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LA ESFINGE – THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX

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Two climbers from Spain, Dani Moreno and Eduard Marin Garcia, find themselves in Peru facing the most puzzling challenge of their lives on La Esfinge, or The Sphinx. And with a hilarious bet on the line, the stakes could not be any higher.


2-4-0

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!” "This is serious" said Dani. "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."
"Hombre: firstly, we are in Peru, not Greece. Capiche? 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."
Laughing, Edu replied, "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!”

ACCLIMATISATION IN HATUN MACHAY

A couple of days before tackling The Sphinx, Edu, Dani and Chuki ventured to the unique rocks of Hatun Machay, where their guide Chuki had spent the previous year notching up a load of first ascents and exploring potential lines. 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. 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”. "However, If you want to experience the full-on culture of a country, then you have to party with the locals!" said Chuki. Edu and Dani exchanged glances. Nothing easier than that. As dusk fell back in Huaraz and people flowed onto the streets, they danced, sang and drank. Dani, Edu and Chuki 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

Although the drive here 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 Gomez “Sevi” Bohorquez and Onofre Garcia. Over 750 metres of the finest granite and right at the top of the wish list. Early the next day, 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. 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

This time they thinned the rack down to the bare minimum. All Dani and Edu took were a couple of cams and nuts, a 40-metre rope and a load of faith in the ability of themselves and their partner. That is exactly what speed climbing is all about: having 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. There was no way they could hope to be rescued here, in such a remote location. OK, enough of the gloomy picture. 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. "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. 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.

"Amigo, this is our last tour," said Dani. "I hope you haven’t forgotten about that celebratory beer you owe me?" "Tranquilo, you’ll get your beer. But first of all show me how to get down this mountain on your gums." 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. Dani rolled up in laughter because Edu, snorting and floundering, looked just as idiotic. 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.