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MEXICO

Alard Hüfner and Brent Edelen opened a new route on El Gigante, Mexico.  The route called Faded Glory, A3 5.9 is about 900m hi. They spent 14 days opening the line, and 10 continues nights on the face. The route was opened ground up, fixing 3 pitches and placing any bolts with a hand drill. 

El Gigante

 

 

Alard, Brent( USA) and Jakub (Czech Republic)  started the line, but Jakub retreated after the first night on the wall.

 

 

Deciding on a line can be difficult. The use of a telescope helped.

 

Comfort on the portaledge

 

Brent kitted up for the lead.

 

Three Haulbags, a bucket and a portaledge is what we hauled up the face. 90 litres of water was the main weight.

 

Alard aiding

 

Three easy steps to put up a portaledge

 

An amazing sunrise, the light playing games on the opposite side of the canyon.

 

 

We hand drilled two bolts at each stance. Hard work!!

 

Alard hauling the bags

 

A bit smelly after 10 nights on the wall, we reach the summit.

 

El Gigante

 Face to Face with 900m of Mexican Andesite

By Alard Hüfner

It all started when I received an e-mail from Brent in January 2002. He was asking about the climbing in Mozambique, as he had seen pictures on my website (www.alardsbigwallclimbing.com) of the granite domes that Mark Seuring and I had climbed in 1998, 2000 and 2001. Brent was keen on joining us on our next trip to Mozambique, but I informed him that Mozambique was not on our itinerary for 2002.  In reply Brent mentioned that in 2000 he had been down to Mexico and had opened a route on the right side of a huge rock face called El Gigante, and that he was keen on returning there, to open a new route taking the line up the nose.

 

My interest was instantaneously peaked, as I am always up for a new adventure, especially one that involves a big rock face in a remote part of the world. So, Brent and I started making plans to attempt a new line up the 900m high El Gigante, which is located in the Park de National Basaseachic in northern Mexico. My research showed that El Gigante had first been climbed in 1996 by a Carlos Garcia from Mexico and a Cecilia Buel from Spain. They returned a year later and put up a second aid route. In 2000, Brent Edelen, Jakub Gajda (from Czech Republic) and Gareth Llewellin (from Australia) opened a third aid line on the far right of the face. 2002 saw a strong German team including Steffen Glowacz and Kurt Albert open a free climbing route and later that same year another German team spent 6 weeks abseiling down the rock face and bolting the first sport route.

Our team was made up of Brent Edelen, Jakub Gajda and myself, and we met in mid October 2002 in Alamosa, Colorado, USA. Here we finalised the mountains of gear needed for our expedition, and after two days of travelling we arrived in the rural Mexican village of Basaseachic.

Basaseachic is a small village located at the main entrance to the Park. The main tourist attraction being a spectacular waterfall situated within the beautiful Candemena Canyon. Our main attraction however, lay 12 bundu-bashing kilometres downstream from this impressive cascade.

At the village we picked up 60 discarded 2-litre bottles from the roadside to carry our water, bought some additional food and organised several porters.

Next morning we set off on our journey towards the base of El Gigante and after a kilometre of mild hiking our porters abandoned us. This caused us a brief setback, but we managed to organise fresh crew, and the hike down commenced smoothly. After the usual haggling and bartering with the porters, they headed home and we were left alone in this massive Gorge. Our base camp was situated under some shady oak trees, on the bank of the river, and offered a superb view of the 900 m high El Gigante towering over us. From this vantage point we closely examined this monolith of Andesite and decided on the best line of attack up the nose.

Whilst Brent was soloing the first pitch, Jakub and I chlorinated the foul water bottles to ensure no unpronounceable Mexican disease would pass through our plumbing. We then carried the water, food and equipment needed for 3 people for 20 days, to the base of the face.

The aid climbing was slow going, Jakub lead the 2nd pitch and on day 3 I finally got to touch the rock and lead the 3rd pitch. The climbing was quite different to anything I had climbed before, as the walls were vegetated with sharp spiky plants, the cracks and seams were flaring and behind every flake and in every crack brown stinkbugs huddled together. We now had 140 meters of fixed rope on which to ascend to our high point, and were excited to commit to the wall.

One of the decisions we made about attempting this new route, was that we wanted to open it in a clean and minimalistic style. This meant only fixing the first 3 pitches (one pitch each) and placing any necessary bolts with a hand drill. Applying these tactics and taking into account the number of days other people had taken to open routes here, we estimated that we might take up to 20 days to climb our planned route. We knew the face was about 900 meters vertical, and we budgeted on about one pitch a day. Just setting up the anchors at the stances took one gruelling hour of pounding the hand drill into the solid rock. We would drill two 10mm diameter holes into which we placed expansion bolts and secured the Scavenger hangers.

Two portaledges, 120 kg of water, 20 kg of food and a ton of gear that barely fitted into four haul bags was what we had to drag, haul and pull up the rock face, against gravity. And I thought I was on holiday! We split the load into two, which made everything slightly more manageable. To get the bags moving, we needed the counter weight of Jakub and myself, but it still took us the whole day to haul the gear to the top of the fixed lines. As night fall descended into the valley we met Brent who had rope soloed the fourth pitch.

Whilst setting up the portaledges for our first night on the wall, and preparing dinner, Jakub mentioned that he felt that what we were doing was quite dangerous (as we had dodged some falling rock whilst hauling the bags) and how unhappy he was about continuing this climb. Brent and I tried to jostle him into a positive frame of mind.

We were all exhausted and we fell asleep to rain splattering on our portaledge flysheets. In the morning the rain continued as we ate breakfast, and Jakub had decided that he was going to leave this climb up to us fearless mortals and he was going to descend before he went any higher. Brent and I could not persuade him to change his mind. We felt uneasy as we watched Jakub with a haulbag, descend on the ropes that we had tied together, and this put the 2 of us in a rather precarious position: 2 climbers in the middle of nowhere on an isolated rock face…

Over the next 11 days Brent and I got into an obscure routine of waking up, eating breakfast, whilst one of us lead and the other belayed and relaxed on the portaledge. When the leader reached the top of his pitch the gruelling task of hand drilling the holes for the bolts began. The seconder would pack the haulbags and the portaledge ready for the one and a half hours of hauling, he would then ascend up the lead line and clean the pitch, freeing the haulbags should they get snagged.

The exposure was maximised by the view I had up and downstream of the rugged canyon with the river glistening many hundreds of meters below. The chunk of rock I removed out of the flaring crack plummeted towards the river, skimming the vertical rock face once or twice before it faded into a little pebble and splashed into the water.

The flaring crack was petering out fast and started curving to the left, away from our planned route to the right. From a solid Camalot I drilled a small hole at full stretch, into which I delicately placed a talon hook, and nervously transferred my weight onto it. The next 3 mm deep hole was drilled diagonally up and right, into which I placed another hook, and stepped up, further away from my last fixed protection.  Clawing up the face, I was headed for a lip and a welcome looking crack. After 5 continuous bat hooks, my conscience reminded me that a fall now, would end up in a dangerous side pendulum. I anxiously watched the hook I was hanging on and hammered out a deep hole into which I thankfully placed a rivet.

The slow and tiring process of bat hooking continued, four bat hooks and one bad knife blade later, I reached the seam and crack. With great relief I slotted a tiny alien into the solid crack and gave it a vigorous bounce test. With a sigh of relief I stepped off the bat hook and into my aiders clipped to the alien.

The wind rushed by and the rock was a blurred vision as I instinctively grabbed the rope at my harness and braced myself for the fall. I came to a sudden halt and smacked into the rock as the rope pulled taut. I immediately looked up, and with great relief, saw that the rivet had held.

A great sense of achievement fulfilled the two of us every time we climbed past one of the prominent features of the face, the brown eye, the vegetated ramp and the huge open book.

The many days of sweat build up was starting to become quite noticeable, and It was a good thing that both of us stank, after spending 11 days in the same clothes. We started talking about hot food, as all our supplies were served cold and the tortillas, forming a part in most of our meals were getting a bit stale. None the less, this climb bonded the two of us and we have become excellent friends.

The rock still vertical, was not revealing how close we were to the summit, but I sensed we were close. Excitement rose in my body as I wedged up a pleasant-sized chimney. Pulling past a big chock stone my view suddenly opened up, and I could see the back of El Gigante, the summit was a short scramble away.  Our jubilant shouts of joy filled the air, as we celebrated our success.  The solid vertical ground was a welcome change, to the eleven days we had spent in the vertical zone, with the only ablution facilities being the longest long drop in the world. The 4 beers we had carried all the way up tasted very sweet as we named our 19 pitch A3 20 climb “Faded Glory” and watched the sun send it’s last rays of warmth to us and slowly sink behind the distant hills of Chihuahua.

I would like to thank my sponsors: MCSA Johannesburg section, Ram Mountaineering, and Scavenger Manufacturing.  US sponsors: Honey Stingers, BAP inc

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