Story by Chris Van Leuven
Itinerant traveler, climber, and writer, Chris is sending us a series of articles from the field while on an adventure climbing trip to Colombia with photographer Rich Crowder and pro athlete Ben Spannuth. He will be writing various reports on his adventures, reviews on different products, and profiles on some of the interesting folks he meets along the way. Stay tuned for a review of the Gri Gri II, coming soon.
It was almost 11a.m., which meant direct sunlight should be off the cliff soon. “See you on the rock,” said John Monsalve, my partner for the day, as he waved goodbye and charged up to the crags, leaving me behind with my coffee…
John, 36, from Medellin, Colombia is one of those two-percent-body-fat guys. I can tell because he walks around in the sun with his shirt off. At the crags he doesn’t offer help, he just silently picks up rope bags and packs and carries them over to the next route, flake ropes, and stands in for long periods of belay duty. He has a beard that he wears long and thin, and a burn scar that starts behind his right shoulder, goes up his neck, to the right side of the opening to his mouth. He has a single black dreadlock down the back of his head extending to his mid back. The rest of his hair is cut short, like mine. He’s enthusiastic and smiles often.
He’s staying at the same hostel; it’s called Sun of La Mojarra and is in northwest Colombia. John and I shared a rope all day yesterday, my first day climbing at the crags of La Mojarra in seven years. He’s been at the hostel for the past two weeks climbing most days after spending lazy mornings in the sun. It’s an eco resort made of thick adobe walls that overlook light brown and deep green vegetation up the hill to the overhanging sandstone walls above. It has an outside shower, tin roofs, and stone walks ways.
John started climbing 16 years ago in El Peñol. “The granite climbing,” he said, “is the best (or possibly only) granite trad climbing area in Colombia.” It’s 20 minutes drive outside of Medellín, one of Colombia’s major cities (population: 2.8 million).
Yesterday our communication was challenging, which frustrated me at times, but was also rewarding. Though La Mojarra is mainly a sport area, we climbed the cracks. He shared his dried mango slices, and I shared strawberry flavored cookies. He provided an attentive belay with the Gri Gri 2 and had no reservations about climbing total choss. Though some sequences on the climbs were not unlike the Rostrum in Yosemite, on other sections I felt I was jamming between two hardback books buried in a sandbox.
Our first route was an overhanging crack that started 15 feet off the ground above a sandy ledge, guarded by a featureless roof. It went up a series of corners with finger locks, stemming, and some face climbing. We traded off attempts to start the route, each of us picking a nearby sport route and traversing in to start the climb. The route had some sandy sections, and at one point I stemmed over stacked blocks.
At sunset we packed up our bags and headed for the trail back. Five minutes into heading out we cut up the rocky trail to cold Pilsner beer and chips at a small shack out the front of a woman’s house. Her TV was on and was visible from her porch. She had a fridge stacked full of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. She pulled out a few cold brews and put them in our hands. We toasted and talked about the day, the loose blocks, and the different jamming styles. At last light we headed down the footpath, following painted handprints on the rock path back to the green light of our hostel