A 1500 km trip. Fellowship, climbing, party and a sand storm
Since 2007 this boulderer gathering has been the ultimate event for Bolivian climbers with a good mix of exciting problems, friendship and a party environment. Bloqueando is the vanguard of climbing competitions in Bolivia and is silently becoming Latin America's most important climbing event.
This year, Vertigo Club considered a difficult challenge, to carry out the bouldering event, BLOQUEando 09 at one of the most impressive and remote boulder areas in Bolivia. The Valley of the Rocks, or Valle De Las Rocas, is located 750 km south of La Paz and 150 km away from the city of Uyuni. This place has been described by the famous French boulder Tony Lamiche as the El Dorado of bouldering areas.
A 15 hour trip, difficult access to water, cold weather, lots of sand, no telecommunication systems, nearest population 13.5 km away... were just some of the obstacles we had to overcome this year. The organization process started in June, looking for sponsors and funds to be able to carry out this enterprise. At the beginning the odds were against us, sponsors were nowhere to be found and the climbers were not showing any interest. All signs pointed to a simpler road, changing the location, where the problems, costs and logistics would be better. But once our deadline arrived, and thanks to the good performance of our Vertigo members, we finally achieved the support of friendly companies, such as: Entel, Tatoo Adventure Gear, planetaventura.com, Red Bull, Deuter, Nitro Sport and Embol, who joined the cause and enabled us to obtain all that was necessary to carry our the BLOQUEando 2009. By mid-June it was a “real thing” and the event was on its way!The registration deadline was at the end of July and a few days prior to the event we were worried, because we did not have many climbers registered. At that time we were convinced we had failed with the location and the price of bus at 250 Bolivianos (BOB) or US $35.00, though it was cheap, as it included transport, 3 meals a day for four days all with the most spectacular scenery for climbing. Even with all this it seemed not many were willing either to pay or engage in such a bold trip. But finally, at the last minute, we started receiving confirmations from the climbers and even from non-climbers who were interested in finding out what BLOQUEando was all about. Eventually we reached 25 participants, including a German, 3 from Ecuador and an English lady who all found out about the event on the internet. Days passed and it was the moment to begin this well orchestrated plan, hiring of the bus, getting a generator, make crash pads, get the movies, cook, food et al, a titanic endevour. But as usual, our people worked like a “Swiss watch” and all was accomplished in on time.
To make sure everything would be ready on time a pioneer team formed by Tiru, Mai, Jess and myself traveled to Valley of the Rocks. Since we had to pick up some products kindly donated by the sponsors, we decided to take the long road. The trip took longer than expected. A well camouflaged policeman under the only tree in the Altiplano caught us speeding which made us late to a warehouse, where a pick up was to be made, and was now closed. This ended up being a good thing as we decided to take it easy and make some stops on the road. We were pleasantly surprised to find excellent rocks for climbing in the Potosi-Uyuni road, which, could be good areas for future BLOQUEando events. Between stops, pictures, and detours for maintenance of roads we reached Uyuni at night and we still had 3 more hours to go. A sudden change of plans, combined with a beautiful full moon, lead us to sleep at the Uyuni salt lake. We traveled 80 km through the salt, stopped the car and in the midst of this impressive salt desert we installed the crash pads and slept in the open space.
It was the highest star rated hotel I ever slept in, which allowed us to watch the beautiful full moon illuminating the white desert. It was a surreal experience for all. The next day we left very early as, being the organizers, we had to set the boulder problems, bring in the water, etc., instead of cruising the Bolivian highways…. Luckily we managed to do all and left 26 different difficulty problems, even some for the lovers of the unknown. This was a difficult task due to the variety and quantity of projects in the area.
On Wednesday, August 5th, the bus would be departing from La Paz, with a bunch of climbers and friends. The trip was fairly good and within our expectations, with the exception of an inevitable mechanical mishap, and the fact that our friend Juanito forgot the sound equipment vital for the party ambience. Luckily that was resolved after several hours of searching in Uyuni. The bus obviously came in late, but when the participants saw the place, they realized there was a lot to do, so they came off the bus, left their belongings scattered around the place and started climbing. Three hours later, with devastated hands, they came back to camp asking for new skin. After a hearty meal and some climbing movies to motivate them, they went to sleep and woke up rested for D day. On Friday the 7th, "D day", anxious to see what was the organizer’s proposal was, the masses gathered to receive a brief explanation of the place, distribution of the problems and crashpads, one pad for every two climbers. And as cats chasing a mouse they left to solve the problems, with their crashpads on their shoulders and aiming for the first blocks, which were directly in front of the camp. Once those were solved, the group started to disperse, block here, block there, falls, destroyed fingers, muscular pain, shouts of motivation and effort, all this summarized in the 8 hours used to solve and share. Among the problems were some very tall problems, with a big Boulder over 4 meters, extremely technical boulders which started centimeters from the land but with very strong movements or very technical with EXTRAPLOMADOS blocks (no se como se dice eso). Also had problems that defied thinking, 2 or 3 movements which were not as easy as they looked, easy and accessible problems for amateurs and undoubtedly among the the most challenging we can mention a very small plaque, not more than 2 and a half meters high, with only one grasp at two thirds of the boulder, leaving a smooth plaque to continue the movements in two more tiny grasps.
I don't want to go in too many details of the proposed problems. As organizers we were forced to lay out problems for all, climbers and non climbers, but the chosen place gave us the possibility of choosing for all tastes. The Valley of the Rocks has an extension beyond what a person can climb in a weekend, it could last for three lifetimes worth. Next day each participant could chose his own problems. At twilight all comments on the adventure were well accompanied by the traditional barbeque, movies, and then the party started. Wine here and there, laughter, dancing and stories were the highlights of the night, which extended to 2 am. We undoubtedly achieved the purpose of BLOQUEando, a teamship spirit and sharing. The participants went to have fun and know the place, not to compete and prove they were better than the others. Time flew and it was already the 8th, which was meant for free-for-all bouldering. It started with a good breakfast and conversations about the problems, and with no time to loose, it was time to get rid of the little skin we had still left on our fingers. After a while there was a slight breeze and we could see a dust cloud far away. Minutes later the breeze became a strong wind, hurricane like, which then became a sand storm to rival any of the best the Sahara could offer. It seemed it would only be momentaneous, but it kept getting worse. Some tents were affected, not to mention the bouldering, forcing us to decide to leave earlier than planned. We cleared the camp, cleaned the place and loaded the bus in record time. The bus left and a small group stayed behind to do the final chores. The wind kept increasing and we realized we had made a good decision.
In spite of the abrupt conclusion, I think we all had an memorable experience, difficult to repeat. BLOQUEando 2009, longer, bolder… we have to wait what will happen in the next event.