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Lovin' the mountains

So Long, and Thanks for All the Rock

Already as a child I had to learn a truth about life, that everything has an end. It is always very sad for me to finish a bag of “Basler Leckerli”, my favourite biscuits, but on the other side it is nice to finish a work day in order to follow my leisure time activities.

Together with Louis we had the chance to spend half a year living our dream, travelling a new continent and seeing it from the sky, climbing fantastic routes and standing on high summits, discovering hidden places and sleeping under a new sky full of stars. We visited colourful Peru, with bustling markets, chaotic cities, high mountains, excessive glaciers and perfect though cold waves. We toured through extreme Chile, with perfect cracks in the dryest desert in the world and with overgrown cracks in the jungle version of Yosemite in Cochamo. And finally we fell in love with diversified Argentina, from the tradclimbing paradise Arenales to the extreme walls and weather conditions of Patagonia.

At this point we want to thank our readers for their interest, their contributions and their patience. I hope that you enjoyed our trip as much as we did and that you forgot the horizontal world the time of reading about our adventures. Our trip has come to an end, but an end is at the same time the beginning of something new… Let us see what it will be for us!

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

Climbing in Monsant, Catalunya, Spain

The Wallis, Switzerland

The Wallis, Switzerland

The ones interested in our activities and that of our friends can follow this blog: http://peaupow.wordpress.com/

So Long, and Thanks for All the Rock!

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Stop Shaking the Tent, Please!

Does this hold?

Does this hold?

Living on a separate island forcingly changes one’s way of life. The first concern for sure is food and shelter, once this assured, one starts to look for activities and tries perhaps to connect to the outside world with a message in a bottle. After the first “brecha” in El Chaltén, the weather seemed to be very bad beyond the forecasted time which is 8 days. So we were to experience this very same isolation since we were trapped in El Chaltén, waiting for the next window of good weather. Analogue to the island life (let it be a tropical island to make things easier), our first focus was the kitchen. Our menus improved drastically, Pumpkin “Quiche”, Brownies, home-made bread, Banana cake, Moussaka, Lentil goulash… As for our shelter, in the Refugio de Chaltén, the family of Natalia and Jesús and their kids made us feel at home. Our daily training consisted in climbing the nearby cracks when the weather was good enough, and some stretching and important thinking when the weather was bad.

Jan's chef-d'œuvre, the Cerro Torre

Jan’s chef-d’œuvre, the Cerro Torre. The three nuts are Chris, Paul and Tony

Every year hundreds of seasonal workers are coming to El Chaltén during the summer to work in hostals, restaurants, ice cream shops, trekking agencies, etc… Most of them are young folks and very active even after their workday. Coming from different parts of the country and with different backgrounds, everyone contributes what they can to animate the life in Chaltén: Folk dance lessons, tango lessons, concerts, milongas, recitals, cinema classes, etc…, much of it taking place in the friendly café La Lucinda.

Louis traversing the river

Louis traversing the river, body tension!

Louis approaching the basecamp

Louis approaching the basecamp

After all, the ten days we had to wait for the next “brecha” went by quickly with all these activities. The weather finally looked promising, beyond the end of the forecast! Although only the three first days are given with a high certitude, this seemed to be an incredible happening. We set off on the first day of good weather, walking below a clear blue sky. As bad the weather can be in Patagonia, as surprisingly good can it be during the “brechas”. Our main goal was to climb the route “Chiaro the Luna” on the Aguja St-Exupéry, a must do for rock climbers and we wanted it to be dry, since the team that had attempted it during the last “brecha” had had the cracks of the upper pitches filled with ice and therefore had turned around before the summit. Upon our arrival at the Niponino camp, the face we wanted to climb was drenched in water. Our planes were soaked as well, so we decided instead to climb first El Mocho, a summit on the Torre massif at a lower altitude which looked dry.

That is not over modified!

That is not over modified!

The wall becomes steeper in the second part of the "Voie des Bénitiers"

The wall becomes steeper in the second part of the “Voie des Bénitiers”

We got up before dawn and climbed to very, but very unstable moraine up to the foot of El Mocho. The sunrise dipped the steep rockwalls in red, just as we reached the start of our route, the “Voie des Bénitiers”, opened by the Swiss Michel Piola. Louis was leading the first part with several tricky 6b pitches, whereof one very memorable pitch climbing a distinctive pilar by a 30m long hand jam crack, incredible! I started to lead the crux pitch, a 40m exhaustingly long finger crack system with a severe move on a slab that goes free at 7b+ (at least that is what they say). The climb remained sustained until the end, Piola is not known for easy grades… The sun was strong that day, drying us out, so that the snowfield at the top was our salvation.

Few good jams in the crux pitch

Few good jams in the crux pitch

Despite stucking our rope twice, we managed to rappel down quickly and reached our tent before dawn. During the day we could spot at least 3 teams in “Chiaro de Luna”, all the better we had changed our planes avoiding the congestion, and during the night we saw a few head lamps coming down the approach gully, we hoped it would not be our case.

Thats the crux pitch, better not to stuck the rope on this one

That is the crux pitch, better not to stuck the rope on this one

The thief of our bread, the "zorro" of Niponino

The thief of our bread, the “zorro” of Niponino

The next day was a rest day, we wanted to find out how the weather forecast had evolved and we used our radio to communicate with the National Park guards. The information they provided did not allow us conclude, only until a recently ascended hiking guide informed us about the actual conditions. We knew that we had to make a second rest day because of high winds and a bit of rain, which occured pretty exactly. On our second rest day we tried to kill time socialising. We met two teams that had made attempts on the South East Ridge of Cerro Torre (Corkscrew Linkup and Kennedy-Kruk route), interesting persons with very interesting projects.

Luckily we are not climbing now...

Luckily we are not climbing now…

We started hiking in the afternoon to join a small bivouac place at the foot of the Aguja St-Exupéry in order to shorten the hike to our next route. Equipped only with a sleeping bag and a mattress, we passed a splendid first night under the stars, with a direct view of the Torre massif. We got up early in order to start climbing with the first light. The air was fresh and the sun was not supposed to shine on the route before midday, but we soon got the rythm of the cracks, which were to be never ending and perfectly shaped.

Our bivy at the foot of Aguja St-Exupéry

Our bivy at the foot of Aguja St-Exupéry

with a perfect sight!

with a perfect sight!

Being the winner of our highly sophisticated selection method, Louis led confidently the first half of the climb until we reached the shoulder where we changed the roles. After some improvised route finding, we arrived at the crux pitch, which was an amazing 50m pitch with some steep climbing and a 10m Dülfer runout at the end – better not think about it too long but climb. A few more pitches in a deep and wet chimney led us finally to the summit ridge which was already in the shade and covered with ice and snow.

Never ending cracks on "Chiaro de Luna"

Never ending cracks on “Chiaro de Luna”

10 m of unprotectable dülfer... don't think, climb!

10 m of unprotectable dülfer… don’t think, climb!

Louis preparing the rappel down the chimney. The two South Africans opted to rapp down on the right side, the better option. The started 20 min before us and finished 1h30  before us

Louis preparing the rappel down the chimney. The two South Africans opted to rappel down on the right side, the better option. The started 20 min before us and finished 1 hour before us

At the summit we met the South African team which we had got to know the day before, who had climbed the Kearney-Harrington route. The summit was really nice, but we were only halfway since the rappels promised to be interesting. Instead of following the South African team, we decided to descend the chimney that we had climbed up, according to the topo… Due to the disrupted character of this chimney we were forced to make short rappels in order not to block the rope which took us an eternity. Soon we saw the other team descending the gully at the bottom of the rappels and we still had a couple of rappels to go. Finally at the break of the night we reached the gully. But the game was not over yet. Since we are supporters of the “light and fast” technique, we had left our boots at the start of the climb which was a good 250 m below us on a 45 degree slope with quite a lot of loose stones, snow and slabs. Furthermore a huge rockfall had taken place during the day in this very gully, shaking our mountain and covering the slabs with a layer of dust and rock debris thick enough to make us slip with every step. Soon we realised that walking down with the climbing shoes was not an option, so we started to rappel down again, fighting with the knots in our rope, the search for belays and the loose rock debris. The darkness was complete during the new moon, so we wondered how the h… they could have named this route “Chiaro de Luna”?!

The king of the place, the condor

The king of the place, the condor

Rappelling into the gully

Rappelling the chimney

The Torre massif and the stars. We spent a second night in our little bivy

The Torre massif and the stars. We spent a second night in our little bivy

Finally we reached our bivy spot and spent another night below the stars. The next day we descended to Niponino, only to discover that the fox had broken the protective rock barrier around our food stash and had eaten or tasted most of it. With the news that the weather was still favourable for at least four more days, our decision was therefore taken easily: hike down to El Chaltén, buy more food and attack again!

The fox is observing. During our last night he succeeded to move away really heavy stones and stole most of our food... What a b...!

The fox is observing. During our last night he succeeded to move away really heavy stones and stole most of our food… What a b…!

We climbed:
-El Mocho, Voie des Bénitiers, 6c C1, 400m
-Aguja St-Exupéry, Chiaro de Luna, 6b+, 750m

More pictures can be found here.

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Post-Rock Trip Piedra Parada

Sometimes the environmental conditions make that one has to fight hard to be able to climb, sometimes the conditions are just ideal, so that one can focus entirely on the difficulty of the climb and forget about frozen fingers, wet and overgrown cracks, bad protection, the weather forecast and nasty “tabano” flies confounding one’s nose with a runway.
Coming back from Cochamó we felt that we needed a cosy place like that and after all with the weather models forecasting rain and storm for Patagonian mountains till end of December, the Patagonian “meseta” seemed a nice and almost dry place to be.

Thats a definition of a "front" in the Argentinian "meseta"

That is the definition of a “front” in the Argentinean “meseta”

Piedra Parada in the moon light

Piedra Parada in the moon light

La aguja de la Virgen at the beginning of the 5km long canyon

La “Aguja de la Virgen” at the beginning of the 5km long canyon

The “meseta” is part of the most extensive desertic region of Argentina and was subject to intensive geological movements of elevation and lowering giving place to a stair-like landscape. The high geologic activity in this region has also given place to a fantastical rock formation, the Piedra Parada, a more than 200 meter high freestanding monolith, whose story began 65Mio years ago. If one wants to go for the technical term the Piedra Parada is the most important “volcanic-piroclastic complex” in the region of the Chubut river. It is the leftover of a gigantic volcano with a caldera diameter of about 25km, and was active before the Andes were created. The many colors of the stones that can be found in its vicinity are witnesses of the agitaded past. During the last eruption the volcano collapsed and the lava in the chiminea cooled down and formed what is known as the Piedra Parada when the softer stone around the chiminea eroded.
The Buitrera canyon lies near the Piedra Parada and is a product of erosion. Its colors and the strange rock formations must have fascinated early populations since the oldest proof of human dwellings in the region (between 5’000 and 10’000 years ago) can be found at the entrance of the canyon.

The great variation of stones in the Buitrera is amazing

The great variety of stones in the Buitrera is amazing

A thistle

A thistle

More recently a new form of live could be found in the canyon:  climbers. A definite climax of the population was to be found during the Petzl Rock trip in November 2012, when more than 1600 climbers were queueing for 200+ routes in the steep and richely featured rock walls of the canyon. When we arrived three weeks later, there was hardly a trace of the overpopulation, except for the brand new car of Don Mario, the owner of the camping ground.
We immediately made acquaintance of the “local” climber tribe, climbers from France (Tchen and Thibaut), Chile (Antoine), Argentina (Maria and Walter), all of them spending several weeks/months in the Buitrera.

Lost in stone

Lost in stone

Antoine climbing in the Ojos del Buddha

Antoine climbing in the Ojos del Buddha sector

Thibaut in a 8a+

Thibaut in a 8a+

After all the trad climbing and long approches we had done lately, Louis and I had a hard time getting used to the hard sport climbing, but we learnt quickly that we could rely on the bolts and climb until you fall. Inspired by the insistence of the others we also started to work harder routes, meaning that we tried a route several times up to the moment we were able to climb it without falling.

A climbable cheese

A climbable cheese

Jardin del Eden

Jardin del Eden sector

Antoine the climber and Tchen the photograph

Antoine the climber and Tchen the photograph

Adrien and the holes

Adrien and the holes

Apart from small showers we stayed dry, the wind was more than bearable, the temperatures were agreeable, we had a swim in the river Chubut every day, sat down by the fire at night sharing our exploits of the day. We finally again felt mentally prepared for a harsher environment and during our stay the weather situation had improved in Patagonia, nothing could contain us now from heading to El Chalten!

Don Marios Rooster at the camping

Don Mario’s rooster at the camping

Stone, stone, stone...

Stone, stone, stone…

More pictures can be found here.

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Taking a Load Off at Marius’ Place

Since August Louis and I have been on the road or let us say on the rock, we tried not to spend more than 2-3 days in cities or to travel and to climb the rest of the time. This resulted in a tight schedule, since everytime that we were in a city, we needed to find out how to get to the next climbing spot, to buy the provisions for a week, to wash our clothes, to sort the photos and actually to travel. Once at the climbing spot life was more relaxed and we were only bothering about climbing, eating and painful fingers and toes.

Raffa on the invisible hold in the boulder in Valdivia

Raffa on the invisible hold in the boulder in Valdivia

However, at some point, we felt that we needed a break. Moreover we had been longing to visit our friend Marius in Valdivia who was part of our team in the Cordillera Blanca (Peru).
For the time of a week we again had a real home (thanks Paola and Marius!), did some sedentary activities like going to the movies, having our hair cut or going to the local boulder gym that Marius recently founded with some friends. At “La Gruta” we also had the opportunity to make a presentation of our trip and to show some of our pictures to the local climbers community.

Marius climbing out of the jungle

Marius climbing out of the jungle

Marius on the basaltic plate

Marius on the basaltic plate

In order to maintain a certain connection with nature, we also spent a day rock climbing in Llifen that offers a bunch of sport climbing routes in basaltic stone that is located in the backyard of Valdivia (given the distances in South America it was still a 2 hours drive). On top of all these relaxing activities we visited some rudementary hot springs near Llifen.

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The “termas” of Llifen

The sunset seen from the restaurant... beautiful!

The sunset seen from the restaurant… beautiful!

After this relaxing stopover in Valdivia we had the very much required strength to undertake our next quest, the Yosemite of South America, the mythic Cochamo Valley.

Some more pictures can be found here.

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The Fairy Tale of the Enchanted Valley

Once upon a time, there was a land without a name. Vast spaces devoid of people, stepplike plains, glaciers, fjords, deserts, lakes, impenetrable forests, canyons, mountains.
Nomads called Tehuelces travelled these boundless spaces from east to west, following their hunting habits.
Magellanes was the first European to encounter them in 1520 and he was so astonished by their average height of 1m80 that he gave them the name “Patagons”, after the giant in the novel “Primaleón” that appeared in 1512 in Salamanca, Spain. (The European average at that time was 1m50).
In the centuries that followed, the Mapuches, another indigenous tribe with its  origins in today Chile, slowly displaced the Tehuelces due to their superiority in war techniques and the use of the horse brought by the Europeans. For the central government in Buenos Aires the Mapuches though signified an important resistance against the advance of the Hispanics in the 17th and 18th century. Nevertheless this resistance was broken with the “Campaña del Desierto” in 1879, a war against the indigenous population with the aim of colonialising Patagonia, resulting in a genocide of 20’000 people.

The deserted other side seen from Bariloche

The deserted lake side seen from Bariloche

During all times, Patagonia attracted the people. First Englishmen appeared in their conquest of the seas during the 16th century, then European scientists thirsty for new discoveries in the 18th and early 19th century, then missionaries that brought the cross and finally exiled people who did not have any other place to go. After the “Campaña del Desierto” in the 19th, the land was distributed to soldiers and landlords from Chile, Yugoslawia, Wales, Poland, Scotland, Denmark, England and Holland. The few indigenous people that survived the war were enslaved.
About twenty years ago a new race of conquerors appeared in Patagonia, the millionaires.
With their fortune, they could acquire large parts of land in very little time: Patagonia has become a topic at the table of the rich.

But before anybody is able to buy land, someone needs to sell it. The local government played an important role in selling Patagonia to foreign investors. They kept silence when indigenous communities claimed land they had been cultivating for years and in other cases they gave crucial information to the potential buyer (for example about the original owners of the ground) as if they were an real estate agency. It is not a surprise that many officials really opened their own real estate agency after leaving the public sector. Between 1996 and 1998 a particular government official authorized the sale of 8 mio hectares near the boarder region, which corresponds roughly to twice the surface of Switzerland! (Selling real estate in a area within 50km from the boarder has to be authorised by the state.) Even nowadays a clear policy on the subject of selling homeland is missing and many people fear for the sovereignty, the environment, the rights of indigenous populations and simply for their future; but Buenos Aires is a long way from Patagonia and although that part of the country is important economically (gas ressources, wool and meat production, mining, tourism) the number of voters is bigger in a single suburb of Buenos Aires than in the whole Patagonia with a population of 2 millions people.

Magic shadows on magic mushrooms

Magic shadows on magic mushrooms

The four biggest foreign landowners in Patagonia own a terrain big as half of Switzerland. On a larger scale, 10% of the surface of Argentina (270’000km2) is owned by strangers (2006).

The Benetton family, known for its textile industry, possesses more than 1 million hectares and it is the biggest landowner in Argentina beside the state. It is one of the major producers of wool and pork meat in Argentina, but also it is involved in forest managment and less publicly advertised because of the environmental issues, in mining. The family members consider their land as an investment which has to give a return. In 2002 a scandal with a dislodged Mapuche family biased the sales and the image of Benetton. By offering 2500 hectares to the indigenous community, the conflict could be mitigated (the land was restitued only in 2007), however tensions continue up to the present day.

Douglas Tompkins, who travelled Patagonia in young ages and even opened a route on the Fitz Roy, made his fortune as founder of The North Face and Esprit brands. He is the biggest private owner of natural resources in Chile and received the nickname of “Lord of the Water”, since his lands are situated on top of an incalculable amount of ground water. It is said that Patagonia shelters one of the main reserve of fresh water in the world. In the south of Argentina and Chile he owns more than 900’000 hectares, principally with the aim of nature preservation, in the sense of “Deep ecology“, a movement which propagates the return to the nature, much in contrast with the idea of some Chileans to populate the land to the very last bit. His territory cuts Chile in two parts which created considerable controversy.
Rather than investing in a private jet, he buys more land in order to protect it. Much of his land has now the status of natural park and in Argentina his land donation to the state is among the biggest in the Argentinean history.

Ted Turner, media mogul and  founder of CNN bought more than 40’000 hectares pushed by his passion for trout fishing. He is also among the biggest owners of private land in the USA.

Joseph Lewis, 6th richest man in the UK in 1996 due to his activities in restaurant chains, golf courses, textile industry, biotechnology, gas extraction, etc… built his own paradise near El Bolsón: an entire lake of 600 hectares encircled by mountains, hidden in a forest of Alerce trees, many of them older than 4000 years. His property extends over more than 14’000 hectares. He is heavily contested by some inhabitants of the region and loved by others. Nevertheless, he has been polishing his image with gifts to the local community such as hospitals, emergency vehicles, libraries, an aerodrome, scholarships and good salaries so that locals gave him the nickname of “Tío Joe”.

Way Lard, the grandson of the inventor of the chips, owns the chips company Lay and Pepsico Inc. and makes big profits with VIP tourism and vineyards.

The list of foreign landowners is infinite, some are certain (Jacobo Suchard (Nestle), Swarowski family, etc.), some are just rumors (Silvester Stallone).
Finally, Patagonia has always been owned by strangers. And as the former president Menem put it “Lo que sobra en Argentina es tierra” that is “There is land to be wasted”.

Last sunshine on the river Limay

Last sunshine on the Limay river

As a matter of fact, we also experienced at first hand what private property in Argentina means. Every now and then throughout our trip we heard about a climbing paradise near San Carlos de Bariloche called “Valle Encantado” (the enchanted valley). Rumors about a river crossing with an inflatable boat, a compulsory permit to enter the private ground and an interdiction to camp made our undertaking as difficult as would be the climbing of the tower of the “Rapunzel” occupied by a short haired princess. We started with what seemed to be the easiest one of the three quests that had been imposed on us: the permit to enter the private property. The magic crystal ball (internet) told us to go to the “Club Andino Bariloche”, the local mountain club, where they gave us only a telephone number which never answered, a dead end. In the different sport shops that we inquired we only obtained a vague description of an office that we could not find. It was as if some dark power would put obstacles in our way, we were getting crazy! Finally a phone call to a contact that we had obtained two weeks earlier in a shop in Salta (!) could solve it. We finally found the ominous office, but it was already closed that evening.
The next day we were supposed to leave, having solved none of our quests but we still had a distant hope of reaching our paradise. We were already sitting in the bus station waiting to be driven to our plan B climbing spot Villa Llanquin when the miracle happened: out of boredom we started to ask in the tourist office whether they had heard of Valle Encantado, only the be provided with the crucial information of what phone number to call for the permit,  how to cross the river and where to find a place to spend the night. We had found the fairy godmother! After some phone calls everything was arranged. After all we decided to spend a day in Villa Llanquin, waiting for Adrien who we had met in Arenales to join us and then headed together to Valle Encantado. Adrien in the meantime was able to obtain the permit to enter the private ground.
On the next day, we took the bus to km 1201 on the “Ruta 40” and were dropped along the river opposite to some vacation cabins for rent and above all opposite to the incredible natural rock sculptures of Valle Encantado.
We cried and whistled trying to find out the magical saying that would awake the ferryman and finally we were successful. Luis, the guardian of this little paradise made us cross the turquoise river to the “estancia” consisting of some central buildings such as a winter garden, some verandas with big fireplaces, a house for the “asado”, a chapel, a kitchen and the more remotely located wooden holiday cabins. We chose one of the cabins and headed directly to the property next to the one we were, where the actual climbing areas are located.
We spent the next few days climbing these incredible vulcanic rock formations and enjoying the little paradise of Valle Encantado situated next to the beautiful river Limay.

All the climbing is on the other side, but how to cross?

All the climbing is on the other side, but how to cross?

Crossing the river with Adrien, Louis and Luis

Crossing the river with Adrien, Louis and Luis

Adrien lost in structures ;-)

Adrien lost in structures 😉

Louis in very technical "canaletta"

Louis in a very technical “canaletta”

The fairy tale should end here: the three brave climbers found their enchanted rockwalls, had hot showers every day and slept in real beds every night.
But as we learned later, the “estancia” is the property of the Van Ditmars, a family that has its origins in Holland and is also known as a big seller of Patagonia. Van Ditmar people were often leading the negociations between local landowners and the magnates (Joseph Lewis, the Benetton family) willing to acquire land in Patagonia. On top of the reward for the negociations, the Van Ditmar family is now administrator for many big landowners.
In the particular case of Valle Encantado it is said that Van Ditmar acquired it from an old lady in exchange of a flat in the city, a property that is now worth several millions of dollars… that is how it works in Argentina!

Climbing is still hard even with such a nice view

Climbing is still hard even with such a nice view

A lot of the routes demand a lot of stamina, 35m of continous overhang

Many routes demand a lot of stamina, 35m of continous overhang

A reminder of the European labiate

A reminder of the European labiate

PS. Our experience in the Valle Encantado was very positive, although there is something I did not mention before. In June 2011 the volcano Puyehue erupted and covered large parts of Patagonia with a thick layer of ash. Half of the cattle of the affected areas died and the rest has a diminished life expectancy. Valle Encantado has been greatly affected by the eruption as well. The whole place was covered with a layer of up to 30cm of very fine ash. When the winds blown in Patagonia as they often do, the sight is obscured by the flying ash, a natural disaster which will take at least 15 years to disappear.

Some more pictures can be seen here.

References:
Gonzalo Sánchez, “La Patagonia vendida”, Marea Editorial, 2006.
Wikipedia, “Patagonia”, 16. Dez 2012.

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Video – Jammin’ the Crack, Atacama Style

Taking photographs in the mountains is an exciting activity. With every step you take in these great spaces, the surrounding transforms itself. The angles, the lights, the shadows, the depth, the action are in constant evolution and the work of the photographer is to put them into a relation that reflects his experience.

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Wild West street art in Valdivia, matching the topic of our video

The effects one wants to create depend very much on the terrain. In mountaineering, where the slopes are generally lower angled, the photographer wants to capture the scenic ambiance in which the subject is moving.
In contrast in rock climbing, where the walls are vertical or overhanging, the photographer wants to emphasize the climber, the adrenaline, the void.
After all, these two categories often merge, opening up the way for the photographer to bring in his own creativity.

However in most of the professional pictures of rock climbing, the photographer is not part of the team, i.e. he takes the role of an outside narrator.
In our case this is hardly possible, since we’re only two to climb (and not soloing our routes). Therefore the two possible views are either from the bottom or the top belay, showing either the climber’s feet or head, which is very limiting.

In our latest video we tried to overcome the constricting composition of our photographs by using a technology called timelapse, a programmable trigger. Enjoy the result!

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Jammin’ the crack, Atacama style

The Atacama desert. One associates this region with heat, dryness and death.
This may be true for some places within the Atacama but does not apply for the whole desert region. The Atacama desert covers more than 100’000km2 and the annual average precipitation is variable. The dryest place near Antofagasta has 1mm and San Pedro de Atacama near the Salar de Atacama has 35mm of rainfall (as a comparison in Switzerland Lausanne has around 1250mm and the dryest place Ackersand near Zeneggen has 521mm).

Flamingos in the Salar de Atacama

Flamingos in the Salar de Atacama

Even if there is very little rain in the region of San Pedro de Atacama, the desert there is not that arid i.e. deprived of live. Small rivers flow down from the snow covered volcanos of the Andes and feed the underground water as well as the different salt lakes, providing the necessary liquid for plants, trees, flamingos, “vicuñas”, rodents, birds and people.

Gaviota adina

Gaviota andina

For us climbers the water plays a very important role as well, since in the course of time it eroded the volcanic tuff stone and created some up to 30m deep and several kilometers long canyons called “quebradas”. And most interesting for us is the fact that the canyon walls are often cracked from the bottom to the top: a paradise for crack climbing!

The Nacimiento canyon

The Nacimiento canyon

In the “Disney Land” like town of San Pedro de Atacama we collected the necessary information from a local climber who we met by chance and decided to spend first two “warm up” days in the smaller “quebrada” Jerez near Toconao and then five days in the much more extensive and developed “quebrada” Nascimiento near Socaire.

The next morning we hitchhiked to Toconao, the “place of stones” and headed directly to the canyon.
A small stream curles through the sand filled canyon which is a rest of what was used to irrigate vegetables and trees higher up the gorge.
We were not disappointed, several pure crack lines bordered the path and we immediately sprang into action.
Since the description of the routes was far from complete, we often had to judge by the appearance if the route was feasible or not, with mixed results…

Either you block or you fall

Either you jam or you fall

An easy crack up to the roof

An easy crack up to the roof

Louis in the twilight

Louis in the twilight

Pure lines!

Pure lines!

We were not used to the hot and dry desert climate, leaving us parched after each pitch we climbed. Climbing in the sun was beyond question since the holds became as hot as the coal for the “asado”.

Camping was not allowed in the “quebrada” so we stayed in a small hotel in the deserted town of Toconao. Very in contrast to San Pedro which is totally dedicated to the hordes of tourists, Toconao has preserved its ambiance of village at the end of the world: a place where sandy winds wipe the streets and where dusk devils lurk behind every corner.

Atacama feeling

Real Atacama feeling in Toconao

Victim of the desert

Victim of the desert

Due to the lack of public transportation getting to our second destination, the “quebrada” Nascimiento was somehow more tricky. We opted to take one of the touristic tours heading to the “Lagunas Altiplanicas”, a sightseeing trip proposed by at least 50 tourist operators in San Pedro de Atacama.
The tour dropped us on the way back and as soon as we entered the canyon we were caught in the realm of the Atacama. We spent the days climbing the cracks in the narrow gorge, the evenings admiring the sunset over the Atacama desert and the nights dreaming with the shiny sky above our tent.

David & Goliath

David & Goliath

The milky way

The milky way

alittlebithigher.wordpress.com

alittlebithigher.wordpress.com

The climbing was incredible and except for the basic idea of reaching the top of the route, crack climbing has little in common with most of the climbing in Europe. We had to apply all different jamming techniques: finger jams, hand jams, palm jams, arm jams, knee jams, leg jams not to be forgotten body jams.

Collateral damage

Collateral damage

Louis in the "cobra crack"

Louis in the “cobra crack”

More than 200 routes are bolted, often only the belay if mobile protection such as friends and nuts can be used, giving a certain spice to the ascent.
After five days, a lot of routes climbed and a lot of skin left on the rock it was time to move on. We hitchhiked back to San Pedro de Atacama, happy and alienated.

Some more pictures can be found here.

Louis on the plate

Louis on the plate

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