EL Monstruo

Hannah Hall
Racing expert
Hannah Hall
More from this author
Hannah Hall
More from this author

“I’m going to climb the monster. Who wants to climb with me?” Toby declared as the rain pelted the roof above us. It had been raining for two days now and the sun would finally come out the following day for a solid weather window.

My original plans suddenly obsolete. This would be the last chance to climb the dream line – La Presencia de Mi Padre, El Monstruo, 5.10, 1630 meters (5347 feet; or 1 mile) of pure granite fun.

I looked at him, “what about the top out? Isn’t the ice pretty scary now?” Cooper chimed in, “there’s a pair of crampons at the bivvy boulder in Trinidad and you can use my ice axes!”

“I’m in. I’ll do it. Let’s climb the monster!”

Hayden and Vienne teamed up and joined the mission. Packing only two sleeping bags for four people, no pads, no stove, and no pots – we relied on the beta of our friends who described to us a stash of gear at the base.

The sun finally shining, we began the long approach to the next valley over. We hiked up and over the monster pass, only to descend a vertical jungle – dropping ourselves into a wild valley only a handful of people have ever experienced. We lost the trail as soon as we hit the valley floor and spent, what felt like hours, navigating the dense jungle marsh. Giving up on staying dry, we charged through vines and rivers, finally arriving at the base of El Monstruo.

In the pit of my stomach, I felt a sharp twinge of nerves as I looked up at the amount of rock we would be climbing. I knew it was just us – there would be no helicopter or search and rescue coming to help if anything happened. We were days away from a rescue, the feeling of isolation thrilling, as well as nerve racking. We were all aware of it – but also ready and competent, excited for the day to come.

Three hours of sleep and then we began.

We simul-climbed until the wall steepened. A thousand feet above the valley floor, climbing in and out of the clouds, we began to pitch out the climb.

We headed up 5.9/5.10 climbing (sometimes a bit heads up and a little scary!). The climbing wasn’t difficult – but it also wasn’t as easy as we expected. The recent heavy rain had made the route especially wet. We found ourselves sometimes grappling through vertical bushes, sometimes pulling 5.10 face moves through waterfalls, but mostly, we climbed clean, beautiful, granite.

Before we knew it, we found ourselves running up the last bit of climbing and facing the last crux of the day – a blue ice field quite a bit shorter than it should have been.

According to the topo, we would normally climb a field of ice to a set of anchors, then continue to the summit via some 5.6R and scrambling. This late in the season, the ice had melted far below where it usually stood. Instead, the anchors lay out of reach, about 50 feet above where the ice ended on a blank face. Instead, we opted to traverse towards a crack system we spotted on the right side.

Hayden strapped a pair of small, light weight crampons to his beat up sneakers and proceeded to stomp up the ice with a single ice axe. As the ice steepened, he slowed down and carved steps for himself.

“I’m feeling a little nervous!” I said from below.

“Why? It’s just like walking!” Hayden exclaimed.

I looked at my worn out tennis shoes and nut tool I would use as an ice axe.

Sure, I thought, just like walking.

Toby also lead up the ice in similar fashion. Then Vienne and I followed behind.

It was comical as I “slipped and slided” up the field, gripping the rope and attempting to pull myself up. They quickly sent me down an ice axe which made the ascent a bit easier.

We followed some cracks and easy terrain where usually, you take a snowfield to the summit. A deafening noise of rock, ice and snow ripping itself from the mountain filled our ears. One of the snowfields next to us broke apart in front of our eyes, falling to the valley floor.

Getting back on the snow was definitely not an option.

We found, what looked like, a short thirty meter rappel to a series of ledges. We hoped these would lead us to the summit.

Toby placed a nut in a small crack, and backed it up with a .75 Camelot.

“Whoever is lightest will just go last and clean the .75 before rappelling on the nut.”

I was with three big guys. I was obviously the one intended to go last.

“I can go last.” Vienne offered kindly.

“No! I am the lightest, no worries Vienne, that nut isn’t going anywhere!”

When it was my turn, I removed the .75 and precariously weighted the nut. If it were to fail, I would just have a somewhat nasty fall to the ledge beneath us. That was a better option than falling off the side of the 1600 meter cliff we had just climbed.

I rappelled quickly, grateful when my feet finally hit the ledge. (Sketchy rappels seem to be a common theme in alpinism.) We coiled the ropes and put them on our backs. Skirting the ledge system, we ran up easy slabs until we suddenly found ourselves on the summit. My breath escaped me. I honestly don’t know how to describe the beauty we experienced on this peak.

We could see the ocean in one direction, the Frey in Bariloche in another, massive volcanoes in the distance, the Cerro torrecillas behind us. Flying above us, four massive condors gracefully floated in the wind. They seemed to be welcoming us to the summit of El Monstruo.

Overcome with psych and beauty, we spent our time on the summit, and most of the time on our descent, whooping and hollering in ecstasy.

The whole mission took us 34 hours (La Junta to La Junta) with 3 hours of sleep. On the descent back to base camp, all of us were beyond exhausted.

Vienne was falling down the trail in a somewhat zombie like state. Hayden kept hitting his head on branches because his headlamp was malfunctioning. We were a comical bunch, rolling into La Junta with our knees – and ankles – well, and bodies – aching in pain.

I remember one point where Vienne took a particularly nasty fall.

“Are you okay Vienne?”

“Oh, oh…I think I fell asleep!”

Comical. Totally comical.

It was a beautiful day, a beautiful ascent, a beautiful summit, all with some beautiful people.

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