Wednesday, January 2, 2019

DESTINY MANIFEST : BAYAN MASSIR



I lie in a pool of blood and excrement on the cold steel floor of an old Omani Royal Air Force Eurocopter. The drone of the rotor blades pounds deep inside my head as I stare at the ceiling. The coppery taste of blood in my mouth sickens me. A large flap of skin hangs down my cheek and there is a hole in my right foot oozing blood onto the dirty steel.

It takes a supreme effort of will to drag myself upright, in one corner beside the open door of the helicopter. The young airman who winched me up stands over me. Pointing at my wounds, he says something in Arabic, but I can’t understand him. I raise my left hand to show a thumbs up. He returns a smile and takes a seat at the back of the helicopter. Peering outside, the Al Hajar Mountains are incandescent as we lift off for Ibri Hospital.

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In September 2010, I graduated with a degree in Computer Science and couldn’t wait to never see another computer again. On a whim, I took a job guiding in the Middle Eastern country of Oman. Although I couldn’t then have pointed out Oman on a map, I believed this would be an opportunity for me to live out a long-held dream.

Touching down for the first time in Muscat, Oman’s capital, I experienced a subtle apprehension. The people spoke in languages that I didn’t understand and signs were written in an alphabet with which I was barely familiar – and only from news reports dominated by gunfire and explosions. Despite what the media had led me to believe, Oman is among the wealthiest and most prosperous nations on Earth. The local climbing community, however, consisted of less than 30 people out of a population of around 4.5 million. They were fun and tight-knit, coming from the UK, France, Germany, Slovenia, Canada, USA, Albania, Egypt, and the Netherlands. I became immersed in the group’s outings to local crags and discovered that, when it came to rock climbing, Oman was a diamond in the rough.

During one of these weekly gatherings, I became aware of Oman’s most illustrious wall, Jebel Misht (‘Crested Mountain’). At more than 1,000m, its limestone crown explodes from the desert floor, reaching higher than even Yosemite’s El Capitan. It was first climbed in 1979. French climber Raymond Renaud and his team spent more than 20 days battling Misht’s south-east face using siege tactics, fixing over 1,000m of rope, drilling dozens of bolts, and even using helicopter supply drops along the route. They named this route the French Pillar. It’s said that the Sultan of Oman was so impressed by their achievement that he sent a helicopter to airlift the team from the summit to his palace for a celebration. Renaud’s story kindled my desire to pioneer big walls, and I began planning my first ascent of Jebel Misht.


Word spread and a local climber called Hamza Zidoum approached me and proposed we climb Misht together. Hamza was older and more experienced, and had a calm and positive demeanour.

He was a cornerstone of the Omani climbing community and, having previously climbed many of the classic routes on Misht, I thought he’d be an excellent partner for my first big wall. Hamza pulled a crude topo map from his pocket. A thick line was drawn up Misht’s East Face, which followed a crack feature to a ledge midway up the wall. The crack continued through a large roof at around 800m and finished direct. Hamza had previously attempted the route with another team but they had been forced to retreat. The line inspired me and we planned to return and complete the route a few weeks later.

We arrived at the base of Jebel Misht with gear and supplies, put on our equipment, and began to climb. However, several hundred metres up the wall, I heard a frantic call of ‘Rock!’ and, before I could react, a limestone block came out of nowhere and struck me. Directly in the face. Further rockfall destroyed my anchor, built into the loose, chossy rock, and I plummeted more than 5m, coming to a brutal halt on a ledge below. Struggling to catch my breath, I vividly recall staring up at the blue sky above, vision blurred, and utterly stunned.
"I heard a frantic call of ‘Rock!’ and, before I could react, a limestone block came out of nowhere and struck me.  Directly in the face." 
Hamza shouted down to me from above, panicked. I couldn’t make out the words. Rocks continued to fall and I shuffled closer to the wall. Head and torso protected, my legs were still exposed and my right foot was struck by another rock, which tore a large hole just below the ankle. Hamza continued to shout – somewhat less dazed now, I could make out his words. He was telling me to stop pulling him, but my face had been badly damaged by the impact, and when I tried to shout up I couldn’t form the worlds. He could easily have been completely unaware of what had just happened.

As soon as I twisted the rock from my foot, blood began pouring from the wound. I grabbed my backpack and took out three quick-wrap bandages – the only medical supplies I had brought – and began tightly dressing my ankle. Hamza shouted again, this time to tell me he’d built an anchor and intended to rappel down. He didn’t say much when he joined me on the ledge, but I could tell from the look on his face that I wasn’t in good shape.

I pushed the flap I of skin back across my face and held it there while he wrapped a bandage from his own pack around my head. Despite our efforts, the bleeding from my foot continued. ‘We need to go down,’ I mumbled through my swollen face. Hamza nodded. I sensed a sinking feeling between the two of us. We placed a sling over a horn-shaped rock and began the long journey back to the ground.


Arriving at base camp six hours later, Hamza attempted to carry me using an alpine coil, but with the ground so loose and steep this would have put both of us in danger. The only way down was to shuffle on my backside. Hamza shouldered our equipment and scouted the path ahead, while I began the slow and painful process of scooting myself over sharp rocks for the next seven hours. Pain suffused every moment. Eventually, I became too exhausted from blood loss. After nearly a full day, I was eventually picked up by a military helicopter and dropped off at the nearest hospital where I received surgery to fix my broken face and ankle. It had been a hell of a first attempt at a big wall.

In a hospital room resembling a luxury hotel, TV news was dominated by protests rapidly spreading throughout the Middle East: the Arab Spring. Violent clashes with police in most of the surrounding countries led me to reluctantly decide to return to the UK to finish my recovery. It was the end of my dream to establish a route on Jebel Misht. I spent the next six months learning how to walk and eat again – two things I had previously taken for granted. Eventually, when I was fully recovered, I took a job managing climbing gyms and returned to the nine-to-five existence of the weekend warrior. Time passed, memories faded, and the accident became just an unfinished chapter in the story of my life. It wasn’t until early 2017, some seven years later, that the desire to climb Jebel Misht began to bloom again. I had acquired new skills and experience in the time since the accident, and I felt as though I could now meet its challenge. The time was right to return to Oman.

This time, I would be climbing alongside my long-time partner, Sergio ‘Tiny’ Almada, who had accompanied me on risky yet successful expeditions in Mexico and Africa. On arriving in Muscat after months of preparation, we had just two weeks to reach the summit of Jebel Misht and climb its 1,000m wall. We loaded up our 4x4 and sped south towards the Al Hajar Mountains, but it was deep into night before we established our first camp beneath the 5,000-year-old Al Ayn beehive tombs. Here, we caught our first glimpse of Jebel Misht: its face lit by the moon’s glow, its ship-like prow breaking through a sea of stars. Jet-lagged and exhausted, we pitched our tents and passed out.





The next morning offered a sky strewn with cloud, which helped mitigate the heat, but even then we struggled. With such a small window, we spent the first days hauling gear up to the base of the wall. There, I found myself staring up at the same route that had once left me defeated and humbled. I hesitated. Fear chilled me. After stashing our gear we returned to base camp for one final rest.

We woke well before dawn, prepared coffee, and picked our way to the base of the wall. The night was still and cooled by moonlight as we dispatched eight pitches of incredible climbing to reach the big ledge, the desert’s tranquility broken only by the sound of the morning adhan, the Islamic call to worship, which echoed throughout the valleys below. A short break offered a change to study our line through the roof, but it was hard to tell if the route would actually go. We continued to trade leads for some hours until we arrived at the base of the roof, and the first section of steep climbing. I took the sharp end and tick-tacked out through a segment of small, loose roofs. Stepping up into a giant boulder undercling, I found myself completely gripped. The climbing became substantially harder – somewhere around 5.12 – and my last good gear placement was far below me. I could see the next move ahead, but I became paralysed by the risks I saw everywhere: I might miss the hold, or it might break off in my hands, which happened frequently on this chossy limestone wall. I reached out carefully, and cleared off several small blocks with my hands. There I found slightly more solid rock. I moved onwards, nerves buzzing, pulled over a bulge and arrived to a good stance below the final headwall.


Less than 30m of overhanging limestone separated us from easier ground that would eventually lead to the summit. We studied the wall above for any weakness, but found nothing. The wall blanked out in all directions. We had set out to establish a pure trad line, and we knew that if we wanted to continue we would need to compromise our ethics, something neither of us was willing to do. Our only option was to rappel several hundred metres down to the grand ledge and search for an alternate route around the roof. As night approached, we descended into the unknown. With only a small amount of trad gear left, we constructed only the most rudimentary anchor. Later, to save gear, we decided to down-solo the last 40m. It took eight hours before we reached the ledge and were able to build a small fire out of dead brush and savour a little rest. It was 2am. With no sleeping bags, little water, and no food to spare, we shivered and starved, and waited for morning to arrive. Rising with the sun, we huddled in dawn’s warmer light and discussed our options. We now had very little gear left.

Our rations consisted of under a litre of water and two snack bars. If we bailed to the ground now, we would be able to reach the floor and get supplies, but we’d likely use the last of our rack to get down and the expedition would be over. If we went up, we had a chance to complete the route but, with the cupboard so bare for the climbing ahead, it was a gamble. Most concerning was what would happen if we didn’t find a way to the top. I’d meticulously studied Jebel Misht’s many routes and was aware of an Italian line just 20m left of ours. It went up a steep, chossy off-width to the side of the roof at a grade we knew we could climb. Exhausted from lack of sleep and burned by the sun’s relentless heat, we set off into the relative unknown. Loose and unprotectable, it was as though the space grew wider with each move I made. It was the longest 25m of my life. Finally, weak from effort, I found a good stance above a small roof and built the belay. When Tiny joined me on the ledge, all he could say was: ‘I hope we don’t find much more of that.’ It was now his turn to take the lead into the loose unknown waiting above. Climbing over and behind giant limestone flakes that clung precariously to the wall, each of Tiny’s deft movements took us closer to that final headwall we so desperately sought. Everything was going great, until Tiny fell, a giant block still in his hand. I watched in horror as the block fell away – narrowly missing his head – and crashed into the wall below, exploding into dust and tiny fragments.



At the same time, I was launched upwards from the belay and unceremoniously suspended in mid-air. Tiny too hung in space, but not before first hammering against the wall while upside down. There we swung, like wind chimes in the Arabian sun, swearing and aching. Once I lowered myself back down to the ledge I had belayed from, I realised to my amazement that Tiny had come through the fall relatively unscathed. Although shaken, he was fine. I, on the other hand, had stupidly removed my shoes while Tiny was leading and, during the fall, had sliced my foot on some sharp rock. Blood flowed and I knew the best way to deal with it was to apply pressure using my climbing shoe. Pressure and pain.

Tiny, perversely, took renewed confidence from the fact that his protection had held up so well in such terrible rock. He pulled himself back to the wall and finished an incredible pitch to the final ledge and headwall. I joined him as the sun’s light began to fade. We’d have to move fast if we wanted to avoid another cold night on the wall. Crossing the ledge, we dispatched the remaining wall and summited as the sun set – more than 40 hours from when we had begun, with no food or water left. Trembling from fatigue and overwhelming emotion, I had to kneel. I never imagined, in my dreams about this day, that it would demand so much of me. I didn’t know whether to cry, vomit, or laugh. Tiny smiled at me through burnt lips and we embraced. Exhausted, we spent a cold night sleeping on top and woke early, packed up our gear, and began the steep hike down the backside of the mountain. We decided to name the route Bayan Massir (‘Destiny Manifest’ in Arabic) as homage to lessons learned through defeat, perseverance, and eventual success.

Dare to be Bold.







Sunday, April 23, 2017

GEAR JUNKIE: Mad Rock Lifeguard


Petzl's GriGri line has dominated the assisted braking device market since the 90's, but could that be about to change?




THE WORD

The Mad Rock Lifeguard is the latest rival of the Petzl GriGri which has dominated the market for almost 25 years. It is lighter, smaller and more affordable than other auto block devices on the market and it's holding power unmatched. Having spent some time fiddling with this at the crag and gym, I now find myself leaving the GriGri at home in favor of this.

Cost: $$
As with all products from Mad Rock, the price tag is very reasonable. At $90 each, it's roughly $60 cheaper than its strongest competitor, the Peztl GriGri+ which retails around $150 and still $40 cheaper than the new Wild Country Revo.

Performance: 4/5
I've had this for a month now and I paired it up with Madrocks new Gemini carabiner (looks crazy, check it out here!). It took some getting used to, but once i'd become accustomed to the size and holding of the Lifeguard, it's performance was great. I tried it with a Sterling Fusion Nano IX and it never once got jammed feeding rope. The handle on the device took a second to find that sweet spot where i'm not crawling, but i'm not free falling either, but after a handful of belays, i'd got it down. Though slightly lighter than the other devices on the market at just 156g, it's structure feels incredibly dense and sturdy. Overall a very solid device and performed well. 

Value: 5/5
With an affordable price, great usability and unmatched holding power, the Madrock Lifeguard is a steal for the price. 






Friday, October 28, 2016

Nubivagant: Wandering in the clouds


Image: Matthew Parent / adidas Outdoor
A dark tower of volcanic rock shrouded in clouds dominates the landscape. Formed millennia ago when high pressure magma solidified inside the vent of an active volcano, it’s dark and brooding -- like an ancient monolith constructed to appease an angry god... Unmarred by humans, more people have stood on the surface of the moon than atop its forested summit. From the roof of the 1984 Toyota Land Cruiser on which we stood, its shadow reached out to us across thick jungle.. This is Cão Grande.

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A little over a year prior, I had been at my apartment in Monterrey, Mexico searching the internet for my next big wall project. The city, sometimes referred to as the “Sultan of the North” had become my winter home since 2014 when I realised the incredible potential for developing new routes in the nearby national park named Parque la Huasteca. I had already established two sport big wall lines in the area on the iconic north faces of Pico Independencia (“The Life You Can Save” 5.12+, 13 pitches, 350m) and El Diente (“El Son del Viento” 5.12+, 15 pitches, 420m) and now as I stared at my computer screen, I had stumbled across what I hoped would be next.


A google search of “The Tower of Mordor” had led me to a dated tourist information page about the small island nation of São Tomé and Principé in sub-saharan Africa. I’d never before heard of the country and, being that it’s one of the smallest in the world, it was hardly surprising. Browsing the pages of the old website, with its design and layout typical of the early 90’s, I caught the first glimpse of the what is still the strangest peak I have ever seen. Rising up out of a sea of green was a 1,250ft. basalt pinnacle whose summit was hidden by clouds. It commanded its surroundings with an authority that would capture the imagination of even the most seasoned coach potato and possessed all the qualities of my dream wall;

Unique, undisturbed and unknown.


Pico Cao Grande. Image: Cut Media / adidas Outdoor

Infatuated with my new discovery, I began researching and planning for this dream climb immediately, obsessing with the idea that one day I would be able to visit this mythical island whose landscapes resembled a scene from a Jurassic Park movie. As fortune had it, my discovery of the wall happened to coincide with the launch of the adidas Outdoor Claim Freedom initiative that was looking to support the realization of projects in the outdoors. Luckily my proposal was selected and the dream climb was set to become a reality.

The project was ambitious on many levels, requiring every detail to be meticulously examined and robust auxiliary plans put in place to prepare for the worst. Logistics were not the only challenge, to take on such a wall I would need a climbing partner with solid big wall skills and a sickening work ethic. Sergio “Tiny” Almada was a friend from Chihuahua, Mexico who had put up a number of routes on the big wall of El Gigante, Mexico and also established the route on El Diente’s North face with me. A calm and practical thinker, we had worked seamlessly together in the past and I knew we made a strong team.

The island itself offered little in the way of purchasable goods or modern medical aid. If something were to go wrong, we would be on our own. Now on the island, I peered through the antique, leather-covered binoculars that I had borrowed from our driver, Armando. We breathed deep as the reality of the task at hand sank in.

Village life in São Tomé. Image: Matthew Parent / adidas Outdoor
The days following our rooftop reconnaissance unfolded in what can only be described as concerning. The carefully laid plans that i’d spent months polishing fell apart faster than a pair of $5 shoes. Firstly, we discovered that there was nowhere in the country you could get camping gas. Not only could you not purchase it but it was also impossible to ship or fly it in. We looked at conversion options using the gas bottles that were available on the island to our jetboil, but the parts were not readily available and, even if we shipped them in, it was an unrealistic solution to the problem. It was clear that, if we wanted to sleep on the wall using our ledges as we progressed, we would simply have to eat dry, packaged food. Which brings us to our second problem: Purchasing dry goods in São Tomé means purchasing imports. These are both hard to find, limited in variety, and expensive. To add to this, the dry goods they did offer still required water to rehydrate them which brings us back to the first problem: no gas.

It seemed we had just two choices; Commit ourselves to a diet of oatmeal, tuna and water for 14 days, likely resulting in complete exhaustion through hunger and malnutrition, or fix lines as we climbed and jumar to the high point each day to continue the climbing, an option which would also result in complete exhaustion, but through physical exertion. Neither option seemed much better than the other, both would ultimately be hard and after some thought we decided that jumaring what would eventually equate to kilometers of rope was the lesser of two evils. With the big decisions made, we packed the remainder of the food we had already purchased and prepared to leave for the wall.
Our first day carrying gear packs to the wall happened to coincide with a huge storm that continued to rock the island. Depending on your outlook, this was either a fortuitous learning experience or a day in hell. Trudging through the dense jungle, we arrived to the shelter of the advanced base camp (ABC) only to discover that the line we had decided upon from afar was a gutter of death. Water cascaded from the corner where we had planned to climb, rocks and plants surfed the torrent that flowed from the wall. After consulting the weather forecast for the island, we agreed that it would be suicide to take the planned line, given that rain showers were expected for most of the trip. Instead, we decided upon a more direct line up the steepest part of the wall, hoping to take advantage of the shelter the roof provided from the elements, even if it did require more difficult climbing.

Fifteen days of pain and exhaustion ensued as we fought for every inch of progress. Slaves to time, we submitted ourselves to an arduous schedule that began with a meager breakfast at 5.30 a.m. and ended after dark when route finding became unjustifiably slow. As pain drowned out hunger, the route became a battle of wills with each day growing increasingly harder while we climbed through fluctuating weather: high humidity, blistering heat and heavy rain.

Tiny Almada holds out the grimness high on the wall. Image: Matthew Parent / adidas Outdoor
June 2nd was the morning of our final push to the summit, an unnerving two weeks later than we had first anticipated. Waking early on a portaledge that hung from the tester bolt we had placed at the base camp, the jungle was unusually quiet. Sitting up slowly as to not pendulum the ledge, I slid on my shoes and walked over to the fire to prepare coffee. The fire smoldered gently and the smell of charred bread fruit from the night before had attached itself firmly to my clothes. Stoking the embers, I brought the pot to a boil and readied the brew for the team as they each emerged from their sleeping bags. Gathering around the fire, we stared down our 8 spoonfuls of concrete esq oatmeal, each mouthful washed down with a gulp of bitter liquid.

The weather was turning for the worse and an undertone of anxiety drifted about the camp. Having not rested in weeks, exhaustion had reached a peak and today would be the toughest so far. In order to complete the last section to the summit, we would need to jumar over 1000ft of rope and then continue to climb the line above, a task easier said, than done.

Leaving shortly after 6am, we ascended the fixed ropes to our high point where we would continue our quest to the top. I racked the 20lbs of gear strategically to my harness for the final push, my hands white and saturated from the rain, the skin peeling where the callus’s once held to my hands. Checking my knot, I confirmed my readiness with our team fist bump and set off into upwards.

My destroyed hands. Image: Matthew Parent / adidas Outdoor
Around 5pm that evening, we arrived at the convergence between rock and jungle, a sign that we had reached the summit ridge. As we pulled over the lip into the thick undergrowth, my heart began to race with excitement as to what would we discover. Having exhausted all of our static rope, we had fixed our dynamic climbing line for the final 2 pitches and now only our 7mm tag line remained to cover the distance to the summit. Tieing in, I began frantically clawing my way through the loose bush, consumed by summit fever. My dirt covered hands bled as the sharp plants cut into the creases of my fingers and ants marched their way up my water logged trousers, their own big wall adventure. Ten meters of the top, the line came tight and I was forced to remove it, tieing it to a nearby tree.

Covering the short distance to the peak’s highest point, we arrived in time to catch the setting sun as it cast its crimson light across the world below us. I could hardly believe it. The idea that we might never reach this point had begun to creep into my mind, that we simply didn’t have enough time or equipment to make it possible. Now, with just four days remaining before we departed the island, we had succeeded in completing the critical stage of establishing the route -- but the challenge was far from complete. We still had the task of cleaning 15 pitches, removing 455m of rope, creating a rappel line, and of the biggest challenge of all: redpointing. With no time to lose, we spent the next day removing the moss, plants and blocks from the route and preparing our equipment for the climb.


The following morning arrived sooner than either of us wanted. Rising groggily from our bed in the dirt, our aching muscles creaked into motion as we maneuvered to make breakfast. With supplies beginning to dwindle, fifteen spoons of concrete esq oatmeal and a cup of coffee would be all we could afford in the way of sustenance for the day ahead. Still exhausted from the weeks of developing, we stood at the base of the route and gathered our thoughts as we prepared to climb a free ascent of the line. The plan was to focus redpointing the first four pitches in the roof which seemed to be the hardest, sleep on the portaledge and then complete the remainder of the route the following day. The climbing went well and we made good progress but the difficulties were far greater than we had anticipated. Pitch 1 we climbed with ease but pitch 2, 3 and 4 proved hard and desperate with grades up to 5.13d (F8b). Unable to climb them clean that day, we decided that we would rappel to the ground and attempt them again the following day, though this would be the absolute last opportunity to achieve an all free ascent. That night, tired and frustrated, we went to bed early with the goal of waking with the sun and giving it everything we had.

Giving it some try hard on the crux pitch. Image: Matthew Parent / adidas Outdoor

Waking early the next day, we ate our breakfast of oatmeal and once again walked to the base of the wall for our final attempt. Tiny went first again, climbing the first 5.12 (F7b) pitch with ease and I followed. Switching over at the second pitch, It was my turn to take the sharp end. Tightening the velcro straps of my shoes, I stared at the wall above, rehearsing the moves in my head. This was the crux pitch of the route, a bouldery roof section that involved two big dynos (V8) on slopey holds followed by a technical 5.13 (F8a) section to the anchors. I had practiced the moves the day before and knew them intimately, all I had to do was stick them. Chalking my hands, I double checked my knot and threw myself into the climbing above. Stepping off the belay, I clipped the bolt that protected the first dyno and set up for the move. Locking my eyes on the catching hold, I launched myself upwards, clenching the edge perfectly as my legs swung out below me. Regaining my composure, I placed my feet back on the wall, clipped another bolt and took a deep breath, it wasn’t over. The following dyno was the hardest, a large throw to a frictionless sloper at the apex of my reach. Positioning my feet on small pebbles, I summoned all my strength and launched again skywards. Time seemed to stand still as the weathered skin of my sore and swollen fingers took hold of the polished rock they so greatly desired. To my amazement, my hand firmly grasped the target hold. Reacting quickly to this moment of surprise success, I raised my heal onto the tooth shaped stone that would allow me to complete the final crux move. As I reached up to grab the small pinch that would grant my freedom from the roof, my hand slipped. I fell through the air in a moment of weightlessness, a sinking feeling came next as the rope stretched tight. I had blown it. Tiny and I stared at each other as I hung there, the unspoken words drifted in the empty space between us ‘we won’t be able to climb this all free’. Pulling back on to my high point, I made my way up to the anchor where Tiny joined me shortly after.

Pain is weakness leaving the body. Image: Cut Media / adidas Outdoor
We fought hard up the two pitches that followed, making solid links but, again, we were unable to send them without falls. With just two days remaining, we were out of time and would have to continue climbing the route in order to establish the line. Reaching the portaledge that evening at the top of pitch 4, we discussed our disappoint over a tinned tuna dinner. We had both worked harder on this route than anything in our lives prior. If we could just complete the remaining 11 pitches to the summit cleanly, we could leave the island content with our route and our efforts.

The next day we rose at 5 a.m. and packed away the ledges. Gearing up, we planned to climb simultaneously through the easier pitches above and stop to belay traditionally only when we guessed the difficulties to be 5.11+ (F7a) or harder. Pulling on my shoes and bumping our fists to signify we were both ready, we charged the 350m wall above with less difficulty than the roof below, arriving once again at the summit almost 13 hours later. Standing atop the lofty peak, our hard work was rewarded with a spectacular sunset and 360 degree views of the entire island.

“All of our doubts and fears seem to evaporate, we had done it!”
Pico Cão Grande. Image: Cut Media / adidas Outdoor

Our celebration and excitement was brief, preferring instead to sit in comfortable silence and reflect upon the journey here and the questions it brought. Why did we do this to ourselves? Why suffer these painful endeavors that push us to the limits of our mental and physical boundaries? What were we hoping to gain from all of this? As I sat there absorbing the glow from the setting sun, the answers seemed to come to me in a epiphany, each hidden in their question.

I realized what this all came down to for me, was an understanding of something intangible. I wanted to know where the line was drawn, where my personal boundary of possible and impossible converged. Had I found my limit? Not this time, I realise now I am capable of much and I am certain that even though I am not rushing onto my next project quite so soon, this won’t be the last time I run the big wall gauntlet, chasing that intangible understanding.

Topo:

Nubivagant (Wandering in the clouds) 455m, 5.13d/A0 (F8b) ***

A direct line up the steepest part of the giant roof and onto the headwall above. Though equipped as a sport line this is anything but and should be approached with the respect that big wall requires. The majority of the difficulties are located in the first 100m of the route which is a steep overhanging roof, arguably one of the largest in the world with 3 pitches of climbing at grade 5.13b (F8a) or harder. Pulling through the roof, the climbing eases considerably and you just have to hope the tropical storms stay at bay to reach to summit.
(Image: Adrian Samsara / adidas Outdoor)


1. Jump from the block to the wall and climb the thin slab to a roof. Pumpy. 9 bolts, 20m 5.12b (F7b)
2. Steep corner with double dynos off the belay (V8) to steady 5.13b (8a) with no rests. 10 bolts, 15m 5.13d (F8b)/A0
3. Wet corner with complex beta and some committing run outs! 11 bolts, 25m 5.13c (F8a+)/A0
4. Dyno off the belay put the roof to a difficult iron cross move that gains ledge. Move across the ledge to some desperate moves that gain the dihedral were climbing eases up. 12 bolts, 30m 5.13b (F8a)/A0
5. Take the blocky face to the slab. 8 bolts, 15m 5.10b(F6a+)
6. A long scramble pitch with some vertical climbing at the midpoint. Run out. 9 bolts, 35m 5.6 (F4c)
7. Another scramble with a tricky exit onto the ledge. 10 bolts, 35m 5.9 (F5)
8. A hard start up steep rock to easy finish.  9 bolts, 25m 5.10c (F6b)
9. Traverse the foot ledge with good hands to a tricky exit. 8 bolts, 20m 5.9 (F5)
10. Hand jam the blocks to a ledge. Walk across and climb the technical face to the chains in the overhanging roof. 9 bolts, 35m 5.10c (F6b)
11. Traverse right and up the gulley to a hard finish on the ledge. 13 bolts, 35m 5.11d (F7a)
12. 11 bolts, 35m 5.12a (F7a+) Traverse right past a loose flake to a overhanging wall and fire up to the gulley.
13. Scramble the corner to a ledge (unprotected) and cross the ledge to a loose wall above. 8 bolts, 30m 5.10c (F6b)
14. Epic finish up the leaning arete with the chains being the crux. 9 bolts, 30m 5.11d (F7a)
15. Mount the rock and mantle into the jungle above. Bushwhack to the summit. 1 bolt, 70m 5.6(F4c) Class IV
R: Make eight, 35m rappels directly down from the anchors at the top of pitch 12.
Equipped/FA: Gareth “Gaz” Leah (UK) and Sergio “Tiny” Almada (Mexico) June 2016

The project was realised thanks to the help of the adidas Outdoor #claimfreedom campaign. You can follow the story as it unfolded by viewing the hashtag #bigwallintotheclouds



Friday, September 2, 2016

Adventure Amigo's: Making the ordinary, extraordinary!

Just another mini adventure with Patrick Sheridan and Matt Smoot!
Credit: Gaz Leah / 10k Media

What is life, but a grand adventure filled with incredible moments that separate the ordinary. 

We’ve all lived these moments. The moments you never want to forget. When you felt truly alive and everything just seemed, better. It can felt in the jubilation of completing that first 10k run and reaped in the reward after a difficult uphill cycle, by its downhill rush! It’s in the accomplishment of reaching the summit of a mountain you never thought you could climb and in the wonder of discovering a place you never dreamed existed.

It immerses us everyday through sights and sounds of nature, waterfalls, and even... in silence.

But life’s not just about the big moments, but also the little ones that we live daily. Like battling the early morning snooze button to experience the warm embrace of a brilliant sunrise or simply enjoying the first sip of your morning coffee. These moments are often quietly lived and form the thing we all cherish the most, our fondest memories. The very best ones though, they’re are ones we share with others, our Adventure Amigo's.

There’s a saying that goes “Life begins, where your comfort zone ends, when you to step out into the unknown”.

The beauty of this though, is you needn’t step alone, because when shared with friends, the seemingly ordinary often becomes, the extraordinary!

I want to express my incredible love and gratitude to anyone I have ever shared a walk, a run, a rope, a boulder or any spontaneous event with. You willingness to push outside your comfort zone is a continual inspiration to me.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Bouldering in Parque la Huasteca


Over the past 6 months i've been venturing weekly into the back of #ParqueLaHuasteca to develop some boulders that a friend put me onto. The boulders themselves are a bullet hard, river washed conglomerate limestone and offer incredible 3D climbing in different styles from super steep overhangs to thin vertical faces and even cracks. I've been making videos and documenting what i've climbed with tentative grades. It would be awesome if others wanted to check them out and give me some feedback! Check out the topo information and beta videos below, let me know if you send something! Boulders of Guitarritas A forty five minute walk past the camping area of El Caracol are a number of river washed boulders. The boulders are bullet hard due to the weathering and offer a challenge for climbers of all abilities. Walking back in the canyon, it's possible to see ancient Huichol paintings on boulders and memorials to lost climbers. Please show the utmost respect to the history of the area and do not touch or disturb the paintings or memorials in anyway. Access and Approach From the parking area at the end of Guitarritas canyon. Follow the river gap farther into the canyon using the path on the far wall. The path is located approximately 30m down hill from the gate that leads up to El Caracol. Once through the gap, follow the river for around 1km, going left at the fork afters Don Victors Ranch. The boulders will begin to appear at the sides of the canyon. Continue further into the canyon to reach the other bouldering areas. La Entrada The first few boulders you see as you enter into the canyon fork. Traverse Wall has a number of goods lines but unfortunately many of the easier ones don’t top out (at least not without fighting the cactus.) It is located directly opposite the first boulders and has a few easy slab problems and one stellar roof one that is a must if you're climbing the grade. Traverse Wall Located on the lefthand side as you enter the canyon 1. Savage, V0 * 
Sit start though side pulls 2. Mamasita Culo Delight V2
 Sit start on small crimps and power up to the hole. Technical to the lip ***
 3. Amado por muchos, Odiado por unos pocos, V1 Begin with the obvious pocket and slap up the positive side pulls to the lip. 4. Privileged Choss V0- 
 Begin low on the large flake and climb through friable crimps to the lip.
 5. Yosemite Choss Pile, v0- Begin in the large hue and climb up through the left facing crimps
 6. Cuchara con Tigo, V3 
 Start with bitt hands on the crystal rail, move up into the side pulls and make a big move to the mono pocket.
 7. Sticks and Stones, V2. 
 Sit start up the crack to the lip 8. Systemic Lies, V2 
 Either dyno or make technical moves up to a good edge. Finish on the lip. 9. Double crossed, V3 ***
 Begin on Systemic Lies, traversing left and finishing up Savage. 10. Liberacion, V2 **
 This problems begins on the boulder to the right. Sit start on side pulls and make a large throw to a good edge and top out Spanglish Boulder Located directly opposite the traverse wall on the right. 1. Si, Si, Si, V0 
 Stand start on underclings and move up on delicate feet. 2. Fahitas, V0
 Stand on the slab and use the good side pull out right to reach the top. 3. Con Yo V0.  
Climb the slab on good pockets. 4. Soy la Tormenta, V8 ***
 Begin with both hands on the low side pull. Move up through powerful moves in to slots and finish direct on the sloping top out.  

Camp Boulders Located just past the tribute to fallen climbers and the Huichol paintings. This is the giant highball boulders on the right hand side. Down climb by using the gulley on the right. Cell Block Boulder This is the large prow that sits on the right handside as you walk up river. 1. La Gallina de Oro, V4 

Sit start on odd shaped holds and make hard moves to reach the crack and the top out.
 2. One cam top out, V1 (5.9) ***
 Climb the obvious crack from a sit start by a lay backing the edge or by solid hand jams. 3. Enemigo Público No.1, V7 ***
 Begin down low in the crack and climb the thin, right trending seem to a big move around the arete. Compress up the blunt arete. FA Gaz Leah 2016 4. Fissure, V1 
Lay back the crack until you can stem the rock and reach out left. 5. Peliroojo Magika, V1 
 Climb the slab to a long crux move reaching over the roof to a good edge. Solitary Confinement This area begins after passing through the beautiful river washed canyon constriction. The area is easily distinguished by the incredible roof boulder in the middle of the riverbed.

Sanctuary Boulder 1. Paola, V11 *** Beginning on the flake and finger pocket at the back of the cave. Climb out through the small pockets using a combination of body tension and nifty footwork. Reaching the double mono’s, keep composed and fire for the lip via a big more or an inverted toe hook. FA Gaz Leah 2016
 
2. Corazón del Puño, V8 ***
 Start with the flake, finger pocket at the back of the cave and make your way out the roof direct with powerful lock offs to a big lunge. FA Gaz Leah 2016 
3.Susurros del Destino, V11? A project starting on the same holds as Paola, move out right of the cave. 4. La Guerra De los Tontos, V2. Climb the giant flake to a loose top. Hard to spot.
FA Juan “Oso” Alberto 2016




Activista Boulder Located behind the sanctuary boulder on the left hand side. 1. Misa de Gallo, V2. From a sit start on the big block. Climb up through the solid conglomerate holds using the good side pulls out left. 2. El protagonista, V3. 
 Begin the same large block as the previous line but move out right and finish.
 3. Verdad a Prueba de Balas, V7. 
From the hueco below the giant glued rock. Move up and out into the easier moves above. There are at least 3 ways to climb this boulder!
 4. Project Finish, V9? Starting on the thin holds between the Verdad a Prueba de Balas and Slap Problem. 5. Quiero ver a Gaz, V6. Begin on the obvious good right hand hold and you left on one of the smooth crimps. Stand tall and make a one move wonder to a good hold, move out left to finish.