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Climbing Near The Panama Canal

Author: jmaher
Date: February 20, 2006
After spending three weeks climbing with the students at the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation and then spending two weeks with our recreational climbing group, I took the opportunity of spending a week climbing for the fun and adventure of it.

Noel Rowe, an American with property near the Panamanian town of Sabanitas, on Sierra Llorona, had invited me to come and spend a few days in his area, so off I went for a few days of climbing on the Carribbean slope in an area of cloudforest and in an area along Lake Gatun on the Panama Canal.

The diversity of trees here was entirely different from that near ITEC. Climbs included a rather challenging ascent in a wildly twisted and epiphytically-filled strangler fig. Another climb, with Heikki Risannen and Noel, was in a gigantic Kanaloo that Noel and I had partially climbed the year before, and still another climb involved a tree described locally as a bongo, but not at all like other trees that had been pointed out to me as bongos. Then there was the Espave, or wild cashew, with its huge-in-diameter trunk and wildly diverging limbs well over a hundred feet above the forest floor. All of these trees were in rather remote areas that involved a lot of serious and steep hiking through dense forest. Many of the trees were unnoticed until we were standing at their bases, their tops hidden above the understory.

Another day was spent visiting Noel’s friends at Panama Natura, an eco-tour facility run by Willy Martinez, on Lake Gatun and in sight of the Panama Canal. At Willy’s I was able to demonstrate climbing to a few of those about and had the joy of meeting Elinora Martinez, a pint-sized bundle of happiness who watched all afternoon as we climbed the tree on their property. Iguanas provided a nice photo opportunity during the afternoon. A late afternoon boat ride on Lake Gatun allowed us to have an encounter with spider monkeys.

All in all the trip to Noel’s was productive in that I climbed a few tree types that I had never climbed before and saw some wildlife that I had never observed before. Then there was the really big chicle ( as in chewing gum) tree into which we have placed a line at well over a hundred feet but have not climbed yet because we ran out of time. I think Noel planned it that way so that he would have an excuse to invite me back again next year!

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