Drill? Check. Charged battery? Check. Bolts and hangers? Check. Pants rolled up to wade across a river with a machete slung across your rope bag? Check, check, check.
The first time I was a part of developing new routes was in Boquete, Panamá. The town had been my home crag for a while, with my adoration for the stellar community and neat basalt formations already strong. I thought my relationship with the rock was already established - pulling up to the crag juggling cups of coffee on the back of Mauricio’s motorcycle and blindfolded leads on Camino de Los Locos had my heart singing the praises of the crag that was 15 minutes from my kitchen table.
When the mention of adding a second pitch to a line at Icaro came up, I knew I wanted to be a part of the process. It would be my first experience developing a route, so I was psyched about all that I would learn. As we trudged our way across the Río Caldera, up through the coffee plants, and to the wall, little gaps in my understanding of the sport were constantly being closed. The amount of machete work that went into cleaning the route before brushes could even be thought about was astounding. My experience in Potrero Chico had given me a solid introduction to what it was like to have aggressive vegetation on the wall, but being in the middle of a Panamanian jungle was a completely new level. We were working for ourselves and were excited to be able to share the route with friends and visitors going forward. As the drill was brought out, there was great care and discussion about the best location for bolts and how different styles of climbing would all be able to succeed.
I had never given thought to so many of the questions that were being asked in front of me. Of course bolts are best when they’re in places where you can safely clip them. I had certainly been frustrated with poor bolt placement before, but only now was I realizing that when everything goes smoothly - as it does almost always in sport climbing - it is because a team of hardworking individuals did the hard work beforehand. Even when the rain started beating down on us in proper Panamanian fashion, we stayed out there and got the pitch finished. It was nothing groundbreaking. No professional climbers are going to come and seek out this route. It was a huge change for my brain though, and that’s something that will stick with me for a long time. Well, maybe it also had something to do with the great tunes that were coming from the speaker hanging off of a friend’s harness and the on-wall dance parties that happened throughout the day.
It feels like my appreciation to the intricacies of sport climbing has been forever changed. Since that day out at Ícaro, I’ve been out to a few other crags to work on bolting new routes. There is loads of learning to go before I’d be comfortable being the decision maker on a new line, but the enthusiasm is certainly there. The route we put up that first day has been a blast. Compression moves are in no way my style, so the refrigerator size block that starts mid-route has me especially thankful for well placed bolts. Before being a part of this process, I was ignorant to the amount of work and attention went into the routes I enjoyed so much. That first day out bolting made me appreciate my home crag in new, more well rounded ways.