Climbing La Esfinge, KP Style!

Sometime in July 2018, I will find myself in the Paron Valley of the Cordillera Blanca. This valley is home to several classics, including a sublime and aesthetic line up the SE face of Artesonraju (better known as the Paramount Pictures mountain) and the imposing south face of Caraz I. As if those weren’t enough, the valley holds yet another treasure of the Cordillera Blanca - the most famous big wall in South America. La Esfinge (The Sphinx) is a 900m high granite monolith which offers everything from 15+ pitch free climbs to full on multi-day A4 aid routes.

 The imposing granite monolith La Esfinge in Peru's Paron Valley. Home to several big wall routes and over 5,000m elevation it's original route (750m, 5.11) is on the Vertical Year route list. (Source: La Esfinge SummitPost page)

The imposing granite monolith La Esfinge in Peru's Paron Valley. Home to several big wall routes and over 5,000m elevation it's original route (750m, 5.11) is on the Vertical Year route list. (Source: La Esfinge SummitPost page)

The first ascent of this majestic peak occurred in 1955 via the easy NE ridge, however it’s technical and imposing east face was overlooked by the hundreds of climbers that came to Peru each year until 1985. That year, the Spanish duo Antonio Gomez Bohorquez and Onofre Garcia put in a mammoth effort, spending 9 nights on the face using a ground-up ethic to establish the first technical route on the face. Using a combination of free and aid climbing, the route now known as ‘The Original Route’ went at 5.10a, A1.  It was subsequently freed in 1997 by three more Spaniards, Julio Fernandez, David Rodriguez and Guillermo Mejia, with a grade around 5.11a or 21/22 using the Ewbank scale.

 Pulling through on of the cruxes on the original route rated 5.11a (Ewbank 21/22). (Source: Jared Vagy Blogspot).

Pulling through on of the cruxes on the original route rated 5.11a (Ewbank 21/22). (Source: Jared Vagy Blogspot).

Since the first ascent of the East Face, a number of lines have been put up. Many await a second ascent, though it is the Original Route that has made it onto the tick list of the Vertical Year. With more than 750m of varied climbing over clean granite, with finger cracks, hand cracks, chimneys and overhung laybacking, the route offers many challenges.  Add to this several pitches of up to 5.9 (17) with little to no gear and climbing at an altitude of over 5,000m, and it is easy to see that this will be no Sunday stroll.  So how does one prepare for such a climb in Brisbane?

Quite simply… You do not! But this doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun.

Kangaroo Point Cliffs, or KP as it is better known, is my regular mid-week training ground. Myself, like many others, have talked about climbing as many routes as possible in a single session at KP. With La Esfinge in my mind, it struck me as the perfect opportunity to attempt this often talked about goal whilst turning it into a community and fundraising event. With that in mind…

On November 14, I will attempt to climb 750m of KP tuff in a single session - the equivalent vertical distance as the Original Route on La Esfinge! 

The night will start around 5:30pm and continue until I have covered the distance. I estimate finishing in the wee hours the next day, probably as people head off for their next day at work. There are no real rules. I am not concerned if I do not red point every single pitch. Rather, this event is more about the mental side of climbing - pushing the limits of endurance and turning a regular crag into the scene of an epic adventure.

KP holds several classy lines in the 21 – 25 grade range, however this list of routes would fall well short of the 42 required to reach 750m. Inevitably then, these lines will need to be interspersed with other sport, mixed and trad routes on the cliff. Trad placements can be marginal at KP and most climbs in the 15-20 range are run-out and have at least one ledge waiting to break your legs if you should fall. Add to this the challenges of fatigue and climbing by headtorch once the floodlights go out and I am sure the experience will be one to remember.  I have visions of myself groaning with every move as I climb up something like Dysentery at 3am in the morning… a bit like Mason Earle in 24hrs of Horseshoe Hell.

Part of this is about training, but more importantly this is also about community.  Using the Vertical Year as a vehicle, I hope to encourage people to push themselves in their own way. The themes of adventure, fear and endurance are relative terms and we can all share in the same experiences. So I invite you to grab a mate, head on down to KP, and try and get to climb the equivalent distance of one of the world’s famous big wall routes with me. Why not try The Rostrum, Yosemite Valley (200m), The Diamond, Longs Peak (300m) or Royal Arches, Yosemite Valley (400m) or maybe even Half Dome (600m). Leave comfort behind and venture into the unknown. Turn Brisbane’s urban crag into your own big wall adventure and test yourself. You might surprise yourself. Amongst the torn skins, bleeding fingers and delirious visions, you might even wind up having a lot of fun.

This is not an organised event so you can’t register for it. You can show your intention of joining by finding the ‘La Esfinge KP Climbathon’ event on the Vertical Year’s Facebook page. If you do wish to join us, it would be fantastic to show your support by making a donation to the campaign. Alternatively, you will be able to make cash donations throughout the night. Either way I would love to see as many of you down there having fun as possible. Come and find us by looking for the Vertical Year sign, have a climb and have a chat.

Like climbing the route on La Esfinge, this night is not about how hard you can climb. It’s about challenging yourself in new ways, identifying your barriers, understanding them, negotiating them and having an adventure. I know I can climb all the routes on the tick list just as I know I can climb the 5.11a required to free La Esfinge. Though I am not certain how I will go climbing them all back to back, suffering fatigue, fighting the urge to just stop and go to sleep in my comfy bed less than five minutes away.

It might not be a big wall, but it will be a big night!