This season in Chile and Argentina, despite lots of snow and rain, we made good friends, partied, ate lots of meat, drank good wine, and most importantly, we climbed!
Amidst multiple weeks of waiting out bad weather we beat all odds and climbed two spires in the Fitz Roy Range. On the first spire, Aguja Guillomet, we climbed a variation of the classic Brenner Ridge which we named The Lopez-Pfaff Variation, (6c+) 600m. The variation followed the Brenner Ridge for the first 4 pitches then traverses left into an overhanging crack system for the next 240m. The variation rejoins the classic route at pitch 8. We endured a marginal weather window that left us climbing in near white out conditions. We wondered how much longer we had until those gusty Patagonia winds would come out and knock us off the spire. They held off and we held out climbing in a 30 hour push from the village of El Chalten.
Back in town, the weather windows came and left before they ever made an appearance. One good thing about internet weather sources is that they are pretty accurate. The down side is it can get your hopes up showing a window a week out that disappears a day or so before it’s supposed to happen. We took full advantage of every opportunity. We were planning to climb Fitz Roy but as those who have climbed in Patagonia know, or learn, you can not have a plan; you just need to be motivated to climb whatever, whenever!
We had our gear stashed at Paso Superior so with the next window we decided to climb Aguja Poincenot, via the Whillans Route rather than fight the poor conditions Fitz Roy presented. We started out around 3am from Paso Superior crossing the crevasse filled glacier in the dark. We climbed the first few pitches in the snow, thoughts passed through our head about weather conditions, some thing unavoidable in Patagonia, but we kept on going. The Whillans Route follows the North East 70 degree snow ramp which in our case was full on ice conditions for approximately 4 pitches to the base of an ice filled rock chimney which we climbed at a grade of M4. The upper pitches were totally covered in snow so we climbed with tools and crampons all the way to the summit. We reached the summit at 10 pm and we were spent. We decided to rappel to a ledge and bivy there rather then figure out the rappels in the dark. We spent the night with no bivy gear wedged between a rock wall and the spire itself. At first light we unfroze our toes and headed down. We made it back to Paso Superior around noon.
We had an excellent time in El Chalten this year. The once very small town has undergone many changes in the past few years which has greatly affected climbers. The closure of the free Madsen campground forces climbers who want to stay in town to pay for camping in other places. This has also spread out the local crowd which made Madsen such an enjoyable place. The roads are fully paved and police patrol the streets. High speed internet is being installed and everyone has a cell phone. The prices are also more expensive now so that an empanada now costs three pesos. Even with all the changes, El Chalten will always be a special place because of all the great people there.
After El Chalten we headed to Valle Cochamó, Chile. The only information we had for Cochamó was that it was “The Yosemite of Chile” and we had heard of the heniouss approaches through the jungle. When we arrived in the Valley we were blown away, huge granite walls surround the valley floor and there is rock as far as you can see.
We arrived after a storm so the walls were still wet and things were drying out. After talking with a few other climbers we learned it had been raining for most of the season in Cochamó something not too uncommon for the area. But once again thanks to internet access from Daniel and Sylvina, the owners of the Refugio in Cochamó, we learned the weather was going to be dry for a few days. Lucky for us we only had 8 days here and we were ready to climb. We had been looking at a line on a wall named Milton-Adams so we borrowed some machetes from Daniel and started the 5 hour jungle wrestling, root pulling, and vine swinging approach to the base of the wall.
We tried two different approaches on the rock only to find Cochamó rock completey unique and can’t be compared to anything else. It is gritty, vegetated, run-out, flared and takes little to no gear. We found our way up a line to the right of a large gully. Our goal was to climb the two twin cracks on the head wall before the summit. After climbing 7 pitches of moderate to runout and sketchy terrain we arrived under the two cracks. Looking up at them they seemed possible but after going 2/3 up each we found awkward, flared, and gritty cracks that required bolts for protection, which was something we did not want to do. So we left it at that and will return next year to finish the run- out, flared crack! We named the route Welcome to the Jungle, (5.12? A1), 600m.
After we arrived back at base camp we still had a day to climb so we went to Pared Seca, a sport climbing area not far from base camp. We saw an excellent sport line so we borrowed a drill from Daniel and put up a 5.13 sport route. Placing 9 bolts on lead.
Valle Cochamó is an amazing place with excellent rock climbing and many unopened routes. We were surprised by the beauty of the area and the endless walls of granite. We will be back again next year.
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