Last year SCARPA Athlete Jacob Cook returned to one of his favourite places to climb – La Popa in Mexico. Jacob returned to the area to create a new route El Visitante.
Read on for Jacob’s story of making the first ascent of El Visitante and his time in Mexico.
Something about La Popa in Nuevo Leon, Mexico has really captured my heart. It’s rare to find big multi-pitch cliffs like this that are continuously overhanging for hundreds of metres. I also feel lucky that we came to the cliff with many of the big, obvious, steep lines still left to explore. But most of all I think I just love spending time out there in the deep desert. This is the story of this year’s exploits on the cliff, bolting and making the first ascent of our new line El Visitante (8a+ 200m).
After last year bolting and climbing Los Naguales. This year Drew and I planned to try a big overhanging corner system to the right of El Gavilan – the other existing route, which my wife Bronwyn had rebolted last year. The idea was to create another full height, fully bolted sport route – and we were committed to “doing it properly”, which basically meant making the route safe, durable and an enjoyable experience for anyone who might go out there to repeat it. Armed with 140 stainless steel bolts and hangers we drove my van down the bumpy dirt road towards the tiny village of San Jose de la Popa…
The first stage was to find Lupe. One of about ten residents of the tiny pueblo of Puerto Luis, who could help us get all our equipment to the summit of La Popa with the help of his two donkeys. He was happy to help and agreed to meet us at 6am the next morning.
We threw our two 100m static ropes off the edge and rapped out into nothingness. The cliff is so overhanging that we were suspended way out in space, looking at the wall, slowly spinning. The line looked amazing!
Over the next six weeks we worked systematically top down, cleaning and bolting the pitches.
It’s an interesting challenge thinking about bolt spacing, bolt placement, rope run, making the route enjoyable and as seamless an experience as possible for anyone who might go and climb it. Before I got into route development, I definitely didn’t comprehend how much thought and effort had gone into creating the routes that I climbed.
After many days, it felt amazing once we finished the developing work and could start to just go climbing on what we had made! We got to work ticking off the pitches one by one.
Pitch 3 “one hundred and ninety nine bats” 12d/7c:
Pitch 4 “The Momias Del Monterrey” 12b/7b
Pitch 5 “The Tex-Mex Flake” 12c/7b+
We spent many sessions working on just the crux pitch alone, pure endurance climbing on crimps and pockets.
Pitch 6 The crux 8a+
I one-hung the pitch at least 5 times but could never quite put it together. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to send before injuries and the end of the trip caught up with me, but luckily Drew did! Nice work Drew!
While neither of us managed a continuous ascent, we’re happy to open to the line. I certainly plan to return and at least give the continuous ascent an honest go next season. We named our route El Visitante (The Visitor), the name of a strange light in the night sky reported by many travellers to the area. It’s a ton of work, but creating new lines like this is perhaps my favourite part of climbing. I hope people get out there and enjoy it!