Cimbing at Lake Amatitlan
These are the journal entries of our recent trip to Guatemala:
May 31, 2007
Yesterday we went rock climbing about an hour’s drive away from Antigua in Amatital, a city which is set against the shores of Lago (lake) de Amatitlan. Our guide, Manuel from Vertical Expeditions, picked us up at 7:30am. Cisco was at OTO to give us snacks and climbing shoes. Even though we had brought our own climbing shoes, it had rained the night before and we didn’t want to climb wet rock in our shoes. Joe’s climbing shoes from the shop fit fine; my climbing shoes were ½ - 1 size too big (and that was their smallest pair). Oh well. We arrived at Amatitlan at 9am, hiked up to the basalt walls of rock, only to be greeted by swarms of hundreds of mosquitoes (luckily they aren’t the biting kind). We climbed 4 different routes while we were there, so I’ll describe our experiences on each of the climbs.
CLIMB #1 – “La Puerta”, 5.9
The rock had wet sections, but other parts were dry, so Manuel set-up a top rope on this crack climb that was dry on the bottom and seeping at the top. The first part of the climb was “bouldery” moves, then I worked my way up the crack using foot holds on the face and sticking my hands and arms in the crack. However, when I got halfway up, the crack was seeping and muddy. I tried to get through the first section, and after slipping and falling several times, I was able to gain a little height. By this time, my arms and hands were completely covered in mud, and “good” holds (like, jugs!) were impossible to grip. I lowered after climbing ¾ of the route because it was next to impossible to climb higher. This is exactly why we never climb after it’s rained in Vancouver or Squamish. But we wouldn’t get refunded our money if we cancelled, so we thought we’d give it a try and make the mose of it. I made Joe climb this route just so he could experience what I went through – he got stuck at the same place I did.
CLIMB #2 – “El Corazon”, 5.9
This climb was the crack just left of La Puerta. The crack climb was similar to the last climb in that you use the crack for hand holds, and small face features for foot holds, until ¾ of the way up you reach a tree swarming with mosquitos (they were white and a little bigger than the size of a gnat). Joe and I both considered ourselves “done” with the route when we got there. Thanks to the heavy rain the night before, as well as the lush, rainforest-like setting we were in, the large swarms of mosquitoes were everywhere in the area. Between the two of us, we had enough protein for the day as mosquitoes found themselves in our mouths a little too often. Yuck!
CLIMB #3 – “Distraction (English meaning)”, 5.10b/c
After the second climb, we hiked a bit higher until we reached our third climb. Mauel said that the grade of this climb was probably a mid 10 – maybe 5.10b or c. He had created and bolted the route himself only a month ago, having climbed it 3 or 4 times. He led the climb and Joe belayed. Then he set-up a top rope and I climbed second. The start was bouldery, but I got through the first section using good ledges for the hands, and small edges for the feet. The first section ended on a large mantle, which is easy to get up on and stand up. The second section was more difficult, as you have to climb the side/arête, then traverse right and climb the face for a few moves, back to the left arete for some hand and foot holds, then up to a much smaller mantle, which requires a lot of upper body strength to get up on (since there are few foot holds – mainly smearing). I had to work through the crux probably 6 or 7 times before I got through it. Part of the problem was that one of my foothold broke off on me (Manuel hadn’t entirely “cleaned” the route). It as even worse when Joe climbed it – he lost 3 or 4 holds because they broke off! The joke was that with every broken hold, we upped the grade of the climb. The second problem was chalk – we didn’t have any. Climbing with already dirty hands, oils rapidly building up on the finger tips, and the hot and humid weather (meaning sweaty hands), made climbing much more difficult. Add that to the strenuous nature of the crux, and that was a problem. But somehow I got through it, though tired, and THEN I had to mantle up onto the next ledge that was above my head (so my arms were outstretched above me holding onto the ledge). I got onto the mantle on the second attempt (so thankful for the top rope at this point!). The third and final section of the climb was fun face climbing on small, then edges with crimpers for hand holds. When I got to the top, I felt great, even though I fell a couple of times. Just getting to the top of a hard climb felt like a big enough accomplishment to me. If there was a chance to work through the moves of this climb several times (and when it’s not so hot), I think I could redpoint it. It would also make a great strength-training workout, with two high mantles on the route. This was by far my favorite route because it was dry, challenging, and the moves were interesting and varied throughout the climb.
CLIMB #4 – Forgot the name – sections of 5.7, 5.10c, 5.9
The fourth and final climb required hiking through/up a short chimney (few meters high) to reach it. Wearing our Choco sandals made it that more interesting (and nerve-wracking). We can’t remember the name of this climb, but it involved a 40 m traverse right and up to the anchors using 15 quickdraws (and not because it’s an overbolted routed). The first four bolts of the route was probably a 10c section. Because it was mid-day, hot, humid, and we were already getting tired (we had toast and juice for breakfast, and nothing else since). So, Manuel led the climb and set-up a cordelette on the second bolt for us to pull past the difficult sections. Since the route was a long traverse Manuel belayed me from the top. But here was the catch: in order for Joe to be belayed up the traverse safely, I needed to bring up a second rope and clip it into all the quickdraws on the way up. Then Joe would be belayed up on the second rope. The beginning of the route was tough, even using the cordelette. There were a few foot holds but you had to stretch out pretty good to reach a far right flake that was just out of my reach – hence, the use of the cordelette. I got frustrated pretty easily, as tiredness was setting in. Joe convinced me to keep going, slowly if need be. I kept going, but there were times I grabbed the quickdraw because I was tired, had to unclip my top rope, then pull up my second rope and clip it into the quickdraw. The rope I brought up wasn’t too bad at first, but by the half-way point, there was some serious rope drag. Luckily the middle section was climbing an easy arete (probably 5.6), until I reached the last section, which was vertical face climbing with slopey hand holds and some far-reaching cracks. Those final moves were brutal – strenuous would be a good word. Try liebacking and dragging up a 20 pound weight – that’s what it felt like. As I lunged for the anchor, Manuel replied, “You are very strong.” I laughed, because he didn’t know how much I cheated on this climb. I told him about grabbing a few quickdraws and the cordelette, but he said that I climbed the route very quickly. It sure didn’t feel like it, and I thought that was my worst climb of the day. Glad to be done, Manuel lowered me and Joe was up next. He got through it much faster and more easily than I did.
We both agreed that this was definitely not our best climbing day, but it sure was an adventure. Joe and I had a great time getting to know Manuel and between the muddy climbs, swarms of non-biting mosquitoes (it was so bad at times we only breathed through our noses), and broken holds, we had a great time! One well not forget any time soon!