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Lambert and Earle Unlock the Secrets of La Mojarra, Colombia
Posted on August 6, 2015

Steep rock and jungle atmosphere make up the ambience at La Mojarra. Mason climbs one of the classic lines, Lord Gales.

This spring, Eddie Bauer climbers Katie Lambert and Mason Earle headed south to the red sandstone of the La Mojarra climbing area in Colombia. Landing at the Refugio La Roca, high on the Mesa de los Santos next to Chicamocha Canyon National Park, the relaxed zone drew them south as the spring heated up, to sharpen their vertical skills and to experience the cultural richness of an area that treated them to world-famous coffee, fresh hippie fruits, edible insect harvests, dancing lessons and bolo, a national game of beer-bet bocce.

The climbing at La Mojarra on the Mesa de los Santos was the reason Lambert and Earle were drawn south. Yet the hardest routes on the private-access crag featured dyno and deadpoint moves that favored taller climbers, resulting in some challenging moves for the smaller-statured. Starting the two-week trip with a free-climbing attempt on a 14a route with an 8-foot dyno, Lambert’s frustration peaked with a tantrum, which was calmed by the sight of locals hauling their weekly goods on historic trails in wooden crates and baskets.

While the early focus remained on routes more suited to a longer reach , Lambert soon shifted mental focus to the airy, tiered sandstone roofs and horizontal moves on grippy, textured rock that climbed well in nearly any condition, even hot or humid. Problem solving with smears and knee-drops, she found a new way on the grippy sandstone. With a new outlook and a relaxed attitude, she finally unlocked a new approach to the Orion line, as well as ticking a few other first female ascents at La Mojarra, claiming victory for smaller climbers everywhere.

But more than just the climbing, it was the culture, the pace, and the destination that resonated with Lambert. We asked Katie to compile her thoughts on the journey in a travel and climbing journal and this is, word for word, the essence of what she experienced. —LYA Editor

Steep and stunning, climbing in La Mojarra, Colombia provides the opportunity to test your skills and enjoy authentic Colombian culture. Katie Lambert climbs one of the top tier classics of the area: Fuego en la Proa.

Words by Katie Lambert, Images and Captions by Ben Ditto

Monday – April 20, 2015

La Mojarra, Colombia.

We arrived in Colombia and entered the country without a hitch. A man named Edgar picked us up in his pick-up and drove us through the hills to the mesa where La Mojarra is situated, just above Chicamocha. Communication was minimal, as the red-eye flight and culture shock set in. We rode in the bed of the truck, with wind whipping through our hair and feeling a real sense of freedom, without fear of rules or regulations. This is the first real contrast to home.

The air is thick with life of the jungle; lush canyons are all around, and coffee plantations line the road leading to the Mesa de los Santos. Banana trees, pineapple farms and chickens inhabit the landscape.

The people are warm and welcoming, the Refugio is really beautiful. We are in a small bungalow, which is made of rammed earth and built on sandstone boulders. We have a shower though no hot water, but the view is so beautiful, so majestic that words will never paint the real picture.

The jungle is just below and humidity is thick. We are definitely in South America.

The facilities at the Refugio include an incredible yoga studio, which overlooks the Chicamocha Canyon. Katie takes advantage of the slow paced mornings to keep her body and mind in balance.

Tuesday – April 21, 2015

Exhaustion set in and I slept something like 13 hours. As I drifted off, I could hear the salsa music and laughter from the bar of the Refugio. It was a mosaic of dreams and real time as the travel delirium mixed with the humid air. It rained all night and the frogs played a sweet lullaby.

Upon rising, I was expecting to find the grainy sandstone to be damp to the touch, but it appears to dry quite quickly here. We are venturing off to the crag today. A 20-minute walk through some private land and a stop at a small shack of a store, where we pay for access, gets us to the base of La Mojarra.

The scene is gritty, to say the least.

We met the owner of the land and paid for our use of the place. It came out to approximately $1/day. It was an interesting scene to walk into. Four men sat on stools, drinking beer, as dogs and cats rolled around in the red dirt. They sized us up for a bit, giving us glimpses from beneath their sombreros before extending their hand to take our money. It seemed that they were taking a break from the unofficial national game called bolo. It’s like bowling, except it’s outside and a metal ball is tossed across the playing field towards tall wooden posts. Beers are bet and the old men dominate. They challenge us to a game sometime, and we hastily agree, as we tug our packs back on and set off for the rocks, towards where we are more comfortable.

I tried the 14a at the crag. It’s a beautiful route and the guys will be stoked on it, but unfortunately for me, there is about an 8-foot dyno in the beginning. I tried and, well. I’m not even close, so I’ll leave it and try my hand at some other lines. The sandstone is very similar to the rock in the southeast US. It’s steep with tiered roofs and huge moves with a lot of horizontals. This is going to be a good challenge for me to not get frustrated and just try things. The texture is really good and the heat and humidity hardly seem to matter. Never, ever, ever would we climb in conditions like this back in the Sierra—it would just be impossible.

The Mesa de Los Santos farmers market is a blur of locally produced food and commercial items.

Wednesday – April 22, 2015

Mornings are spent drinking coffee, doing yoga, having fresh-from-the-jungle fruit, and possibly even a nap. The cliff gets light first thing and goes into the shade around noon. It’s a leisurely pace we have, as much of a vacation as I’ve ever been on really. And that’s an interesting thing, because while we travel a lot for climbing, those trips aren’t exactly vacations.

This morning, as we lazed about the Refugio and slowly started to make our way towards thinking about climbing, our attention was drawn to the street below. Trucks were stopped and people were running around. The hormigas culonas—large ants—

were flying out of their holes. A traditional food of the people, they have been eaten for hundreds of years, providing a source of protein and fat. The ants are harvested at the time of the rainy season, which is when they make their nuptial flight. This is done only once a year. Only the queens with the fattest butts are gathered. The legs and wings are taken off and typically they are roasted. We joined in the gathering, ants crawling all over our feet and legs, biting with a fierceness never before experienced. We ate some while we were there, tearing their bodies in half and munching their hindquarters like blueberries. It reminded me in a way of trapping and eating crawfish back in Louisiana. The taste was even similar.

It continued to be an epic food day.

From the ant gathering, we walked up the road to The Fruteria–really just a house and a patio with crates of fruits and veggies. Chickens were in the yard, passing through the stalks of corn, and I asked them about some fresh milk. We left with a bag full of bananas, avocados, melons, pineapples, onions, plantains, peppers, chorizo, and eggs, and I was told that early in the morning, there would be milk. They also said that they can do our laundry! This will be a blessing after a few weeks in the jungle.

We finally made it out climbing. I encountered more long reaches and powerful boulder problems, more dynos and deadpoints. The climbing here lends itself to the tall. For the vertically challenged, it’s an interesting style.


Friday – April 24, 2015

There is a beautiful meditation/yoga room here. The doors open out to the valley below, and the morning mist circles the building: it’s green and blue and alive and vibrant. With every stretch and deep breath, I can feel the place connect within me. My yoga session today was followed by another trip to The Fruteria, and this time I left with warm, straight-from-the-udder milk! I couldn’t be happier. The people in this region seem to really pride themselves on organic farming. And although it is the Third World, the living here is good. In all of my travels, one thing I have really come to understand is that good food makes for happy people

We toured the coffee plantation today. We took a bus down the road to the finca. The bus itself was an event. Adorned with blue felt and ornate tassels, I felt like I was in Pakistan, but the large painting of Jesus told me otherwise. We were dropped off in front of a small shop, where fresh empanadas were calling our names, and we had a quick snack before taking the path to the plantation.

I was overwhelmed by the sounds of birds in the trees as we entered through the gate towards the Hacienda El Roble. It has been a working organic coffee farm since 1872, covering close to 800 acres in total and all shade-grown coffee. They use a method of traditional polyculture for their shade trees, which also provide a home for something like 126 bird species along their migrations. The tour took us through the grounds of the building, as well as through some of the coffee plants. Eucalyptus and banana trees towered above us as we sipped fresh-roasted coffee and dreamed of lives lived in the Colombian jungle.

I am more blown away by the culture and the people every day.

Shade grown on the Mesa de los Santos, coffee is tested with a specific protocol, known as cupping. Katie and Mason test a few of the hundreds of varietals that are grown here.

Saturday – April 25, 2015

Climbing—I threw a wobbler, a fit, a tantrum. I got really frustrated with getting shut down by big moves. It was just typical spoiled climber behavior.

Meanwhile, a very old couple who live in the valley below walked back and forth to their home, carrying loads of goods on their backs in wooden crates and baskets. I believe the walk takes about 2 to 3 hours and descends a few thousand feet in the blazing sun. Reality check.

Last night we had a barbeque celebration with the other guests at the Refugio, as well as the owners, Ricardo and Alexandra. We roasted a few local and free-range chickens. Hippie chickens, they kept calling them. Mason and I learned the salsa from a beautiful Colombian woman named Maria. Viva Colombia.

Monday – April 27, 2015

We are at our halfway point now.

Most of the other guests have moved on, continuing their trekking journeys or driving south in their Westfalias towards the surf and the mountains.

We climbed yesterday. I tried a route called Orion. I fell a few times at the crux, unable to move the rope up higher. Eventually I lowered and let Ricardo put the rope up for me. He told me that no short person has made this route. I guess this lit a fire under me, because I went back up determined to sort out something that would work. I unlocked some different beta using a small mono block of a hold. It’s technical and very powerful, but it goes! Everyone became excited by this new discovery.

Tuesday – April 28, 2015

I hurt my knee on a nasty, deep, drop-knee climbing move on Orion. I did finish the route though, and I am stoked to have added a contribution to the crag. Hopefully now that a petite woman has done it, it will inspire the other small locals to try it, especially the women. Despite my previous fits about the long moves and dynos, I am inspired by the climbing here and have managed to make a couple of other first female ascents.

I need to take a few days off.

I’ll be drinking coffee and reveling in the bliss of fresh pineapple.

Thursday – April 30, 2015

We have one week left.

Time passes quickly.

We had dinner with Ricardo and Alexandra at their house on the hill. Their place is also made of rammed earth. Never have I seen such style executed in such a naturally elegant way. We are enchanted with this land, with the people, with the way of life. As climbers we are drawn to a simple way of life, to taking only what we need and nothing more. We mesh well here with the Colombians, with their ways of living with the land, working with what they have in the best way possible and coming together in the process.

Taking a few notes from Katie, Mason finds an alternative sequence to the crux of Colombia's hardest route: El Espanol, 5.14a.


Saturday – May 2, 2015

The other day Juan and Ricardo were asking if it’s really true that conditions matter in climbing. For them, this is a foreign concept, the fact that being too hot can create terrible grip and being too humid can do the same. Juan asked me, “Is it really true that conditions can make something unclimbable?”

I laughed. Despite the humidity, we are climbing some great lines. I did another first female ascent of a route called El Lord Gales—it followed an incredibly steep roof out to its apex before turning the lip into a real jungle adventure, full of cacti, wasps and mud. Mason made an ascent of the 14a, El Espanol. It was awesome to witness his process. In the beginning he was unable to make the upper crux moves, but in giving himself the opportunity to explore a little, he found a different hold that made the sequence possible for him. Climbing is so dynamic and varied that way.

Sunday – May 3, 2015

Climbing again! I tried a route called La Temperatura. It follows the typical protocol here of long moves and dynos, and is another route not climbed by the small. I figured out all the beta and will try again soon. Where the guys can keep their feet low on good holds and thrutch for a hold, I have to bring my feet all the way up, smear them and dyno. It’s all about the individual experience for sure.

Mornings are sunny at La Mojarra and it’s too hot to climb until the shade comes around, so mornings are spent sipping coffee and catching up with friends at Refugio la Roca. Katie and Alexandra, the proprietor of the Refugio, plan our next step.


Wednesday – May 6, 2015

Our last full day here. We take the red-eye tomorrow night. I will miss Colombia. This random trip turned out to be a totally enriching experience.

We are fortunate to know this little part of the world. We came on a climbing trip to Colombia—not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of a destination for climbing, but it has been a very unique experience for us all.

I came here with hopes of on-sighting a lot and redpointing a hard project, but things turned out a bit differently. Instead, I had to humble myself to the nature of the place and open my mind to what the possibilities are. On routes where at one time no female had made her way through or no short person had either, I found ways through. I had to let go of grades and preconceived ideas and enjoy the process of unlocking the puzzles. In the end, I made a few contributions to the crag with some first female ascents, showing that quite often where there is a will, there is indeed a way.

Thursday – May 7, 2015

We are soon departing from this country, which was shrouded in mystery.

We didn’t know what to expect. What we found was a people so open and endearing that their warmth radiated like the sun; a nature so raw and so epic that to simply gaze at it was fulfilling enough; a culture of growing organic despite what modern times want to impose; a simple, low-key but very rich way of life; and a coffee that really was exciting to wake up to.

There was no hot water, nights were sometimes too hot to sleep, the mosquitoes probably could carry you off to feast on, bread is not a thing that Colombians care much about, and sometimes you lose the Empanada Challenge, but hands down, if given the chance again, I would go back in a heartbeat.

Refugio de la Roca and the climbing at la Mojarra are located along the rim of Chicamocha Canyon in the state of Santander, Colombia.


Check out the Motion fitness series and Travex adventure travel gear Mason and Katie packed on their Colombia mission at



Author: - Thursday, August 6th, 2015

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