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Introduction to Cachi
Due to the ease of accessibility, decently close proximity to San José, rainy season climbing options, high traffic, and constant upkeep of the wall and surrounding grounds, Cachi Crag is by far the most popular climbing area with Ticos and visitors alike. Both the range of difficulty and number of routes keeps climbers coming back for more. On weekends expect the wall to get fairly busy, especially the right side of the wall where the easier routes are concentrated, as this is when beginner groups make their appearance.
Cachi hosts a single wall with approximately 35 routes. There is no trad climbing at Cachi, and all climbs are a single pitch. Grades range from beginner 5.6 to teeth clenching hard 5.13+. At the base of the wall is an iron rich light oarange-red dirt that has been cleared of debris, vegetation, and obstacles making for easy access and hassle-free belaying.
The majority of the routes are squeezed into a relatively small space of approximately 30 meters across, however there is currently development expanding the wall and number of routes.
When you approach the Cachi Crag, the first thing you will notice is the irregularity of the wall which can be characteristic of some besalt formations.
The besalt you find at Cachi is a very unique style of climbing. If you have never climbed besalt like this before, you are in for a pumpy treat.
Just like granite, besalt is an igneous rock solidified from magma, and is widely considered to be the most common rock in the Earth’s crust. It is a fine grained, dark coloured rock that often forms in irregular ‘blocky’ formations. As a result, at Cachi you will find that the wall is littered with large feet, fat pinches, and plethora of slopers. The mass amount of slopers can often be deceiving in making one think that there are numerous handholds, when in reality most spend the majority of time on the wall trying to determine where your next ‘good’ handhold is.This can be quite the endurance test. The combination of fine grained besalt and sloper based climbing handholds can also easily lead to the quick deterioration of finger pads.
Compared to other rock types, besalt weathers relatively quickly which can create fragments of rock to become detached, cracked, or loose. If you find a loose rock while climbing, as with at any climbing crag, if possible, remove the dislodged piece in a safe manner so that subsequent climbers do not run the risk of an unwelcome surprise.
Conveniently, the climbing generally becomes gradually harder from right to left (when your back is to the river) due to the natural overhang of the wall. Regardless of whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced climber, there is a lot to do here.
In order to get the most climbing out of your day at Cachi it is recommended that you pack a lunch. There is also a couple of sodas (small eateries) and bars in the town up the road if you have not packed a lunch or feel like eating out. Other than this, restaurant choices are slim in the area. Heading back towards Cartago there are some restaurants along the highway that can host good meal potential.
Another option is to drive into the town of Cachi where one can find restaurants, sodas, and a grocery store. The town is approximately 2km from the.
Another factor that you should take into consideration when climbing at Cachi is the river. Being connected to the dam system at Lago Cachi, the river water levels can rise and fall very quickly without warning. Please exercise caution when along the riverside.
Also, when climbing, the ambient noise from the river can create difficulty in communication between climber and belayer. This is especially true when the climber moves above the tops of the trees.
Things to Remember
Costa Rica, more often than not, is an adventure to climb. Between trekking through jungles, fending off insects, and crossing paths with tropical animals you are sure to have a great day out. Here are a few things to keep in mind when climbing in Costa Rica:
- Bring extra water. With hot and humid often in the forecast you will drink more water than you may expect.
- Pack a brush; steel is best. Many climbs can become dirty after the rainy season and if you are climbing something that is friction dependent, you may need to do some spring-cleaning.
- It gets dark early and fast. This is especially true if you are in a ravine. Pack a headlamp or plan to get out early so that you do not get stuck in the dark.
- Bring a Spanish-English dictionary, if necessary. You never know when a couple words of Spanish will get you out of a jam.
Climbing at Cachi Crag costs 4000 colones and can be paid directly to the land owner, Don Vidal, upon arrival. If you are arriving during an off time, (during the week) you may have to visit Don Vidal’s home in order to obtain the key to open the gate before going down into the valley (the gate is at the base of the valley accross the bridge). On most weekends he is down at the crag climbing with his daughter or hanging out with the climbers. You can contact Don Vidal (does not speak English) for more information at 8867 8259, email at rockclimbingcachi@hotmail. com, or check out the Cachi Escalada Facebook page.
Don Vidal has some equipment for rent, however selection is limited. I would highly recommend bringing your own equipment. If you do not have equipment and are in the market, Costa Rica is the wrong place to be. With a very small climbing community, the sale of climbing equipment is not commercially viable for most outdoor retailers. Your best option is to order it online. If you are desperate, Mundo Adventura (P:2221 6934) in San José has a basic supply of climbing equipment (shoes, chalk, etc.).
Approximate Travel Time: 55 minutes
Exit San José on the Interamerican Highway (also called the Pan American Highway or Costa Rica Highway 2) eastbound towards Cartago. Just outside of San José you will pass a large mall with movie theater on the left side. Immediately after the mall you will come to a toll booth (the toll is approximately 200 colones).
Follow Highway 2 until you are about 2 km west of Cartago city. Here (currently traveling southbound) you will take a left bending road at a soccer pitch off Highway 2 and onto Highway 10 (now traveling eastbound into Cartago - there is a large sign). Highway 10 will take you directly through Cartago. Once you pass a large immaculate white basilica, stay right after the soccer pitch. Drive south for approximately 200 m to the next major road (Avenida 3) and then make a left.
This road will exit Cartago heading towards Parasio de Cartago on Highway 10. You know you are just outside of Parasio de Cartago when you pass a large cemetery on the right side. Once in Parasio de Cartago, make a right in the center of town at the corner of the park. Following this road you will go down and then back up a hill. A white sign on the right hand side (approximately 100m after the park and not overly obvious) will indicate where to turn left for the road to Cachi. Follow this road (and the signs for Cachi) as it will lead you down into the valley where Lago Cachi and the Cachi dam is located.
Look out for the bridge which crosses the mouth of Lago Cachi, passing the dam on the right hand side. Following the dam, take your next left up a small, low incline hill with the dam now on your left and then at the fork in the road, make a right. The road will continue through a small town. There is a soda and a bar in this town that can provide a post climbing beer and snack. Continue straight through the town. The road will bend to the left around a green church, followed by a small elementary school. About 400m after the school there will be a cemetery on the left hand side, the entrance to the crag is the next unpaved driveway on the left.
The land owners house is another 500m down the road on the left hand side. If you are driving a 4x4 vehicle with high suspension/ ground clearence (SUV, pick-up truck, etc.) you can venture down the entrance to the crag, and park at the base of the wall. Only 4x4 vehicles should go down to the base of the valley. This is because the road is unpaved, very steep and contains a lot of loose gravel and rock. Even if you are driving a 4x4 vehicle you may wish to think twice about driving down the driveway during the rainy season (May to November) as heavy rains can make the road downright undriveable.
Approximate travel time: 2 hours
From anywhere in San José take a taxi to the Lumaca bus terminal (P:2537- 2320). Alternatively you can also ask to be taken to the bus for Cartago to get to the same location. Any taxi in town should know where the terminal is. If you are walking, the terminal is located at Avenida 10 and Calle 5.
There is no direct bus to the town of Cachi from San José, so you will need take the bus from San José to Cartago and then transfer in Cartago onto the bus for Cachi. The bus from San José to Cartago takes approximately an hour and will cost just under 500 colones (or take a 700 colones direct bus).
Get off in the center of Cartago. Pay attention for the soccer pitch on your right hand side once you get into Cartago. Your stop is the one following the soccer pitch, which is beside a large white-walled Cathedral with red painted trim around the base of it, in the middle of town (this is located at Avenida 3 and Calle 6). Most Ticos will get off the bus here, as should you. Don’t forget to thank your bus driver. Once off the bus directly across the street is the bus stop for the Cachi bus. This stop is kitty-corner (diagonal) to a MusManni bakery.
The bus to Cachi will take approximately an hour and will also cost just under 500 colones. You must get off the bus before it gets to Cachi. Keep an eye open for the dam at Lago Cachi. The bus will cross the bridge with the dam on the right hand side and then take a left at the next street. It will climb a small hill and then take a right, turn a bend and go through a small town (this is not Cachi). Shortly, the town will thin out and the bus will reach a large green church where it will do a three point turn and go back the way it came (it will now go to the town of Cachi). Get off the bus here when it is doing its three point turn (at the green church). Remember that this is also where to catch the bus back to Cartago. Just ensure the bus is going to Cartago and not Cachi. Note: You never actually go to the town of Cachi (see further instructions on the return trip via bus).
Walk the opposite direction the bus came from towards the church and then around the bend past the school on the left hand side. Continue down the road for approximately 500m. You know you are close when you pass a small, white, ceramic clad cemetery on the left hand side. The next major unpaved driveway on the left that goes down into the valley is the entry point for the crag. Standing at the roadside you should be able to see the crag across the valley. Don Vidal’s home is another 300m past the entrance on the left. You can identify his residence by a sign reading Cachi Escalada.
The approach is a beautiful yet steep downhill walk to the river at the valley floor. When you get to an obvious fork in the road, stay left in order to use the bridge to cross the river. Once across the bridge, follow the road past the gate to the crag. If the gate is closed (it may be closed if Don Vidal has yet to open it) you will need to contact Don Vidal to obtain the key.
Returning by Bus
In order to return to San José by bus, head back to the bus stop near the school and the church. On regular hours the bus comes about every 45 minutes. Ensure that the bus you get on is going to Cartago and not Cachi. Once you arrive back in Cartago, the bus will drop you off at the same stop you you originally picked it up to head towards Cachi. This is where your return trip differs slightly from your trip to the crag. You can either get a taxi to take you to the terminal for San José bound buses, or you can walk for about 20 minutes. Walking central Cartago can be a bit confusing and from where the Cachi bus drops you off, the San José bus terminal is 6 blocks North and 5 blocks West. It is best to ask a local how to get to the terminal.
Where to stay
Besides climbing, the land owner has worked hard to provide a positive experience for climbers and non-climbers alike. For example, camping (3000 colones per night) is available both by pitching a tent under the tarp covered camping area or by renting one of the two rooms in the cabin which hosts a bed. The cabin has a picnic table, basic shelving, sink, and a bathroom for use as well.
The property also has a beautiful spring water fed swimming hole down by the riverside. The swimming hole has a bolt in a rock on one side and a tree on the other, so if you have a slack line bring it along and set it up overtop the swimming hole. This is a great activity to warm up before climbing and perhaps wait for the sun to get off the wall. There are also hiking trails along the river that lead to a small cave and more camping areas.
Respect the land owners. They are kind enough to let you use their property for your enjoyment.
Respect other climbers. Climbing is a community sport where the only opponent is the cruel crux that sends you airborne.
Respect the environment. Above all, respect the environment. The plants, the earth and the rock itself were here long before you came into existence and will continue to exist long after you are gone. Sustain its survival by treating it properly.
Pick up trash, even if it is not your own. Take at least one piece out on every trip.
Do not kill flora or fauna, no matter how small or large.
Live and climb as though you are organic with your environment.
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