Jungle Jamming Expedition with Nico Favresse, Sean Villanueva and Friends
Regular readers of The Cleanest Line are no doubt familiar with our musical Belgian climbing ambassadors Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva (see Secret Passage, Asgard Jamming, Greenland Vertical Sailing). The boys just completed a big wall expedition in Venezuela and today we're happy to share the reports from their trip, with meaty details on two new routes at the end. So tune up and and tune in for the latest from Nico and Sean.
January 31, 2012
Ok, so we’re heading off on another big wall adventure! On February 5 we leave to go big wall jamming on the mythical tepuis of Venezuela. We’re going on a search for first ascents and virgin walls in the mighty jungle. Besides the difficulties of climbing and jamming, there will be all the interesting animals like snakes, spiders, scorpions, crocodiles, monkeys etc. and we sure hope they like our music.
[Above: Nico en route to his dream in front of Akopan, another beautiful Tepui. All photos: Xpedition.be]
We’re heading out into the jungle for 45 days of autonomy. The team consists of the usual suspects, Sean Villanueva and Nicolas Favresse, but also Stephane Hanssens, a strong young Belgian climber and drummer who was with us for the previous expedition to Baffin Island featured in Asgard Jamming (DVD available for sale on our website). Furthermore, Jean-Louis Wertz a very talented climber, experimental singer and professional photographer will be coming with us.
Obviously we’ll be bringing all our musical equipment and we look forward to developing a new repertoire with the local indigenous people and all the wild creatures we hope to encounter. Our first objective is a tepui called Amuri, which might just have one of the most overhanging big walls around! We’ve heard rumours of a 600-meter waterfall, with overhanging vegetation and scorpions that climb 9a+. Stay tuned on www.xpedition.be or our Facebook page for the music and climbing progress of this expedition.
February 8, 2012
I hope everything is rolling good for you guys. Here we are in Venezuela enjoying 40°C of contrast from the winter we just left. Conditions are extreme here. We have to be very careful with crocodiles when swimming. The locals ask us why we spend so much money to go suffer in the jungle when we can just stay here in Cuidad De Bolivar, and we ask ourselves the same question. So maybe we’ll just stay here next to the pool where it is plenty extreme enough.
February 24, 2012
We finally received some news from the team! They just finished the free ascent of Amuri, a 600 meter overhanging and colored face way back in the jungle. It took them nine days to get to the top. No doubt they had some nice swings during the jams on that face. They are now back on the ground getting ready for the next run. Stay tuned!
[On our way to Amuri Tepui. In the back, Tuyuren waterfall.]
[The atmosphere at the top of Amuri Tepui.]
March 3, 2012
The team just spent a few days off by the side of a river in the jungle. Disappointed by the size of the spiders and snakes they met, they decided to pack their bags with 20 days worth of food and go back to real life: their new 600 meter overhanging playground. After spotting a new line on Amuri two days ago – “The most engaged and difficult line so far” – they quickly placed the first runs.
Nico had a great five-hour aid-climb session the first day to prepare the line for a free run. A bit later, Sean gave it a try and made a legendary 40-meter fall pulling off most of the gear he placed and burning Jean-Louis’s hands on the belay. No doubt they are now in the middle of their art.
[The best method to stay alive against a wild pig attack.]
[Nico trying some new surgery method on JL's hands after the rope burn.]
March 15, 2012
I received a message from the team last night.
They are doing very well! They just spent a few long days on the cliff and had to go down because they ran out of food. I guess they didn’t want to eat roasted spiders anymore.
They didn’t tell me what they actually did on that face. Surprise, surprise. They should be heading home in a few days. Stay tuned for more news (and pictures)!
April 3, 2012
by Nico Favresse
Sean Villanueva, Stephane Hanssens, Jean-Louis Wertz and I just came back to civilization after 38 days in the jungle. We had a really good adventure, very different from all the other expeditions we have done in the past. The weather, the rock, the jungle, the indigenes, the animals and this incredible wall of the Tuyuren waterfall made up for some very exciting moments. We managed to put up two new free routes on the Tuyuren waterfall wall, one on the left side, Maria Rosa, and one on the right, Apichavai.
[Our first route on Amuri with a three-pitch variant (purple). Kids with Guns is the route established by the team we shared the wall with.]
[Update: Here's a new photo that shows the routes more clearly. The red line is Maria Rosa with the free variation in orange. The blue line is Apichavai, the second route we made. The green line is the line of the Mason’s expedition called Kids with Guns.]
When we first came out of the jungle directly to the base of this wall, it looked so overhanging that gravity felt heavy in our minds. We were really not sure whether free climbing this wall would be possible and even more so in the style we had committed ourselves to approach it. From the ground we could see no real obvious lines, very few cracks and the relentless steepness of the wall – definitely the steepest I have seen of this size. Our friends Mason Earle (US), George Ullrich (UK), Siebe Vanhee (BE) and Sam Farnsworth (UK) had 10 days on us and were already hanging quite high on one of the main obvious lines at the center of the wall. It was pretty funny because it was a real coincidence. We are good friends and both teams decided to go to the same place without knowing we had the same plan!
Maria Rosa - 7b 500m no bolts, no pitons, no rap stations
The right side of the wall looked to us most likely impossible. In the middle, the other team had taken the main line (which looked quite impossible too!) so we decided to first try a route on the left side where we spotted an appealing line. As we did our first pitches we realized the climbing here is completely different from the big wall climbing we are used to. It's steep, very featured but mostly with horizontal holds so it's very difficult to anticipate what's next. Mostly you just have to commit to each section and hope for the best. Traversing was often the easiest and most tempting solution instead of climbing straight up into the unknown.
The climbing was steep and adventurous but this rock is so featured that the climbing, although quite sustained, went easier than we expected. In only four days we made it very high to the base of a massive roof where we found a perfect 10-meter roof crack with about 400 meters of pure exposure. We were super excited but, unfortunately, entering the roof crack required a one-move boulder problem that shut us down and didn't allow us to free it all. But the roof crack was so beautiful and unreal that we still played on it for a couple days just for fun. Then, when we got ready to push for the summit, we split into two teams. One went around the roof to make a free variation while the other finished our most logical original line. So the route has two exits: one all free, avoiding the roof with three long pitches traversing left and then up to the summit, and the other which exits straight up the roof with a few aid moves of C1.
We hauled all our gear to the top of the wall and hung out one full day on top of the tepui to enjoy the beauty of this magical place. The next day we came down on the left side of the wall, on the Venezuelan route Wacupero Amuri, which allowed us to leave absolutely nothing behind on our route. We called our new route Maria Rosa after some local cookies called Maria in which we had the occasional surprise of finding strawberry filling.
[Sean Villanueva exiting the jungle on the first pitch Maria Rosa.]
[Jean-Louis Wertz feet loose on Maria Rosa.]
[Nicolas Favresse making his way up on the second pitch of Maria Rosa.]
[Steep views from Maria Rosa.]
[Stephane Hanssens having fun on the incredible roof crack of Maria Rosa.]
[Nicolas Favresse chose to traverse above huge roofs on the final pitches of Maria Rosa.]
[Jean-Louis Wertz seconding on one of the final pitches of Maria Rosa.]
Apichavai - 8a+ 500m 5 bolts
When we came down from Maria Rosa, we made a quick trip back to Yunek to get more food. There we met with the other team on their way back home. We had seen them climbing next to us the whole time but we couldn't communicate because of the loud sound of the waterfall. They motivated us to try to free their line, Kids with Guns, at the center of the wall which they thought could go free. But as we returned to Amuri, adventure called us to explore a new line, this time on the impossible (most likely) right side!
Only the first two pitches of the line we chose seemed more or less obvious and not so steep. The rest was just like an overhanging ocean of quartzite. Right away we encountered difficulties with hard pitches, vegetation, tricky protections and loose blocks. On an attempt to redpoint the second pitch Sean Villanueva took a 40-meter fall ripping five pieces of gear, three of which look perfect except for a bit of dirt. Thankfully the ground was still 20 meters away and the wall is so overhanging there was only air to hit. But Jean-Louis, who was belaying, got some very bad rope burns on both of his hands. For a moment, we were not sure whether he should stay or go home to avoid serious infections. But after four days his burns started looking better so he decided to join us on the wall but wasn’t able to climb.
[Details on Sean's fall.]
There were many other falls on this climb, around 20 between all of us. On pitches 4, 6 and 7 the route goes through the most overhanging part of the wall. Those were the hardest pitches to free climb with difficulties up to 8a+. Out of the route's 15 pitches, we could only on-sight four of them. The rest were hard and required some cleaning and aiding in order to explore and study the protections for free climbing.
The most amazing part is that we actually found a path that goes free up this wall. Many sections were only possible because of a single hold. During the last four days on the wall, each day we thought we would reach the top but each day we got shut down by unexpected hard sections that we had to work out, clean and redpoint. It seemed like we were never going get to the top of this wall and we were really not sure whether we would make it – the first time this has happened to us. But finally we saw the dense vegetation of the summit and there we were, for the second time, on top of Amuri.
We placed a total of three lead bolts and two bolts to reinforce two anchors. The route took us 14 days, four of which we stayed attached to the ground waiting for Jean-Louis's hand to heal. The difficulty is very sustained with eight pitches of 7b and harder. Apichavai is the name of a warrior who lived in Yunek and managed to kill Tri Tri, a giant bird who would catch people and eat them high up in his cave on the tepui.
[Morning light on Tuyuren waterfall.]
[Fearless Sean Villanueva finally sends pitch 2 after his 40m fall.]
[Our usual interesting belays.]
[Our daily morning jumar exercise.]
[Sean Villanueva making sketchy slab moves on pitch 6 of Apichavai.]
[Stephane Hanssens on his way to send one of the crux pitches of Apichavai.]
[Feeling wild on top of Amuri Tepui.]
We would like to thank everyone who helped us live our dreams: The Belgian Alpine Club, Patagonia, Julbo, Five Ten, Black Diamond, Seeonee, Sterling Ropes, Beal, Belclimb.be, Petzl, Careplus, Katadyn, Nordisk, Boreal, Crux, AVS Aviation.
Also we would like to thank Oliver from Trekken Tepuy who helped us with some logistical issues, our pilot Marcos Garcia and all the kind people from Yunek who helped us carry all our gear through the jungle.
You will find in the next couple weeks more info and stories on www.xpedition.be and our Facebook page. Feel free to spread the news and use the pictures.
Nico, Stephanne, Jean-Louis and Sean
[The team, happy to walk home with two routes in their pockets.]