La Esfinge
La Esfinge
Media: Expeditions

La Esfinge

The Riddle of the Sphinx

A lost wager, a debt of honour, two Spaniards and a Sphinx in the middle of Peru - Dani Moreno and Eduard Marin Garcia together on a trip usually results in the following: loads of fun. And some impressive ascents.

text: Flo Scheimpflug PhotoS: timeline production


Edu Marin was sprinting up the last few metres to reach the belay when his partner, Dani Moreno, called up to him from 30 metres below.

"Hey, Edu!" shouted Dani, grinning mischievously. "I have a riddle for you! If you get it, the beers are on me tonight! If you don't, then you pay! So, what do you say?"

"A riddle?" Edu shouted back, gasping for air. "You know [cough] that I love [wheeze] riddles. [Gasp] And beer!" Climbing quickly in the thin high-altitude air of La Esfinge (5,325 metres), an impressive granite mountain located in the heart of the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, Edu coughed like an old truck that will not start.

"Clip into the belay, cabrón!" Dani said. "And I will tell you!"

Speed climbing in the mountains follows a different set of rules than that of, say, El Capitan. At this altitude, being acclimatized is a serious matter and if you're not making frequent pit stops, you're not going to make it. After stringing together over a thousand feet of pitches, Edu tied a clove hitch to the anchor, took a deep breath, breathed out, leaned back and relieved himself.

"So, cariño," said Edu. "Let's hear the riddle."

"That's cute, you're calling me 'sweetie'! But if you think that's going to make it any easier for you, you couldn't be further from the truth, Marino. This is serious. OK, what goes on two legs in the morning, four legs at midday and no legs in the evening?"

"Ha ha, Dani, that's easy! That's the riddle the Sphinx asked Oedipus. I know my Greek mythology, amigo. Correct answer: a man. He crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs as an adult, and walks with a cane in old age. Pay me my beer, por favor."

"Hombre: firstly, we are in Peru, not Greece. Secondly, you have to listen carefully. Not four, two, three, but two, four, zero. Capiche?"

"OK, then I have no idea, Dani."

"Well, it's us two gringos, isn't it? We hike the approach on two legs in the morning, during the day we climb like crazy on all fours, and when we finally get to the top we are so finished that we can only manage the descent on our gums."

All was quiet for a moment, neither batted an eyelid, then suddenly Edu and Dani sprang to life. They slapped each other on the shoulder, then high-fived. A quick glance at the time and then Edu started handing the gear to Dani. "Go on, the next block is yours. We've still got a load of climbing ahead of us. So get moving."

"OK," said Dani, grinning widely. "But don't forget: you owe me a beer!"

Back in the days

World Youth Championships, Rouen, France, 2001. It was here that a 13-year-old Dani Moreno - from the tiny Spanish village of Daroca near Zaragoza - first met a 16-year-old Eduard Marin Garcia, from Barcelona. They discovered that they were on the same wavelength and instantly became friends. However, because they lived so far apart and neither had a driving licence, they rarely managed to climb together. When their schedules did coincide, they absolutely ripped up some rock together. The chemistry simply worked through this shared climbing passion.

Having fun on these trips was just as important as sending hard routes to Dani and Edu. A dynamic duo? Without a doubt. And a crazy one, too. And though they often found themselves separated for a long time, when they did get back together, it was always as if nothing had changed.

In recent years Edu has become completely dedicated to sport climbing. In 2006 he onsighted his first 8c, and then became the first to repeat the ultimate Spanish resistance route La Rambla (9a+) in Siurana. For Dani, climbing was also a sport and a lifestyle that demanded everything from him physically; however, he was more interested in seeking those demanding projects on big-wall adventures in the most remote regions of the world.


"Dani, the Cordillera Blanca is unbelievable. And La Esfinge, oh man. A wall of golden yellow granite like from a dream. What about the potential of Hatun Machay? Bouldering, climbing, it's never-ending. You and me, my friend, we have to go there, straightaway!"

Edu had just returned from his first trip to the Cordillera Blanca and his unbridled enthusiasm oozed from every pore. Following an operation on one of his fingers in the spring, he prescribed himself a month's climbing in Peru to convalesce. There, he discovered a playground of unlimited possibilities. With his new buddy Chuki, who runs a mountaineering agency, he spent days climbing innumerable mountains and returned to happy villages to partake in a chill party scene.

In Hatun Machay, Peru's sport climbing and bouldering centre, he found a load of new friends, sent a bunch of new routes and, despite a still-recovering of his finger, he managed to climb Peru's most difficult route: Karma (8c+). To Dani, Edu's stories simply sounded too good to be true. But even more than the climbing, Dani knew he couldn't say no to the opportunity to climb with his old friend Edu.

"OK! When do we go?"

Into thin air — Lima, Huaraz and Hatun Machay

The Lima airport was busier than an anthill after a period of rain as a mass of people zipped by in frantic, confusing directions. Dani and Edu had just landed and were waiting for their luggage when Dani suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to face a man he had never before seen. The man offered him his hand.

"You must be Dani. I am Cesar Augusto Vicuña Pajuelo."

Dani studied him, astounded. "Cesar who?" Edu, who was a couple of paces away, bounded over. "Chuki, old pal! What's up, amigo?" Chuki and Edu hugged each other. "Dani, this is Chuki. He is going to look after us." The three of them got into a taxi, crawled through the evening rush hour in Lima and, as they left the city behind them, headed for Huaraz.

The next morning Dani, Edu and Chuki sat in a bar, sipped instant coffee and attempted to take in their new surroundings. After all, Huaraz is located at 3,000 metres and for new arrivals coming from sea level, such a rapid change can really knock you out.

"Quite nice here, isn't it?" said Chuki, seeing a tired-looking Edu and Dani slumped in their chairs next to him. "You haven't got used to the air here yet. Did you know that in Huaraz, you can get a taxi ride into the mountains?" Edu and Dani looked up astonished. "Look over there!" Their gaze followed Chuki's finger and a couple of kilometres away they really could see the summit of the Cordillera Blanca illuminated by a surreal sheen. "Oh man, what awesome colours! That looks as though somebody has turned up the colour-intensity control," murmured Edu as he surveyed the mountainous vista.

"Colour-intensity control?" said Dani. "The elevation is shrinking your brain, amigo!"

"That is the air," interrupted Chuki, "behind the Cordillera. It comes from the Amazon in thick, damp layers that break up the rays of light to produce this amazing spectrum of colour." The Cordillera Blanca is a mountain range, 180 kilometres long, that winds its way through Peru from north to south. It features 50 mountains over 5,700 metres along the way, including Peru's highest summit, Huascarán (6,768 metres). What is unusual about the Cordillera Blanca is not just the height of its mountains, but also its location in the southern tropics. The Cordillera is a mountain range of contrasts: it is steep and narrow, yet due to its altitude, it has more glaciers than any other range in the tropics. Here, climate zones do not merge gradually but collide abruptly with one another. Tropical plants in all their splendour often grow only a few minutes away from the austere desolation of the moraines and glaciers. Mother Nature puts on the whole show in the Cordillera without abandon.

However, it is not just the local mountain scenery that makes Huaraz a place climbers can settle down in. On a hill to the southwest beyond the impoverished area of town, there are the boulders of Los Olivos. The immediate proximity of climbing and the fighting for survival in the suburbs - corrugated metal huts huddled together, dirt roads strewn with potholes and so many stray dogs on the roam - seemed slightly unusual at first glance. However, the atmosphere changed immediately when Edu, Dani and Chuki met some local boulderers who were already enjoying what the blocks had to offer. A quick round of enthusiastic introductions crossed seamlessly into a lively bouldering session, giving the impression that these guys were old friends who had never done anything other than solve tough problems together. That is what successful integration looks like! Yet again, we see how climbing is a passion that comes into its element when it is shared and for that very reason, climbing knows no social, geographic or material boundaries.

The next afternoon, Edu, Dani and Chuki ventured to the unique rocks of Hatun Machay experience some of Chuki's first ascents. Chuki had spent the previous year notching up a load of first ascents and exploring potential lines. An unusual thing about this rock paradise is that you can reach it by public transport using the so-called collectivos. One and a half hours after departure from Huaraz, the four debarked from the bus and stood in a beautiful green paradise at almost 4,300 metres.

It was not just the altitude that took their breath away, but also the gobsmacking view. On a virtually never-ending plateau covered with yellow grass there were thousands of rock pinnacles in the most bizarre shapes with the weirdest surfaces. Chicken heads, honeycombs, typhoon-like twisters, mosaics in quartz -there was nothing you could not find in this stone garden. Apart from a couple of shepherds tending their flock who lived in self-built straw huts at the foot of the rocks, the climbing area of Hatun Machay felt deserted.

"It's like we're on the moon," said Dani. "Simply out of this world." After a full day on the rock and a chilled Peruvian night in the refuge, it was clear to the Spaniards that Hatun Machay "has good vibes".

Although you could spend half a lifetime climbing in Hatun Machay and never get bored, the trio made their way back to Huaraz. Before they headed into the hills, Chuki reckoned there was something important for them to do first: "If you want to experience the full-on culture of a country, then you have to party with the locals!" Edu and Dani exchanged glances. Nothing easier than that.

As dusk fell, the nightlife in Huaraz began pulsating. People flowed onto the streets, their voices filling the air. A brass band rounded a corner, playing music. Dani glanced into a small hallway where partygoers beckoned them inside. They danced, sang and drank. Dani, Edu and Chuki were made to feel as welcome as if they were part of the family. They were led onto a circuit of local bars, of which there are many. The night ended as they stumbled into the X-treme Bar at four in the morning, arm in arm with an entire town of new friends.

The Sphinx

Their Toyota crept and wound its way around numerous bumpy hairpins on the road to Parón Valley. They passed small farmsteads through a wooden barrier, and continued up the serpentine road to Parón Lake. They parked and began their two-hour hike to La Esfinge.

Finally, Dani and Edu stood at the base. "And? Have I promised you too much?"

"That's pretty big," is all that Dani could muster.

The humble respect in his voice was unmistakable. It was Dani's first time in a mountain landscape of such monumental dimensions, and his awe was not out of place. Although the journey had only taken a few hours, the guys were now fully immersed in the high, committing world of alpine climbing. "Look, that's where our line goes." The duo had come to climb Via del 85 (5.11c), which was first ascended in 1985 by Antonio Gómez "Sevi" Bóhorquez and Onofre Garcia. Over 750 metres of the finest granite and right at the top of the wish list. "If there is one climb that we have to do, then it is this one," Edu had said on more than just one occasion.

They started approaching the next morning. The upper reaches of the Sphinx was bathing in the soft pink morning light as Edu and Dani reached the start of Via.

Dani took the lead and after just a few metres, all doubt had evaporated. No wonder, since the rock features come at you in rapid succession: double cracks, perfect dihedrals, tricky slabs, but a long way from a cakewalk climb. Placing protection and route-finding created the greatest puzzles on the Sphinx. The leader often found himself in a position where a fall would have severe consequences. The climbers took extreme care to not fall and to climb perfectly.

By the afternoon Edu and Dani were standing on the summit, taking in the panorama. They both agreed that they had just climbed the best route of their lives.

The boys on speed

Alpine rock climbing can be compressed down to a series of first moments: the first glance up a wall. The first few metres climbed. The first smell and feel of the rock. These are moments that can never be repeated or recreated. Each time, it's all new, even if you return to a wall to climb it again. Another set of vivid first moments, all over again.

For Dani and Edu, Via del 85 was not a route they wanted to climb solely because of its beauty or stunning location. They wanted to push themselves to the limit by climbing it as fast as possible. This idea clearly pulsated in them after years of climbing competitions. Of course this approach is not easy for everyone to understand, especially the part about needing to constantly pushing oneself.

Why do we take such risks? Over and over again?

For Edu and Dani, life has to be a challenge. That's imperative.

The next morning dawned with an unpleasant surprise: snow. The whole valley was draped in clouds and the atmosphere was damp and cold, the temperature hovering just above zero.

Due to the weather, the idea of making a speed ascent of Via del 85 appeared to be as likely as a bathtub full of hot water suddenly materialising in the middle of basecamp. Dani phoned in a weather report, which promised improvement, though not for a few days. No problem, as Edu and Dani are champions at making the most of their time. Over the ensuing days they had snowball fights, sculpted a busty snow woman, sang Spanish folk songs, played cards and, in general, became classic examples of men behaving badly. One evening the curtain of cloud withdrew and the sun shone through. Within a few hours the snow was history. Hope was back on the cards. The next morning was clear.

Compared to a few days previously, they thinned the rack down to the bare minimum. Apart from a couple of cams and nuts, a 40-metre rope and a load of faith in the ability of themselves and their partner, Dani and Edu took nothing with them. That is exactly what speed climbing is all about: the right tactics, blind trust and an honest evaluation of the opportunities you have at your disposal. Even if you are sure you have all these capabilities in the chalk bag, climbing is still a risk. One small error, one slip or missed handhold far above the sparse protection and the consequences could be dire. There was no way they could hope to be rescued here, in such a remote location. They were on their own.

OK, enough of the gloomy picture. It was time for the climbers to build up some speed! Edu and Dani got fired up, though they still found themselves struggling with the thin air. Edu dispatched the first 300 metres in a block lead. They were now halfway up the 750 metre long route. They swapped leads, and Dani took the sharp end. They simul-climbed and used every trick in the speed-climber's book to keep moving. And after 1:45:43, Edu and Dani stood on the summit ridge together.

Blood beat like a bass drum in their temples and it felt like their lungs would rip apart. No team has ever been faster on this route.

There were no problems on the descent and when the boys reached basecamp the weather was still perfect. Their shapely snow woman had become an unrecognisable heap of mush.

The two were pleased that there was still some time left before they had to break camp.

"Edu, we still have one day," said Dani. "Who knows when we'll ever be here again. Let's do something with it." They did not have to think very long because the Sphinx still had one riddle to solve: a king line by the name of Cruz del Sur.

"Oh man, I can hardly believe it. That is one of the best climbs I have ever done, Edu."

"I am happy for you, Dani, but so far you have said that at every belay." Even the complex boulder section on the final 7a/7a+ pitch did not stop Dani and Edu's run. Yet again they demonstrated their abilities, and after six hours and a few minutes they once again stood atop La Esfinge.

Lost wagers are debts of honour.

It is rare that folks achieve anything without having something to say about it afterwards. Summits are not usually silent places. Especially when it is two comedians like Edu and Dani.

"Amigo, this is our last tour," said Dani. "I hope you haven't forgotten about that celebratory beer you owe me?"

"And I thought that in such a significant moment you were going to say something meaningful like: 'It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.'"

"Sounds like Alex Huber?"

"It's Edmund Hillary, in fact. Let's go, I need a beer."

"Tranquilo, you'll get your beer. But first of all show me how to get down this mountain on your gums."

"Couldn't be easier."

Dani lay on his stomach, lowered his head so that his nose almost touched the ground, opened his mouth and then started to crawl like a stranded walrus.

"Now you try - works like a charm!"

A priceless picture. Edu started to gabble away because he could not believe what his friend was doing while Dani rolled up in laughter because Edu, snorting and floundering, looked just as idiotic. After a few minutes they were both completely out of breath. They agreed that they should keep at least some of their energy for the descent. They threw their arms around each other again before heading back down.

Part of this Cordillera Blanca is extremely glaciated, while another section known as Cordillera Negra is completely free of snow. Overall, the result is a varied mountain world full of contrasts, one where the likes of Spanish alpinist Dani Moreno feel at home. Whether sport climbing up to 9a, ascending classic walls in the Dolomites or speed climbs like the one on the Sphinx: Dani feels comfortable and safe in all terrains. There are many reasons for this, although there is one in particular that offers "unbeatable grip".

We are talking about the TERREX SCOPE GTX®, which handles challenging terrain with the same athleticism and agility as Dani. The sole is made from legendary

STEALTH rubber to provide a fine balance between viscosity and elasticity for extremely high friction, paired with interfacing L-shaped studs that claw into the ground for reliable grip uphill and on descents. The smooth climbing zone in the toe area is ideal for rocky climbing sections and the stabilising heel facilitates descents over scree and hard surfaces. Thanks to the breathable GORE-TEX® membrane, the Scope thrives in the snowfields of the Cordillera Blanca as well as in the dry Cordillera Negra: moisture is kept out because water vapour can escape even if the legs inside the TERREX MULTI PANTS give everything they have got. These pants in lightweight and highly resistant 4-way stretch material are ideal for high intensity sports and are perfectly complemented by the TERREX WINDSTOPPER® HYBRID JACKET. Dani needs full freedom of movement while climbing and the dynamic FORMOTION® cut moves with him, enabling the highest possible performance without restricting movement during the widest imaginable range of activities. The materials used for the hybrid construction of this jacket are also wide-ranging. They work together to optimise wind protection, ventilation and flexibility, depending on the area of the body. This top performance item comes into a class of its own as the intensity level increases. That applies too in relation to the weather. The application of lightweight yet tough WINDSTOPPER® Active Shell makes it absolutely windproof with a compact stowage volume and maximum breathability. Used in combination with the TERREX 1/2 ZIP SHORT SLEEVE TEE made using merino wool and Cocona® fibres, they deliver intelligent moisture management and expand the comfort zone into the extreme sector. Ensuring the necessary outlook and overview on the summits of this planet is the TERREX PRO, which thanks to an antifog-coated Twin FilterTM and climacool® offers ventilation even in the most extreme conditions and is as athletic as Dani's visions.

The SlAck B C

of Brazil

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