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.

El Escalon

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.

Coral Snake

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 asume and hope that these potentially nasty snakes does not climb rock as we do, so after having recce'd most of the immidiate 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 neccesary. 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

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 strenous 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 degress celcius - this part of the country indeed has one of the most perfect climates I've been around. Anyway - the climbing is absoultely spectacular - exposed, sustained and merciless. Though there are the ocassional good hold on the main wall the climbing is more or less consitent 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 untounched. 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 absoultely spectacular - exposed, sustained and merciless.

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 minuttes 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 Crack

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 enourmous 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.

More Rock

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 another perfect placement.

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 particulary 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

Cameleon

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.

Tricky bit

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 devine pleasure. The jams are absolute perfect and the rest of the route goes without encourtering 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 cactusses 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 saussages 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 loked like a superb line going for 25 meters finger/hand crack up to a sixable roof and then continuing for anoher 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 possbile mdway 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.

Serious stuff

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 commited fist-jam and it looks like this is what the remaing 24 meters is all about - commmiting 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

Fred's lead

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 lefthand crack.

Trouble ahead

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 hight. 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 begins.

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".


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