17 Down Under:
17 DOWN UNDER. "A celebration of moderate grade climbing in Victoria". 184 pages. 285 images. Father & son team, Steve & John Morris, embark on a journey to climb and photograph 50 of the best rock climbs in Victoria, grade 17 & under. Inc bookmark $50.00
Chris Shepherd asked me to post this little write-up on climbing in Colombia. I don't know why the Shep wasn't capable of posting it on Chockstone himself (probably too much Colombian booger sugar). Anyway it is an entertaining read and sounds like a worthwhile climbing destination.
Climbing in Colombia at Suesca Rocks
Colombia is an excellent rockclimbing destination. There are two main areas. The first, La Mojarra, is reputed to be very good; situated in the central north-east near Bucaramanga, it looks over one of the most spectacular valleys in the country. The second is called Suesca. It is one hour’s bus ride from the capital of Bogotá. The rest of this article is about Suesca, where I spent a couple of weeks in early 2014.
The Spaniards ‘founded’ the township of Suesca in 1537. For about 400 years, nothing happened there, until 1932 when one of the classic lines on the nearby sandstone cliff—‘the Rocks of Suesca’—was climbed for the first time. Climbing really took off about 20 years ago.
Suesca lies at about 2,500 meters, so the altitude won’t leave you gasping for breath (certain other sights, though, are sure to do so). A short distance from Suesca town, the cliff extends for two kilometers along a green valley of pastures and bush; the cliff runs parallel to a disused railway line, below which is a river. The ambience is very peaceful and pretty, and the locals keep it clean.
The crag is 150 meters at its highest point, and has about 400 climbs; half are trad routes and the rest is sport. Many of the latter can be as short as 10 or 15 meters, and have rap stations. You can top out as much or as little as you like—if you do top out, the descent is a pleasant stroll down the hill. There are routes of every level, from 5.8 (American) to 5.12; there is one 5.13. I put up Colombia’s first 5.14 after a six day siege, but it was subsequently downgraded to 5.8—still, this route, called Columby Pumby, is Serpentine quality and deserves several hundred stars.
The routes themselves have an Arapiles feel to them, but the many pockets and the texture of the rock are also reminiscent of limestone. There are quite a few cracks, but like Arapiles’ cracks you are often not sure whether to jam them or face climb around them. (Sometimes I didn’t complete a route because I couldn’t make up my mind.) You will find excellent face climbs, overhanging corners and sharp (and blunt) arêtes, some quite slabby routes and the odd ceiling. Like Arapiles, it is fairly mixed with interesting moves. Along the railway line you will also find some bouldering.
The quality of the climbing is very good, often top quality. Initially, I thought the rock was loose, until I realised that it was just my shaking. In fact, over the two weeks I didn’t come across a single loose hold.
On the trad routes, the protection tends to range from quite good to excellent. On the sport routes the bolts can be a little spaced, but I noticed options for placing gear between the bolts.
At one point I clipped something that resembled a carrot bolt. When I noticed it was loose, I pulled it out with my fingers, and wondered whether I hadn’t come to Suesca before. Most bolts, however, appeared to be good, and if a rap station had one dubious-looking bolt it was invariably supported by a decent one. Evidently, the locals are in the process of replacing old bolts with new ones.
While only the odd foreign climber turns up to Suesca, the locals themselves are exceptionally friendly and helpful. Climbing partners abound, but if need be you can also hire a climbing guide for a quarter of the price you pay in Australia; if not more qualified than their Australian counterparts, Colombian guides are more dignified. You can rent gear cheaply too.
There is plenty of cheap accommodation near the cliff. Rooms can cost as little as $5 per night, and you can camp for less. Restaurants are also cheap and the food is good. In town there are plenty of grocery stores and ATMs. For those less pure than myself, perico costs about $2 a gram. It is said to be excellent quality, but I have no idea if this is true. (Contact the author if you require export quality in bulk.)
You can climb at Suesca at any time of year. The climate is ideal. I was there in the rainy season, but it hardly rained. If it does, many of the steeper routes stay dry.
There is no need to worry about security, certainly not at Suesca (and not in most of the country either). Colombia is relatively safe these days.
Elsewhere in Colombia is the full range of outdoor activities and many great places to visit. Apart from the national parks, Cartagena, Santa Marta and Medellin are highly recommended.
To get there from Australia, aeroplane remains the best option. You can fly to Chile, then catch a second flight from Santiago to Bogotá. Alternatively, you can get two separate tickets, the first to LA or Miami and the second down to Bogotá. From Bogotá, catch a taxi to the Portal Norte for about 25,000 Colombian pesos ($16). At Portal Norte, take the Alianza bus to Las Rocas de Suesca for 5,000 pesos. Get off two kilometers before the town of Suesca at El Nómada (a climbing hostel).