A series of number-three Big Bros spanned the crack below Marin, and the crack was so steep he couldn’t wedge his body into it. If I blow it, he thought, and they all blow out, I’m dead. He cursed in English and Spanish as he struggled up the overhanging offwidth on North Six Shooter tower, Utah.
Liquid Sky’s “old-school 5.11+” offwidth had been Marin’s goal since he’d moved to Colorado from Ibague, Colombia, and he’d been training for five years, throwing himself on all the wide cracks he could find in Indian Creek. With only a handful of ascents since Chip Chace and Jeff Achey’s FA in 1985, Liquid Sky is both legend and nightmare in desert-climbing lore.
“It’s old school in the sense you have to get in there and go for it,” Chace remembers. “It wasn’t at all fun.”
After the offwidth, Marin reached the bolt before the roof, and clipped. For the moment, he was safe. Then he looked into the gaping maw above, a no-pro squeeze chimney through a huge roof. Gaining courage, he wormed into the bowels of the tower—and got stuck for an hour and a half.
“My breathing was super shallow,” he says. “I was freaking out.”
Finally, he began pushing upward using controlled breathing, head facing down toward the talus. Feet first, he inched deeper into the tower at a 45-degree angle. Exhale, move, inhale, rest. “I used really weird techniques. My hips were doing all the work. I even tried to do a cartwheel.”
Marin followed a slightly wider passage through the rock until he reached the lip of the roof. Exiting the chimney, he pulled another difficult move before he got gear, and then finished up the final “casual 5.10 runout chimney.” On top, he was psyched he’d survived, but bummed to have fallen on the first pitch-—a straightforward 5.11.
After that first try on Liquid Sky, Marin’s hips were so sore he could hardly walk for two weeks. “Now I know why people don’t climb offwidths that much,” he says, smiling. “My second try went better, but I fell somewhere I shouldn’t have again, this time on the second pitch, below the offwidth.” He left the Creek for guiding work and ice season in Ouray, Colorado, determined to return.
Like others in Indian Creek, Marin throws himself on 5.11+ finger cracks. But how many typical Creek climbers run up the cavernous 5.12 offwidth roof on Brother From Another Planet five times in one day? Other offwidth ticks include Get a Life (5.12b/c) and Taming of the Shrew (5.12c/d) in Colorado National Monument, Monster Truck (5.12a/b) in Indian Creek, and Crack Whore (5.12c) in Canyonlands.
Marin splits his time between Ouray and Ashton, Washington, guiding in the San Juans and Cascades. Recently he became the first Colombian and the youngest South American to complete his rock certification through the International Federation of Mountain Guides (IFMGA).
“I’m doing my IFMGA because I want to bring knowledge to Colombia for the guides,” he says. “I’d like to standardize guiding there and make it safer.”
With scruffy brown curls and an animated demeanor, Marin is the image of many a young, soul-searching desert climber, tooling around in a VW bus, a purple and green woven anklet dangling above dusty flip flops. In his serious moments, though, he is quiet and thoughtful beyond his 24 years. We interviewed him at the Creek the evening after his second go on North Six.
WHY DO YOU LIKE OFFWIDTHS?
Because you’re stacking, you only have two appendages, so you have to be creative to get up them.
WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO CLIMBING?
I grew up in this little town in Colombia with a huge volcano, so I started climbing. We used army uniforms, and for gaiters we used trash bags.
When I moved to Bogota, I climbed in Suesca, a place similar to Eldorado. It has conglomerate sandstone, very polished, with trad and sport. Suesca is a beautiful, peaceful place, and is one of the best rock-climbing places in South America. Gear is so expensive in Colombia, so climbers use very little and routes are usually pretty heads up.
WHY DID YOU MOVE TO THE STATES?
My mom moved here nine years ago when she met a cool dude from Romania who lived in Grand Junction. That’s “mi dad,” my stepdad. I came five years ago. Before, I was in Colombia studying for sound engineering and percussion in college, but then the situation there got weird.
In the ’90s and early 2000s, Colombia was going through big changes politically and economically, as the violence from drug cartels ended. Access to the mountains was restricted, and wages were low. I was working in a climbing gym 10 hours a day for seven bucks.
Now, the guerrillas [the National Liberation Army and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces] are in the mountains, so climbers still have to know where it is safe to go.
DID YOU ENCOUNTER ANY DANGEROUS POLITICAL SITUATIONS?
Once when we were working as guides in Tolima, the guerrillas were using anti-personnel mines, and we had to be evacuated from the mountain because of a war between them and the Special Forces. They never shoot the Red Cross, though, so if you evac you’re safe.
To tell the truth, I don’t want to talk about the bad things Colombia has been in the past. I’d rather talk about the good things of my country.
WHAT ARE THE GOOD THINGS?
The food is great, with all types of fruit you can imagine. The climbing is awesome, with really good alpine and rock routes. The soccer games at the beach, the Caribbean music. The coolest part is even though people are poor, they live happily and thankfully with what they have.