Hello everyone! It’s rest day here in Riglos; Paul and I wanted a day to decompress after FINALLY completing our goal of standing on top of El Puro, the 140 meter tower here. It took us 3 attempts to get to the top, and now we want a day to just relax and soak it in before hopping on some rock again.
I also wanted some time to sit down and reflect on our adventure, and put into words how it felt standing on top of the tower that we worked so hard to climb. Especially after trying the route so many times before actually completing it! And doubting ourselves if we should actually go up for a third time. Were we pushing our luck after our disastrous second try, to then go on again a third time?
The first time we attempted climbing up El Puro was the day after it had been absolutely POURING of rain. We thought that possiblyy if we waited to start the climb around 11:30, that the sun may have enough time to dry the rock. Especially because most of the other walls looked pretty dry. When we got to the base of the climb, the far right of the climb looked wet but not exactly where we were climbing. So we decided why not just give it a try.. If it’s wet we could just repel back down! We got to pitch 4 of 9, which is where the chimney starts, and it was dripping. It doesn’t get any sun there at all so of course it was still drenched. So we hung out at the anchor for a while taking in the view, a little bit bummed we couldn’t go any further, and then headed back down.
The next day we headed to the base of the climb and could see right away that it was still pretty wet where it was the day before so we decided to wait another day. Instead we tried a shorter 3 pitch climb that was a bit harder. Our plan was that if we couldn’t climb El Puro today, we should warm up for the harder pitches so we knew what we’re getting ourselves into. It didn’t go extremely well and ended up being pretty difficult but we managed to get the top and were pretty sure we could do the same for the tower.
The following morning, we woke up ready and excited. Today was the day we were getting to the top!!… or so we thought. We could see there was still a tiny bit of seepage where the chimney began but we didn’t think it would get in the way and decided to give it a try again. The first 3 pitches went smoothly since we’d done them before and knew what to expect. The 4th pitch was the first of the harder pitches and took a little bit more time to work through, but we both made it up and over, thanks to Paul’s lead. The next pitch was the chimney/channel that would lead us between the base of the tower and the wall next to it, and over to the side of the tower where we would be climbing up.
It was my turn to lead and I was pretty excited because I haven’t done too much chimneying before. I had to take off my backpack and put it on a quickdraw below me to get it out of the way as I shimmied up the wall using the pressure of my back against the side of the tower and my feet pushing against the other side of the wall as I slowly got one foot up, then the next foot, then inched up my back, and so on. I had so much fun with it 🙂 Paul came up after me and took us through the next part of the channel which then opened up to a beautiful view of the town below us.
We were on to the last 3 pitches; the pitches that would lead us on top of the tower. I was getting pretty excited, thinking that today really could be the day!! It was my turn to lead again, and man what a feeling. The exposure of climbing up the tower is indescribable. It’s been awhile that I’ve really gotten the butterflies from heights while climbing. And we’ve climbed up walls that are twice as tall as this tower! But when I was climbing up on the tower, I could only see wide open space on all sides of me. It really gave me that ‘Big Wall’ feeling that I could imagine climbing something like El Cap might feel. It was incredible. And I definitely had to continue reminding myself to take deep breaths and allow my heart to slow down.
I got up to the next anchors and belayed Paul up the pitch. The view was magnificent… But I couldn’t help but notice the setting sun and dropping temperatures. When Paul got up, he also commented on the quickly approaching darkness. We did the second to last pitch, and it was getting too dark. We needed to get down. Ah it was such a difficult decision… We were TWENTY METERS from the top!!! But neither of us had headlamps, phones, or the guidebook to direct us on the descent so we needed all the light we could get. And that light was quickly disappearing.
There was a specific descent route that climbers are meant to take, and unfortunately we weren’t on that since we were bailing from the route, rather than descending from the top. But Paul remembered seeing some anchors a little bit under us and to the right. So he repelled down hopping to spot them. Once he did, I came down to him and we started pulling the rope through the anchors 20 meters above to run them through the anchors we were at. But somehow the rope had gotten extremely tangled and because of the angle we were at, it was impossible to pull the rope down! It was stuck.
So Paul left me anchored in on the ledge, holding on to one end of the rope for my dear life, knowing that if I let go, I would have nothing to use to continue the repel down. Paul swung over to another anchor that was more in line with the anchors above, and literally had to jump down using all his body weight on the rope, in order to pull it through the anchor we repelled from. Thankfully, the rope came loose and he had enough rope to get down to the next anchor.
The plan was then for me to pull the rope through the anchor I was at, using the end of the rope I was holding on to, and come down to meet Paul at the anchor he was at. UGH and then to continue with our bad luck!! When Paul was coming off belay, I heard a ‘tink, tink, tink’ of metal as his belay launched itself down the chimney and out of site. He called up to me, “I dropped my belay!!!’ I almost cried, but realized that that wouldn’t help anything.
I repelled down to Paul and we came up with the plan that I would go down to the next anchor, thread the rope through until Paul could grab onto the other end of the rope, tie in, and I would belay him down using my belay device. The plan would work, but Paul HAD to grab onto the rope without letting it slip through. Or he would be stranded at the anchor above me and I would have no way to safely climb back up to him.
The other problem was that by now, it was pitch dark out, and the sky was covered in clouds so there wasn’t even light from the stars or the moon. I had to repel down in complete darkness, hoping to somehow spot the black anchors against the dark rock. Luckily, I successfully managed to do so, by being extremely slow and careful not to repel down too far. However, the third to last anchor was a little bit to the left of the anchor above, meaning that although I was able swing over to the anchor and click in to the rings, when I released my belay device, the ropes naturally swung back over to where they wanted to hang. Paul was 15 meters above me clicked into the previous anchor, waiting for me to thread the rope through. But I no longer was holding on to the rope, and instead it was hanging about 1.5 meters to the right of where I stood!! I was on a really small ledge, 60 meters above ground, and there was no way I could safely walk over to grab hold of the ropes! Thankfully, I had an extra-long sling, so I attached myself to that, leaned way out, and Paul swung the rope from above so that I could grab onto it.
Eventually, after 8 hours on the rock, and many mishaps, we made it safely down to the ground. Ah what a feeling to touch ground when being vertical for so long!
We headed straight to the local bar, starving and ready to celebrate… not because we had made it to the top of the tower, but because we had made it back down!! Due to translation error, we accidentally ordered the full three course menu including beer and wine. Hahah there went our entire week’s budget… so we really enjoyed every bite!!
That day’s adventure really reminded me of a quote I read from the book No Shortcuts to the Top about a mountaineer, Ed Viesturs, who has climbed the world’s fourteen highest peaks, all above 8,000 meters, without any supplemental oxygen. In the book he writes, “you may love the mountains, but the mountains don’t love you.” And that is just so true. As much as I love nature, and being outside, these adventure days that Paul and I have are such a reminder that the mountains do not care if we make it down safely or die trying. As much as I care about the mountains, it’s up to Paul and me to be prepared and make good decisions. This trip has definitely taught me some valuable lessons on preparation and taking the mountains seriously.
The next day, we spent some time relaxing before driving into the nearby town for groceries and to stop at an outdoor store for Paul to buy a new belay… can’t do too much climbing without one of those! On the way back home, I asked Paul, “So is tomorrow the day?? Are you ready to try El Puro again?” Ah we had to… We had gotten SO close!! One pitch away… only twenty meters left to the top!!
We did wonder if we were pushing our luck… we had made it down safe and sound after such an epic retreat. Was it silly to put ourselves in that position again? We decided that yes, we had to stand on top of the tower! We just needed to be more prepared, start earlier, and keep up a good pace so time didn’t tick away without us realizing. We even looked up some tips on how to be more efficient when climbing multi-pitches and found some really great things to try!
We packed our bags the night before so we didn’t forget anything, set an alarm for 8 and planned to start the climb around 9:30. It was really cold that morning with a frigid wind blowing strong. I have to admit I was pretty nervous getting on the route again, not because of what had happened the previous time, but because I REALLY wanted to get to the top, and I was definitely feeling the pressure I was putting on myself when I began the first pitch. But I told myself, this is only for fun and even if we don’t make it to the top, it’s still been a really cool experience getting to try so many times! I loosened up and the next pitches all went really smoothly.
We made it all the way back to where we bailed off last time, and it was the last pitch until the top. It was my turn to lead, but I was pretty nervous being so high up and so exposed! There was one big move with pretty bad feet, and the good holds were quite a reach away. I tried to get it, but the butterflies in my stomach really weren’t helping, and doing big moves like that so high up is pretty fricken terrifying, let me tell you!! So Paul gave it a go. And after a few attempts, he made it up and over to the next anchor. I came up after him, and met him at the anchor. There was a cable that we clicked onto for the last 5 meters to the top. And that was that!
WE MADE IT! It was such an amazing feeling to stand on top. After we had worked so hard to get there! It was incredible. And the view! There were humongous vultures flying above and below us and it was so cool to see them up close. Their wingspan was crazy long! And it was so peaceful (apart from my dancing hehe) just sitting up there looking down on the wide open landscape unfolding beneath us.
I loved this adventure, mainly because we failed so many times but chose not to give up. It was just such a rewarding experience 🙂
Today, we relaxed, I went for a beautiful run taking me up to the view below, then I took a warm shower in the nearby hostel, and wrote while Paul edited 🙂 I think we’re both feeling ready to hop on the rock again tomorrow 😀
Paul has made a video and it has really really amazing footage of our three attempts as well as the incredible view from the top! You guys should definitely check it out!! 🙂