2 january 1999 - Aculco Canyon

  Theresa leave
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 promissing 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 pinacles with the most amazing lines splitting the smooth textures of rock. We have found a Shangri La at last.

Excited - no, exstatic - we park the van and jump out to have quick initial look at the rock fest that is awating 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!).

Local climbers

Armando and his two friends (a girl and a guy) are some very sympathic 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 do-able 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 definately needs practicing and this looks like God's own jamming playing ground.

We soon realize that this is serious jamming territory

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 commiting 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 curtisy 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 streneous 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 finsish 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 cilmb, 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 ment 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.

Rock song

When you're weary
Feeling small
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. (...)

Symphony 5.9

Having succesfully 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 interupted 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 cme, 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 additinal mid-range 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 capabiliies 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 convered 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 possibe 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 th 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 commiting 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 unavoidabe mantleshelf. Pumped I stand up on the ledge and shout a big "Yooor" to Fred who had followed me intensly 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 un uninterupted 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 descen 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 favoorite 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 commited. But I am definately considering backing out.

I layback in a superb flake, jam my feet and slowly gain altitude. I place the remaining camelot but have still aboute 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 sometiems 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 dependandt 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 possesion 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 seroiusly 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 psysically 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."

Final words

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.

Limones 5.9

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 chistmas lights, two computers, loud stereo etc.

Easy morning

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.

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