La Barrosa: a Partial Descent (Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica)

(Originally posted here)
(Follow up media release here)

Party : Daniele Rocchi & Scott Trescott (The Toros), Felix Ossig-Bonanno & Fernando Fraire Tirado (The Visitors), and Recardo Cerdas (The Tico).

After two weeks of exploring Costa Rican cañóns, having trouble renting a new car (it turns out credit cards have their place, but if you rent one car, and then don’t have a a sufficient credit limit for the deposit on the next, it sucks!), we hit up a couple of beaches on the Guanacaste coast: Sámara, and my preferred, Buenavista. Fernando went surfing and met some people. I got eaten by sand flies and did some writing in the car.

The weather unexpectedly made a turn for the better, and we were finally invited on a canyoning trip. It was with the Toros team, and of an exploratory nature. The weather was supposed to be great, and we thinking to decline the offer and run Mordor… It was a hard choice… Be part of a potential first descent, or run arguably the best route in Costa Rica? We had a small weather window.

By the time we got to Scott’s place to return the rope (we’d only used it once… In río Seco… And it es two short!)… he was asleep… Prob because they were planning to meet at 4am… After eating, we decided to join them. Some rushed shopping and eventually we were searching for a place to sleep. It ended up being the side of a random dirt road on route to the meeting spot in Marsella.

Grumpily waking at 3am I roused Fernando (couldn’t it be the other way round for once!), and waited only a short time for him to pack… Maybe because I decided to time him… 22mins… (40mins for Mordor the following day).

We pulled up early at the meeting spot and almost immediately Scott drove past. We followed him up to the farm house of Don Carlos. I was supprised he came to meet us.

Soon Daniele and Recardo arrived. Gear was returned, sorted and packed and soon we jumped into the back of Don’s ute and headed down the rd (the access for the hydroelectric at the bottom of Gatta Fiera), and began hiking up the ridge.

The trail had been blazed two or three times but was still very slippery. We were walking through a national park, but the land was in limbo, apparently the government hadn’t yet paid the landowners so it was technically still private. One land owner wouldn’t grant us permission, forcing us on a more circuitous route. We went up and down crossing ridges and rivers the bothersome flies actually matting Fernando’s hair with blood and the terrain destroying one of Recardos shoes. After nearly 4.5hrs we arrived at La Barrosa.

We peered down from a side creek into an amazing constriction with frothing white water. To save time it was decided to skip this section abseil down to the top of the big waterfall : the crux of the route.

Rapping down to the top of the big falls.

Scott went first, and I soon followed joining him on a beach of polished rocks. Framed perfectly by the window created where the river dropped down through the cliff, the waterfall Latas could be seen falling 200m down on the other side of the Río Toro.

As soon as I got down I couldn’t help bet take several photos of Scott framed perfectly by the window overlooking Latas.

After being mesmerised by the view, I looked up canyon and climbed up the side were the water had cut a bend into the rock. I stood on top of a log stuck diagonally into the cañón. Upstream I could see the side stream we had been at earlier, creating a waterfall where it dropped into the constriction. Looking the other way, I watched the others descend one by one, and then jumped into the white-blue water.

Looking upstream at the waterfall created by the side stream.
Fernando dropping down to join us.

More photo pfaffing followed. It took a long time, but it was important for the Toros Canyoning Team to retain and gain the sponsorship they relied on to open canyons and publish the information on their website for others to enjoy… Probably the long term plan of the sponsors to sell more equipment 😉

I soon tired of photos and decided to see how far I could reverse the cañón. Clawing my way along the right (CL) wall, I swam across the stream, at first surprised at how easier it was. The water was bouncing off the wall and the current was therefore in my favour! Climbing up beside another log, I gained the top of the falls, and triumphantly looked down canyon. I have the next section a crack… It was a traverse along a wall above a white frothing turmoil of water. I got most of the way, but balked at the last bit and headed back to have a break.

Looking down from the top of the first fall above the big drop.
Thanks for this shot Recardo

I eventually decided to give the constriction another crack. This time I made it past the traverse. There was a key handhold up higher I’d missed on my first pass.

I went a long way upstream, and then returned for a couple more laps. Once with a gopro.

During this time Daniele had put in a bolt (two actually, the first split the rock) to rig a traverse to a tree CL of the falls. The bolt wasn’t really nessacary, but made it a a lot easier to move back and forward. I found a good thread and added it as an anchor on one side of the traverse. Whilst Daniele was fixing the other end, I was belaying him whilst Scott filmed… The footage of me later turned into a strange little clip…

Daniele dropped down and put in two more bolts for the next pitch : a free hang of 100m!

After lunch Scott was the only one to descend…. Daniele expressed concerns about the next constriction below the big catarata… I had a look and saw what he meant…

With the spray of the waterfall it was hard to say what happened just afterwards, but the river then passed through another narrow constriction (compete with a natural bridge!). It looked dangerous and potentially unpassable…

There wasn’t enough time to desend and be sure we’d be out by dark… Especially if we wanted to take photos and video. That was it. We were backing out.

Daniele on the first pitch. Looking down at Scott 100m below.
Looking down the waterfall. Constriction visible if you zoom in.
A close up of the constriction. Note the arch at the end.

It took a long time to get back up. Hours. Whilst I attended to a call of nature, Scott ascended back up leaving his pack below. When I descended back down the rope (having completed a loop), Daniele and Fernando were hauling everything up… Using a 3:1 I think.

I dropped down, only to prussic back up to begin hauling packs up… And then Recardo! I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was his first unissisted abseil. Second ever. We really should have belayed him! Anyway, ascending wasn’t really working for him, so Daniele, Fernando and I hauled him up… Well actually, I was minding the pulleys and calling the resets whilst they hauled.

By the time we and everything was all up it was dark. I was supprised how long everything had taken… Heads down we reversed our route up and down the ridges and rivers. We took an unsanctioned shortcut on the way out. We needed to. Fernando was getting really tired and slipping a lot more. Fernando and I also got bitten by a horde of ants.

I think we were all tired when we hit the main road. Don picked us up and we were soon back where we started. Gear again sorted. And money collected. We were paying ¢4k each. A total of ¢20k. I thought it was a little much, but decided to shut up and just pay.

Everyone quickly headed off. When Fernando emerged from the shower, they were gone.

We headed off to our familiar bridge camp. We were in for another early morning. Tomorrow we were going to have a crack at Mordor. Please be nice weather!

Post note:

A month later the Toros team descended the cañón!

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