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.


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.


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.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Life You Can Save

A top the summit of "The Life You Can Save" 5.12+, 13 pitches, 350m
Image: Matthew Parent

Sitting in a dilapidated cafe in the New York suburb of Queens. I stared through the dirt smeared window at the newly opened Cliffs Climbing gym across the road. I had began working at the gym just over a year prior and during that time, my life had gone through a number of dramatic changes. I had moved house twice, I had spent most of my savings on vet bills when my dog came down with kidney failure, my grandma had passed away and to top it all off, I was getting divorced.

As I sat there contemplating my life, the waitress skipped past and refilled my mug with coffee. I had reluctantly moved to New York a few years earlier to be closer to my wife but now that we were no longer together, I wasn't sure why I was here. You see, prior to my arrival in the big apple, I had been living in the rural mountain town of Infiesto in Northern Spain, building an eco-house for a friend and exploring the world of climbing development. From my small cottage on top of the hill, I had incredible views of the Picos De Europa and although I had little money, I loved being so close to nature. So what was I doing here in New York City? 

Adding a splash of milk to my cup, coffee clouds billowed around their ceramic cage while and the question resonated over in my mind. Were my problems really that bad or were they simply a passing phase, a storm in a cup?

My friend Dan entered the cafe and sat down opposite me. Dan, alongside being a talented artist, was one of the strongest and most humble climbers I had ever met. He was well known locally for his casual 5.13 on-sights and establishing numerous hard boulder problems. He was one my favorite people I’d met in NY and it just so happened, he too was experiencing a life funk

“Whats up mate?” he asked, “I’m lost” I replied. “Yerrr, I feel ya mate” he said. There was no need to go into details, Dan knew what I was going through. “We should get out of here and head somewhere warm where we can climb more, I’ve had enough of this city.” I nodded in agreement and took a large gulp of coffee. I’d felt the same as Dan for some time but I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go.The biggest obstacle of all though was not the what or the where, but that I lacked the courage to leave at all. I felt like a coward.

In the four years I’d lived in the city, I’d become complacent with my lifestyle. Like most of the city dwellers, I’d become comfortably wrapped up in the rat race and paper chase. My ideals which I once held so highly were to follow my bliss, contribute only positivity to that around me and fear nothing but complacency, had all but vanished. My new goal in life was a simple one. To attain a higher paying salary, regardless of its affect on the world at large and to own increasingly expensive items, non of which I really cared for. This for me was an all time low. I was ashamed of what I had become and it was eating away at me little by little in the shape of depression. I knew then that I needed to find a balance in my life, something that would remove me from this downward spiral and fill the gap that money couldn’t.

Settling my $2 bill for the four cups of deathly sweet coffee I had consumed, we exited the greasy spoon cafe. “I’m going to leave New York” I told him on the way out, “me too” he replied. We laughed, both of us were clueless as to where we were going to go, but we knew that if we voiced it out loud, we would commit to it. Barely a week had passed when the idea came to me. I had just finished establishing a climbing program for at-risk youth in Queens called ClimbUp as part of my job for a local climbing gym. On the first night, as the small group was leaving, I was taken by surprise when the kids sprung towards me with gleaming smiles and thanked me for putting the program together. I didn’t really know what to say to them and gave a generic reply along the lines of “you’re welcome”. Later that night as I dwelled on my day, this seemingly small event repeated over in my mind. Something inside of me felt a huge sense of satisfaction from being able to give an opportunity to someone less fortunate. Having grown up below the poverty level, I felt that I could relate to the struggle these kids faced and wished that I had been given more opportunities when I was their age, and with this, my mind was made up. Later that same week, I caught up with Dan again. 

“I’ve decided what I’m going to do, I’m going to go Mexico and help with an at risk youth program”, I said. He smiled, “Get it mate!” 

This drastic change in my life came as no surprise to Dan. I’d visited Mexico earlier that year with a climbing friend, Tiffany Hensley after hearing rumors of a canyon abundant in virgin rock and it had sparked a fire inside me.

While we were there, she had introduced me to Rory Smith, a bright thinker and passionate writer who was also the co-founder of an at-risk youth program Escalando Fronteras based in Monterrey, Mexico. The program was fairly new and focused on educating and empowering gang youths in impoverished parts of the city through the medium of rock climbing. Though they were gaining traction in the climbing world, they were fledgling and needed volunteers to help mentor kids and expand the program. 

At the time, I spoke barely a word of Spanish outside of a courtesy phrases of “Hola, como estas?” and “Yo quiero uno café con leche, por favor”. Not exactly empowering phrases. Alongside this, I knew little to nothing about Mexico as a whole and the little I did was news stories of cartels and drug wars. Having spent a good amount of time in the middle east, I was not easily deterred and decided that I could fill this role in the charity, though I knew it would take a lot of work. With little more than a brief email to Escalando Fronteras, I made a plan to change my life and leave New York. And so it began.

To make this trip a reality, I realized the first thing I needed to do was to save money. To accomplish this, I would follow the growing trend of dirtbags and move my life from a New York apartment, into a van. This may sound like a sacrifice of space, but to anyone familiar with city apartments, there was little difference between the two other than the loss of a bathroom. 

Over the following 3 weeks, I began working on the van every night in an effort to transform the “tin-can” into a home. I Installed everything I thought I would need to live somewhat comfortably including a bed, kitchen area with cooker, ceiling fan, storage area, solar panels, lights and of course, bluetooth surround sound for movie nights. The long work nights required to complete the transformation in such a tight schedule would only end when I collapsed with exhaustion, often in a pile of sawdust and with tools still in my hand.

Inside the completed "Van-sion"
Image: Matthew Parent
As November arrived, it marked the end of those long weeks of “Van-gineering” and I prepared to hit the road heading south to Monterrey after a brief pass through Boulder, Colorado to pick up Tiffany. As we approached the border, we each confessed our nervousness about crossing the border. We had both heard horror stories about violent crimes, kidnappings and cartel road blocks. Having spent a good chunk of time living in the Middle East a few years prior, I knew much of what the news reported in the US was far from accurate, often heavily dramatized and laced with sensationalism. I decided to contact some friends that had driven down previously to get a real pulse on Mexico. They confirmed my suspicions that although there are some sketchy areas which should be avoided, it was no different that walking the streets of Harlem after dark. Armed with this new knowledge and 2 keychains of pepper spray “just in case”, we hopped the border and took the Carretera Nacional to Monterrey.

Arriving safely at our new home in poverty polygon 53, we immediately set about getting involved with Escalando Fronteras by sharing the gear that had been kindly donated by the project sponsors and drawing up our Climbing Beyond Cartels IndieGoGo campaign to help raise funds for the charity. One morning shortly after the campaign launch, I was guzzling down my regular pint of morning coffee when Rory came downstairs and tapped me on the shoulder. “Dude, Alex Honnold just donated to the IndieGoGo Campaign!” 

The news came as a huge surprise. We were a small non-profit operating on nothing more than the efforts and good intentions of volunteers. To have one of the most respected climbers in the world support our passion bestowed a huge sense of validation. “He donated to naming a route, what you gonna bolt?” Rory asked with a ginormous smile on his face. “I have no idea” I replied, as I stared into my coffee cup hoping for an idea to materialize. As I slurped the final dregs of my coffee, I continued to draw a blank and decided to go the park in search of inspiration for the new route.

To name a climbing route is a privileged act. It requires that someone must first establish a line by cleaning, bolting and then climbing the route. During my time in Mexico, it was my goal to equip routes that the IndieGoGo campaign donors themselves could one day climb. I once read that the average climber climbs 5.9, so I had been trying to stick between the 5.6 and 5.11 grade range, however, bolting a route for Alex was a different animal. Alex is best known for his daring free-solo ascents and “Sufferfests”. This was a high bar to meet, but after sitting in my van for several hours staring at rocks through some binoculars, I discovered one place where I could equip a line that was fitting for such a climbing “rockstar”. 

Checking out the walls in Huasteca
Image: Matthew Parent

The North face of Pico Independencia in Parque La Huasteca is an incredible wall that guards the entrance to the park. It had seen little attention from the climbing community, held no direct line and It’s giant towers capture the imagination of even the most hardened city slicker when stood at their feet. Considering its size, location and potential, Parque La Huasteca was relatively unknown outside of Monterrey and it’s most accurate guidebook was a decade out-of-date. 

Searching the face from the floor below, I was able to identify a virgin line that ran from the base to the summit direct, tackling the blankest section of the wall and climbing straight through the overhanging roof that loomed 200m above. It would be the king line on the face, a test piece for anyone visiting and fitting for a big wall master. My biggest dilemma of all though was not finding the line, it was finding a partner.

There are few people that I know who have enough knowledge or experience to help with such a task, even fewer that have time for a multi-week endeavor in Mexico. I reached out to everyone I knew that might be able to join me on the wall but it quickly dawned on me that if this was going to happen at all, I’d be doing it alone.

Accepting that this would be a solo mission, I began strategizing how I’d approach the route, ground up or top down? A ground up is when you begin at the base of the wall and climb on lead to the summit, placing equipment as you go. It is widely recognized as the purest style of new route development, particularly on big walls. The theory goes that you can better establish a natural line ground up as you’re able to feel out the route as you go. Top down on the other hand, is sometimes frowned upon. The argument against it is that it requires less skill and that you remove the adventure (danger) from the route development. My personal opinion, developing a new route is an artistic expression, like writing a story in rock where the holds represent the words and the protection, the periods. Which style you choose to equip a route in is down to the artist, though there are plenty of inflated ego's that would argue otherwise. Besides, sport routes are by their very nature exactly what they say, sport. Routes designed to be safe while pushing the difficulty of what is physically possible.

For this route, I decided I would first go top down, inspecting the rock on rappel and bolting anchors as I descended where I envisioned each pitch would start and end. This not only allowed me to confirm the line was possible but it also provided an opportunity to deposit gear stashes on the wall and clean any large rocks that might be teetering on the edge, waiting for me to unsuspectingly pull on while on the way up.

The day of the "first descent", my two friends Matt Castellon and Ramon Narvaez joined me for the inspection. As we descended down and I rigged the first 100m of the route, it became apparent that the rock would need some cleaning to allow for a safe route. Arriving at the end of my second fixed line, I bolted an anchor and stared down at the following pitch in bewilderment. An aptly named “Death Block” sat some 30 feet below me, held to the wall by little more than small succulents plants and dirt. It measured what I guessed to be roughly 3ft wide by 20ft tall and as thick as a sidewalk. I rappelled down until I was within arms reach of the block and gave it a gentle nudge to check its integrity with an ice axe, my chosen rock cleaning device. Camming the pick head behind the bloc, I began to gently tilt back the axe handle, gauging the blocks willingness to hold to the wall. Without warning, the giant block free’d itself from the wall and plummeted down to earth on a schizophrenic trajectory, bouncing off the wall below as it went. My stomach sank and I watched helplessly as the rock crashed into the ground with such force that chunks the size of basketballs were landing near my van over a five hundred feet away.

As the dust settled, I desperately scanned the area where chunks of the bloc now lay scattered and prayed no one was in the blast zone of the exploding rock, which to my relief, there were none. An orange scar replaced the space where the block had once sat and I was left spooked by the experience. Had I chosen to climb ground up without an inspection, I could have easily been in the path of the falling block which would have undoubtedly killed me if I had been in its path. Collecting my thoughts, I brushed back the soil left behind from the deceased block and continued to navigate my way down in search of the best line. 

Removing some "death blocks"
Image: Matthew Parent

After several hours of cleaning, the evening began to fade and the prospect of finding the complete line diminished with the setting sun. Having rigged lines down more than half the 1200ft of wall, I counted my blessings and decided it was a good time to bail. I bolted an anchor and tied together two 70m ropes to enable us to rappel to the ground in a single shot. Reaching the ground, I stepped back and peered up at the looming peak above. 

As I reflected upon the task at hand, the realization of how much work was needed to complete this route hit me and I felt completely overwhelmed. we had spent close to 10 hours on the wall during this first day and had accomplished relatively little. I’d placed roughly half the anchors bolts and removed some of the large blocks along the way but completion of the route seemed distant. So far in fact, I doubted I could finish it before my time in Mexico was up and I would be forced to return to the US to renew my visa.

That evening after arriving back home, I returned “drawing board” to reassess my battle plan for the wall. What I had originally envisioned as a solo, ground-up approach where I would fix lines over time seemed unlikely to be successful given the current time frame. The wall already had several unfinished lines and I was not looking to add another. My new plan involved an unconventional mixed approach. I would take the Via Ferrata to the summit of Pico Independencia as before and rappel down the face equipping the blankest pitches on rappel and for the easier pitches, I would equip on lead. This was not a style I had ever heard anyone using before, but I also hadn't heard of anyone equipping routes of this size on there own before.

While I lacked a climbing partner for equipping the route, I was blessed with some incredible friends and an amazing climbing community that were willing to help me sherpa the hundreds of bolts, 8 batteries, 10 ropes, food and water for 2 weeks, a portaledge, solar panels and various other climbing gizmos up the Via Ferrata to the top of the mountain in preparation. Reaching the summit in the early evening, we shared some food, hugged and said our goodbyes. I followed them to the south side of the peak and watched as they rappelled off the mountain. As the last person descended down and the team pulled the rope, I watched as it whipped through the anchor leaving behind the familiar ring of rattling chains. Walking back to where my gear lay piled on summit, I took a moment to look out over the city which now seemed so far away. I was alone.

I stared at my pile of gear sitting beside the summit and decided I would organize it ready for the wall the next day. It was my way of drowning out feelings of loneliness with a sense of busyness. There was little to do in earnest, my OCD had already seen to the size and color coordination of everything in my pack from the climbing gear to clothing. Even my food supplies were neatly packaged into daily meal rations to ensure I knew how many days I had left on the wall. There was nothing left to do. I lay out my sleeping pad on the floor and climbed inside my sleeping bag. The night was clear and the air blew frostily across my face as I stared at the stars above, wondering what tomorrow would bring. 

I woke early the next morning to catch the sunrise over the city. The light cut across the valleys many layers like blades. I fixed coffee and eggs on the small stove I had brought with me and stuffed my sleeping equipment into their sacks. The day ahead was going to be long and tiresome and once I left the summit, I had no plans to return. Finishing off breakfast and a gut shaking three cups of coffee, I packed away all the equipment and one by one, carried the haul bags to the lip of the cliff. After completing one final “Idiot Check”, I rigged my rope, took a final glance out at the city and stepped over the edge into the void below. 

Working the fixed lines to clean and bolt
Image: Matthew Parent

The wall below was blank and sheer vertical. Strong winds carrying stones and dirt blasted up the wall into my eyes and the sense of exposure rang through my body. Securing the bags to the anchor, I holstered my bolting equipment to my harness and began the tedious and sometimes forgotten process of cleaning the route in preparation for equipping. 
Mexico had a stark reputation for chossy routes, my goal for this new route was to raise the bar for development quality and to do this, I would meticulously brush and scrape every square inch of rock within 6 feet either side of where the route would be, ensuring there would be no surprises for the climbers on the way up. Doing this also allowed me to better place the bolts in good clipping positions, knowing the rock around it would not be altered by breaking off at a later date.

The hours passed by quickly up there on the wall. From sunrise to sunset I would repeat the process of rappelling a rope length and cleaning. If the wall was blank, I would ascend back up the rope and take a second pass to place bolts. When the wall was more featured, I would equip from the bottom up using hooks to make progress between the bolt placements or simply climb with the drill racked to my harness. At the end of each day, I would attach my equipment at my furthest point of progress and retrieve my portaledge from the wall above by jumaring the fixed lines I had left in place. This process of cleaning, bolting and moving camp continued for 30 days in total, spread out over the months of February and March.

On the morning of April 1st 2015, I placed the final bolt in the wall at the base of Pico Independencia, completing what had been for me, one of my greatest adventures and life achievements to date. Removing my climbing gear which by this point had rubbed me sore, I dropped it on the ground beside my hauls bags and stared up at the giant wall above. The route was complete, but the adventure was far from over. To make the route official, I would now need to climb it cleanly from the ground up, hopefully, without falling.

Tightening a bolt to its perfect tension with a torque wrench
Image: Matthew Parent
That evening when I returned home, I quickly set about finding a climbing partner to tackle the route with me. A good friend of mine Carlos Flores, a bold climber and accomplished route developer from Monterrey quickly took up my offer and we arranged to meet early the next day at the entrance to the park. I felt incredibly fortunate to have Carlos as my partner. Alongside being a skilled climber, he was a very good problem solver, critical to a fault with a no nonsense approach to everything he did and I knew that whatever challenges we found on the wall during the climb, he would be an asset in overcoming them.

The following morning came quickly and I awoke to the familiar sound of my phone alarm bellowing its digital tune, accompanied by the rattling of it’s vibration against the wooden side table. I had barely slept a wink, the anticipation of climbing the route had kept me awake much of the night and now I struggled to pull myself out of bed for the big day. I rose like a zombie and glanced at the time. Somewhere between the ten alarms going off and getting up, I had lost over an hour and I was due to meet Carlos in just 20 minutes. I hastily gathered my belongings for the day ahead and made my way to the park. 

Passing by the guarded entrance to the park and over a short concrete bridge, I arrived at the large carpark where I found Carlos and my friend Ingrid waiting. We spent a few moments catching up with the mandatory kiss on the cheek for the ladies and a slap-fist handshake combo for the guys before double checking our gear for the day and going over the plan of attack one more time.

The main man, Carlos Flores a top Pico Independencia
Image: Matthew Parent
We aimed to climb the route light and fast, taking with us just 2 liters of water, a small amount of food and a basic sport climbing rack. Alongside Carlos, my good friend and camera wizard, Matthew Parent was joining us for the climb to capture our ascent. Armed with a coffee in one hand, a bag of skittles in the other and wearing a backpack full of gear, we made our way to the base of the wall.

Arriving at the base some 30 minutes later feeling clammier a walrus in the tropics, we readied our rope and distributed the weight evenly between our day packs for the send. Re-tracing my figure eight knot, I checked one last time that we had everything we needed for a hasty retreat should anything go unexpectedly wrong. A big wall accident in the Middle East a few years earlier had forged a healthy respect for preparation within me and I had since developed an almost paranoid outlook for potential climbing hazards.

Completing my myriad checks and feeling prepared for what lay ahead, I pulled on my shoes, gave a fist pound to Carlos to signify I was ready and began the journey across the slab that marked the entrance to the wall. The pitch was short and sweet, just a couple of bolts to protect the 16m of easy climbing. I clipped to the anchors upon reaching them and Carlos quickly climbed up to join me. Leap frogging the belay, he immediately set out on the next pitch of the route, one which I had guessed to be relatively easy, somewhere in the region of 5.8 in difficulty.

He moved out left from the belay to a slabby ledge where the wall gradually kicked back into an ever steepening face. Reaching a small bulge 15ft from the belay, he paused for a minute, as if figuring out the next moves. “How’s it look?” I asked, “I thought this pitch would go at about 5.8”. Carlos didn’t reply, he was focused on the task at hand but It did seem unusual that he would need to pause at all on a climb of this grade. 

Fifteen minutes passed when I heard the call “LIBRE!” from Carlos above, announcing he was at the anchor and safe to take off belay. As Carlos retrieved the excess rope between us while I strapped on my shoes and prepared for what I was expecting to be a very quick and casual climb to the anchors. “SEGURO!” Carlos shouted down to me, the Spanish equivalent of “On Belay” and I unclipped my anchors and began climbing. Upon reaching the bulge where I had seen Carlos pause earlier, I soon realized why. The bulge that we had to climb through was an awkward shape and the holds I’d envisioned you’d use for the move were much more difficult to hold than I had previously thought due to the deceptive steepness of the wall. I paused there a moment to figure out the moves before climbing past and meeting Carlos at the belay. “I don’t think that was 5.8” I said, “Maybe closer to 5.10c”, Carlos nodded his head in agreement.

Carlos cruising up pitch 11 of "The Life You Can Save"
Image: Matthew Parent
As I prepared to lead the next pitch, I was troubled by how wrong my grade prediction for the last pitch had been. I had already seen the entire route while bolting and guessed there would not be a single pitch harder than 5.11b, but now I wasn’t so sure. The most troubling part of it all however, was that I was certain that there was a harder pitch above, I just wasn’t sure how much harder and I questioned whether we would be able to reach the summit at all.

Leaving the belay and moving up into the 3rd pitch, I tick-tacked around the easy terrain and followed the steel path upwards. The pitch seemed easier than I had guessed and a small sense of relief briefly fell over me. The relief was short lived though as just 2ft from the anchor, the holds seemed to suddenly disappear, forcing me to hold a tenuous position on small holds while I scanned the wall desperately for the next move. The wall was blank all around except for a distant crimp out right toward the belay. I bore down on the sharp edges and moved my feet out to my side and rocked over to the anchor with my arms burning. Clipping the chains, my arms were pumped solid. I called down to Carlos and he began up the pitch. He make quick work of the climb but also had some difficulties reaching the anchor. I looked at Carlos, “That was ‘ard getting to the anchors ay?” Carlos agreed. I had once again managed to undermine the routes difficulty and it was now much harder than I had ever anticipated.

Feeling the pain during the ascent of "The Life You Can Save"
Image: Matthew Parent
We didn't hang around long at the anchor, both of us eager to reach the summit. We continued up the looming wall above, taking down the next four pitches with ease, leap frogging who lead as we navigated the various crimps and corner systems. Reaching pitch eight, It was my turn to take the lead and I nervously pulled on my shoes ready for challenge ahead. Pitch eight had been the one I feared was impossible since the realization of my grading mishap on pitch three. Now staring it in the face, I was right to be nervous. 

The pitch above was long, sparse of holds and ended above a large roof. I felt intimidated by the prospect of climbing it and I could tell Carlos knew this well, even though I was trying my best not to let it show. This was something I liked about climbing with Carlos and why we climbed well as a team. He made a good partner not necessarily because he was the strongest climber, but the one I knew I could rely on to overcome challenges on the wall with me when things got tough. 

After a quick partner check, I gave a fist pound to Carlos and he encouraged me with positivity, shouting “VENGAAAA!” as I battled upwards.The wall looked bare from below though I knew there were holds there, I just had to remember where. I had touched the holds when bolting to be sure the moves were possible but from my current view point, it all looked much the same. Like following a braille trail, I slowly felt my way around thin holds, utilizing what I could to progress upward through the tenuously small and technical movements. Reaching a blank section of wall around 20ft short of the roof, I paused to decide what to do next. My arms by this point were beginning to burn intensely from the lactic acid build up in them and I knew I had to keep moving before my arms gave in if I was to climb the pitch cleanly. The only hold I could see was a smooth mono pocket a few feet above me that would be at the end of my reach. I saw no other option and threw desperately for it. 

By some stroke of luck, I had managed to catch the pocket perfectly while simultaneously keeping my feet fixed firmly on the tiny foot holds which i’d pushed off into to gain height. My arms rang with numbness from the pump and my legs shook from the strain of holding the tension. I clipped the bolt near the pocket and escaped out left to a ledge at the start of the overhang where I was able to stand for sometime, battling my body's desire vomit. 

Navigating the technical moves with Carlos on belay
Image: Matthew Parent
As the feeling slowly returned to my arms and my stomach settled, I eyed the final section of the pitch that tackled the leaning overhang and lead me out above a 180m of space. Regaining my composure, I left the respite of the ledge continued to climb, reaching out far to my right where I could see a spear shaped hold in the roof. I latched on tightly to its edge and I crossed my left hand over to a small crimp in the roof, my feet poised ready for the committing step out into the void. I glanced down briefly at the ground below, acknowledging the exposure that surrounded me and then began what I can only describe as “clawing” my way to the chains. 

It wasn’t pretty, every move closer to the chains felt as though I was fighting a personal battle with gravity itself. My motions were jerky, accompanied by embarrassing screams and snarfs as I desperately fought my arms desire to give up. As the wall transitioned from roof to slab, I was able to stand up and clip the chains, my whole body relieved to have finished the pitch. “LIBRE!” I yelled down to Carlos.

Upon witnessing the struggle I had with the pitch and counting our daylight hours, Carlos decided he would jumar the pitch. I fixed the line and he made his way up to me, a wide smile beaming across his face. “Sounded hard” he said upon arriving at the anchor. We both laughed. He had heard everything from the belay below and was making light hearted fun of how ridiculous I sounded. While I removed my shoes to air my throbbing feet, Carlos got ready to lead the next pitch which tackled the remainder of the overhang and climbed out onto the headwall above. Checking each other one last time, we fist bumped and Carlos took to the sharp end. 

Moving out into the roof, Carlos breezed through the bottom section and out of view. Seeing how easy he had moved through the moves, I had payed out a good amount of rope to ensure there would not be any rope drag and I didn't short rope him while he climbed. The side effect of this is that if he was to fall, he would take a screaming whipper out into space… which is exactly what happened next. 

I wasn’t aware at the time, but just over the lip, Carlos was unable to find the hidden hold that made upward progress possible and as I peered out over the mountains to take in the incredible views of Monterrey, Carlos came suddenly screeching into my sight with a bellowing “FUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKKKK!”. 

Carlos had reached for a hold over the roof only to find there was no hold, and thanks to the spacial bolting (and all the extra rope I had given him), Carlos took to the sky, reaching the apex of his impressive 20ft whipper almost level with where I was, but hanging out in space. Our eyes met as the rope came tight and I could tell he was surprised by how far he fell. I guess he was probably wondering what on earth I was doing at the belay. He quickly shook off the fall and pulled back onto the wall. Reaching his previous high point, he tried again for a different hold and once again found nothing which resulted in yet another big fall into the space. This whipper experience repeated a couple of times but Carlos being Carlos, tenaciously continued to pull back onto the wall and fight time and time again to find the right hold which he eventually did and our upward progress continued once more.

The tiredness beginning to show high on the wall
Image: Matthew Parent
We dispatched the following two pitches above the roof quickly and efficiently. Changing leads as we moved ever closer to the top of the peak which we so desperately wanted to reach. Arriving at the last difficult pitch below the summit, the 10 hours of climbing were beginning to show as our arms cramped and spasmed from the dehydration and exhaustion. I guzzled down the last of my water with the hope it would relieve the cramps which were now crippling my ability to hold the rock and began up the final technical face. I moved awkwardly through the holds above, the cramps in my arms came in unpredictable waves that made my hands distort into odd shapes that made them unusable while they lasted. I tried to ignore the pain and wait out the cramps until I was able to use the limb once more to make progress but it was a losing battle. At the crux of the pitch which involved a wide iron cross move, both my arms began to spasm and unable to control my own hands, I fell. 
I hung there in my harness for a few minutes, venting my frustration with some choice words. 

I had climbed every pitch to this point clean only to fall on one of the easier pitches due to something that I failed to plan adequately for. I felt disappointed with myself and my performance. I stared at my contorted hands, waiting for cramps to leave and control of my arms to be returned so that I could complete the final 30ft to the summit. As the feeling returned to my hands, I pulled back onto the wall once more and struggled my way to the chains, all the while battling with the cramps.

Gaz Leah holding the Iron cross move on tiny foot holds
Image: Matthew Parent
Reaching the final anchor, I clipped in and Carlos came up to join me. When he arrived, we removed our gear with relief and walked the short distance to the summit where our friends Matt and Ingrid were waiting expectantly for us. 

As we took a moment to celebrate our ascent, the pains and frustrations subsided and I felt as though a weight had been lifted. This route had become more than just another climb for me. I had poured everything I had into this piece of rock and by completing the wall, I had fulfilled a promise to both Escalando Fronteras and myself to raise much needed funding for the cause, contribute positively to the climbing community and follow my bliss beyond my comfort zone. 

That night when I returned home, I emailed the topo and route details to Alex and asked if he’d thought of a name for the route. “Off the top of my head I’d name it “The Life You Can Save” which is a great book by Peter Singer… But your call.” he replied.

Upon reading his email, I sat back in my office chair, dumbfounded by his response which struck a chord with my own personal philosophies. I couldn’t have thought of a more fitting name myself, after all, the book he was referring to discussed ending poverty and helping those less fortunate, values that were at the core of my work with Escalando Fronteras. 

I replied to Alex with a thank you email and confirmed that the route was now officially named. As I hit the send button, it dawned on me that a chapter in my life had come to an end and with it came an resounding lesson, and that lesson was this. Although climbing may seem irrelevant in the grand picture of world affairs, when we as climbers band together, our small positive actions, when multiplied by many, can bring about great change and move mountains!

The life you can save.

General Info: Huasteca

Getting There: 
Unless you're one of the few lucky ones that lives within Huasteca, you're going to need to travel here. The easiest way here is to fly and hire a car at the airport but for those who on a budget or looking for a adventure, road tripping or taking a bus will certainly earn you some stories!

For a full list of directions, check out and click the link for directions.


Refugio Huasteca is a small bed and breakfast located just outside the park. Run by local climbing guru Ramon Narvaez, they offer a no-frills accommodation and good vegan food for those who prefer the warmth of a room. *Must like dogs, they have 4.

Contact Ramon Narvaez through the Facebook page Refugio Huasteca.

The Yage is a beautiful and welcoming eco-village thats hosts campers year round. Located in the centre of the canyon with a 360 degree view of the mountains, a pool, a palapa and even yoga classes. This really is THE place to stay in Huasteca if you don’t mind camping. 

Contact Daniela Garza; ( and see their website (
They plan to build eco-domes in the near future enabling some more luxurious lodgings.

There is a number of small stores near the entrance to the park including a eco-cycle cabin that rents bikes and offers bike tours. If you’re looking to grab more than a few basic items, there is a large supermarket just a 5 minute drive from the entrance called Soriana. If you’re looking for the best local food spots, the internet is little use in Mexico. Traditional Mexican food is best made by small stands and all the best spots in Mexico are found through local knowledge. Ask around and you’ll be surprised what you discover!

Year round

Safety in Mexico: 
Mexico has a dicy history of violence between the drug cartel and the state which has jaded many people's view of the country. In recent year, the there has been little to no problems between the two rivals in or around Monterrey but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wary. 

Depending of which crag you’re at, you’ll likely want shorts and t-shirts for much of the season with a jacket on hand for the the big routes and evenings when the temperatures drop. You’ll also want 20 quickdraws, some of them extendable, and a 70m rope as many of the routes are over 30m in length.

Gareth “Gaz” Leah is in the process of completing an accurate guide to Parque La Huasteca that is dubbed to be released in late 2016.

Route Topo  

The Life You Can Save 5.12+, 13 pitches, 350m ***
Established by British climber Gareth “Gaz” Leah during his initiative Project Wall-E for the NGO, Escalando Fronteras. The route takes the super direct line from the valley floor to the summit through a plethora of rock formations and styles. The route is very well equipped and the harder sections can be aided through by “french free” climbing. For those looking to climb the route over 2 days, It is possible to bivi under the roof at the 7th pitch, a hammock or portaledge is recommended.

Equipment: 15 quickdraws, 4 extendable runners, 70m rope
P1: The short pitch starts at the large hueco and tackles the slab to a high first bolt and finishes at the two bolt anchor above. 5.6, 16m.
P2: An easy start gets you established on the face where you are immediately met with some powerful static moves to overcome the roof. 5.10c, 30m.
P3: A sucker pitch that is deceptively hard. Climb up from the belay into some 5.8 terrain where the wall gradually begins to kick back. Keep composed as you power up to the chains! 5.12a, 30m.
P4: A challenging corner pitch that has a small run out at the beginning. 5.11a, 32m.
P5: Follow the switching laybacks that require body tension and neat footwork. 5.11d, 33m.
P6: A classic pitch that stems the giant flake to a ledge. 5.11b, 20m.
P7: Technical moves off the belay lead the way for a sustained pitch that eases up just before the chains where you can go either left or right. 5.11a, 20m
P8: The crux pitch of the route is both technically difficult, sustained and committing. Easy moves off the belay are short lived and the holds rapidly thin as the wall steepens. Strenuous moves gain the ledge before the roof when you must compose once more for a daunting step out into air! 5.12+, 35m.
P9: Not for the faint of heart. Traverse out into the void and make difficult moves above to reach the belay. 5.11b, 30m.
P10: Rock unlike anything else found in the valley. Climb the large huecos and pockets that litter the wall. 5.10c, 25m
P11: Leave the belay and crimp your way up the thin face through a small roof. 5.10d, 25m
P12: Just when you thought it was all over. Climb the thin face through a series of roof’s and difficult iron cross before it eases off. 5.11d, 32m.
P13: Climb the blocs direct and head a little left after the only bolt to reach an anchor on the side of a large bloc. Walk to the summit. 5.6, 15m.
R: Either rappel the route or descend via 3 rappels on the south side on the peak

FA Gareth “Gaz” Leah and Carlos Flores April 2015
Name donated by Alex Honnold as part of the Escalando Fronteras Initiative