EL SALTO – SHAMADI
Let’s start from the route we climbed at El Salto, the location was not new to me or to Simone. In fact, eight years ago now, on this wall called 'Chaman Wall', he and Marco Maggioni had opened the route 'El chaman loco'. This time our idea was to repeat the first route on the wall, 'Shamadi', while Max and Gio would spend a day at the crag.
It was hot, very hot, and we were already tired. The person who had opened this route, Jimmy Carse, had apparently spent eight years on it, lost three drills in the opening and - in the words of the report - used some not legal substances to open the last five pitches. In fact, the route was bold, very bold, badly bolted. Often there was the risk of falling badly and in areas to be avoided. Despite this, after countless scares, kilos of destroyed skin due to the scorching heat and a drone crashed on the opposite side of the canyon due to a sudden gust of wind, Simone and I had brought home the fourth absolute repeat of Shamadi, as we would only discover later, we had really enjoyed ourselves...more or less!
POTRERO CHICO - EL SENDERO LUMINOSO
Our Mexican adventures were not over.
We were there since a few weeks now, temperature seemed to have cooled off, and in our 'climbing loitering' we had thought - under great pressure from me - to go to the most famous and mainstream place in 'vertical Mexico': Potrero Chico.
Potrero Chico is nothing more than a series of limestone flames with all kinds of routes, more or less all similar on the slab. Among the various routes, there is a straight, perfect line on the highest flame. A crazy slab line, 600 metres of wall with lots of challenging, technical and endurance pitches: El Sendero Luminoso.
So here was the idea: to climb El Sendero Luminoso in one day, without using headlamps even for the descent. This time, my adventure companion would have been Giovanni Ongaro.
Gio decided to join me, even though the day had started off rather badly: my blocked back, Aulin and a 10 metre flight on the second pitch. The prospects were not the best and neither was my mood. My body was cold and aching, my movements were not fluid, my feet were cramping and climbing was hard.
After a couple of pitches, however, suddenly the situation was reversed. Maybe the Aulin was starting to take effect, the back pain was passing and I started to chain one pitch after another, all free and on sight. Gio was following me fast, occasionally trying to suggest a break, but the goal was at hand, we couldn't stop.
After about three hours since we had started, we arrived at the ledge where climbers usually bivouac, it had taken us only eight hours to reach the summit, exhausted and happy. Practically nine hours after we had attacked, at five in the afternoon, we were in town with an ice-cold beer in our hands.
Objective achieved, route climbed quickly and almost all on sight, apart from the ruinous flight on the second pitch...after all, on a slab, that's OK, it always gives you a bit of extra verve!
LA POPA - EL CACOMIXTLE DE LA NOCHE
If you are thinking that we were already full of adventure, you are wrong! The real goal for which we decided to come to Mexico, is La Popa.
La Popa is a desert wall up to 300 metres high, almost always overhanging, with very few lines climbing: why not go and try to add another one?
The logistics had been difficult from the start. La Popa was located a few kilometres from San José de La Popa, about a three-hour drive from the city of Monterrey. It worked like this: in about a four-hour walk from San Josè, Lupe, a Mexican with two donkeys, would help us going up to La Popa with the bolting equipment and, once there, we would be left to our own.
We had to abseil and climb among the cacti to try to figure out where to start and where to climb. We had been told that opening a route there was difficult, and doing it from below would be even more so, but it was our idea, our goal.
The first attempts were disastrous. For starting from the bottom, we had to equip a line of fixed ropes of about 250m, but the base of the wall was a place where it was impossible to equip a camp, because of the dense and inhospitable vegetation. After some scouting, making our way through the spiky cacti, we found a line that was apparently climbable.
I started to try the line and put in a few bolts, for about a pitch, until I got a splinter of rock in my eye: I was suddenly blind and I got dropped to the ground. From there Simone started, then Max, but unfortunately nothing to do: everything rotted. All that was left for us, was to return to camp.
My eyesight was temporarily compromised, so Max held my shoulders to direct me on foot through the thorny plants to the fixed ropes and then up to jumar to our base camp.
We were tired, disheartened and I was devastated by the eye.
The next day we started talking, discussing, comparing: opening the route from the bottom was not possible. We didn't have enough bolts and we hadn't seen a decent line to climb.
Unfortunately, we had no choice but to accept the compromise: to look for a line to open from above. On the other hand, we had to choose between leaving nothing behind or leaving something to a local community that was just beginning to understand the potential of climbing-based tourism.
On balance, it was a nice compromise. It is certainly not the style I like and am proud of, but we did a line of 11 pitches up to 8a on excellent rock, a succession of technical walls and overhangs with holes on grey rock.
During the day of working, one night when I was sleeping at camp without a tent, but only in my sleeping bag, I woke up because of noises coming from my rucksacks. "Something" was rummaging around where we kept our food, in the darkness I glimpsed a cat-like animal. Was it possible? Only the next day we discovered that it was a 'cacomixtle', a rare and magical beast, which the locals rarely have the good fortune to spot. And so the name of the route was decided: 'El cacomixtle de la noche'.
Thank you Mexico for this magnificent and unexpected dose of adventure!
And thanks to my companions, Simone, Gio and Max for sharing their feelings, tensions, doubts and joys.