This post is by Jonah:
When we first moved to Bariloche (wow, 6 months ago already), I immediately started making the rounds of various climbing crags, generally by myself. I was limited to rope-soloing routes (not as dangerous as it sounds) and finding the random person to climb with, but was generally struggling to find any consistent climbing partners for the kind of routes I was hoping to try while we’re here. I was stressed and frustrated because I got it into my head that I had to climb X routes of Y grades while I was here and wasn’t sure how exactly I was going to pull that off without any climbing partners. I was also feeling weak, not having had any gym climbing, training or even bouldering for quite a while. Seek and you shall find…
One morning in mid-December, while again wandering around by myself at Pared Blanca, the home of most of the hard routes in Bariloche (20 minutes from our house) I ran into a couple regulars, Lucas Bonangelino and Luiz “Oso” Izaguirre. Typically Argentine, they were incredibly welcoming and friendly and quickly became my regular climbing partners. Since December, I’ve been meeting at Lucas’ house with Oso and sometimes Santi “Pendex” Cycowski, local 16-year-old wunderkind, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings to climb.
Photo: Campusing at Lucas’
Photo: Lucas the Asadero
Photo: Asado at Lucas’ and Annie enjoying her first Morcilla
Lucas has got to be one of the luckiest, happiest and most driven people I’ve met. He designed and built his own house with his wife, Maria, on a hillside in a forest of Coihue trees and has a sport crag with multiple steep (and brutally sandbagged) 5.11s and 5.12s literally in his backyard. It is so close that it is actually easier to run into the house to get a drink of water than it is to carry water to the crag. But that isn’t the crag we go to every week. Instead, after warming up on the outdoor campus board at Lucas’, we usually the whopping five minutes to Pared Blanca (if we don’t go to Morenito or one of the many other crags in the area) with his beautiful chocolate and black labs, Toto and Preta, along with whatever other neighborhood dogs show up, usually a happy mutt named Tatu and an almost morbidly obese dog named Gordo.
Photo: Jesse Huey watersoloing at a crag on Lago Moreno
Preta at the base of Pared Blanca, with Tatu and Lucas and Toto looking on
The walk itself is an experience. Leaving Lucas’ driveway, we hop a gate (tranquero), which he assures me is totally legit. The path winds down a hill through the forest into a pasture bordering pristine Laguna Trebol. There seems to be a grazing schedule, but I have no idea what it is. In any case, there are always either 2 or 3 horses or 2 or 3 cows chewing the cud.
Santi talking to horses in the field below Pared Blanca
Invariably, Toto, the chocolate lab and Preta’s son, bolts for the grazing animals, circling and barking. Preta joins the fun, until Lucas calls them back. His version of “Come, Preta, come Toto” involves a string of invective invoking – as most Argentine swearing does – the nether regions and accompanying gastric distress of a third person’s mother and grandmother, who invariably have had a long career in the sex trade. Safely escaping the grazers (but not the dogs who just gorged on their manure), we cross the marsh and head back uphill three minutes to the base of a fantastic white wall.
Panorama of Pared Blanca, with Laguna Trebol below
The days usually involve a quick warmup on a 7a or 7a+, then immediately on to climb as high as possible without a pump (“sin inflado”) on a 25 meter long 7c+ that overhangs about as far as it is high, then on to multiple attempts (for me) on routes between 7c+ and 8a+. Lucas, Oso and Santi tend to stick to laps on some 7cs and 7c+s to warm up and then move into the 8b/8b+ range. They’re climbing beasts, but all the more amazing because they are in their 40s (and teens, in Santi’s case), have real jobs and are just genuinely nice people with lives beyond just climbing.
Fine and good, all this climbing talk, but why is the title of this post “Hanging Granny?” Because everyone here has an apodo, or nickname. They are usually horribly un-PC. As local expat and author James Bracken points out, in his “Che Boludo” (THE dictionary of Argentine slang), “[p]olitical correctness does not exist in Argentina because it would only impede getting your point across . . . no offense is intended, none is taken and there is no false morality to confuse the issues.”
Photo: Oso climbing Obagan, with Lucas attentively belaying while on his cell phone
As far as I know, Oso’s name doesn’t mean anything (other than the obvious, that it means he looks like a bear), but some of the others are striking. There was a group of teenagers at Pared Blanca the other day on vacation from a town north of here. One was of Asian/Italian descent: “Chinito.” Another looked northern European: “Gringo.” A generic nickname for one’s wife is “Gordita” (fatty) or “Negrita” (blackie). Another woman apparently looks vaguely like an ant and so is “La Hormiga,” (Ant) while a climber from the US who visited some time back became La Galleta (Cracker). I originally thought Santi’s nickname, “Pendex,” was a reference to spandex. But he said it’s actually a contraction of pendejo, which in Mexico is an insult and here is word meaning young boy.
The crag is filled with people yelling nicknames at their friends in encouragement. “Venga, Oso!” “Vamos, Pendex, Eh?” “A muerte, Gringo!” (Literally, “To the death,” but it means give it all you’ve got). I got stuck, sadly, with “Abuela.” Grandma. Nothing like people yelling “To the death, Granny!” at you when you’re pumped out of your mind trying to clip or take another 20 foot fall.
To be fair, when I started climbing at Pared Blanca, I did roll with a matronly attitude. The first time I climbed one of the harder routes at the crag I did a bit of whining when I made it through the first crux and clipped the bolt above, only to notice the hanger was bent flat because of all the falls people took on it. Being uninspired to fall, I kept climbing, pretty gripped, into what turned out to be the technical crux above. I barely made it to the next bolt, only to see it physically move in its hole. That bolt was followed by a pumpy runout with big reaches to the anchor. Hmm.
Similarly, on “Calavera no Chilla,” (“Skulls don’t scream”) a pretty hard route (for me) that is my anti-style that I had been trying a ton, the bolt that protects the first crux not only moves in its hole, quite a few of the other bolts have hangers that are dangerously rusty. As in, they truly look like they could break rusty. I tried to replace the crux hanger, but it was so rusted onto the bolt that when I tried to turn the nut the whole bolt spun in the hole. Hmm again.
Photo: Claudio on Calavera No Chilla
Of course, I didn’t hold back on saying that I thought a lot of the fixed gear seemed like a death trap. That kind of whining earned me my wonderful nickname. I’ve never heard a peep out of anyone here that they themselves are worried about the gear, except one time when the carabiners 25 meters up a route – Corsario Negro – were so worn and sharp they could cut the rope if you fell there (I replaced those). If it’s there, they clip it and either take the fall or don’t (well, except Lucas, he just seems to climb anything in his path). As Lucas says, “In South America, we really use up our gear.” A muerte.
Some months back, while failing yet again more because of mental than physical barriers, I made a conscious effort to do the same. Late in January, another gorgeous summer day at the crag, I felt weak, tired, under-rested – I generally had the list of excuses I always use. But there was a ton of great energy at the crag and I made the conscious decision to give ‘er a muerte all day. I didn’t try anything too hard. I went for volume. But I did keep trying while tired, while I was ready to go home, ready to complain about the protection, the fall, whatever.
But heading into evening on the final route, one I had tried and failed to onsight earlier in the day, which I didn’t want to climb, while totally trashed and unable to hold on anymore, looking at climbing into territory with a fall I didn’t want to take, I temporarily dropped the Abuela baggage. I knew I was going to take a kind of unpleasant, long and awkward fall, but still managed to climb out of my comfort zone, at least for those few minutes. I was more surprised than anyone when I ended up not falling, but actually sending the route. It wasn’t a hard one, in the global scheme of things. And, rationally speaking, it wasn’t actually dangerous. The bolts were good and the fall I didn’t want to take, although long, was pure air because the wall is so overhanging. But it was liberating to let go of worrying about those things for a bit and get on with enjoying trying hard.
The day ended with a dusty ride back to the road in the bed of a pickup with two climbers, two dogs and a chainsaw, followed by a packed bus ride and drinks on the beach with Annie, Sophie and Max, then massive amounts of steak at Boliche del Alberto, one of our favorite parillas.
Photo: Annie, Max and Sophie at cocktail hour on the beach at Camping Petunia
I think a lot of my efforts to stop being Abuela actually come from Lucas, who gave me the nickname in the first place. He’s a relentlessly positive, motivating person to climb with. If you look like you’re about to just let go to take a smaller fall rather than try harder, higher and take a bigger one, he screams at you and seems genuinely disappointed if you’re not giving your all. He is motivated himself to try a climb one more time, when the sun is going down and he motivates me to do the same. Now, if I could just climb 8c like he does…
Of course, I haven’t ignored the risks of climbing in Argentina. Especially our trip to Chalten, which was amazing and profound on a lot of levels, did a lot to reset my risk calculus. But it also made the perceived risks of Argentine sport climbing a lot more manageable. That, and Lincoln gave Andy Wyatt a drill, bolts and a bunch of hangers to bring down, which I have used to replace the gear that I think is bad at Pared Blanca (despite some protests that it’s just fine).
Photo: At the Polacos camp in the Torre valley
Photo: Andy Wyatt on the ridge between Aguja de L’S and Aguja Poincenot
But I have started trying to focus on enjoying falling, failing and letting go. Just that mindset has totally changed the way I look at given climbs, at the tension and pressure I feel about trying one more time, when I don’t want to, when I’m tired, when I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail. Somewhere along the way, with my increased number of big wingers (and the accompanying questions from Oso when he is belaying about whether I’ve put on weight) – “Cuantos kilos tenes?? NO podes tener solamente 70!” it seems the Abuela moniker changed slightly to Abuela Colgada – Hanging Granny – as in dangling from the end of the rope after yet another fall.
Photo: Hanging Granny (abuela) falling
Whether that apodo/nickname is an upgrade or not is an open question. But to me, if I’m an Abuela Colgada because I’m spending more of my time flying off of routes while trying a muerte, that’s a good thing. A week before my 41st birthday here, on a cold Sunday, when my hands were numb and I wasn’t really feeling it, on my third attempt of the day, I hopped back on Chimichanga, the route with the loose bolts that had spooked me so much when I first came here. The holds hadn’t gotten better; the bolts were the same (though tightened and with brand new hangers – thanks Andy and Lincoln). But with some screams of “Venga Abuela,” from below, some elvis-legging and a lot of screaming of my own, I made it through the final crux for the first time, climbed past the rattly old bolt that had worried me so much when I first got here, and barely grabbed the victory jug at the top of the route.
Who knows how long that mindset will last when I get back stateside, at least with climbing. My experience has been that being willing to fall is the single most important factor in climbing, and having that willingness to fall ain’t like riding a bike. If you stop willingly falling a lot, it gets hard and scary again. But I am hoping I can translate some of the other lessons to other parts of my life and they’ll have some staying power. Now I just need to figure out what those lessons are. There has to be a deeper meaning than just dangling on a rope off a piece of rock….