North America, Mexico, Parque Nacional Cascada de Basaseachic, El Gigante, Man on Fire

Publication Year: 2004.

El Gigante, Man On Fire. This 21-pitch route (5.10d/A0 or 5.12a) was established by Alex and Nathalie Catlin, Cindy Tolle, and Bobby Longoria, Katie Bluementhal, and Tony Scott, in September 2003 (FFA later in September, by Alex and Nathalie Catlin). The bolts, except for two, were drilled on lead and entirely free (no hooks or other aid). On pitch six’s safe variation, however, two bolts were drilled on aid. Superpurists can take their chances with the loose blocks. We drilled approximately 70 lead bolts and 60 anchor bolts. All anchor material, except for tree rappels, is metal, not slings. The route was established in two phases. We worked from the ground for five days, fixing seven pitches, and then spent three days climbing to the summit and another day descending and cleaning. Although the rock quality was good overall, the 2nd, 4th, 11th, and 12th pitches contained significant loose rock. The 4th required gardening as well.

Nathalie and I returned in November. We cleaned pitches 9 to 18 on rappel, making them safe if not perfect. With Matt Greco we climbed a prettier variation to the 19th pitch. Nathalie and I also added a new finish (pitches 20 and 21). These were all climbed in the original style.

Suggested Access: Drive to the plateau above El Gigante. (If you need guides or porters, ask for Lalo at Las Estrellas in Basaseachi; he will hook you up.) Walk down the gully that runs northeast along the north side of the cliff to the river, good bivy caves, and the trail up to the northwest shoulder of El Gigante. There you will find a large camping spot (Rancho Santiago). The route climbs the buttress immediately above camp. Walk up the ridge from Rancho Santiago for three minutes to the base of the route; there look for bolts.

Climb past three bolts to a dihedral. On pitch two pass between two palms. On pitch four traverse right from a bushy corner past bolts. On pitch six, climb a seam and follow bolts right. (The original line continued up the seam to a palm, but involved dangerous blocks.) To the right of pitch eight is a bolted bivy ledge. Pitch nine leads past bolts to an overhanging crack, the top of a pillar, and another bivy possibility. Pitch 12 zigs out left past an arête, then zags back right to the arête. On pitch 14 climb left to a gully and ascend it, before angling left to the top of a garden/ledge with a bivy site. A fixed rope may help you find your way. From the left end of the ledge begin climbing again at a small corner with oak trees. Climb a crack until palms force you to the arête. Climb past rappel anchors up to a nice ledge. Pitch 16 climbs a perfect crack to a cool cave. Pitch 17 climbs the arête to the left to a garden. On pitch 18 climb the right wall and finish by angling farther right. Pitch 19 follows a way cool thin crack, pitches 20 and 21 an arête that leads to the summit.

Descent: Rap anchors enable you to descend east from the summit to the saddle between the two summits. If you left a second rope and/or haul bag at the top of the 19th pitch, you can walk down west from here to retrieve it. You can then follow a good trail east along a ridge to your car (one hour). Alternately, three tree rappels (20m, 25m, 50m) get you down to the pitch 15 rappel-anchors, then a 40m rap to the bivy. Descend the fixed line to the top of the pitch 13. A 40m traversing rappel gets you to the top of pitch 11. Rappels of 40m or less then get you to the ground.

Rack: Standard wires, double cams one-half to three inches, the three smallest tri-cams, slings, ten draws, and double ropes. I did not bring a larger piece, making the 16th pitch 5.9R, but I did wedge a few chockstones.

Alex Catlin