Notes from the Top
La Sombra Luminosa
While on a climbing trip to the world-famous El Potrero Chico in beautiful Nuevo Leon, Mexico, I climbed the tallest, newest and chossiest climb in the park. Established by Eric Werfel and Seth Williams, La Sombra Luminosa takes a king line directly up the north face of El Toro and maintains striking views the entire way. La Sombra follows a sustained col that splits the giant limestone cliff in half and can be seen from far away. Besides a few pitches of traverse or head wall, the entire route follows the same col from top to bottom. That means over 800 metres of choss-blocks are on a continuous downward spiral into the deep col. This can lead to the obvious conclusion to not follow any party up, but that shouldn’t be a problem with all of the moderate and cleanly bolted multi-pitch climbs that exist in the valley. In fact, we were only the fourth party to complete this climb in its documented history.
The mega route inspired my partner and I to it in classic big wall fashion. We wanted to do the thing in two days, so we took on the epic with one haul bag and just enough food. That was a decision influenced by the rumour of a “good bivy ledge” existing on pitch 15, allegedly large enough for two (or more) people. After a long day of snagging the haul bag on cactus and micro-pieces of limestone, the joke was on us. Unfortunately, when we arrived beaten, bruised and scratched by cactus, our full-day of hauling and (mostly) free climbing had found us at the top of pitch 15, with slack jaws and glassy eyes looking at our “good ledge.” The ledge was not good. It was at an angle that resembled sketchy fourthclass climbing. Being that our arrival was past dark, our stomachs moaned, our skin was raw and our spirits semi-high. Julien (my partner) took out the nut tool and started carving at the bank, trying to establish a bench. We both dug away two ledges to spend the night on and after two hours, we had ourselves a semi-solid dust bivy. We both slept attached to the anchor, which turned out to be a reasonable redundancy considering that throughout the night, Julien’s loose bivy began to collapse, revealing 600 metres of downward exposure beneath his sleeping body.
We awoke the next morning with stiff fingers and sore bodies, but full of psych for the summit push. We ate some dry granola and took golden yellow pisses off the ledge. The next pitches went smoothly with better hauling than the first 15. Then followed some adventurous pitches including a large whip for myself as a way to bail off of an extremely loose grandfather-clock sized block which could’ve easily cut my rope. Then there were a few giant kingswings for the haul bag over some traversing pitches and dislodged palm trees falling past my head. There were countless rockfalls resulting in aiding through 5.8 pitches. Julien then chose an awful time to take a poop directly next to my belay stance. Our efforts weren’t in vain and we reached the summit. We had climbed (and hauled) a total of 27 pitches, which rewarded us with more than 800 metres of crazy climbing and god-awful hauling.
When we arrived at the summit, we were happy to still have about half an hour of sunlight before nightfall. We took some pictures and decided to spend the night on top of El Toro. Julien made some spaghetti, which included a can of tuna (of course). It went down smoothly, but around 1 a.m., I rolled over, still inside my sleeping bag, and began vomiting relentlessly. I couldn’t keep it down and my ruckus woke Julien. Half asleep, he asked if I was OK and before I could reply, he was already snoring. I laughed about the strange event that had unfolded and for Julien’s response, then fell back to sleep, teary-eyed and confused. I awoke about 30 minutes later, to see a bobcat eating the spaghetti and tuna that had come from my stomach. You can imagine the bewildered responses that I received at camp when I re-told the story the next day.
We got through our epic journey after we hiked down the backside of El Toro the next day. I learned a lot about what it means to have a good partner and what it means to be one – we were both pushed to the summit. It’s adventures like this that can inspire a person to go further and push harder, just to find what truly is the limit. If you’re up for a challenge, this climb goes at 5.12c/5.11+ AO and is found at the famous El Potrero Chico in Mexico. Thanks again to Eric Werfel and Seth Williams, the developers of this awesome route.
Connor Runge is a climber based in B.C.