agner showing us where the entrance to the cave is. Off we go into the cave. Tight entrance, followed by a big tube where we can walk easily. Mathias pushes up a side passage that requires a bit of technical climbing, and we crawl around exploring what turns out to be “the second level”. Very similar to a Mendip cave with lots of mud and fairly tight. We get rewarded on this detour by some old pieces of broken pottery – very interesting. Fred demonstrates a complete lack of orientation: “Hey I think this way will go…”-”It’s the way we came from, Freddy.” After a while we end up in the main tube again, sliding down a ramp from the top. We push the cave further in, through water, under tight passages, and finally end up in a little chamber with a confused bat and no other exits. Great cave with good formations, but not any potential for further exploration as far as we can tell.
“Fred demonstrates a
complete lack of orientation”
After a wash in the river and lunch we head north with Patrice, the crazy Frenchman, in the back. The roads are really bad, but they appear to be in the process of constructing a tarmac road. Three or four hours later we are in Flores, and we book into a cheap hotel with Patrice. Muchos fiesta in le evening in the chambre de hotel…
12 December 1998 – San Igcanio, Belize.
Next morning we head to Tikal, the main tourist attraction in Guatemala. We were prepared for a gedemarked of tourist busses and such, but there are not many people there. For a few hours we wander around the huge archeological site, with many impressive tall ruins, arranged around grassy courtyards various places in the dense jungle. An amazing place, very well restored. Many of the ruins we still not cleared and they were completely covered in vegetation and trees and just looked like hills in the jungle.
Back at the car park we bump into a mid-aged Danish couple who turns out to be from Holte as well, our little hometown in Denmark! Small world.
Off to Belize on a really bad road again – we have been on these roads the past week and I am amazed that Daisy is still in one piece. In Belize, the roads are supposed to be “normal” again. The border crossing is chaotic as usual, but we go through with no problem. We need about 50q of fees to leave Guatemala, but nothing to enter Belize except we had to promise not to sell the van there. This is what our French friend Patrice had done with his, that he drove down from Quebec…
We find San Ignacio, and sit in Eva’s cafe. Good place for information about the local playground – the mountains just to the South. This town is quite a culture shock. In Guatemala, everyone was really laid back – here everyone are hyper, partying, and speaking a funny Caribbean style rastafary English. It is more “civilized” here, but I think we will miss the calm laid-back yet talkative Guatemalans.
“This town is quite
a culture shock”
13 December 1998 – Blue Hole.
Had a bit of a rest day in our camp in San Ignacio. We accomplished one thing: putting up a chain of flashing Christmas lights in the front windows. We left for Belmopan at 3.30pm. Belmopan is the capital of Belize and is strangely enough a complete ghost town. There is absolutely nothing. We got a bit of vegetables and headed of to Blue Hole where we arrived in the evening and will camp for the night. Had a great meal of rice and fried vegetables. Mathias is eating like a maniac – probably feeding a bendelorm. :-/
14 December 1998 – Douglas de Silva.
In the morning we met the park ranger for the Blue Hole national park – a very friendly chap from El Salvador. We asked if it was legal to go in the cave, and he just kept saying: just don’t go in more than a few hundred feet or you will get lost… We took that as a yes. (Price 26 belize dollars, including camping)
St. Herman’s cave
We put on our caving outfit and head into the jungle. The entrance is h huge, with vegetation hanging down from above. There is a well-used path which we follow. In the beginning it is just a huge tube with a stream running through the bottom, and a muddy bank to walk on. Further in it gets more interesting and more technical. We explore a handful of side passages that require quite a bit of squeezing and climbing over loose rocks and boulders. At the end of most passages, however, we are rewarded with a pretty chamber full of stalactites and stuff. The formations are cool, but in the main tunnel they are all covered in mud from the many visitors. After perhaps two hours we spot the light from the exit at the other end of the cave – but we still have a few side passages to explore so we head back in. We tick a one or two more of dead end side passages and lastly we try to scare a team of young mormons and we take a photo of them with each of their cameras. That’s about it. Compared to our amazing trip in Lanquin this cave is a bit boring. Unfortunately this is what we feared a bit about Belize – total government controlled nature, everything costs money and the accessible caves for example are just as explored as a good old Mendip cave – every little tiny dead end had mud traces of people. Guatemala is the prime choice. But anyway – now we are camped in the Maya Mountains (costs money as well) and let’s see what they have to offer. And eventually we’ll have a look at the cayes (if we have any money left) and give our final verdict over Belize. So far it’s Guatemala 1 Belize 0.
15 December 1998 – San Ignacio.
We woke up in Douglas de silva and prepared ourselves for the day’s expedition: A 7-8 kilometers jungle trek to check out a possible crag that we had spotted on our 1:50,000 detailed map of the Maya Mountains. We parked the van next to the Rio Frio which we would have to try and follow down to where it met Rio Macal and where the rock was supposed to be. We figured that we would need to spend most of the day cutting through the jungle so we put on the full rack of climbing gear, food and camping gear. And of course our highly valued machete.
We could only follow the river for a short distance before we had to start heading more into the jungle than we actually had anticipated. We had hoped that it would be a breeze following the river all the way to the junction, but we had to zigzag through the jungle on the left side of the river instead. We did this for two hours or so.
Cutting through dense jungle is actually really good fun. The machete is an amazing tool – the one we got seems to be perfectly balanced and when you get the hang of it you can really “scissor” your way through making a path scattered with chopped small trees, cut –lianer– and mawned palmleaves. You can cut down a tree the thickness of an arm in 5 shots. Good stuff. It worked out quite good to have one person leading with the machete choosing the way through the territory, and the second person navigating and resting eventually taking over when the first person get tired leading. But it is a very slow process though.
We stopped after two hours and tried to figure out our progress. We were both pretty sure that we had not made a particularly great distance and we are getting a bit worried that we might be in just slightly over our heads.. So we sat down for a short break, ate our lunch and listened to the sound of the jungle. There was something lurking in the trees further ahead but we never saw anything. Actually it was quite a (pleasant) surprise how little animal life we encountered going through the jungle like this. You are obviously making a fair bit of noise chopping and singing Danish scout songs so every bit of nasty animal life like snakes, spiders and jaguars seem to be well out of your way. I (Mathias) can cope with steep rock faces, deep caves and even bastards provoking you on bars, but these little critters is just way over my league.
“Getting a bit worried
that we might be in just
slightly over our heads”
Anyway – after having recuperated we considered that this little project of ours might not go at all and we decided to head back to civilisation. It was of course with great disappointment that we would not be there to check out this potential big climbable piece of rock in the jungle, but sometimes you just haven’t got what it takes.
The walk back was equally exciting – it was quite a challenge to find our “path” back but at last it went. Back at the car we decided to get a quick fix of adrenaline dumped our big rucksacks and fired up the caving gear and headed into what we thought was a big entrance to a cave, but turned out to be a very big natural limestone bridge. Still good fun.
As the day came to an end we headed back out of the Maya Mountains and back to San Ignacio where we camped in an orange field somewhere out of town.
16 December 1998 – Caye Caulker.
We heard that there is a good festive atmosphere on the offshore Islands in Belize. So we take the afternoon boat from Belize City to Caye Caulker, about 40 minutes by speed boat. We are greeted by a rastafari dude who takes us to the Hideaway Hotel with pretty crap little rooms but it’s cheap. He offers us some good duubie, but as y’all know the Willerup Bros don’t do drugs – we get our kick out of doing wild sports instead. Okay so we never inhale. No seriously, everyone who have approached us in Belize seem completely spaced out on drugs, wanting to sell us some.
We soon get changed to our party gear and head out to investigate this little coral reef that we are staying on. It seems pretty quiet but we do find some people on the Sand Bar. Nice evening, but not as “wild” as we’de expected. We bumped in to an Albanian fellow who was quite a laugh.
Next day we try to find some action, and find some in the form of two sea kayaks and take a spin around the half of the island. Good exercise for the old arm muscles but the adrenaline is still crying for some action. We park the kayaks where we got them, and both agree – this island is not for us, too many people on drugs and nothing else happening. We get the speed boat (that was good fun) back to Belize city and quickly set the course for Mexico. Good-bye Belize, we never really came to like you. Sorry.
17 December 1998 – Orange Walk.
On our way out of Belize we spend the night in Orange Walk Town, yet another strange city.
18 December 1998 – Akumal, Mexico.
Mexico! Fred’s return and Mathias first encounter. We get over the border without any troubles and head directly for the town of Akumal some 50 kilometers north of the border on the East coast of Yucatan.
Akumal turns out to be a high-class resort place with expensive-looking restaurants and security guards everywhere. We manage to convince one of them that we can camp on the parking lot just outside the resort facilities. The restaurants turns out to be ok prices, but there are NO PEOPLE here. Well, there are some but the beach bar has capacity for ten times more. But it is happy hour so we down bunches of Coronas and margaritas and stumble back to the van…
There are handful of Mexicans closeby, sitting on a huge case of brew and playing a guitar. We quickly pull out our own guitar and spend hours singing, playing and dancing with these festive locals. Again, what a contrast to Belize where everyone was just spaced out on drugs. These Mexican fellows are fun. They teach us some Mexican classics while one guy keeps opening new bottles with his teeth. The only thing we can remember here the day after is that lyrics contained some rhymes on “rosa” and “mariposa” and we only vaguely remember the chords which the little guitar guy taught Mathias with great enthusiasm. We crawl back to the van with difficulty after some brilliant fun.
19 December 1998 – Akumal.
It was bloody hot sleeping in the van, but we manage to sweat it out and get up late. Down to the beach for some snorkeling which was ok but not spectacular. We decide to look into some scuba diving and end up arranging a dive to a “cenote” for almost $100 each. Mathias thought it was 100 pesos first, and nearly has a nervous breakdown when he figures out the real price afterwards. These guys must make ridiculous amounts of money!
Off we go with the van filled up with scuba gear and our guide, Josepth. What a moment: The van is loaded with scuba diving, caving, kayaking, rock climbing and camping gear. Daisy is loaded to her max! The cenote is called Taj Mahal and when we arrive we are immediately attacked by an Irish woman who goes completely ballistic when she spots the kayak on the top of the van! How sad to see a kayaking fanatic separated from her gear! We carry the scuba gear down to the blue water in the cenote. From the surface it is just a little watering hole in the jungle. You can sense that the water continues underneath rocks that surrounds the little lake. That’s where we are going. We decent slowly into the water, and suddenly we can see the dark caves disappearing down into the void. We had expected that the light from the surface would always be visible somewhere nearby as we dive, but soon we are deep inside the dark caves with no visible way out. Very scary feeling. Is is really cool floating through the cave structures – a much more elegant way of traveling through the cave than the crawling and wiggling through mud we are used to from the dry ones and that we have strived to perfect from our local mentor and hero Dave Grosvenor back in Bristol. Anyway…
“The van is loaded with
rock climbing and
Occasionally, we would pass these “haloclines” which is where the water changes from being saltwater to freshwater or vice versa. It looks like a blurry mirror surface in the water, like the bottom of the cave is filled with some strange fluid. When you cross it, everything goes completely blurry for a few seconds before visibility goes back to normal. Our guide said that there have been a fair number of casualties in the caves because people panic when they suddenly cannot see anything as they cross the haloclines. Ten minutes into the dive, We have a potential problem as Fred’s diving light slowly stopped working! Unfortunately, our otherwise competent guide has forgotten a spare. We manage to get by with two lights between the three of us, but it doesn’t make it the rest of the dive less scary. Occasionally, we can see some daylight coming down from where the roof has imploded to create other cenotes in the jungle. We surface in a couple of them. One called the bat cave, has just a couple of square foot holes in the ceiling and a bunch of bats hanging in a couple of clusters here and there. A death trap if you fall into the holes from jungle above!
“We have a potential problem
as Fred’s diving light slowly
We pop up in the first cenote after about 45 minutes in the cave system. Although expensive, it was well worth the price to taste a bit of the cave diving experience. A great rush. Sometimes adrenaline costs…
The evening is spent partying in Akumal with a couple of American chic’s. They showed us “the other” bar in Akumal, La Buena Vida, where before we knew it we were laying a solid foundation for a severe hangover the next day. We slept in the van parked just outside the bar…
20 December 1998 – Playa del Carmen.
Next morning we wake up early due to the overheated oven that we sleep in these days. We are fairly seriously affected by the previous nights activities but nevertheless we manage to get the kayak down from the roof and get it out into the sea where we have spotted some excellent surf. Fred starts the show and exercises full control over the elements and has no problems. Mathias on the other hand catches a few big waves and looses control on all three of them and pulls the emergency handle instead of practicing the eskimo roll that he knows he can do but has problems even trying when the shit hits the fan. We spend a good hour of fun before we head back, clean up the van, get some breakfast and head off in search of more adrenaline rushes. We are in cave county now, no point in looking for whitewater rivers or big rock faces – Yucatan is flat as a tortilla but holed like a Swiss cheese.
We spotted a sign for a show cave just opposite Akumal so we head in on the 3 kilometer dirt road into the jungle. No problem – Guatemala has hardened Daisy for everything. We arrive at a “reception” where a guy explains to us about the cave. We quickly make him realize that we are not in for the guided tour but we want to explore the cave on our own and especially have access to go beyond the “path” and tourist route through the system. He shows us some photos which looks excellent but he is not very happy about our adventurous ideas. “Peligroso” he says, and we get even more interested. Eventually he heads off to ask his boss if we can go in (paying the fee) with our special conditions. He returns quickly with a big no, we have a quick look at some monkeys in chains and leaves the place. Damn! It looked pretty good.
“”Peligroso” he says,
and we get even more
Disappointed about this lack of confidence in the Willerup Brothers we carry on on the days program. A cenote near Cabo a bit inland from where we are. Daisy quickly get us there and -plim- we meet a Danish family from Jutland who is traveling around in a campervan – 4 kids and two parents! We thought our trip would be extreme – but this is seriously hard-core. They have been on the road since july and are going back home in march. Whoa. Very nice people – they work in Lego and there youngest son is called Mathias.
We go down to snorkel in the cenote and it’s cool. We can naturally only surface the cenote but this is serious cave diving material again and one thing is for certain – if you lived down here you’d be into cave diving. Anyway – we swim around, try to climb the huge overhangs and leave. (It’s beautiful, well worth a visit. Bring scuba kit and diving lamps).
Our appetite for more action has only just begun this Sunday 4th day of advent. We’ve planned for another thorough investigation of the crag at Tulum. According to our fellow countrymen all the sites in Mexico is free on Sundays so that couldn’t be better for a second visit to the seacliffs of Tulum. Geared up with our bouldering/soloing gear (shoes and chalk) we cross over the ruins and head down to the beach where we had been climbing a few days before. Primary objective was to explore the coastline further south – Mathias had just been rounding the corner last time when a hold broke off and he was spit off the cliff into the frothing ocean. (Don’t worry I only fell a meter or two). This time we’d be equipped with sticky rubberboots and chalk to keep those fingers from slipping. Mathias starts of the low-level traverse and Fred follows a bit after.
Mathias: “I didn’t feel good at all – the drinking from the day before was still affecting my body and I didn’t have the confidence that had led me up Tulum Pillar a few days earlier. I knew this traverse was getting hard just on the point where I had fallen off on the previous attempt. I also quickly realised that the choice of rock boots wasn’t actually helping much – it put way too much force on the foot holds, which was more likely to break off and which they often did. Not good for building confidence. Anyway – I get to all the way past the point where I got to before – good traversing. I get to a point where I try to bridge over fairly high above the water and I chicken out. Instead of going for the committing bridgemove I pull the handle and climb up to safety. I wait for Fred, but after a few minutes of no Fred I carry on on foot to check out if there is more rock here south of Tulum. I get a fair distance away but the coastline flattens and we didn’t find that hidden 100 foot splitter. I go back to where we started the traverse and start the traverse again to catch up with Fred who I assume is still on the route. I get around the corner but no Fred. Hmmm, I start getting nervous. Solo/bouldering is naturally a bit dangerous if you fall of and hit a rock in the water but surely Fred is okay. I traverse back again onto the beach and still no Fred. Okay, this is no time for fooling around. I take of my climbing shoes off and start walking out into the water to find out where the hell my brother has gone. Luckily I only get out into waist deep water as Fred appears on the cliffs above me, with a relief himself as he had started being really worried as well and was looking for me up on the rocks.
We spend a hour or so of playing around on what we now know is the only rock in the area and it is really good stuff, but neither of us has the guts to solo the lines all the way as Mathias had done last time. Beer is bad for your true attitude.
But being the only rock miles around we are content with having ticked it, and head off to new ground – Playa del Carmen to drink, eat and be merry. Great place. Loads of people, real Mallorca-feel and and incredible selection of restaurant with superb food. We spend most of the evening at a big place which has live reggae played by some pretty competent dudes. Most notable was the drummer who was a spitting image of Animal from Muppet show.
21 December 1998 – Playa del Carmen.
Morning. Heat. Sweat. – We spent the night in a big car park and soon find ourselves consuming an excellent breakfast at The Coffee Press – a recommendable little breakfast venue.
A bit affected by the previous night heavy consummation of coronas but also due to the fact that we need to spend a week until the 26th in this region we decide to take it easy.
We rent some windsurfers and take them out for a ride. It’s been a while since this sport was on the menu, but we both get the hang of it again pretty quickly. The wind is okay, but not that strong. There are some cool waves though which we manage to surf. Good fun. We also find the local Internet cafe and spend two hours of reading emails, updating our frontpage and send some emails. Fast link and fairly cheap. Yoist.
Next item on the day is picking up our laundry which for various reasons was still in Akumal. Last thing of the day was getting the car washed. We find a great place where two or three young guys spend an hour or two cleaning every little detail inside-out.
And then we headed for the bar. Got stiff.
22 December 1998 – Pumal Camping.
- makker with planter for 100 pesos
- generel sump typer
- flink canadisk makker
- god snorkling, hummerfest
23 December 1998 – Puerto Morrellos.
We wake up complete rejuvenated after a perfect nights sleep finally. Fred tried to sleep outside in his hammock but gave up because of strong winds from Northeast.
We still have a few days to “kill” an decide to finally make our way to Cancun, the biggest town here in this region. Before we go we stop by at the internet cafe in Playa del Carmen (1 peso per minutte). This turns out to be a bit of a longer visit than we expected – we had sent a mail to our firstname.lastname@example.org maillist two days before an was expecting a few replies but we got much more than that. The mail had bounced back from our cousin Niels’ email system and by some mistake in his system the mail was bouncing forwards and backwards between his email system and our mailing list. The result was that everybody on the list had gotten around 100 emails from us, and we had gotten close to a thousand. Big mess, especially when you are on a pay by the minute line and everything is a bit limited. Thanks to Martin Liversage for explaining the whole mess to all the people out there.
Anyway, shaken (but not stirred) we carry on towards Cancun and after an hour or so we arrive in this huge tourist resort. It’s terrible. For some obscure reason we suddenly find ourselves in the Wet’n'Wild aquapark – wasting our money. After that we check out the mall, the hard rock cafe and all that stuff. We lasted 30 seconds in hard rock etc.
On the way out of town Fred has an unfortunate hallucination as he thought he saw a bikini contest in progress when driving past Senor Frog’s. We go in, but there is no sights of the bikinis. “The whole stage was packed with scantily clead women! I am sure!” It is very lively but totally contrived. Lots of families and a party dude on the stage who is putting on little beer drinking contests, and waitresses who force tequila shots down everyone’s willing throats. We get out after some dinner and after Mathias managed to get pretty drunk.
We end up in Puerto Morelos just South of Cancun. Mathias is asleep in the back, so I try finding a place to park the van. I bump into Don who is driving a van down from Arizona, loaded up with mountain bikes, two trail bikes (!) and a surfboard. He shows us a little coastal road, where we camp out right next to the beach. I have a few beers with him sitting on beach rambling about stuff. He turns out to be quite a character – 50 years plus, in great shape, completely obsessed with machines. As he said: “when we go, the guy with the most toys wins”.
with the most toys
24 December 1998 – Playa del Carmen.
We decide to check out the surf in Cancun that we saw a glimpse of the day before. Mathias rents a boogie board and Fred takes out the kayak. It was tough. The waves were fairly big but not unmanageable – the problem was that they came really close to each other without ever letting up. So it was really tough to get out there, particularly on the boogie board. We do catch some good waves though, but end up a little sooner than expected back on shore trying to catch our breath. After a few days of only drinking exercise, it is good to get some sportive action in again.
Well, it is Christmas Eve tonight, and what better place to celebrate than Playa del Carmen! We head back down the coast early afternoon to what is now our familiar little hangout. We have decorated the van with flashing Christmas lights and some tinsel we got in presents from the family at home. We give them a call to get a bit of the homely Christmas atmosphere here in the 30 degrees Celsius beach place that we are in.
Late in the afternoon we are parked down by the beach and run into a big, entertaining Mexican that we had met when we rented windsurfers a few days ago. We called him Don Pollo because he was on about his roasted chicken shop which according to him has the best chicken in town. We happen to be playing some Tull on the stereo as we are about to leave, and Don Pollo goes crazy right there! “Hey man, Jethro Tull…” We are pretty impressed because we are playing one of the lesser known tunes, I think it was Cold Wind to Valhalla. So he turns up the stereo to full volume and sings in the street. Before we know it his bike is on top of the van, he is inside, and we are heading for his chicken joint – we have to meet his best friend from Mexico City who is also a Jethro Tull fan. We attract a fair bit of attention, as we drive down the street with Christmas lights flashing, the stereo cranked and Sergio shouting abuse at everyone out of the window. We arrive at the roasterie a bit later where Sergio cranks the volume even further.
“Christmas lights flashing,
the stereo cranked and
Sergio shouting abuse
We soon meet his wife, his friend from The City and his wife, plus bunches of kids – mainly boys in their teens. As a welcome salute we play Bouree on the guitar and flute for everyone there. Sergio is extatic and soon invites us for their Christmas dinner. We hesitate a bit – in Denmark a Christmas dinner is a very closed thing for the family and we didn’t feel like intruding into their evening. But we quickly accept as they pour us a couple of cups of tequila. We agree to come back an hour or two later…
After sampling a few bars in downtown Playa, we return to the chicken shop but in true Mexican style they are not even close to being ready. They are preparing the food at the shop, and then we are supposed to go to his home. There are some interesting dynamics going on between the wife from the City and the others – it soon becomes obvious from her trips to the bathroom and her “runny nose” that she is into some serious drugs. Oh well, the rest of us stick to the tequila served in little clay cups. Eventually, everything is ready and we follow everyone into what Sergio describes as Bosnia Hersegovenia – the residential area of Playa del Carmen. Not a bad name – it is certainly very different than the tourist areas downtown. After some very bad roads twisting between dilapidated, one-story concrete buildings, we arrive at the house.
It is very simple inside, with just two large rooms and little furniture. We pitch in our camping chairs to the party and some beer and tequila we bought earlier. We cannot help thinking what a major ordeal it would have been to invite strangers into a Danish Christmas with all our stiff traditions. We can definitely learn a bit from the openhearted Mexicans in this area: we don’t feel awkward at all sitting on each our camping chair drinking yet another tequila with a Corona on the side. The kids eat first while their parents serve them. Then the parents (and us) get seated, and the kids leave to cruise around town. The dinner is basic but excellent, and of course spiced up with numerous toasts and talking and The City wife – and now also her husband – leaving for the bathroom a few times.
After the delicious dinner the head of the family displays what we later realize must be some special Mayan tobacco and he also pulls out a little pipe with strange inscriptions and says that we are now all going to smoke. We decide it is better to do what he says – a bit like the old peace pipe principle. We have already toasted numerous times consuming a couple of bottles of tequila, so we are starting to have a bit of trouble with keeping the stiff upperlip, as the pipe passes around the table. We didn’t inhale, of course.
We are not sure what happened the rest of this festive evening. Once we went on the roof to the house and Sergio was philosophising about stuff up there, looking at the stars. And we eventually made it back to town without driving into anything, and spending a few more hours at the beach bars and dancing places…. Feliz Navidad!
25 December 1998 – Playa del Carmen.
Next morning we are quite affected by hangovers and Mathias discovers that he left his camera at Sergio’s last night. We spend most day trying to find his place again in this Bosnia Herzegovina place – a bit scary to drive around this rough place in our van that radiates “tourist”, but as always people are friendly and helpful. We do not succeed in finding Sergio’s place – it was all a blur when we left 12 hours earlier. Sergio is not at work either, so we will have to stay another day here and try to find him in the morning.
So we spend Christmas day in Playa – eat some good food, and look at all the new people who have arrived for the Christmas holidays…
26 December 1998 – Merida.
We need to get to Merida to pick up Theresa at 9:30 in the evening, but we still haven’t gotten Mathias’ camera from Sergio. After a lot of running back and forth between the beach where Sergio works (sometimes) and his chicken shop where his wife works, we finally grab hold of him and head back to his house at around 4pm. He appears a little stressed out, but we calm him down by playing Cross-eyed Mary at full volume on the stereo. He is back to his old self shouting abuse at the people we pass with the van. Finally we have the camera, and head off to Merida.
The road to Merida is really boring – completely straight with 5 meter high dense jungle on both sides. But we soon find the small airport. Theresa arrives on time and there is much rejoicing! Now we are four: Theresa, Mathias, Fred and Daisy; ready to continue the adventure…
We spend the night in Merida.
(Theresa wrote a trip report for the following week, see her web pages.)
27 December 1998 – Xcalumkin.
After a late start, we head south towards Uxmal. We have been looking a little at the maps and it looks like it is pretty ambitious to reach Mexico city by January 2nd which is when Theresa’s plane leaves in the morning. We will have to do a fair bit of driving but hopefully we can take in a few interesting sites as well. It will actually be good to get moving – we feel we spend a little to long in the Playa del Carmen area. We are eager to get back up towards mid- and northern Mexico where there should be lots of rock climbing waiting for us.
Uxmal is one of the more famous ruins, and it is pretty impressive. There are a lot of original decorations still visible on the buildings and they are all in very good shape. You can clearly see what the ornaments represent. We wander around for a few hours until we are completely dehydrated – it is a really hot day.
There are some caves called Xcalumkin on the road just south of Uxmal that attracts our interest. It is getting a bit dark, so why not camp at the cave and explore it during the evening. There is a family in a little care takers house next to the cave, but they are only there during the day and are on their way home. They are very friendly. While the mother shows us the facilities like water, electricity and where the cave is, we play scary monsters with the kids. They are a lot of fun. We give the family a ride to their home in Daisy, who have never been so packed with people before!
Once we are back, we start putting on the caving gear. It is Theresa’s first caving trip, so that adds a little excitement to the adventure. Part of the cave is a show cave with lights and the family had left the lights on. However, to add to the excitement we turn them off before we enter. It is a fun cave with a humungous main shaft, shortly after the entrance. There are lots of bats whizzing around. We start exploring some side passages which involves a lot of crawling and also some scrambling up and down steep rock. Theresa does great, and doesn’t seem to mind crawling through bat shit or having the little buggers fly around your ears all the time. After an hour or so, we exhaust the side passages and now there is only one unexplored way: down the main shaft. Unfortunately it is only possible with a bit of SRTing, i.e. going down (and back up) using a rope hanging in midair. There is probably 20-30 meters to the bottom. We have the gear in the van but Theresa wouldn’t be able to follow, so we as the perfect gentlemen we are, we decide to call it a night and head back out. We’ll be back.
We go to the local town for dinner. It is an extremely lively little place, probably because it is Sunday and everybody had just been to church. We have a good bunch of games of foosball (or babyfoot as the French call it) with the locals, which was good fun. They had 20 tables set up outside on the main square – a town of foosball fanatics.
Back to the cave to sleep.
28 December 1998 – Palenque.
We wake up in the morning when the little kids from the night before get to impatient and start sticking their heads in through the windows, wondering where we are. They are lots of fun, those kids, and we play around with them all morning. They are completely fascinated with the super strong magnets that we have been using to stick things to the van. We also take a few pictures with the digital camera and show them on the computer afterwards.
We then drive to Palenque which is pretty far further south. Fred was here what seems like ages ago, when he was making his way down towards Guatemala. We had hoped we could sneak into the ruins at night, enjoying them in the full moon (ok, half moon) but there are some guards on the road leading up to the ruins so we have to abandon that idea.
29 December 1998 – St. Cristobal de la Casas
(Note: written by Theresa)
We went to the ruins in the morning. There were tons of people everywhere, and it was very hot. It was quite fascinating though. King Pakal is (or was, rather) buried there, and visitors are allowed to see his tomb. To get there one must first climb up steep steps (again designed by that sam architect), up a huge stone structure. Then you descend through a hole in the floor several levels down more steep (and slippery) steps to where the tomb is located. It must have been quite interesting to discover the tomb – I am not sure how they figured out which of the giant slabs to lift up from the floor, and then when you get to the bottom, which huge stone slab is the door to the tomb. Also at that level there were boards covering a hole in the floor, and we could see more steps leading even further down. It would have been explore at night, except that there is an iron grate I am sure they use to lock up the tomb at night, so we probably wouldn’t have been able to get to it anyway.
We explored a few more of the buildings and their passageways before heading off to San Cristóbal. On the way we stopped at the Miso Ha waterfall. It was absolutely beautiful, the waterfall, and there was a cave behind it leading back into the cliff. Even more intriguing was the crystal clear stream that was coming out of it. Mathias went back to the car for the head torches so we could do a bit of exploring.
We made our way up the stream, through the passageway, with the water getting deeper and deeper. At its mouth it opened up into a huge cavern, almost round and filled with water, and we could hear water falling somewhere inside. There turned out to be another waterfall inside, on the far side of the cavern from where we were. Mathias explored around the right side to the waterfall, but didn’t find a good path around. So we started around the other side, where two more passageways could be seen leading off from the cavern. It was much easier to go this way – there were huge boulders we could climb on. Mathias found a narrow little crack in the wall with water coming out, so of course he and Fred had to check it out. There was just enough room to crawl up the almost vertical crevasse to a small landing point where it started to go more horizontal. I waited at the mouth while Fred and Mathias crawled up to where it got too narrow to continue. Then Mathias made his way over where the water was falling from a huge hole into the pool below. He used a few of his bouldering moves to climb up onto the ledge, and disappeared into the second cavern. About this time some other people showed up with a guide, who brought them in through the much dryer, easier passageway (one of the two other passageways I mentioned earlier). They did some swimming around in the pool, and watched Mathias for a while. They left, unfortunately, before he had to come down, when Fred had to go over to help him get his feet in the right spots so he didn’t fall. He reported that this cave as well, had quite a lot of graffiti in it (the Xtuplican cave was absolutely filled with it).
We left the cave through the main passageway, and then Mathias and I swam back across the huge pool at the bottom of the big waterfall. It was wonderful – the water was brilliant, and a nice temperature, not warm, but not cold either.
30 December 1998 – Tehuantepec (Note: written by Theresa)
We are in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas. This is where Fred spent a week taking Spanish classes. There is an internet cafe here, and we logged on a couple of times to check e-mail. I am not going to bother uploading web pages until I get home. It is just too much of a hassle. I did send some e-mails back home though, to let everyone know that we are alive. The town has a distinct colonial feel to it, and is certainly heavily frequented by tourists. The town has many comforts to offer as a result, like bread, cappuchino, and breakfasts that feature granola and yogurt with toast.
There is a large Indian population in San Cristóbal. There are little children everywhere, peddling chicle and string pulcettas (bracelets). They have dirty faces and bare feet, and are very cute. I couldn’t help but buy 4 pulcettas and two little clay animals from the little girls, and a few chicles from the boys. They see me coming and know I am a total pushover.
31 December 1998 – Oaxaca (Note: written by Theresa)
We have been pushing hard to cover the enormous distance to Mexico City. Tonight we plan to celebrate the New Year in Oxaca. Last night we stayed in Tehuapac, where Mathias was propositioned by a lovely Mexican / Indian woman with a little boy and silver teeth. She had been drinking a little too much mezcal, or something, and we could only understand bits and pieces of what she was saying. In fact, the entire town seemed a little stoned. Our waitress kept dumbly repeating everything we said, and then would stand their looking at us blankly. It was a strange, surreal experience. We ate our tacos and got the heck out of there.
We arrived in Oxaca quite early in the afternoon. We ate lunch, and explored the Zocolo before heading back to the hotel to take a nap before the evening’s festivities. Around 21:30 we headed back out to do a little celebrating. People were headed to church for Mass – we went in as well, but mass didn’t start until 22:00, so we didn’t stay. The cathedral was absolutely beautiful – elaborately decorated inside, betraying the staunch, gray straight stones that make up the exterior.
The Zocolo was a bustle of activity. There were entertainers and performers everywhere – little children playing the accordian, a guy on a unicycle juggling fire sticks, and children walking around selling eggs filled with confetti and sparklers. We bought a bag of eggs for 50 pesos. They are egg shells with just the very bottoms broken out of them. Then they are filled with confetti, and have crepe paper glued over the end to keep it from falling out. The objective is to smash the egg over your friend’s head. We had quite a lot of fun with them, leaving quite a lot of confetti all over the place (much to the waiter’s dismay – he kept coming around with a broom to sweep it up. He finally gave up after a while). We stayed there for a long time, drinking beer and mezcal, and watching the people. Little kids kept coming by to sell us things – they were very cute. We gave them eggs, or would just smack one over their heads, and they would laugh. One mischievous little boy asked Fred to buy some key chains. Fred said no, thanks, and the little boy started to leave. Then I saw him behind Fred getting ready to hit him with an egg. I saw him and laughed, and nodded at him to go ahead. The damned egg turned out to be filled with flour. It was pretty funny, and we all laughed, and then Fred got him with an egg full of confetti. Then when we thought he had gone away, he hit Fred again, on the top of the head this time, so flour sprayed all over everywhere, including all over me. He ran away as fast as he could and hid behind another table.
Then around 23:30 we went to find a restaurant to eat dinner. We ended up at this quite little restaurant inside a museum, that turned out to be French. Our waiter was completely insane. He had been working since 9:00 that morning, and by this time had completely lost his marbles. We weren’t sure if we wanted to eat there or not, so we asked him for a menu. He handed us a little scrap of paper with some entre’s written on it. He was probably supposed to read it to us, but was so busy running from table to table (he was the only waiter there), that he didn’t bother. We couldn’t tell what was what on this little menu, but we decided to stay anyway when the mezcal arrived. It took us absolutely forever to have our order taken. He kept running over and giving us the menu and then running away. After a while, he lost his menu and was completely confused. He came to our table to ask us if we had his menu, which we didn’t, then after he found it, brought it back to us… uh, no, we want to order now… Oh, so he runs off to deliver the menu to the table that wanted it, and didn’t come back again for a long time. Then it was midnight, and everyone toasted eachother. The cook / owner and kitchen staff came out and thanked us all for coming. Everyone walked around and toasted and drank, and it was quite nice. After that, we finally ordered the crepes, with the pimiento starter, and once more waited for ages while the table who had come in long after us was served. They were done eating by the time we got our food – he came back to take our order, and we said no, we had ordered, and he panics, runs back to get our food. He completely forgot the appetizer, and when our crepes arrived they were cold. Throughout this entire time, every time he would walk by our table he would be muttering something absolutely off the wall, “In my previous life”, “my grandfather is in these walls, I have been here a long time, this was where I lived when I was a kid”… I am a lot older than you – I have a kid 25 years old… how old are you? and on learning our ages oh, you guys are old… you are old, I’ve been working since 9:00… at one point I asked him for a second glass of wine, and the only response I got was I’ve been working since 9:00… We asked for the check, and it never arrived. Finally, we went to the kitchen to try to pay. In the end, we got our dinner for free because it was such a hassle to pay.
1 january 1999 – Mexico City Airport
Drive, Nice evening in Hilton hotel – Read all about it on Theresa’s website
2 January 1999 – Aculco Canyon.
kayak gone! and found
Drive to Aculco on Rock and Road info.
… as we turn the corner in the road our search has finally come to an end. In front of us appears the most promising sight. A compact little gorge filled with steep 25-30 meters stone formations which looks like mother nature’s little artistic playground. Had Picasso been a rock climber he would certainly have climbed at this spot. Beautiful stone pinnacles with the most amazing lines splitting the smooth textures of rock. We have found a Shangri La at last.
Excited – no, ecstatic – we park the van and jump out to have quick initial look at the rock fest that is awaiting us. The first thing we spot is a couple of climbers sitting belaying a third guy. Sigh! Some fellow believers in rock. We head over to them and it turns out to be our lucky day (expect from Theresa leaving in the morning of course!).
Armando and his two friends (a girl and a guy) are some very sympathetic climbers from “The City” (Mexico City 80 km’s away) ie. locals. They all speak good English and we speak in the good old mix of English/Spanish. Armando quickly offers us to give a tour of the crag, show us the classics and basically pump us full of as much beta that we could have wished for. Absolutely perfect. If we hadn’t met these climbers we would be in the usual “oh that line looks doable and then have a mess on some 5.12 or something like that”. Now we get a detailed tour of all the 30 meter splitters scattered around the gorge and Armando knows his stuff. We soon realize that this is serious jamming territory – not the Willerup Brothers most comfortable technique, but one that definitely needs practicing and this looks like God’s own jamming playing ground.
“We soon realize
that this is serious
We tell Armando that we are sort of looking for climbs in the 5.8,9.10 scale and he shows us a good handful of 5.10′s a couple of 5.9′s and a heck of a lot of 5.11 and above. Yeikkes. He has climbed most of them, although all the really hard ones have had the bolts stolen by some bastard so there are only a few of those which can be climbed. Armando tells us that he goes to Yosemite every year and has climbed a few big wall routes on El Cap: Salathe Wall and a desperate A4 climb (something with M?) so we are of course not worthy his time at all. He is a nice chap though – not unlike the guys we met in Arico in Tenerife 4 years ago. Actually the crag is very much like Arico in atmosphere, but the climbs are different – most of the routes are perfect cracks and the most of the climbs goes on natural protection. All in all an absolut hidden beauty.
La Proa 5.8
Well after Armando has shown us all the climbs, and we have noted everything down in our notebook and also taken digital photos of all of the lines we prepare ourselves for our first choice – La Proa 5.8 jamming. We didn’t need to toss the usual coin – Fred was more than happy to leave the sharp end to me. Okay. I rack up – full set of friends (0, 1, 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.8, cam1, 2xcam2, cam3) and a full rack of rocks. The route looks alright from below – the line is obvious and sooner than I know I am in the middle of a pumping committing jam with absolutely no places to stand. Yeikes – this is hard stuff. I thought a 5.8 was a piece of piss, but no way. I struggle all the way to the top – the protection though is bombproof and the rock is immaculate. I get to the top after a lot of sweating and belay Fred who is seconding me. I am a bit concerned with regards to my good (but old) brother – I only just got the hang of jamming in Yosemite earlier this year and I know that Fred had his problems in the jams on the infamous Fairview Dome ascent a year earlier. But to my big relief and great joy Fred glides up the rock like a swan in spring brunst (!). Yoist!!! We have climbed our first “proper” route for a long time and it is an absolute splitter. Somewhat harder than we would have liked, but it went free and that’s all that matters.
A face climb
After the climb we touch base with Armando and his two friends and we follow them to the sunny face where Armando is going try a 5.10d and he has a bolted 5.10b in store for the two of us. Hmmm. Well we see the route and this is a face climb, which *should* be at least Mathias’ expertise more than anything. The bolts are spacious (four in total) but looks like they are placed exactly where needed. The crux is according to Armando to clip the second bolt and for that reason he suggest climbing with a double rope which we do. Turns out to be a very critical bit of beta. The clip is rather desperate, but all the more rewarding as the sound of the closing carbiner clicks out in the stillness of the gorge. Mathias is leading, unfortunately took a minor wipper on the first bolt, but climbs it clean after that. An absolute must do route if you are in Aculco and are into technical face climbing. Fred follows and rest two times on the rope but finishes up in style. Yoor! We are congratulated by the others and they offer us to try this route that Armando has put up a top rope on. Obviously we are not much for top roping anything, but as a matter of courtesy we accept the offer and hey – we are in Mexico, not in stubborn old Britain. Mathias tries first, hangs once and finishes the route after a very strenuous move. Excellent route and jamming test piece, shame I didn’t try to lead it. Fred tries it as well, but fails to do the crux move and get lowered down but still get cheered by our three friends. Nice people.
The last route we can fit in the afternoon’s program is another beautiful line of a splitting crack which supposively is 5.10a. Mathias leads, struggles all the way, especially in the top, and fails to finish it in pure style as he rests on a friend near the top. A German busdriver looking guy appeared on the top of the crack shouting comments in German to us most of the climb, which didn’t help much on the concentration, but he disappeared after Fred – as a joke of course – shouted “Denmark to Eideren”, but the German maybe thought we meant it seriously and ran away in panic (he was from Slesvig Holstein).
Fred seconds the difficult climbs – hangs at the same place but otherwise finished it in fine style. Satisfied with the days activities we head off to the van (parked 10 meters away) to cook supper. (Needless to say we thought it easier to drive into the town and have a nice roasted chicken (26pesos) instead .
3 January 1999 – Aculco Canyon.
We spend a very cold night at the top of the gorge and wake fairly early to bright sunshine as a nice crisp day starts to unfold. We eat breakfast, sort our gear, and abseil down into the gorge for another day of climbing.
We are on our own today, as Armando & co left the day before to avoid being stuck in the holiday traffic going into Mexico on this first Sunday of 1999. We on the other hand have only one thing on our mind – rock rock rock.
When you’re weary
When rock is all around
I will climb them all.
I’m on your rack
oh, when you need a friend
placements are hard to find
Like a bridge in a troubled corner
I will lay me down
Like a bridge in a trouble corner
I will ease you climb….
Ehh, sorry – got a bit carried away there. Where was I. Oh yeah rock – lots of it. We start the day with the easiest in our notebook – Tennis 5.8 jamming. The line is stunning and it’s Mathias’ turn to lead. (…)
Having successfully ticked the Tennis route and feeling really good about the climb we rush down to have a look at the second route on the list. “Symphony de las Ojas Secas”, Symphony of the dry leaves. What a name – like a painting of Picasso. We arrive at the bottem of the Symphony and my my my – you cannot put a price on rock, but this crack would be next to “Guernica” on the actionars stand without doubt. It’s a beautiful line. Straight all the way to the top the cleft – never bigger than a fistjam, but small as fingerjams in sections – is only interrupted by two ledges spread evenly on the line. It just sits there surrounded by step blank rock to both sides – in the start with the sides angling in a bit enabling the pilgrim of this Mecca to bridge out and hopefully rest the pour arms a bit from the savage jamming. Mathias’ win the lead, prepares mentally for the this feast to come, and is only worried by the one fact that stands out from the notes taken yesterday “Big friends” – we “only” have the rack described before and could really use a Camelot 4 and maybe one or two additional midrange friends. But you cannot let you stop by technical details like that – we’ll use what we got and if the Spirit of Aculco wants us to, we’ll get to the top.
Mathias: “Really pleased by our efforts on Tennis I feel good about this 5.9 lead. My jams seem to be better and better and specially the finger jams and the hand jams are starting to bite. But it is really some test pieces all of this stuff – to the limit of my capabilities but the fact that the protection and the rock is of such glorious quality would make it a crime not to at least give it ones best shot and see what happens. We got the beta and it’s our obligation to use it.
It helps a lot also to have Fred as a firm belayer in the bottom – although we haven’t climbed together for a long time we know eachother and Fred’s knows when to pay attention and when to shout the obligatory encouraging comment. So I have all the trumph on my hand and I just need to play the cards right.
The start is difficult – almost a little boulder problem, a typical feature of this place – nothing comes easy here in Aculco. I manage to get up it and find a good nut placement high up. A nut! I haven’t placed any nuts since we came – it’s all been friends an usually the big ones. I am happy to get a nut in, it feels good to have the foundation of the climb to be a bus stopper nut size 4.
But I don’t feel completely confident about the looks of what lies ahead. The rock is somewhat dirty covered in a layer of dust, some of the smaller cracks a filled with a bit of spider web, and the comment from Fred about “Hey wasn’t this the route that Armando said had a snake in the cactus further up” does make this whole thing feel a bit unnerving. Well the next bit is fairly easy and I spread a bit of gear around my as I ascent to higher ground.
I have arrived a the start of the bridging phase of the route. It looked marginal from below but looks a bit better when right in front of you. The bridging goes on for about 4-5 meters terminated by a sizable roof which leads to the first ledge. I figure that the line must go up and then when possible trend leftwards to reach some good looking holds (the crack continues on the right side of the roof, but it looks hard with no places to stand. The gear is immaculate swallowing friends on every size in the crack in the middle.
I slowly and carefully attempt the first moves and the rock up here is perfect. Great – I am feeling good now, the rock is clean and the climb looks challenging but not impossible. I get my feet higher up and start trending leftwards towards the roof. It’s not as easy as it looked, but I manage to shake my arms one by one on a reasonable rest just before the roof. Looking like the crux, I take my time and finally go for it. It is a very committing set of moves moving in a bit to the center again attacking the roof almost face on. No time for fooling around (ie. placing gear) I go for it 100 percent and get a hold on the ledge with both hands, pull up and finish the sequence with an unavoidable mantleshelf. Pumped I stand up on the ledge and shout a big “Yooor” to Fred who had followed me intensely through the whole thing paying out rope generously in the right places. (Or had he just fallen asleep).
“I go for it 100 percent
and get a hold on the ledge
with both hands”
This is half way. What a pitch so far. I am pretty fired up looking at the widening crack above me and the ledge. It goes on uninterrupted for maybe 10 meters and terminates at the second bigger ledge but not in a roof but in some weaknesses in the straight crack. It looks good, but also hard. I realize that I have used up one of my Cam2′s and have only a CAM4, a CAM2 and Jesper Ritzaus old HB friends 3.8 to use in the wide crack. Not too good, especially as this ledge I am standing on could have a nasty impact should one fall during the section. Well, it can’t harm to have a look at what is up there, so after having rested the arms enough I give it my first go. I get a camalot 2 in reasonably high up look at what is up there and descent to the ledge again. I looks like it might go. The crack is quite amazing, it takes some good jams but also enables you to some robo laybacking from both sides. Laybacking has been my favorite technique ever since I started climbing and pulled myself up the practice bar above the entrance to the artificial wall in “Sydhavnen” Denmark. Long time ago, but ever since I have enjoyed laybacking whenever it’s been presented to me. Anvil Chorus in Bosigran, UK; Positively 4th street in Yosemite etc. All stand out as laybacks from heaven and beyond and they run thorugh my subconsiousness as I prepare for the mental transition from the world of rough jamming to the perhaps more delicate world of laybacking.
Now or never
Second attempt. It’s probably now or never. As soon as I get above my in-situ camelot 2 I am commited and need to move fast. I get up to the cam, and to my pleasant surprise can get my feet well jammed into the crack for a shake on the arms. I get Jesper’s old friend (once broken, but now fixed by Fred with a bit of fishing line) in high up and have now only my camelot 3 to protect the rest of the this section. I could abandon the climb completely at this stage if I wanted to, but it would seem wrong not to go for it fully committed. But I am definitely considering backing out.
I layback in a superb flake, jam my feet and slowly gain altitude. I place the remaining camelot but have still about 4 meter to go. Shit. It doesn’t look like there is the usual “thank-god hold” near the ledge above so I don’t fancy just going for it – I am by now pretty pumped and falling off is a real threat which I by any means want to avoid doing 4 meters above my last piece of gear. But I need to finish what I have started so I decide to do the sometimes unavoidable and highly unrecomendable – backclean my camelot 3. As I move higher up I reach down – unplug the camelot, and replace it further above me. The problem with this technique is that you get a bigger and bigger distance to your second piece of gear meaning that at some stage you are totally dependent on one piece of gear which to make matter worse you replace in between moves. Seriously bad practice but difficult to avoid if you are not in possession of the monster rack that would be required to do it safely.
Anyway – I move faster and faster as I get more and more pumped and the fuse is getting shorter by the second, and after a bit of swearing and shouting at my self, I reach the stuff that I was headed for. I seriously need a place for a small friend or a nut and try a 2.5 which doesn’t stick, start to get really worried, but then -kaboom- a bombproof friend 1.5 deep in a widening crack exactly where needed. No time for celebration though and I somewhat desperately but still in reasonable control reach the second ledge and I am now 5 meters from the top. Whoa – what a mother. I am completely exhausted both physically both also mentally and take a few minute to rest on the ledge.
The last 5 meters is no pushover at all but the very las bit has luckily some excellent foot holds and I top out from the shadow into the welcoming sun. What a route. Fred soon follows…
Fred does the route in style and I am well impressed. The crux with the unavoidable mantleshelf was pretty difficult I thought, but I was thrilled that Fred did it clean so the ascent finished as complete as possible.”
Frederik: “It is good to be climbing again after not really having climbed for a year or so. Mathias is far better climbing than I at the moment, so I am happy to have him do the leads. It allows me to rework the techniques, get to trust my feet again, with the safety of a rope from the top. At least I seem to be able to follow the stuff he leads, so it works well. I am not feeling completely tip-top though – the severe cough I have had since Christmas is still with me. It seems to be worst when I do anything physical, so after a hard section or some strenuous moves I end up coughing for a few minutes before being able to move on. It is a bloody pain, actually. We will try to find a doctor in Guatelajara when we get there in a couple of days.”
After these great classics, we are pretty hungry and decide to return to the Master of Grilled Chicken who served us yesterday in Aculco. Once again, the chickens are simply brilliant.
Back on the rock, we decide to have a go at Limones 5.9. It looks tricky from below – it is a hand crack leading up to a little roof with a fist crack around it. The roof looks hard because there doesn’t appear to be anywhere for the feet. Anyway, Mathias takes the sharp end once again and heads up towards the crack. Hmm, the crack is proving pretty tricky to begin with. The chicken is lying firmly in our stomachs, the strength is quickly ebbing away, and there doesn’t appear to be much left of the attitude that got us up the climbs in the morning. After trying an alternative line a little to the left, Mathias decides to back out. Apart from the chicken, another factor could be that Mathias is doing all the leading which is mentally exhausting. But anyway, we decide to bag it. We cannot help wondering about the fine line of Psycosis which looks a little more doable but actually was graded a little harder at 5.9/10a. Mathias leads off again. Brilliant climbing like all the other routes in Aculco, but two thirds up the chicken gets its second revenge and Mathias goes cold in the crux. By now it is also getting dark so we decide to back off this route as well and end up retrieving the gear from the top. A disappointing finale to the Aculco climbing experience, but the routes we did do earlier in the day and yesterday were so rewarding that we don’t care. This place is a jamming paradise. A place for the pumping jam pilgrim to search of the truth, a place where Odin must have enjoyed sculpting the cracks and Thor must have struggled to tick the multitude of routes in this Valhal of The Jam. It is nothing less than a horizontal version of Yosemite.
4 January 1999 – Pena de Bernal.
We wake up to yet another bright sunny day after a bloody cold night in the van – it must have been really close to freezing. We also ran out of water and completely emptied the battery with our Christmas lights, two computers, loud stereo etc.
We take the day as it comes – we are both pretty knackered after yesterday’s climbs. Fred does a bit of car maintenance and Mathias tests the christmas present from mum and dad – a watercolor kit. We also clean some old dishes and give the caving kit a thorough cleaning as well. Eventually we drive of towards Bernal where according to Armando there is a big piece of rock with some long multi-pitch routes on it. We do a quick stop in Queretaro to quit our jobs by fax and get some water.
New rock: Bernal
Bernal is a little nice town some 40 kilometers east of Queretaro. It lies at the foot of a very big piece of rock. Some 250 meters this dome of limestone rises up from the otherwise bare landscape 2.000 meters over sealevel. It’s cold and windy up here and it is a sharp contrast to the previous days venue – this looks like a bit more expedition kind of climbing. The climb we are planning to do is called Chada Dminical and is supposedly bolted with good anchors. We’ll see – right now we are sitting in the van at the bottom of the Pena de Bernal (The big rock) and waiting for tomorrow – we have no electricty (the battery doesn’t seem to want to recharge itself) so there’s is not that much to do. But as they say – “forventningens glaede er den stoerste”, so we are enjoying ourselves anyway.
5 January 1999 – Bernal.
We had planned an alpine start – does getting up at 11:30 count? The 250 meter monolith of rock is visible right outside when we open the sliding door and stumble into the sunlit day. Quick breakfast and off we go with a light rack – the routes up Pena de Bernal are supposed to be bolted. We have some beta from Armando on where a couple of routes are, but finding them is a different story. We have a multipitch route in mind, La Bernalita 5.8, but we end up on what later turns out to be a single-pitcher called Cruda Dominical 5.10a.
Cruda Domnical 5.10a
The rock is completely different than Aculco, and requires the opposite techniques to ascent. Instead of jamming and lay-backing, we are now in steep face-climbing territory with small holds for hands and feet requiring balanced moves. And where Acolco was lead on our own gear, this place has brand-new, shiny bolts showing the way up the rock. The lines are not as bleeding obvious as the vertical cracks of Aculco: the whole rock is sprinkled with little holds but few other features so the bolt ladders define the “natural” lines. Great climbing, though. We find it much easier to handle than Aculco- this 5.10a face climb seems easier than the 5.9 jamming we were ascending a few days ago. Ok, the bolts make it easier, but still… I guess it means we need to keep practicing on the jamming techniques…
Anyway, Mathias leads Cruda Dominical in fine style. The top was a bit thin but it went without any serious problems. Fred follows, has to work a bit at those thin moves, but soon we are both at the stance.
La Bernalita 5.8
We feel like having a go at one of the multi-pitchers that summit on the top of the monolith. Luckily we bump into a young climbing couple who can show us where Bernalita and Lado Oscuro de la Luna (Dark side of the moon) are. We quickly run down to the town for a bite to eat, and return to the rock at arond 4pm. At bit late really: it gets dark at 6pm and these routes contain at least five pitches. With that in mind, Fred leads off on Bernalita – the easier of the two routes at 5.8.
The climbing is easy but steep and fun. There are bolts everytime you need one. The only problem we are having is that the first four pitches are a full 50 meters long, so we can barely reach each stance! The belayer has to climb up the stance a bit at the end of the rope so the leader can clip his cow-tail into the bolts. A 60 meter rope would have been better. Anyway, we make our way up alt leading pitch by pitch, with little messing about. The crux is perhaps a steep move on the fourth pitch, but all in all the climbing is pretty straightforward. The top two pitches are a bit dodgy with a fair bit of loose rock, but after six full pitches and exactly two hours of climbing we are at the top. The last rays of the sun have been following us up the rock, and we time it perfectly as the sun sets behind the distant hills while we coil up our ropes.
Only one problem remains: how the hell do we get down from this thing? We heard that there is some sort of metal ladder somewhere on the other side but we are not sure exactly where. So we start scrambling down the other side, as it is getting darker and colder. Well, it turns out to be reasonable easy to find the descent route, although it did involve one abseil from a rusty old iron ring. We are soon down by the van, pretty tired after a good day on the rock.
“So we start scrambling
down the other side, as it
is getting darker and colder.”
Lots of restaurants in the pueblo but none of them open.
6 January 1999 – Guadalajara.
We leave Bernal in the morning and head for Guadalajara a few hundred kilometers West. Juts a day of driving, really.
7 January 1999 – Huaxtla canyon.
We have a few things to sort out in The City before we can head to the rock just north of Guadalajara. Find an Internet cafe, pick up our laundry and pay a visit to the climbing shop. The latter was closed unfortunately, but we get a good fix at a really cool Internet place in the outskirt of town. So, it is about 3 or 4 in the afternoon before we leave town.
Mathias has the latest copy of the American magazine “Climbing” which contains information about some crags near Guadalajara, so we follow the descriptions to a place called Huaxtla canyon which we find fairly easily. We are now camped just below a treacherous spot in the dirt road where Daisy refused to get past. We got a peek at the crag from another point on the road, but we don’t really know what awaits us.
Fred’s cough is almost gone- a great relief. It had been going on for a solid two weeks, and we were starting to get worried that I had caught some bat disease in the caves or something. Mathias has a tooth problem which on the other hand doesn’t seem to be getting better. Probably a cavity, perhaps we need to get it looked at.
8 January 1999 – Huaxtla Canyon.
We are camped in the at the top op a huge gorge which is the Huaxtla Canyon. We found a great little spot, built a fireplace, cooked some nice chicken, played some Yatzee and went to bed. It was a bit warmer than the previous nights mainly because we have gone down a few hundred meters. We woke up this morning in total silence – we are the only ones here and it is pretty remote. It’s perfect.
We have looked closely at the stuff written in Climbing but those guys are all on abut 5.13′s and stuff – pretty useless really as it is obviously a bit above our and everybody else’s league. The place looks extremely promising – a huge Verdon-like gorge with equally steep faces. The rock is a typical Vulcano-like stone: solid, highly textured and with many pockets and features.
Looking down the canyon
We went down to the abseil point at noon and had a bit of a dilemma. We could see the lines of bolts coming up from below and we could spot three anchors. The problem is that in the Climbing magazine they are on about using a 70 meter rope to get all the way to the belay of the routes which we don’t have. And then secondly the only routes they describe is the 5.13a and a 5.12c. Not the stuff you want to abseil down, pull the rope and then try to negotiate your way up in complete commitment. At least not what we fancied after thinking about it. Unfortunately we where supposed to have had a look at the topo of the area at he climbing shop in Guadalajara yesterday – we found th shop with no problem, but it was closed all day. Bummer. If we knew what routes was down there we would go for it, but it would be crazy just to go down without proper beta.
So… What have we decided to do instead? Well there seemed to be two options to choose from. Either we break up our super camp and head for the next crag which is not far away or we stay in our camp, open a few beers, play some guitar, get a good shave, suck up some sun, eat some good food.
We have chhhcosen the last opoption. Skaal!
9 January 1999 – El Cuajo.
We leave this morning for “El Cuajo” a good sports climbing venue with 30-40 meter routes according to our Climbing magazine beta. We quickly find the road going into the area but have some trouble locating the actual crag. This get resolved 100 percent as we bump into Carlos Villanueva a 21 year old kid who is driving a pickup truck with two german climbers and a fellow Mexican chap. They are headed for the same crag and Carlos show the way. It is a wild drive through some plains and fields zigzagging through big boulders and cow before we stop the cars right below the rockface in a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. Carlos is *the* man to have bumped into – he is the one who has put of most of the bolted routes and he gives us all a complete tour of the crag. Great! They might not have proper guidebooks down here but they are instead extremely friendly and willing to show the visitors their local crags and all the classics. Carlos and his friend and the two Germans Lutz and Gerald are in the tough league climbing 5.12/13′s and stuff, so we note down the few 5.10′s that the place has to offer.
After the tour we rack up and head off to do “Versachi 5.10″ which Fred leads and does so in style. It’s extremely good rock – classic vulcanic stuff with rough texture, lots of pockets and some good features.
Mathias leads the next one – “Siquiriqui 5.11″ – which unfortunately has a crux which is avoidable by deviating a bit from the bolted line and so – although it’s a flash – it probably wasn’t 5.11. I tried the difficult crux right afterwards on top rope and it went okay, but the route remains to be flashed direct.
After these two routes we go to another sector which host only one route but with an obvious potential for two more. Fred leads the “Pinche Gripa 5.10″ which is an enjoyable route following the arete some 20 meters two an anchor on good and festive rock.
After the 3 bolted feasts we are hungry for some “real” climbing. There are 4 cracks on the wall left of the arete that we just climbed and the most right one looks really promising most importantly it looks like protection is adecuate taking friends from the smaller end of the spectrum.
“After the 3
we are hungry
for some “real”
After discussing different tactics we decide to try the obvious line 5 meters right of the bolt line. It’s a finger crack continuing straight to the top but with a mid section too thin for protection or fingers so the weakness of the line would be to traverse over to a neighbourgh crack 2 meters left, go up 5 meters and then trend leftwards to the anchor of the bolted route. Mathias’ ties the sharp end to his harness, fires up the full rack, does the Erick-spitting trick on his boots and start the new line. Struggle struggle pull pull, jamme jamme heave ho, putte putte friend in, steppe up and traverse left. Fred follows suggesting the grade E1 5b with the following two remarks “Okay, jeg tror sgu’ jeg ryger!” and “Nej, det gaar sgu’ ikke det her”. They both mean something like “I’m f*cked!”…
Carlos is excited that we have climbed a new route as “his” crag. He insists that we give it a name and we come up with Regalo Danese. He promised us not to put any bolts in it.
We spend a great evening in a big cave in the crag, with a huge fire and our little multi-cultural group (danish, mexican, german). Talking about climbing around the world. The one mexican guy (the one who plays in a reggae band) explains mexican politics and how it is completely corrupt. It is hard to do anything about when according to our friend the politicians get two options by the mobsters running the country – take 1 million pesos or we kill your family. Yikes. Although our friends are from rich families (top 3% of the population), they are very aware that there is something completely screwed up in their country’s government. Not all all the spoiled kids you might have expected.
10 January 1999 – El Cuajo.
We got up a bit late today and headed up for the crag around mid-day. Carlos and the others was just on the way to a nearby waterfall which sounded pretty fesive so we dump the climbing gear and follow them to waterfall some 30 minutes away. We hike through some pretty savage bush territory, down some steep dried-out river beds with enormous boulders, and along some neat little irrigation canals for the mango trees further down the valley. This would be completely impossible to find on your own! We end up at the base of a 60ft waterfall, with a big pool, and a natural shower coming out from the side with warm (drinkable) water. Perfect place to clean up and relax after a day on the rock. Carlos and
Returned after the waterfall and the showers we check out the whole crag to see if we can make yet another glorious first ascent in this playground. We thoroughly investigate the lines on both sides of the main sector but we can’t really fire ourselves up to start a line. So after a good bit of spotting we decided to do the last 5.10 here – Capitan Garfio – which is a 50 meters sustained mother, lead by a mentally exhausted Matisok and seconded by a physically drained Frederik. It went free, but it was a f*cking struggle. Great route though. We were too drained to do anything else that afternoon except a fun little bouldering traverse, followed by some relaxing in the German’s hammock.
11 January 1999 – El Diente.
Internet cafe – Still employed
Climbing shop open, beta for El Diente looks promising
12 January 1999 – El Diente.
Climbing at El Diente
met famous Ivan – nice chap
13 January 1999 – El Escalon.
We wake up late as usual and we soon give up hope that the Mexican girl Christina we met the yesterday will come around with coffee as she promised. Damn, we are out of coffee so we attempt to wake up on a couple of teas instead.
Mathias starts off the day with some bouldering. This is really a cool bouldering spot – easy or hard, strenuous or technical, high or low; anything you need with a pair of climbing boots and a chalk bag.
We decide to head for El Escalon, a climbing area described in the Climbing magazine article as a bunch of naturally protected crags full of snakes. However, Ivan told us yesterday that the snake thing was just a joke that he and his friends has pulled on the chap that wrote the article. We drive off but have some trouble finding the crag, but we find a promising looking dirt road leading in roughly the right direction and it turns out to be the right one. We are nervous about parking the van in the middle of the dirt road so after some talks with local farmers passing by, and driving up and down the road, we end up on a little side road leading straight up to the crags. Man, they look good. A mile or so of vulcanic columns with a beatiful looking splitter of a 80 meter crack every couple of feet!! We park the van in a very picturesque cactus field just below the rock. There are some farmers working there, and luckily they think it is pretty cool that we want to climb their rock and camp in their cactus field. “No tienen miedo” – you are not afraid?, they ask – no, can’t you see we are crazy tourists? Once again, the Mexican people prove themselves as really, really nice. Of course we can camp in the middle of their cactus field.
What a place! The cactus fields. The strong sweet smell of passion fruit trees. The incredibly looking rock just above. Only a few lines have been climbed before – lots are untouched. The sandwich with avocado, tomato, cheese, ham, mayo and bacon. We are the only ones here. Life is good.
We rack up and head for the rock which requires some bushwacking to get there. We walk along he base of the rock for a while, drooling over the great-looking lines we can pick from. Suddenly, Mathias jumps 10 feet in the air as he spots a coral snake just next to his sandal! Yikes. Perhaps this place is snake-infested after all?
But anyway – we assume and hope that these potentially nasty snakes does not climb rock as we do, so after having recce’d most of the immediate crag we choose the first obvious line. A perfect chimey 25 meters to a roof. Boy it looks great. We are pretty sure that no one has climbed this baby before and Mathias leads up the virgin territory pretty excited and fired up. We have the bolting kit ready for puting up an anchor if necessary. This place is great. So many absolute splitters and no-one around to pick them but us. Here in Guadalajara the standard rack consists of a harness, boots and a handful of quickdraws. So we are one step ahead with our almost complete monster rack of friends, nuts and all that beautiful stuff.
The Chimney – HVS 5b: “The line is a stunner. I win the lead and head up confident as the line looks like it takes everything from a rack of friends 00 to 5. I am aware of the strenuous type of stuff this is so I left the bolting kit below to reduce weight and we can haul it up if needed. I start off in the shadow, 25 degrees celcius – this part of the country indeed has one of the most perfect climates I’ve been around. Anyway – the climbing is absolutely spectacular – exposed, sustained and merciless. Though there are the occasional good hold on the main wall the climbing is more or less consistent stemming and chimneying all the way to the roof. Midway I realise to my great disappointment that the line has been climbed before as there is a rusty anchor at the roof. Well never mind, it would have been a crime if this obvious route had been untouched. Still, it is the only trace of previous attempts – the rock is immaculate, no chalk to show the way and it still feels like exploring new territory. And the thing is – this chimney/crack is just one of hundreds we have spotted…!
“The climbing is
- exposed, sustained
Anyway – I get to the top after struggling a bit in the crux, review the rusty anchor and decide to place a brand new bolt. This takes around 15 minutes which I guess is okay – the bolt placement was unfortunately not perfect (still felt like a bomber), the rock was pretty tough (the “bite” on the thread was totally destroyed after drilling the hole) and the angle was not optimal. Never mind – I abseil in the bolt (still belayed by Fred) and it holds. Fred seconds and abseils down as well. Good route which seems just a scratch in the grande surface of the place. Yoist.”
Fred’s turn to lead: “It has been a while since I have lead a pitch on my own pro, but just to the right of Mathias’ fantastic line, there are a couple of cracks that look doable and they also look well-protected. The cracks go up for perhaps 15 meter or so, with different widths ranging from finger size to small fist size. At 15 meter only one of the cracks continue, and it looks tricky up there because there are no obvious footholds. But I can always get up to the ledge just below the top crack and then decide if I go on. So I put on our enormous rack, and head up. I climb slow but make constant progress – I need to get back into this leading thing. When I put the first nut in, I pull up the rope but I have forgotten to attach a quickdraw! Hmmm, this is promising. I am quickly back in the old style, though – the cracks take all the gear I need – in fact, I have already used all the large friends that I will probably need for the top crack.
Beautiful climbing – bridging between the small footholds in the cracks, hand jamming and many little holds for face climbing if the jamming gets too hairy. It’s cool! I am almost at the ledge below the top crack… fuck, it is just a little sloping bit of rock not a ledge at all. Then I suddenly notice further up the right, a rusty bolt and the remains of another. Bummer, someone has been here before! Never mind, it will make a good stance up there, just below the scary looking top crack. After I set up the stance I get a better look at the crack – it looks a bit thin for the feet, but definitely doable. But it is getting dark. The farm workers on the cactus field below shout some friendly abuse as they leave, and it looks like we will have to retreat as well. We can finish it off tomorrow. I bring Mathias up to clean out the gear, we leave a few friends in next to the bolts and ab off in the dark.”
“Beautiful climbing -
bridging between the small
footholds in the cracks, hand
jamming and many little
holds for face climbing”
We camp were we parked the van – in the middle of the beautiful cactus field.
14 January 1999 – El Escalon.
We wake up to the sound of the farmers who have started watering the field and tending to the cactus plants.
We have got a job to do, so we set off after a quick breakfast to finish the line from yesterday. We left the rope in yesterday, so I clip in and Mathias belays me to the previous day’s high-point – the two rusty bolts just below the top crack. With the full rack back in the harness, I can now give the crack a shot. It starts off with just below fist size jams, and tiny little places on the wall for the feet. Every time I am getting a little above the last bit of gear the crack sucks up another perfect placement. Wow, this is good. The crack gets smaller as I move higher, so I get to use to whole spectrum of jamming techniques to ascent. And the friends are still solid. Near the top part of the crack – after 10 meters or so of brilliant jamming – my feet are getting really tired of standing on little pebbles. In fact, my right toes are completely numb! Now all that is left is a quick traverse right to another couple of rusty bolts that are just visible. I am pumped by now, mentally exhausted, but soon I can relax as I clip the sling into the rusty bolt. Yooor! What a brilliant route. It went at perhaps HVS 5b. The anchors look a little dubious so Mathias sends up the bolting kit, and I spend the next 20 minutes hammering in a beautiful shiny Petzl bolt as added safety for the descent.
“Every time I am
getting a little above
the last bit of gear
the crack sucks up
Mathias leads “The Triple Crack start at the Coral Snake, move right at the Huge Cameleon” at E1 5b:
After Fred’s performance on TTCATFTJ I feel that we can conquer anything at these Forgotten Towers of Babylon. I had good look at the lines right of TTCATFTJ when Fred was doing the beautiful job of drilling in his first ever bolt up at the stance. It looked like there was about a handful of three-stared splitters and 10 times as many two-stared. The next crack right of TTCATFTJ is directly where we met the Coral Snake yesterday – actually the snake caught my eye as I was placing my feet to get a better look at this particularly crack – I stepped down almost directly on this extremely dangerous snake who luckily didn’t mind.
Anyway – we decide to go for this crack starting at the leftmost baby possible following this all the way to the top (looks like the easiest line). Perfect climbing in a cracks which is just a big bigger than a fingerjam making it difficult to get a really good jam in, but it doesn’t matter, there are enough good holds on the wall to avoid total commitment. And the gear is unbeleivable good.
I get up to a ledge and prepares for the second phase of this already amazing climb. I just noted to Fred that The rock seemed kind of “alive” – it felt like something was living here – hopefully not our little Coral friend, but maybe some birds, spiders or the usual stuff.
“The rock seemed
kind of “alive” – it
felt like something
was living here”
I set of to reach into the next crack which now looks like a perfect handsized jammer and YIIEKEES, a huge cameleon is sitting right in there. It is a really big baby – we saw a lot of them in the cracks of Tulum but this one is bigger. Fortunately we played a bit with this scary looking critters down in Tulum, and they seem like all they want is peace, and if you pull there reptile tail they just move a bit further in to the cooling crack. So I didn’t jump off or anything, but move back to the ledge and start looking for alternatives as that crack is occupied.
The alternative is soon obvious – I need to move over right to the bigger crack which was the original line, that we spotted, but which looked kind-of tricky and a bit bigger to protect than with our max-size friend a Camelot 3. But there is no other way – just get the little traverse bit over with and then commit to the full jamming experience.
I get over there with no big troubles, and try to fit in the Camelot 3 which the cleft doesn’t accept at first, but after a bit of negotiating the camelot sits in an acceptable position but far from ideal. Having the dubious camelot in I go for it and get myself a bit higher. But it doesn’t feel right, so I look for alternative plaecments, find a little no 1 nut placement get it in while hanging in my right jammed hand, clip and go down to the ledge again. It looks better now. With nut placement I can move the C3 up to better ground while climbing the crack. I get my feet sorted, jam the hands and up we go. The cracks narrows slightly above and suddenly the baby sucks all the gear I’ve got and the climbing is a complete divine pleasure. The jams are absolute perfect and the rest of the route goes without encountering anymore scary animals (I did say hello to a huge grashopper who was climbing the same route, but he backed off as I climbed past him – actually he lobbed off, pretty drastic).
“The cracks narrows
slightly above and
suddenly the baby
sucks all the gear”
Fred follows and we set up a good abseil in a tree, knackered after jamming in the sun all day. There is still light but we are too tired to do another route, so we decide to call it a day.
Down at the field we talk to some of the farm workers who are “closing the shop”. One of them is a really festive old guy with no teeth. He speaks very fast but we talk a bit about how stupid it is to be climbing the steep rocks, and also what their cactuses are used for. It turns out that apart from eating them, they are used in diabetes medicine and other medicine, and they are also used as the green color in the US dollar bills! Funny. Later that evening we start a campfire, and make “snobroed” with sausages over the fire. Like being a little boy back in the Danish scout camp – something Mathias spent 10 years of his youth at and something Fred didn’t. But Fred shows amazing confidence in the art of making the snobroed and with his “hylebaer-gren” and consistent roasting wins the prize of the evening.
15 January 1999 – El Escalon.
Rock for breakfast
We’ve set the alarm to 7 o’clock because today we are going to climb some more rock. Ok, so we don’t get up before 8:30 but at least we are trying!
We spotted 4 routes that we wanted to do today and figured that it would be best to climb two in the morning and two in the evening avoiding the hot mid-day in the burning sun. Yesterday we exhausted ourselves climbing in the mid-day sun. We’ve established a camp1 up at the crag where all of our gear is hanging ready to be climbed with. This place is absolutely perfect.
Mathias starts the day with “Mother of Pump E2 5b,5c” and here is his description of that little baby:
Mother of Pump
“It looked like a superb line going for 25 meters finger/hand crack up to a sizable roof and then continuing for another 25 meters in hand/fist jam size to a big tree at the top. There had been people before on the route – we could see a sling hanging from a bolt under the roof, which looked like a possible midway stance.
Sooner than I know it I am on the route banging in gear and jamming my poor fingers in pain up the perfect crack. It was soon obvious that we had again hit gold and I was lucky enough to be leading up such a perfect piece of rock as the morning turn into midday.
I reached the crux a few meters below the roof and stance got some good gear in and deviated the line out on the left face. Somewhate runout to the bolt at the stance which I was glad somebody had put there making it less desperate. It set up a good stance and Fred joined me soon after. We have a look at the route further up and agree that I should finish what I came for and I lead the second more intimidating-looking pitch going over the roof into full exposure. Boy this is and looks like good stuff. Pulling up over the roof was done in a fully committed. fist-jam and it looks like this is what the remaining 24 meters is all about – committing jams of all sizes. Mega yoist. The gear that goes in is bombproof fortunately because there are some pretty run-out bits further up. With a good deal of “Yoor” it goes free and I top out mentally exhausted (the runouts where quite wild actually) making a stance in the tree hanging from one arm in a perfect jug. Quite an appropriate finish to one of the best routes I have climbed in recent years. It went at around E2 5b,5c.” While having lunch at the camp (today we are smart enough not to climb when the sun is at its highest) we check out the article about climbing around Guadalajara in the “Climbing” magazine. It turns out that there is a great-looking photo of the same route we just climbed (page 99) They graded it 5.10d so our E25c bet wasn’t completely off.
“With a good deal of “Yoor” it goes free”
After lunch Mathias is still mentally exhausted from the stunning lead in the morning, but Fred is ready for more action. There was an interesting looking line just to the right of the other climb. I had a quick look at it abseiling down from the route this morning – a little too quick as it turns out. It starts off with two cracks going up each their dihedral, forming a meter wide corner to about half way up at 25m. At 5 meters there is a huge tree sucked to the corner with weird roots going into the cracks. The left crack is pretty wide all the way, perhaps fist size, perhaps larger. The left crack is much smaller and is probably where the protection will take take place. I take off and quickly reach the tree. The climbing is great – classic VS, lots of holds, jamming, and fun bridging. There is even one of those classic layback cracks inside the large left-hand crack.
At around 15 meters the layback crack disappears, and trouble begins. The left crack widens to offwidth and offer no hope of protection. And, shit!, the right crack disappears completely! I manage to get in our largest friend, a 3.8, in the bottom of the crack, and a reasonable nut to the right. Fuck, it looks like I will have to run it out for 10 meters up to that ledge up there. That would be ok, but the climbing looks pretty dodgy as well – that damn offwidth. Very marginal footholds. No pro. Shit. Hmm, perhaps there is a nut placement up there, just a few moves. I edge myself up a bit, quite worried that if the placement wont take I will be pretty screwed. Luckily it sucks a great-sitting #6 in the little pocket. I edge further up until it is about waist height. Nu er gode dyr raadne. No more pro, and scary looking territory just above. I stand there for perhaps more than 20 minutes, contemplating everything from going for it to getting lowered down on the little nut right next to me. My arms are resting but my feet are not.
“At around 15 meters
the layback crack
disappears, and trouble
Where is Mike?
Last time I was this scared on a climb was in Sandford Quarry about 5 years ago where I was stuck somewhere with really dodgy pro below me, facing perhaps a ground fall. Mike threw a rope down. Where is Mike when you need him? Finally I go for it. I scramble up to a little foothold, jam my left knee in the offwidth, “where is the jug??”, further up, no way back now, hey will that pocket take a little friend, hmmm really dubious, up up, shit I am slipping, go for it, no jugs?, just scramble on. Finally I reach the ledge, shaking, but the fucking ledge is just a sloping bastard with no edges and the blocks behind it still don’t reveil that “thank god hold”. But I should be ok unless I really screw up. A great #2.5 in the crack and I calm down a bit. I climb 5 more meters and make a stance mainly because I am drained, but also because I am running out of gear for the next section. Mathias joins me, luckily confirming that the offwidth section was a desperate mother.
The Child of Avon
Mathias kindly volunteers to lead the last 15 meters which doesn’t look like a pushover – it is easier to do an alt lead, but really he is probably just concerned that his brother will kill himself on another desperate section. The rock is fairly dubious up there, and the pro is not perfect, but it goes. We ab off a tree, man does it feel good to be on the ground! A memorable route but not because of *** climbing – it was probably E1 5a,5a. Mathias: “I was sweating in my hands watching Fred climbing – but he pulled it through that old child of Avon Gorge”.
16 January 1999 – Tepic.
Left our heavenly cactus field by the rocks at around lunch. Drove to Tepic, a lively town with few (any?) tourists. Played foosballs against the locals. Very entertaining as usual – we won mostly until the put on their best player, a fat manic guy with a serious punch. Then we lost.
17 January 1999 – Mazatlan.
Drove to Mazatlan, just missed the ferry to La Paz, so we will try to catch it tomorow. We are staying at an old delapidated hotel, at the sea front which was probably the top-spot 30 years ago. It is in the center, but all the big resorts are now up north.
18 January 1999 – Ferry.
Got our tickets without problems early in the morning. Boat leaves at 3 so we spend a few hours on the very cheap internet cafe and we have lunch at by the sea front – Mathias had oysters – relatively cheap and absolutely excellent.
We board the ferry on time and meet a very festive Mexican guy who has a VW vanagon like us, full of his keyboard and amps. He is a musician on his way to performing in La Paz. His name was Armando, and his business card read “Armando show”! While we waited to board the boat the offers us little bottles of tequilla and he shows us a number of mexican classic ballads on guitar. He also taught us how to scream in Mexican style whilst playing – AYA-YA-YAAAA! He points out frequently that you need tequila to sing properly – with more tequila he could even sing in English, he said. (Despite not being able to speak it! ) He quickly demonstrates by downing little mini-bottles off tequila and singing beautifully afterwards. He joined us on the ferry as well. We got a great laugh out of the fact that the boat was leaning to one side the whole way, by quite a lot. He said is was the damn government’s fault. We spent all night in the bar/disco drinking tequila and beer, and occasionally making complete fools of ourselves on the dance floor. A few young Canadian guys joined in as well. The foundation was laid for a severe hangover the next day. “Armando show” was a riot.
19 January 1999 – Cabo San Lucas.
Monty and Chris
We also meet an American couple Chris and Monty who has a sailboat in La Paz – retired and living on the boat. The are planning to travel the world and live of their savings. Very nice people – Monty spots several whales jumping in the horizon – we have never seen a whale before in our lives so this is obviously extremely exciting. Some 5 kilometers from the ferry we see some enormous splashes – we can’t see the actual whales but they must be huge. Incredible.
“We have never seen
a whale before in our
lives so this is obviously
Monty invites us to their boat as we arrive at La Paz and we come around after having said goodbye to our friend Armando-show.
Their boat is absolutely beautiful (lots of wood) and we listen to all their stories from the sailing and it really sounds amazing. A cheap way of living and so cool to have the time and the freedom to travel around the globe. Chris makes some excellent coffee and we spend an hour or two in their very nice company. We even get a chance to show Monty the complete HP Omnibook range as he was contemplating buying a new laptop after his old Dell broke and he tried to fix it himself. Pretty ambitious …
Anyway – it’s hard to leave, but we should really be going down to Land’ End some 200 kilometers away, so we eventually say good-bye – but Monty offers us to go sailing and fishing if we come back to the harbour within the next couple of days. Whoa – that sounds pretty good, we might do that if we have time.
On the way out of La Paz we pick up four hitchhikers with a bob marley tape.
On the way down the coast we spot several whales blowing – amazing, and so nice to see. Our map tells us that the waters off the coast reaches depths off more than 6000 meters – incredible and probably why the whales like it so much.
Cabo San Lucas
Now we are camped on a parking lot in Cabo San Lucas where we have spottet some great-looking sea cliffs (Granite) which we are planning to attempt to climb tomorrow. Cabo is a strange place. The harbour is filled with *huge* american motor cruisers. The biggest ones are “reversed” into the harbour promenade with their extravagant interiors exposed to the public. These boats are seriously over the top: furnished with expensive looking rococo furniture and old paintings on the walls. They all seem to say: look at me, I’m a rich bastard, and btw you are not.. The town caters to the rich and mainly mid-aged, Americans. Not our cup of tea really, but it not an unpleasant place to hang out in. Much, much better than Cancun that we pretty much couldn’t get away from quick enough.
20 January 1999 – Cabo San Lucas.
Got up fairly early, had some breakfast, went for a swim in the ocean. Waited ’till the afternoon, racked up and headed for the granite faces of Cabo San Lucas. Great looking stuff – very sculptural rock formations.
Climbing the sea cliffs
Fred picks up the sharp end and start leading a VS’ish chimney on this new medium. It is fairly solid stuff – a bit like Cornwall in texture although this stuff is sort of crumbly in places. The pro is excellent. Good route.
Mathias turn to lead. We have spotted an anchor on a very exposed steep bit high up on the front of the face. Not too convinced that the route is our league I start climbing the route – it looks like escape is easy over to Fred’s route should the climb prove to hard for soft boys like us.
It’s a bit tricky in the start but with good pro. Further up the route offers some excellent underclings and I decide to attack the steep face from the right. I spot a bolt and it looks like the route does g in from the right as I am now doing. There is an excellent line going past the bolt up to the anchor – a diagonal break fist jam size. It looks very hard though – not much stuff for the feet and the face might even be slightly overhanging. I consider abandoning it and going on easier ground to Fred’s anchor all the way to the right. But then – I put in a CAM1 high up in the crack and it is a bomber. So there is no excuses not to at least give it a shot. So I chalk my hand well and get my hands in the crack jamming it with some difficulty. Once my feet are on the face the stuff proves to strenuous though and I fiddle about a bit contemplating whether I should try to get a friend in further up (commit more) or make a controlled whipper in my camelot. I hang around a bit without moving and then -whip- I jump off. Fine fall – gear held and I try the move again and -whip- once again I fall. Then I pull out the camelot and go for Fred’s sling. Maybe it was the tequilla a few days ago which affected the committing attitude – I should really have gone for it hundred percent but sometimes you just don’t have the “Yoor”.
“There is an excellent line
going past the bolt up to
the anchor – a diagonal break
fist jam size.”
It’s good rock though – had the stuff been situated in England it would have had a lot of routes on it, but you would need a few days to adjust to the medium down here and even so there might only be a limited number of routes as the rock would be difficult to protect in many of the lines. I have never seen so beautiful rock formations though. And with the whales in the ocean close to you it makes a memorable location to have climbed.
21 January 1999 – La Paz.
On the way back to La Paz we were still spotting whales along the coast. It is still fun to look at those amazing animals. From various sources we had heard that there is a good surfing beach just south of Todo Santos, down on a dirt road at kilometer-marker 64. We were not disappointed. Actually we now regret that we didn’t stay a day or two instead of moving on the same day.
There were quite a few people at the beach, many camped out in their vans with stacks of surf boards on their roofs. There were little shacks on the beach with Tacos and surf rentals. Mathias rented a hybrid between a funboard and a long board, an “8.2 funshaped” they called it, and Fred took out the kayak.
Surf’s up, dude!
Great waves out there! When we surfed in Cancun, the waves were so bloody close that it was very hard to get out there. Here they were nicely paced, and it was pretty shallow so you could walk most of the way to catch the waves. We played around mostly at the right side of the beach – further left was more expert territory with huge waves with tubes and all that. Mathias’ board was a great choice – it seemed lively, but it was stable enough to catch a big pile of white surf, and stand up on. The kayak was loving this stuff too – full speed down the waves, side-surf the pile, spinning and backsurfing was fairly easy. Great stuff. On the board it was trickier to catch the big ones – most of them would just send us nose diving straight down into the troth and then crash on top of you pretty violently.
We bumped into the two canadians we had been partying with on the ferry to La Paz. One of them, Dave, was still sleeping in the van. The other, Matt, took the kayak for a spin but had to bail out when the first big wave trashed him about. Late in the afternoon we decided to move on, although we could easily have spent a day or two more getting the surfing techniques lined up. It seemed like the perfect place to learn.
We headed back towards La Paz and decided to swing by Monty and Chris, the american couple who is sailing around the world. They turned out to still be harboured in the same spot, and they invited us in and before we know it, the barbeque is going, and the wine is flowing. Delicious dinner and a very fun evening.
22 January 1999 – Playa Requeson.
breakfast at the boat
helping the sailors with fuel and water
driving north. cactus landscape, small mountains, pretty cool
23 January 1999 – Laguna Ojo de Liebre.
Driving. The landscape is pretty much the same as yesterday. Had some brilliant Tacos in a cool little taco place. We drove into the whale-watching place in the Laguna Ojo de Liebre. We didn’t feel like paying lots to take a boat out to see the whales close-up, but you could see them from the coast, spewing water and jumping out of the water in the distance. We also saw a small one really close to shore. Car maintainance
Fred did some car maintenance – it hasn’t been sounding too happy lately. Changed oil, some filters and cleaned some stuff. Found a serious leak in one of the pressurized air intake tubes – a little attachment thingy was broken off (probably from all our offroad driving) and left a big hole in the metal tube. We stuffed it up with epoxy and now Daisy sounds happier than ever!
24 January 1999 – Ensenada.
Lot of driving. Ensenada is a quite a cullture shock – american style bars, live show places, people cruising the main street in big floaters etc. It is really cold here… The last three days we have driven over 1000 km due north, so the climate changes but for the first time in ages we cannot walk around in shorts and tevas. Had a great dinner in a semi-fancy place with a great view – they tried to screw us with the bill, though, so we ended up in a quick debate that we won. (The bastards added over 25% to the price on the menu – you just don’t do that!
25 January 1999 – Roselito.
We wake up to the sound of, what??, is it raining?? It is pouring down, and it is freezing cold and we miss the nice warm south. The plan was when we headed to Ensenada to check out some of the surfing action, but it seems to cold even for a couple of Vikings like us (ok, perhaps the Viking blood has been diluted a bit – but there is still some left in Dad Willerup who chops a hole in the ice every Saturday morning at the local lake in Denmark and jumps in for a revitalizing soak).
Looking for a big wall
Instead of surfing the cold Pacific we decide to head inland about 100 miles to a place where there is supposed to be some good granite, and a 1600 meter big wall. John Middendorf has described it as “a poor man’s Patagonia”. We assume this is because it has some great rock, but it turns out that it is because it has really savage weather! We arrive at Roselito, a little pueblo more or less on the border to the US some 50 km inland from Tijuana, and follow some very sketchy directions to the rock that we have found on the net. It starts with “take the main dirt road”. Well, there are a bunch of dirt roads, so we take an important looking one and get immediately lost in a maze of dirt roads in a weird landscape of boulders, cactus and derelict little ranch places that has been left for the winter.
“A weird landscape of boulders,
cactus and derelict little ranch places”
It is close to getting dark, so we decide to stop and camp in this wild landscape. While we find a suitable spot, mother nature tops things off with quite a severe little snow storm! What is happening, it is bloody snowing and blowing a mild gale from north-west!!? We are freezing our bollocks off in the little van, but fortunately we have some gammel dansk to warm up our extremities. By now, the ground is covered with a thin layer of snow, it is still blowing but the sky has cleared up.
26 January 1999 – El Trono Blanco Campground.
Found the Big White Throne
27 January 1999 – Joshua Tree.
- snow in the morning
- cross the border easily
- san diego: hooters (return to american culture , gear shops
- joshua tree
28 January 1999 – Joshua Tree.
The night was really cold and very windy, so it is hard to get out of our warm sleeping bags. Eventually we manage to put the kettle on, and a strong cup of coffee enables us to face the cold new day. We are camped in Hidden Valley campground, not a bad place to be for Joshua Tree rock action. Plenty of great looking routes within spitting distance.
We rack up with the new ropes we bought in San Diego, and with a slightly heavier rack due to the new camalot 4 and other bits of hardware we couldn’t resist buying yesterday. We have a “selected climbs” guide book and decide to sample some of the action on the South face of Intersection rock, a big chunck of rock just south of the camp ground.
The Flake 5.8
After some debate as to where the hell the routes are at Mathias rack up for “The Flake 5.8″. The guide book we have includes some excellent topo diagrams, but unfortunately not for the area we are interested in. Oh, well. Mathias:”We had been wandering around the bottom of the crag trying to figure out which routes fitted our descriptions – but the only on which seemed to fit and look doable was the flake – and although this was the hardest of the three we where looking at I got a bit impatient, got the rack on and dug into the seriously looking chimney leading up to the obvious flakesystem above. I had had a look at a chimney just right of the one that I was now struggling in – it looked easier and a possible alternative start. After some hard work I binned it, went down and started up the other chimney. Felt much better – and I soon found myself up at a massive flake which could be liebacked most of the way up (with easy resting spots). The flake ends some 20 feet from the top in a sea of granite which had been granted two bolts as the only means of protection. I got the up to the first bolt and continued slowly and carefully past it. It was pretty marginal and I couldn’t help thinking – shit, I am going to slip of this slab anytime now. But then I remembered Martin and my successful climb earlier this year in Yosemite – the classic Needle Spoon, which is a feast in marginal slab climbing. If you can do Needle Spoon you can do anything I thought as I climbed past the second bolt. 5 meters left – you can’t fall of now. Go on – you haven’t been this far before, go on. The angle is easing of and I finally top out happy with some spectators below applauding.
After feeling the harsh Joshua Tree grades, Fred feels like an easier lead and we find Mike’s book, a 5.6, in the guide. Well, we cannot actually find the damn thing, so I end up just selecting a line that looks feasible and head off. It starts in a pleasant little corner that soon bites back with a little overlap about 8 meters up. Further up there is a reasonable looking crack and beyond that, who knows? I set off with confidence – not something I have had lots of the last few weeks, so that is a good sign. The overlap stop me for a bit, though. There is a massive undercling, but then very little above it to pull through. It is hard to get the feet in balance under the overlap as well. I put in a good #0.5 and the good old HB 3.8 fits nicely in the undercling. I put up the right foot on a sloping something and get ready to pull over, but as I put my weight on it the foot suddenly slips and I plummet towards the ground – ok, only for about a foot or so before the rope goes tight on the HB 3.8. Pretty undramatic fall, but a surprise to suddenly slip off and not great for building up confidence for the rest of the route! I quickly try again though, and a little more careful foot placement gets me through the section – although not in a very graceful style.
“As I put my weight on it
the foot suddenly slips
and I plummet towards
10 meters of fun climbing gets me to the base of the crack system I’d seen from below. Dammit!, it’s a bloody offwidth. I hesitate for a while considering whether I should find an alternative line by traversing left or right. It is certainly nowhere near the route description for “Mike’s book”, so I wonder what will happen if I start venturing into this unknown territory. It looks like protection might be a problem, the offwidth continues for 10-15 meters before it narrows suddenly to little corner, but it doesn’t look like there is a crack in the corner. Above that, the corner disappears and there is nothing but blank rock, but the angle eases considerably up there, so it will probably be possible to climb up on friction alone – just like the top section of The Flake. With the offwidth experience from El Escalon fresh in my mind, I edge up into the crack with considerable doubt. I get a few bits of pro in at the bottom of the crack – a solid #9 nut, a sling around a bollard, another really marginal sling and a camalot 3. That’s it, though. About 6 meters futher up is the only other hope of protection – the crack looks just narrow enough for the newly purchased camalot 4. I pause for quite a while, not wanting find myself up there and discovering that the cam won’t fit. No chance of retreat up there, only up or a serious fall down. Ok, here we go. The climbing is not that difficult but it’s awkward moving up that bloody offwidth. After some not-so-graceful wiggling up the crack, I find that furtunately the camalot seats itself nicely. What a relief! Man, am I glad we bought this extravagant bit of gear in San Diego yesterday for a mere 80 bucks! I would have paid double up here with no other hope of protection… Anyway, the crack kindof stops at this point but the angle is easing off so it goes with slab climbing on no the blank wall with little bulges on. It gets very scary as I move further and further above the camalot. It is easy, but it is not inconceivable to slip up here on the little pebbles. Hey, a bolt to the left. I run it out further, very very slowly. I clip it with relief. I move up a bit, but then Mathias shouts that I only have a couple of meters of rope left. Shit. After some really delicate wandering on the featureless slab I find another bolt to the right, and -thank god- an anchor a little above. I’m done.
SW corner 5.6
And then we went to the bar.
29 January 1999 – Joshua Tree.
We are now familiar with the Joshua Tree grade and medium as we head of this fine whatever morning to do “Double Cross” – a splitter splitting Old Mother into two. Mathias wins the lead and starts of with the full Willerup rack on his side. Boy this looks good – one continues crack going from 0 meters above Joshua to 25 meters above Joshua. Weather is excellent and here we go. Jam jam, hold hold, jug jug two totally committing fistjams -yoist- loads of good pro, YOOOOIIIST!
Mike’s Book 5.6
We had a peek in the full guide book in the town of Joshua Tree, and this time I think we found the correct line. First up a great little corner, fairly easy. Then it turned to offwidth (as is expected when Fred’s leading) but it went with no serious trouble. The second pitch was another corner with another OW (which Mathias avoided by wide bridging) and then finally a slabby section that ended the same place as Fred’s lead yesterday. Kuk.
Just behind our campspot we decide to tick this mother before our grande lunch. Boy what a tick. A beautiful line swing up the sea of white granite. It’s a layback all the way – Mathias’ favorite and with excellent gear placements the route is pure pleasure and hurray what a tick.
Hard playing crack
We spend some time checking out the cracks in our little neighborhood – and boy do they look good. We spot a short 8m overhanging hand/fistjam which Mathias’ agrees to go for. We get the gear and up we go. Yeikes – this is hard. Fist hand, layback ouch! Hang. Place. Go again. Yoist. Ouch. Hang again. Adjust gear. Go. Go. Go. Yoist. The bastard is ticked. Hurraa Hubert.
We spend the evening waiting for Dr. Beale who is driving down from San Jose. We have 18 budweisers to keep us company. Almost out of beer and definitely ready to kip, Martin pulls in to the campground around midnight! Great to see the master of rock again, and we drink the rest of the watery lager…
30 January 1999 – Joshua Tree.
Martin shows the way – his relentless enthusiasm for rock is inspiring. We decide to do Walk on the Wild Side, a three-star route somewhere, but it has a queue of other parties lined up at its base. Hmm, our late start is not paying off. We spend an hour searching for the climb on the sunny side of the same piece of rock. We scramble with two full climbing racks (Martin’s and The Bro’s) and three ropes to do a bolted sports route… Well, you never know.
After a focussed attempt at The Boom Boom Room, Martin backs off at the second bolt. It is too desperate… You can see the the third bolt, but beyond that it looks completely impossible, unprotectable and … well, we’ll never know. Instead Martin leads Nuts and Bolts – a really bold lead on a seriously steep slab/arete. Very tentative climbing is called for. The flaky holds feel like they might rip out at any moment.
More climbing, closer to home in the Hidden Valley. Pizza and pitchers in Yucca valley.
31 January 1999 – Joshua Tree.
Yesterday we spent way too much time scrambling over boulders and too little time climbing rock. So we decide to some focussed climbing in the “Real Hidden Valley” area. What a brilliant day. Mathias starts off with Sail away, a three star route. It goes with little problems – are we finally getting used to the Josh rock? Martin does the line to the left, with Mathias taking pictures from the top – should be some good shots from up there. Another brilliant splitter ticked. Fred has his eye set on a slightly easier climb on Sentinel rock – turns out to be a stunning line through some steep exposed ground, and with a finger crack and school book layback thrown in. We are cooking today. Mathias is pretty nervous before his lead of the next route just to the right – “Western Saga” a fantastic splitter that nevertheless looks bloody steep. Brilliant crack in the middle with fistjams and a “Thank god” layback crack inside the crack. Why does this route only have one star in the guidebook – it is brilliant. Then a roof – delicate but with an extremely useful foothold on the arete. Martin finishes the day by impressing the locals with an ascent of the jamming offwidth testpiece “Damper” close to the campground. He goes up in style, very quickly, and unloading the full rack of cams into the hungry crag. The locals were well impressed especially a fine looking las who was following Martin all the way to the top with big wet eyes.
Western Saga – 5.9
After three successful ticks from the Three Masters of Stone it was my turn to lead again and the next route on the list was Western Saga – a true splitter going through a fierce looking corner and tackling a sizeable overhang some 30 meters of the ground. I had a slight bit of commitment quarrels with myself – I felt that Fred and I had done our fair share of adrenaline pumping crack climbs during the last month or so. So I had to find some motivation and Dr. Beale provided this when he confronted me “So are you on for this one Mathias?” – Hmm yeah I hesitated, I don’t know it looks pretty steep. “Well if you are not on for it I’ll give it a go” Martin replied. Argh, why can’t we just call it a day I thought by myself but I knew the only acceptable answer would be “Well I guess I might as well give it a shot”. So be it – we quickly fired up the monster rack in the increasing freezing weather, and I stepped into the very steep and bouldery kindoff start. Not too much of a problem though and I felt good about the decision as I placed my first bomber piece of pro.
I soon found myself jamming in the crack provided and there was plenty of footholds and I got up to a big ledge where it looked like the serious stuff was starting. Boy – so far the route felt really good – maybe it was tricky but I just felt like I was flowing up the rock, the route that I had led earlier this day had gone without any problems whatsoever which I was very surprised about – expecting the 5.8 crack to give my plenty of troubles. Now I had upped the bet to 5.9 and was definitely expecting to be under serious preasure – I was even starting of the route with the “If I can’t do this route Martin will be on for leading it instead” kindoff thoughts – so I was really pleased with the first 20 meters below me.
The stuff above me looked familiar – hand sized crack going some ten meters up to a roof and continuing up unknown territory – looked very much like many of the splitters we climbed in Aculco and El Escalone. There is only one way around this stuff as far as I see it. Get some pro in as high as you can reach, look for the first possible restpoint, get committed and then just f*cking go for it. Once you are doing the jamming/laybacking business there is no way back. To my great surprise the crack had edges inside and it was possible to layback a lot of the way. Cool! I love laybacks so any opportunety and you find me hanging out there “Avoiding the problem” as Martin would put it.
Anyway – I got my cam2 as high as I could reach, spotted a small crimpy ledge on the left and went in for the business. I wasn’t more than perhaps one meter of the ledge and I though – this’ll never go – than crimp looks shite and there is still 3 meters to the jug looking feature on the right. Go on Matis – this is what we are here for to pull hard and to tick some savage cracks. Yoist! It works – I get myself fired up and start just going for it 100%. Great! Get some gear in, reach the crimp – fine. Jam, Layback bridge with the feet – m I want you. I want you badly. Fire off some more of the rack. Great – the no 4 camelot goes in smoothly, no need for lubricant creme. Get those bloody feet sorted out – there’s way to much power on the arms. Yeah baby that’s better. Holy rock I am already at the roof – God that looks big but after sticking a superb cam1 in on the edge of the roof there is only one thing on my mind. Sex. I just want to pull out on the roof, get the full exposure and then explore the unknown territory above. I feel good. I have the feeling that the hardest part is over and done with and it’s just a matter of pulling up and enjoying the climax.
“There is only one thing
on my mind. Sex with rock.”
Yoooooooooooor! Yoor! Yoor! Yooor! The roof is excellent – a sudden foothold appear from nowhere and it just sits there in the left rib and I use it – first with one foot – then with the other foot and then with both of them. Ahhh, this is great. There hand business in the roof is proving a bit tricky but voice tells me “no, not the left hand, use your right hand and you’ll get up”. So done and bang everything falls into place as I explode up in one big cresiendo.
The terrain above me is gentle and sweet – the perfect afterplay. I get it over with quickly as one does and at the stance I fall asleep, drained, excited and too tired to belay Martin of Fred up through this Woman of Rock.
1 february 1999 – Home!.
We leave Joshua Tree around noon after sorting out all our gear – one half goes with Mathias and the other stays in Daisy. Mathias boards the plane to London in L.A., and Fred heads north to San Fransisco. A quick over-night stop at the family on Wildwood Av, and then a straight 12-hour drive to Boise. Arrived at Theresa’s house at 3am on the 3rd.
And that concludes this trip.