Cañon Tajo

by Richard J. Hughes

Jane, Catherine, Steve, James and Glenn met at our house on Friday night. We arranged ham radios in and drove in Jane's truck, our "Baja" bug and CAV2. Driving toward the intersection on 54th and El Cajon, I asked Catherine if she had remembered to bring her green card. And then I remembered, Oh Shit!, I'd left mine at home. We made a quick detour back home. James took 94 west instead of east. Once again, ham radio saved the day. Finally we were on the way, all heading in the same (correct) direction.

At the Tecate border, Jane and James were pulled over by the Mexicans but released without much ado. We made the correct turn at La Rumorosa. The winds were murmuring all right on Friday night but later, on Sunday, it was another story. As we approached Cañon Tajo, we missed the correct turn and explored individually, maintaining radio contact. Iteratively, we arrived at the correct sequence of turns and met at the Tajo campsite. John Smallwood, aka Mr. Tajo, was also there, having beaten James by the skin of his van. They collided as John tried to race past James at a turn in the road. We stayed up until 1 am drinking beer and Tequila, awaking the next morning at 9.

After a lethargic start, we set off in the direction of North Dome. James led off on a variation to Facial Expression. Jane, then Glenn followed. John showed up and pointed out the correct start to Patsy and me. Pitches one and three were 5.9 edging and pitch two was a short pitch of three consecutive 5.8 mantles. I cunningly offered to lead the first pitch. Patsy belayed as I stole my way upwards. A pretty good pitch, thin moves up a quartz dike and a water groove. Glenn took off from the belay as Patsy started upwards. No problem for Patsy, who immediately took off to lead the second pitch. This was all natural pro except for a bolt protecting the third mantle. At the third mantle, on her second attempt, she peeled off and fell backwards. Her body fell about 6 feet in a horizontal posture, head up. She was an easy catch though and, since she fell into space, she didn't hit anything. Of course, she was also wearing a helmet. In no time at all, Patsy was at the second belay.

I also had a heck of a time at the first two mantles but somehow made it up. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad had my fingers not been frozen. We dilly dallied trying to decide who should lead the third pitch. The others had already rapped past us. Glenn, attuned to our discussion, helpfully shouted up, "Toss for it, it's a really nice pitch, you'll like it". Since it was Patsy's birthday, I offered her the lead but she wasn't too keen. I took the draws and went for it. Reaching the first bolt wasn't too difficult. The second bolt was up and to the left. The climbing looked easier directly above, so I chose that route. Level with the bolt, I now had to make a difficult traverse left. What a struggle to reach that bolt. Phew, clip and I'm in. After another bolt, with the wind whipping at my trousers, I decided, "To Hell with this" and traversed right for an easier finish next to a crack. Trouble was I had nothing but draws for protection. Oh well, the right hand jam was pretty bomber.

Patsy joined me and we prepared to rap. I went first. The wind had carried the ropes off to the left and it was a real struggle to descend. We reached the second belay. On the ground, we pulled the ropes, but as the second rope sailed free through the air, the wind picked it up and carried it off to the left where it lodged firmly in the top of a large block lying against the face. We couldn't flick it free. Catherine tried to climb up the inside of the block but it was too scary and she came down. I went up, belayed by Patsy, with two large Camalots which I placed for protection, and a prussik loop which I placed on the jammed rope. I freed the rope and jammed the prussik loop into the same crack before feeding the rope through it. I rappelled down, still on belay. That way, even if the prussik slipped, I would still be protected by the two Camalots until about ten feet above the ground. Happily, however, the prussik loop didn't fail and I reached the ground safely.

It was cold and we'd had enough, so we packed up and returned to camp. We ate our pot luck dinner, including the birthday cheesecake which Jane had made for Patsy, before stealing to bed at 9.30.

Sunday morning we awoke at 8 to an almost sunny sky. While we were eating breakfast, though, it started to snow. The snow got heavier and heavier until it began to stick. Glenn took off with four other climbers to show them the way to the base of El Trono Blanco. Jane and James played "Tug-o-War" whilst standing on rocks. We had better go. We discovered a new way out to the main road (probably never to be found again since it was so straightforward) but were stopped by a Policia just outside La Rumorosa (murmuring winds no more) on the way toward Tecate. No way! He wouldn't let us pass. Instead we had to drive all the way to Mexicale, past the Federales with machine guns and meandering through Mexicale before finally making it to the border. On I8, the snow level was about 3,500 feet. We had been camping at just over 5,000 feet.

On the Internet, it said there was a chance of slight showers. Next time I'll listen to Captain Mike!


copyright 1995
Richard J. Hughes

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