Saturday, November 15, 2008

Estarillo - 12 pitches

Potrero Chico is known for it's classic multipitch sport routes. Climbs that would be relatively impossible for all but the best, or craziest climbers are open to just about anybody willing to take a lead fall onto a bolt. Looking into the canyon, you can see parties spread out all over the limestone, hundreds of feet off the canyon floor. Meanwhile, herb collectors ride past on their donkeys, and stray dogs who've befriended climbers sleep at the base of routes waiting for the climbers to return with some goodies. It's hard not to become a better climber once you've come here. The majority of the fear experienced when doing a multipitch trad route disappears when there is an anchor already there waiting for you, so limits are easy to push, and consequences are low. Rockfall is the most dangerous part of climbing out here, a few days ago I was staring up into the sun belaying a climber on a seldom climbed route, and as I watched him, ready to catch a fall, I was nearly knocked cold by a pebble that he'd kicked off from over a hundred feet up. I didn't see it coming until it was only inches from my face. I swear my brain didn't even register that I'd seen it until I already felt the pain. It hit me square between the eyes. An inch left or right and I would have lost an eye. I barely held on to consiousness and managed to switch belays with another climber before I walked over and sat down, my face reeling with pain. I have a dent in my nose now, it's not visible, but ask me some time and I'll let you feel it.
Yesterday, Sean and I decided to give Estarillo a shot, it's a 12 pitch climb with many pitches as hard as 5.10 b and c. The truth is that I was pretty nervous, I've never been that far in the air without wings, and dangling from a thin yellow rope attached to bolts hooked into the rock feels less and less strong the higher you go. That said, Estarillo is now one of my all time favorite routes, it ascends a prominent dihedral on the right side of the ridge line. And even though at times you're insanely high off the ground, it's easy to keep your wits about you with the well placed anchors, and ledges that afford great rest spots. Still though, pitch 11 was the hardest I was going to lead, and it was also the most exposed. Moving from a perfectly good rest ledge, and climbing out to an overhang which suddenly pushes you out over the full 1100 feet of nearly overhanging rock below you isn't something that the body always takes lightly. I've found that I'm in fact afraid of heights. Not so much in my head, but in my body. I feel fine mentally, I feel stable, able to think, and at times Sean and I were even joking around. But then when it comes time to tell my body, "ok, lets climb that overhang" suddenly I end up feeling a little week, and my feet only move in small, tentative steps. The view from the summit though was one of the most rewarding places I've ever been. A palm tree shades a roomy ledge, The canyon is laid out before you, and the dessert of Nuevo Leon stretches out to the right. It's a climb that I highly recommend to anyone. Just watch out for the rattlesnakes, they like this line too.

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