Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rock Climbing in Paraguay: a long over due post.

The first thing I did when I found I was going to Paraguay, was google "Rock Climbing in Paraguay." Exactly one reference to one route came up in an online user-maintained climbing directory. I figured that meant there had to be some. As my friend Matt said, "There had to be a rock, somewhere." So a couple pair of undies and maybe a pair of pants got taken out of my backpack to make room for my climbing shoes and harness. It was a wise choice.

Most of my rock climbing career I've been based in places that aren't know for their climbing. I picked up the sport in Chicago, one of the flattest cities ever. Paraguay is no different. Climbing is boasted all over South America, but Paraguay lacks much in topography. I climbed the tallest mountain in Paraguay in a couple hours wearing sandals. But as usual I have been able to find those few other crazy climbers making the most of it.

I've always liked being a part of a small climbing community. Honestly, the worst place I've lived for climbing was Oakland. A city so near great climbs, and a ton of gyms was unfriendly and at times annoying. Every route in every gym had a super inflated difficulty grade, because every guy was trying to prove that he too could crush. (Who cares if the piece of tape at the start 5.11b? If you can't pull, you can't pull. Ratings may be subjective, but rock is not.)

On the other hand, Chicago, Dallas, and now Paraguay, have been great spots to climb. Maybe we have to drive/ ride a bus for a long time to get to any rock, but the climbers are nice, and generally less obsessed with some fantasy of getting sponsored by Evolve. That being said, all these places have cranked out some really good climbers.

The main developer of climbing in Paraguay is former PCV and current member of the training staff, Jonathan Bibee. He has been serving up some great routes, and doing his best to introduce Paraguayan friends to the sport. Some of whom are damn good. It's cool to feel a part of a group of pioneers. People who are trying to discover new terrain, and expand a sport we love to a new part of the world. Really, I just band wagon, but I'm buddies with these pioneers, and it's nice to stand in the glow of their awesomeness.
Our main spot to climb is just outside a town called, Tobati. The directions are quote: "About 2 minutes after you pass the blue chapel on the left, get off the bus and walk into the field with the broken barbed wire fence." What's not to love about that? While we do have permission to be in the park, and every climber in Paraguay knows about this place, it still feels like a hidden gem. Maybe the walls aren't very high, but it's our own little play ground and it suits me just fine.
Vicky = Fearless

We have a decent number of climbers in Peace Corps. Volunteers are generally an outdoorsy lot, so it's been easy to find partners. I also love the number of newbies that we've been able to bring. Some of my best friends Ginsey and Shavon have both made it out and done annoyingly well. Vicky, who recently turned 60, crushed her day at the crag, infamously declaring mid-climb "You don't get to be my age by being scared!"

There also is always one epic tale or another that comes from the weekend at the crag. There was the founding of Dome City. When we all camped on top of the crag living in peace and harmony until, like all civilizations, urban sprawl and warring factions lead to the ultimate demise of our little utopia.

Then there was the time we missed the last bus back to town, and had to cram into an open air "taxi" to get back to civilization. There were 8 of us. We became very close that night.

But with out doubt the most of epic, was our own personal "When Animals Attack!" episode. One of my main climbing buds, Chris, was leading up one of the taller routes in the park, when he accidentally put his hand in a pocket where a bird had built it's nest. The bird did not take kindly to this intrusion and launched a full on assault. Chris waved it off, and kept climbing. But now the alarm had been raised. A swarm of wasps surrounded Chris. He's above his last clip, and as belayer, I fully expect him to fall, but Chris punches the wasps in the nose and continues on. He finished the route triumphantly. Then with Chris back at the bottom, we all see it. Chris did not escape unscathed. He had been stung on his eyebrow and by the time he reached the ground his eye had already swollen shut. I suggested we call medical, but instead Chris does perhaps the most bad ass thing ever. He scoffs at my suggestion of medical treatment saying, "Fuck medical, I'm gonna climb this route." He then ropes up and gets on another one. The day turned out awesome, and Chris was fine. It only took a couple days for the swelling to go down. 

The face of focus.
I always enjoy myself when I go out climbing. It is a huge pain to get there, and I always leave exhausted and dirty, but those are minor inconveniences for the opportunity to climb even while serving in PC. My weekends on the crag are some of my favorite, and the community of climbers here are a large part of that. It's awesome to be a part of that community, and to keep doing what I love doing.

My next major climbing adventure will be next month in Argentina on a trip to Bariloche with Zack that has been in the works since I left. I'm sure there will be lots of photos, and plenty of stories. But until then, I'll keep practicing in my little corner of Paraguay.