Notes from the Top

La Som­bra Lu­mi­nosa

Gripped - - CONTENTS - by Con­nor Runge

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.

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