Mordor (Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica)

Party : Fernando y yo.

I woke tired and grumpy. My shoulders sore from the heavy pack I’d carried through the jungle to explore yesterday’s cañón. Looking up at the impressive star spangled sky did little to improve my mood. It was the second morning in a row we’d woken at 3am. I roused Fernando, and waited as he slowly packed, my temper simmering.

We drove a short way down the rd towards town. Dropping gear off at the entrance to the approach, we left the car in front of the cemetery so the dead could protect it.

Donning packs and headlamps we went through a gate and headed up into the mountain as the clouds swallowed the stars one by one. A missed turn led us on a foray across some fields until we emerged with wet socks on the correct path.

It started to brighten as we crossed the Desagüe river. This was a good thing, as both our headlamps were near spent. Cañón Wo Hen Hao below looked like a lot of fun, but our focus would be much higher up in the river.

Dog still with us, we continued up, now paralleling the river on its northern side. Passing empty farm houses, and signs to waterfalls, we eventually reached the exit… Half way. Continuing up a ridge we paused so Fernando could enjoy a quick breakfast. Passing a weather(?) station we continued up the ridge rather than following the trail, and soon entered the bosque. There were many criss-crossing trails, but favouring the right the vegetation decreased in height until only dwarfed shrubs surrounded us. Then, suddenly, the trail dropped and the desolate Burnerss stretched before us. With a lighter step, I hoisted my pack a little higher and went to peer down into the cañón.Billowing clouds were crashing like waves against the side of the mountain which was keeping them at bay. The tide was coming in, but we enjoyed a couple hours of sun. Very welcome, as there was a biting wind. There was a light spittle of rain. Occasionally a drop would hit my eyes and sting… I didn’t want to spend too long here, the rain was acidic! Fernando put on an extra layer as I struggled to find the first anchor. Much of the rock was a ghostly white, as if all the colour had been burned away.

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Eventually I located a ~4m climb down to the anchor. To our right, the heavily oxidised original hangers were still visible. The Toros Canyoning Team had opened the route in Feb 2017, and then again in Jan 2019 after a lahar had devestated the cañón. On their second visit they found the original anchors heavily oxidised and inspired by the V-thread anchors used in iceclimbing, drilled through narrow sections of the rock thereby circumnavigating the need for bolts.

After putting on wetsuits to combat the cold, we replaced the cordino on one side of the V-thread, and after installing a new mallion, Fernando dropped down. Despite being less than 40m it was the longest in the cañón. We packed the tubulo we’d used on the pull side, into the dry bag, and continued down the side cañón that would soon join with the cañón proper below Scott’s tower of Barad-dûr.

There were three or four pitches before the junction, and a number of downclimb. The deep pools at the bottoms were mostly swimmers and I quickly learned to keep my eyes closed in the acidic waters.

Despite the flow being a little higher than described, I was suprised to see that water had come up over the anchors of the final drop.

Despite having to replace all the mallions, the bolts and hangers were in supprisingly good conditions. It’s been a while since high school science, but I think the cheaper mallions may have been lower in the reactivity series, and acting as a sacraficial anode. Considering the acidic environment it seemed like a good choice.

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Looking down the first pitch.
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Soon we dropped down below Barad-dûr and entered the main drainage. The cañón reminded me of those I’d visited in Death Valley, but few there had water, and certainly not the clear celestial blue of the terraced pools draped below us.

I couldn’t believe our luck when the clouds parted for a while revealing the blue sky.

As we continued downstream, slowly the vegetation began to return. There were a few escape options.

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Soon we were peering down a drop at a number of inviting pools, below which the cañón narrowed : The Belly of the Beast.

After a couple of raps we were looking down into a dark corner. You could probably downclimb this one, it looked quite easy from the bottom.

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From the corner, the water poured over a lip creating a kind of window. It was a cool spot. The next two drops were spectacular and we spent some time photo pfaffing.

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the window
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The cañón appeared to open after this, but supprised us with another series of pitches before the cañón walls finally relented.

We creek walked for a time until we reached the obvious exit on the right. The next section of Desagüe also looked inviting, but we were hoping to run Gatta Fiera the following day, so decided to leave it for another time.

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a fun slide
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We decided not to rinse our gear in the acidic water, though Fernando did find a use for it 😉

After two long days we were both tired and glad we’d decided not to run another section of the Desagüe.

After a break we finally arrived at the car and enjoyed a hearty belated lunch. After debating what to do, eventually we headed back to our camp spot from the previous night.

Heavy rains wracked the morning science. Gata Fiera was out, but still we we were happy we’d at least squeezed in Mordor.

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