“Mikki, ROCK!” I yell as yet another chunk of limestone goes sailing down the giant face for hundreds of feet. I readjust on small footholds, close my eyes, and force myself to take a deep breath. The last bolt is a few body-lengths below me, on a route that seems to be a nonsensical, endless choss pile. What am I doing here? I worry about Mikki, suddenly thankful we both brought helmets on a sport climbing trip.
Since I don’t trust the rock on any particular section, I decide not to bail off a single bolt; the only safe way out of this is to continue up to the next anchor. Sweat rolls off my forehead in the Mexican desert heat; it’s one of the hottest days of the trip. I move as delicately as I can with my clunky reconstructed ankle, carefully picking my way up the rills and ridges of the light grey limestone that makes up the massive Zapatista Wall on El Toro. Seriously, this is a load of crap. Why is there so much loose rock, and big runouts? This was supposed to be casual!
I grab holds that break off in my hands, which I then chuck out into space as far from the route as I can. I ‘garden’ to expose holds and cracks covered in dirt and plant matter. Don’t fall. Focus. Slow and steady. My frustration fuels me to the top of the pitch, where I find a giant ledge littered with loose boulders and debris. All I can think about is getting us out of this situation.
“Off belay!” I think that was the spiciest lead I’ve ever done. Whoa. I build an anchor and bring up Mikki. She seems equally annoyed at this route, and we are confused by how the route description could be so inaccurate compared to what we just experienced. We’re both spooked by the loose rock and runouts, especially with other parties below us. I try to lighten the mood by playing “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé on my old iPhone, and we have an impromptu dance party hanging on the anchor, laughing nervously before we start rappelling. It’s a bonding moment, one of many in our decade-long friendship built on climbing, adventure, and outright silliness.
The rappels turn out to be freaky as we inadvertently knock off more rocks, get the rope stuck in hostile cacti and plants, and arrive at the knots in the ends of the rope just within reach of each anchor. We communicate with the other parties on the descent, warning them that the route does not get better with the coming pitches—everyone decides to bail after us, as we all dodge rocks zipping past through the air. Touching back down on solid ground brings a huge wave of relief.