VIDEO: First Ascents in (Not So Scary) Colombia
Climber Ben Spannuth, photographer Rich Crowler and writer Chris Van Leuven wanted to find new climbs in unexplored areas. For a lot of bad reasons, a three-week expedition to Columbia fit the bill perfectly.
For years, travel in Columbia by Americans has been dangerous and limited, due to terrorists, narco-traffickers and armed criminal gangs. While security has recently improved, the State Derpartment continues to issue travel warnings. Fully aware of the risks, Spannuth and his team were fully committed to their trip, as well as to the spirit of spontaneity.
“I didn’t know a lot about Columbia before we came,” Spannuth said. “I didn’t do a lot of research because you never know what you’re going to find, what [climbs] you’re going to want to project, where you’re going to want to stay. It’s nice to be open.”
The rock climbing community in Columbia consists of a small group of committed athletes.
“Most Colombian climbers have good vision for putting up routes, looking for new places,” said Juan Sebastian Mejia Botero, one of the locals Spannuth, Crowler and Van Leuven met on their trip. “10-15 percent of climbers are putting up routes for other people to repeat, but I think most of the climbers in Columbia have that yearning to do something new.”
The team began in la Mesa de los Santos, a standard sport crag for Columbians, where they tried the route Simbiosis (5.13+). Then, they headed out to the remote town of Florian.
“Ten years ago, you could not have gone to Florian,” Spannuth said. “We were told that on the first day you would have been kidnapped. Very recently, the drug cartels had complete control over that area and the road was rough and rugged. It’s becoming more a touristy area—for good reason. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
Florian is in a valley surrounded by 2,000-foot limestone walls that are full of caves and other natural features. While in the area, Spannuth, Crowler and Van Leuven visited previously unexplored sites and established a variety of climbs including Macho Man (5.13+) in La Ventana Cave and Gringos Varados (5.13)—or “stranded gringos.”
To find out how this route got its name, and more about the team’s adventures, check out the video above.