All posts by bens game

Valle De Los Halcones

 


Once upon a time when I started this trip I was like a lone wolf, bounding across the meadows and mountains.. Then I met Karli, and we were two misfit wolves driving across the desert and mountains. Then Chris and Nicole came along, and we were a pack of wolves looking for bad ass climbs….

Knowing the Suesca main crag would be busy We decided to concentrate a weekend on the Valle De Los Halcones. According to the guidebook the land was private and all the bolts on the area had been cut off by the land owner due to climbers making a mess. Fortunately for us an American and another English lad, Jason and Sam, were living in Suesca and said we could park at their house right on the edge of the valley and they knew the land owners. They invited us to talk to them and after a brief few minutes of talking Chris had made it clear we would be careful and take everything out we brought in. The owner permitted us to enter the valley for 2000COP each (about 60cent each or 40p).

We grabbed our packs and headed over the rise into the valley. It felt nice to have a short walk in again. Despite going running most mornings including this one the small rise had me breathing hard. It could have been the pack of climbing gear and a 6 litre bottle of water and the 9000ft elevation, but hard work felt hard.

Entering the valley was like entering a lost world. Crazy knowing a mile away were hundreds of people climbing on top of each other. We walked around a while and found a big slab worthy of a play. All the bolts had been cut or removed so we ran a rope to a boulder further back and set up a top rope for the morning.

The start of the problem was hard. Real hard. First I tried, then Chris, then Karli, we all failed. The crimps were too small and shoes just weren’t holding. Nicole came next and some kind of witchcraft happened, she just cruised to a higher point. But was again stumped. The line was hard. Not being dismayed we all took a turn overcoming the hard part with some aid and climbed higher. The top 2/3rds of the boulder were awesome. Small crimps combined with good footholds and a couple of flake holds leaving a dyno to the top for a rounded edge.

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We took it in turns going for the top. I took the chance while not on the rope to run around to the top and lean over to get these shots.

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sequence of climbing to falling. quite cool I think

After a while and getting the whole sequence linked we moved further down the valley to relax while climbing up and down some vertical/slightly overhanging but easy crag. At the end of the day we were all pretty beat and cold and headed back to town for 60cent beers and soup.

With thanks to Das_Karlo, Burritocharmer and Olas_y_montanas.Screenshot 2017-12-06 at 8.31.50 AM

Psyched

Climbing over time becomes more than a sport. It becomes a personal edge of determination and certainty as you stare into the abyss of darkness knowing you will come through. (Sometimes that abyss is quite big and scary)

It becomes the cool steady head of a gun-slinger in the wild west outnumbered ten to one but knowing his hand is faster and aim flawless. I remember when i started climbing, it was just before dawn, the air freezing, crisp and sharp. Staring at a crag my friend was leading me to, wondering how i would climb that seemingly impenetrable fortress of black rock piercing the sky all around me. Did my friend not know gravity worked heavily against me? I felt scared, but i have remembered that day for the past 14 years.

As time went on, i realized if one treads lightly, slowly but surely , there is always a secret corridor nature will permit you to pass through. tens of thousands of years of glaciers, storms and weather creating small flaws of beauty that allow me to pass in the blink of an eye. Seeing it in the fragile delicate state. Knowing eventually it will all be gone, and maybe in a few years the route I climbed will be gone forever. Only lasting in memory.

Today I went out climbing, like most the past week, to Suesca, Colombia. The day started like every other, around half ten Karli and I grabbed a coffee for 30 cent from the local coffee shop. We tried to meet some friends up for a climb on a remote crag, but found only barbed wire and no trespassing signs blocking the way. After two hours of trying and seeing the day slip away we reverted back to the main crag of Suesca. A climb we picked out a few days earlier was on the agenda. Nothing too technical or trying, graded to 5.6(MVS). A three pitch route following some blackish sandstone up a chimney, up a corner, then over some open area.

a young climber top-roping to the left of our route. the redline shows our line and the first belay

It looked straight forwards and like an easy afternoon out.

Upon arriving at the base the start of the climb was occupied by a guide and group. Which left us two alternates- 20 meters of 5.7 with no protection, or 20meters of 5.8 with protection. (protection being climbing hardware placed in cracks to arrest a fall). The 5.8 sounding harder I weasled over to the 5.7 a few feet away. We geared up and I started up timidly, so far the trad routes of Suesca have been harder than graded. After 5 meters I stopped and looked at the rock, would it be the same as some of the previous routes with a vicious sting to stump me 10 meters up? I had a quick assessment – full of pockets, small cracks and features. Not that dis-similar to some nice climbs back home. I focused on the rock and forgot about the potential of a fall.

I started climbing.

Its been a while since i felt the same certainty of outcome. I was enjoying each easy move, feeling for good, positive holds or gentle pinches and precisely placing my fett like a doctor might use a scalpel. its a while since i felt at home on a climb. Aftrer linking up with the 5.6 route I made a solid belay and brought up Karli. The next pitch looked ominous. A dark cathedral like corner, vertical and seeming to overhand slightly at the top. Not an average 5.6 but the holds looked good and the conrner offered a perfect fist sized hole every step. I used a single cam which i bumped up a couple of times (due to having only one adequate sized cam) to just over half way, before deciding its security would not be required any higher and climbing straight up would be easy. At the top of the corner the route opened up to great views and a decently large belay ledge.

Karli coming up the last few meters of the first pitch

The final pitch was an entertaining mix of steps. Ledges, small slabs and small roofs from weathered stone but full of pockets. Holes, sculptures of ghouls and gargoyles and fine crisp flakes of sandstone that would snap with the most delicate touch. It was smooth climbing and the odd runner for safety. It was joy. At first I though the final pitch was only 5 meters but it went on for about 40 meters. On the top I chose a solid anchor, sat down and brought up the slack rope.

I was Stoked, I think that is the first time I have used that word. This is what climbing is about. Not the hardest routes, but the beautiful ones.

Being Wild

While visiting anywhere there is always somebody trying to get money. In Suesca it was in the form of a local standing at the roadside asking for money for where we were parked, when we enquired about camping he asked for 30,000COP , about 10USD. This might seem reasonable but to prolong travelling, free is always better. We drove up the far side of the valley to a small disused quarry where the local farmer said we were welcome to stay. Once there we deployed the tarp to gather rain water and save more money, look at that majestic water gathering machine. Jealous ain’t you!?. Saved 70cent in the days water bill right there.

 

This place has also given us spectacular evening lightning shows. Consistently on the other side of the valley which is reassuring as we camp on top of a vehicle with great lightning rods poking out in all directions. Its incredibly humbling each time there is a strike that looks like it will destroy any tree building or structure in the way. It puts us in our place.

 

Back down in the valley eating costs little. 3 dollars can buy two people a decent meal consisting of a couple bowls of soup, a plate full of rice, chicken, plantain, salad and fries, and a couple of fresh fruit drinks. add evening meals cooked ourselves for 3-4 dollar and daily living is cheapIMG_20171122_140246.jpg

Add to it one of my favourite outdoor stores (decathlon) is down the road in Bogata selling low cost outdoor wear and equipment for any sport and the cost of living compared to Central America seems to have halved. My reccomendation to anybody travelling who likes the outdoors is skip central and get to South America!!

Anyhow, bye for now 🙂

Trad Climbing in Suesca, Colombia

So. In prep for some bigger mountains, I’ve started teaching Karli how to trad. She can sport climb already, so its been quite good progress, the past week has been spent around Suesca, Colombia. Camping at around 9400ft which is a nice gentle bit of acclimatisation for Cocuy National Park. We have been running and climbing each day. By that, I mean climbing some, and thinking of running; then not.

Ive been teaching Karli how to place gear, build anchors and safely rappel. She led her first multi pitch, approx 250ft, a good solid 5.7 (American grade) with some interesting features- 35meters up an interesting clean corner, a 15meter run out on a traverse without any protection, and a nice steep 40 meter corner to climb with bomber protection. A great fun route .

 

We have been camping up the hill on the far side of the valley, in an old dissused quarry big enough to hide the car from weather with great views back the way too, nice sunsets, lightning storms and best of all its free.

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top of route after Karli’s first multi pitch route and lead.
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top of another three pitch route
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coiling rope after a good day out
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the end of the traverse before going straight up.

The weather has held up great and we have been ticking lots of simple routes. Below is a picture of Karli gasing the wildlife with arms raised, poor squirrels, didn’t know what hit em’. Lunch has been from a local restaurant costing about 3 dollars to feed and water both of us with soup, and a plate full of chicken and rice and veg and fresh juice. The roof tent has been building a nice sweaty climbing shoe aroma after a week of not washing. We are back in Bogota for a weekend off before another week or so of climbing in Suesca and running in the evenings before the ambition grows. After the restrictiveness of Central America nearly sending me crazy with cabin/car fever being confined by rain, high entrance fees and every local sticking out a hand wanting money, South America is starting to become really good fun and re-establish why we are on this trip.

 

 

Central America

So….. Central America. A lot has happened since I last wrote in Honduras, we have been through Nicaragua where we hired motorcycles to zoom around Ometepe, this was very touristy but going to the far end of the island we found a small hostel among where the locals live where that was reasonable, we went kayak touring one morning and I was pee’d on by a monkey in the trees above I got too close to. Lots of wildlife, spiders, creepy crawlies. We did a few smaller hikes, up to waterfalls. A night visit to an active volcano and plenty of driving miles. We visited an old fort where gorillas were imprissoned (people, not the animals). The Nicaraguan police were corrupt as expected. I can’t blame them, i am told they earn $250dollar per month. On one day we had a policeman step out onto a carrige way to flag me down as he saw the foreign rich car approach, I drove around him and carried on. Later that day another police officer did manage to flag us down to inform us we performed an illegal manouver and would have to pay a fine. Fortunately for us he spoke no English and we played the dumb tourists for 15minutes till he waved us away. I think every overlander going through Nicaragua has had a similar experience.

I’ve heard of some officers that will play a waiting game for hours until their bluff is called asking for a senior officer to come at which point they say its no problem, carry on.  I found it novel going to a big market one day where all the produce was ‘locally made by family’ but was identical through out the rest of central america and had an authentic chinese look about it. After Nicaragua came Costa Rica, the price of everything went up driving over the border. National parks charging up to 32dollars to camp the night. Bare in mind the most expensive American National Park I visited, cost about 30dollars for a week, or less if you camp in the back country. I imagine the prices are so high because mainly tourists come for one week holidays and have come too far to say no.

The river picture is a hot spring, or rather there is an expensive touristy hot spring just up from this point for about 40dollars per visit, which heats the river to a nice warm bath right below for free, complimented by the cooling rain from above. A great place to chill for a few hours.  To the right is a free camp place by a lake, with me stringing out a tarp to collect rain water. Supermarkets seemed to charge a great deal for bottled clean water. Due to the cost of central, we made the decision to gun it for Colombia. Onto Panama.

We didn’t have too much time in Panama, just over a week before shipping the vehicle by container. We found some free camping and a bolted crag (cliff) local enthusiasts cleaned up. A nice couple of days falling repeatedly on routes. Just outside Panama City was a nice high camp that was cool enough to go running from in the morning.

Now we are in Colombia And the world has opened up again. Instead of paying to climb a volcano, its just a small park entrance fee. Instead of the compulsary guides, they are optional. There is free camping, decent stores, cheap food in restraunts and supermarkets. Im getting psyched. Near by there are big mountains over 5000m , snow,  cool temperatures, unlimited climbing and nights of sleep where i don’t have to sweat.

This week I was particularly psyched about a decathlon store for cheap clothing. I think Karli is getting sick of the same pair of shorts I have been wearing since we started the trip. They have gone from black to faded grey.

Next blog – trad climbing- it should be more interesting from here.

 

Are There Crocodiles In Honduras?

So, being a little bored while we waited for quite a time to get my yellow fever travel cert thingy, we decided to go tubing on the local river. With tubing not really being a big sport in La Ceila, Honduras, we went to a car tire garage and requested with gestures and a little effort, a couple of big inner tubes. We took the tubes to the river and inflated them over lunch with the under powered compressor we were now greatful for.

Taking a saunter up the valley on foot and to the confusion of locals seeing two giant tubes with legs, we went to the location of a previous camp and put ourselves in. Moments later we realised this was a mistake. Around the first bend there was a thunderous roar. Hastily jumping out the overinflated tubes we went ashore and inspected. It was around 200m (210 yards) of class 3 rapids lead-in into a canyon. After some deliberating, we carried the tubes to the canyon and jumped in. The ride down below was probably the most enjoyable way to experience rainforest. The next hour in lukewarm water drifting. In awe of the canyon the locals had not managed to monopolized but for whitewater rafting company that knew nothing of our presence, we decided to go back the next day.

 

Today- we grabbed our climbing shoes and a towel, chucking them into a drybag. Trying to wade down from above I instantly lost a flip flop. This was a disappointing start, while it wasn’t expensive, I loved that flipflop, now I have only one flipflop. With me hobbling over stones, we retreated to plan A, the first plan we made in the morning and certainly the more logical. Driving down below the canyon I put on some trainers we we set off a second time. We did a combination of canyoneering up the craggy riverside and swimming across the smoothest points and rapids.

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This was enjoyable, but I did wonder what lurked in the murky eddies. Having Karli swimming behind me, I knew she would go down first if there were crocodiles so I pushed on regardless, telling myself all the while crocs don’t like rapids anyway.

when we arrived at the canyon it started raining. We knew time was limited as the heavy downpour would quickly raise the river level make descending riskier.

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But it was worth the effort and refreshing doing something outdoors and wild.

Below is a pic of me taunting the crocodiles and giant boa constrictors in the most Usain Bolt way possible. Im sure my and Karlis’ survival is down to the wildlife being dumbfounded by our boldness swimming right in front of them. For now I shall remain skeptical of their existence.

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On a more serious note the birds were seeing on a daily basis are the ones I used to see on a David Attenborough wildlife documentary. Its pretty special to see so many brightly coloured birds I know nothing about. Macaws, king fishers , yellow ones, bluey black ones, some small ones; to name but a few.

P.S. Te keyboard is still broken but im tryin.

To finish the pic below was driving down some forest lane inhabited by disgruntled horses late night during a lightning storm. Its blurry but so was our eyes sight after 12hours of driving so you see exactly what I did. Enjoy!

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Honduras

Well, I feel awful, a combination of a week of Doxycycline, A yellow fever shot, and running a few miles in tropic heat. Its not all bad, although Karli is also feeling bad from the Doxy. I can’t wait to be out of here and living somewhere I dont wake to the feeling of wanting to pass out, but with heat beating down and humidity rising I am forced up.

We visited some Mayan ruins called ‘Copan’. The ruins were nice, but it was about 15 American dollars to enter, 7 to go into the tunnels, another 10 or so to enter the museum, where most the artifacts have been removed too, and a few more dollars to enter the culture museum. It felt a bit of a rip so we just entered the main site and left it at that. Central America has been pretty good at emptying the wallet at every opportunity. Walking around the carvings it soon became clear the big statues were all replicas except one they had not figured out how to replicate yet due to the intricacies of the carving. O well. It was a sunny day and there was also a good lawn to sit on. The ruins themselves are pretty impressive once you realise the scale of them after climbing the first pyramid.

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. Now, Honduras, Its hard for me to accept that to walk a footpath I have to pay 4 times the price the locals are asked to pay ($8), or pay anything at all for the mile or so path is to the waterfall we wanted to visit yesterday. At the cost of every attraction or bit of nature being high, I feel poor. Three nights ago we drove into the night checking prices of hotels along the way, 1200, 1100, 600 lempiras. Once again despite warnings not to drive at night we pushed though. Ending up at a rundown hotel for 500 lempiras, whIch we accepted, it was nice to have showers and a/c to sleep. The beaches are lined with properties and hotels willing to charge to be near the water, and most the national forest areas on the map seem to be mosquito infested with a second unidentified fly that has a bite similar. We drove  few lanes the other night and arrived at a beach area next to forest. After intruding on private land, the property owner, Winston, welcomed us to camp beside his house at no cost. It was nice to be welcomed somewhere. This gave a wonderful sunset and a few more mosi bites to remember it by. Last nights camp was on a river in its flood area, Stoney but flat. With it being near the end of the flood season we decided the sky probably wouldn’t rain and flood the camp so we pitched up. There were remarkably only on or two mosquitoes this night.

Today was my first run in a few weeks. It was hot and not all that pleasant, the first half all uphill. I would like to say it revived me but it didn’t. The swim in the river after however was pretty decent. Something that felt alive brushed my leg and made me question what might lurk beneath.

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The city a mile from camp is prettier comfortable, good coffee from  nice shop about $1-1.50. Other exciting news- I have a new pair of sunglasses, its the first time in month I have worn them without having to look at scratches. Bad news- the horrible box of wine we bought back at the very start of the trip is down to its last litre. Soon it will be no more. It tastes bad now.

Im kinda bored of writing now so will finish/edit this later 😉

 

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