Author Archives: louisbugnion

Fitz Roy: Do. Or Not Do. There Is No Try.

View from the Aguja de l'S

View from Aguja de l’S

Because of the frequent snowfalls during the first half of December, some ice/mixed routes of the massif were in unusually good conditions at the end of December i.e. late for the season. Among them: the Exocet route, a goulotte line to the rear of a chimney drawing a straight line on the south-east face of Cerro Standhardt, and the Ragni route, a long ice, mixed and rime climb going up the north face of Cerro Torre. In the Ragni route the relatively dry austral winter had prevented the formation of rime (icy snow sticking to the ice and to the rocks) which usually makes the climbing more difficult (cleaning/digging work and bad protections). The Exocet and Ragni routes are graded ED and ED+ respectively but this year favourable conditions probably lowered the Ragni route grade to TD+/ED explaining why such a large number of parties attempted and completed the route. Both routes lead to the summit of two of the most impressive peaks of the massif and have become emblematic due to their difficulty, engagement, itinerary and quality and variety of the climbing. However we did not attempt any of these routes… We had first-hand information on the routes available from Paul, Chris and John, three Canadian guys staying like us at “Refugio Chaltén”, we had all the necessary gear and we had it stashed at the Niponino camp that is the starting point for both routes.
The Fitz Roy massif seen from Niponino

The Fitz Roy massif seen from Niponino camp

We talked over it a lot, weighing the pros and cons and made our decision for two main reasons: first we are fond of the principle of linear progression that we have always applied with Stephan. Before attempting an ED route you should have climbed enough TD routes of the same climbing style and even more so in a massif where the engagement is higher due to slow and limited rescue (no rescue in the wall). It was not our case since we had climbed only few TD ice/mixed routes. Second we had other worthwhile objectives (although less major…) which were also in good conditions at that time such as the Chiaro de Luna route on Aguja St-Exupéry and the Afanassief or Franco-Argentinean routes on Cerro Fitz Roy. A third reason that concerned only the Exocet route was that only one party can climb the route at a time because of the risk of ice fall in the chimney, raising the probability of retreat during the approach.
The Franco-Argentian Route on Fitz Roy with some improvised bergschrund traversing

The Franco-Argentinean route on Fitz Roy with our itinerary

When on Thursday morning, after our climbs on El Mocho on Sunday and on Aguja St-Exupéry on Wednesday, we heard that the weather would hold until Monday evening, we did not hesitate too long. We hiked down to Niponino over the chaotic and unstable scree slopes, packed all our equipment and departed for El Chaltén. On the way we ran across several climbers who we asked for information about the routes on Fitz Roy. Before the mid-January “brecha” (the present one), Fitz Roy had only been climbed over the Supercanaleta route by a couple of teams during the New Year “brecha” and by one French team over the Franco-Argentinean route in winter conditions beginning of December.
Once in El Chaltén and after having asked more climbers it turned out that only the long Afanassief route and some other long routes on the Goretta pilar had been climbed successfully during the present “brecha” (long means two bivies in the route). The Franco-Argentinean route had been attempted in the beginning of the “brecha” (on Sunday) but the party had retreated three pitches below the end of the rock climbing part because of large amounts of ice. The long routes were out of question since the time left until the end of the “brecha” was too short (Friday to Monday) and since we did not have the optimal equipment for these long routes. If the second does not intend to jumar it is indeed recommended to have very light backpacks i.e. approach shoes, aluminium crampons and a light two-persons sleeping bag. We thus opted for the Franco-Argentinean route hoping that the ice in the upper pitches had melted enough during the 5 days of good weather which had followed the last attempt. We also knew that at least one other party was attempting or would attempt the route that day or the next day.
The plan was the following: leave El Chaltén on Friday late in the afternoon, hike to the Rio Blanco camp (three hours), bivy there, start at 5 am on Saturday from Rio Blanco to Paso Superior (four hours) in order to benefit from the night refrost on the glacier (there was eventually no refrost), take some rest during the day until the departure at night on Sunday, summit on Sunday and return to El Chaltén on Monday. We did not take any tent with us to be as light as possible.
Sunrise on FItz Roy

Sunrise on FItz Roy

If this works to keep the heat outside as well?

Trying to sleep at Paso Superior. Does this work to keep the heat outside as well?

On Saturday morning we were at Paso Superior where we met two of the three parties that had attempted the route on Friday (and first ones since the party on the previous Sunday). One Austrian party had reached the summit, climbing the last three pitches with crampons and ice axes and being back late on the same day at Paso Superior. The second party, an American one, had turned back halfway up and the third party, also American, was still on the mountain (they had bivied close to the summit). Later that day, Tim and Sam, a Belgian party showed up at Paso Superior also intending to climb the Franco-Argentinean route on Sunday.
The Desmochada, next time...

Sunrise at the Brecha de los Italianos with Aguja Desmochada, next time…

We woke up at 11.30 pm and left Paso Superior at 0.30 am on Sunday followed by the Belgian party. The refrost was only superficial and stepping aside tracks meant breaking through a delightful crust. We traversed the slopes below the bergschrund to the left until we could spot the tracks of the Friday parties. We found two sets of tracks crossing the bergschrund over snow bridges that no longer existed. The bergschrund was 5 to 10 m high (double as high if you would have rappelled in it to climb it) and overhanging. We traversed further to the left and almost as far as Aguja Poincenot we encountered a zone where the bergschrund had partly collapsed. A small berm was overlooked by 4 m of steep ice and 3 m of overhanging snow/ice mixture. Stephan engaged in the dodgy section, digging through the snow/ice upper part, desperately looking for good anchor points for his ice axes and trying to make the mantle less steep until he suddenly fell backwards and landed on the berm 5 m below, luckily without getting hurt. He left his backpack on the berm, took the one “estaca” we had and courageously went back to the fight. Some minutes later he had overcome the bergschrund and was hauling his backpack. I joined him and we made a long traverse to the right on 60 degrees steep snow slopes. We linked up with the tracks of the Friday parties and followed the base of a rockwall, stepping over ice and bad snow. We eventually came up against some rocks and climbed two pitches up to the ridge overlooking the Brecha de los Italianos. We scrambled down to the breach and took a break waiting for the sun to rise. It was 5.30 am. We had a soup and we stashed the sleeping bag, the mattress, the radio, the cooker, some food and two ice axes (out of four).
The last bit of snow on the Silla before the rock climbing

The last bit of snow at the Silla before the rock climbing

The Belgium team is just behind us

The Belgian team is just behind us

With the first sunlight we climbed easy rocks up to la Silla, the snow saddle at the base of the south-east face of Fitz Roy where the Franco-Argentinean route starts. We climbed the first ten pitches (of which some beautiful continuous crack pitches) relatively fast despite many wet sections and our heavy backpacks. The leader carried his mountain boots and his clothes while the second carried his boots and his clothes plus two pairs of crampons, two ice axes, food and water. The 6th grade pitches were sustained but not undergraded as on Aguja Media Luna or El Mocho. On the contrary the 5th grade pitches often included a 6th grade section.
The first 6b pitch, perfect but wet hand crack

The first 6b+ pitch, a perfect but wet hand crack

On the last 3 pitches, the cracks are filled with ice, water on the face and we protect with ice screws, funny!

On the last 3 pitches, the cracks are filled with ice, the slabs are dripping and we protect with ice screws, funny!

From pitch 11, many cracks were filled with ice and water was flowing on top of it. We climbed the two first 5th grade pitches at the expense of some gymnastics, wet clothes, cold hands (we were in the shade by then) and one ice screw! We then had the choice between a 6c pitch on the left that had turned into a waterfall and a 5+ pitch on the right that was sprayed with large amounts of melting ice. Stephan opted for a variant in the middle. He gained some height removing ice from cracks and holds with his ice axe, overcame a difficult dihedral with the back on one side and the feet on the other and eventually topped out on snow slopes marking the end of the difficulties. The Belgian party had caught up and chose the same option.
The crux pitch, cleaning of the ice from the walls

The crux pitch, cleaning the ice off from the walls

after the last pitch, which was as well the crux of the route, covered in ice, we reach the upper slopes

We reach the upper slopes at around 5 pm, the last pitches have taken us a long time

We put on boots and crampons and climbed the last 250 m of 50 degrees steep ice. At 6 pm, almost 18 hours after having left Paso Superior, we were standing on the summit of Fitz Roy, warmed up by the sun still high in the sky but shaken and cooled down by high winds while admiring the Campo de Hielo, a huge, flat glacier covered with snow stretching beyond the Torre massif. We started to abseil stucking the rope only once in the upper slopes.
Louis on the summit of Fitz Roy

Louis on the summit of Fitz Roy

Happy, our last summit in South America

Happy and sad, our last summit in South America

Collateral dammage

Collateral dammage

At 11 pm, around 20 rappels later, we were at the Brecha de los Italianos. We had a five-course supper (1 cracker = 1 course) and tested the concept of one sleeping bag and one matress for two, sitting instead of lying down because of the lack of space. We experienced the feeling of being so tired that we only thought of sleeping but being prevented from it by the cold and the discomfort of the position.

Where to go?

Where to go?

The panoramic view during the rappel

The panoramic view during the abseiling

At 4.30 am, tired of not sleeping, we prepared some tea, ate the last crackers and at 5 am we were abseiling the first out of eight rappels from the breach down to the glacier. The Belgian party had stuck their rope in the last rappel before la Silla so that they had to spend the night up there and to climb the first pitch again in the morning to unstuck their rope. At 8.30 am on Monday we were back at Paso Superior happy, tired and relieved, 32 hours after having left. We ran down in the midday heat to Lago de los Tres, Rio Blanco and Laguna Capri where we had a swim and ate our last rations of bread, “cremoso” cheese and “dulce de membrillo” (quince).
On Tuesday the “brecha” was over and the wind was blowing again through the streets of El Chaltén. Within 2.5 hours, at our hostal, we sold 30 kg of gear (ropes, friends, ice screws, backpack, poles, expresses, tent, clothes) to Argentinean climbers. On Wednesday morning we were leaving our homelike hostal “la Casa de Jesús”, Natalia and the kids with heavy hearts after three and a half weeks in El Chaltén. Soon it would be time to leave South America as well.
It's tough to understand Juana, but entertainment assured

It’s tough to understand Juana, but entertainment assured

We climbed:
Fitz Roy, Franco-Argentinean route, ED-, 650m 6c+ (6a/A1) 55°
More pictures can be found here.
Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Ice, Rock

“Cuando Viene La Brecha”

And the suprise at the summit

King of the jungle

We knew little about El Chaltén before getting there except that it is a small touristic town at the foothill of Cerro Fitz Roy and that it would be the starting point of our climbs on the nearby granit spires. Some months ago in Huanchaco (Peru) during our surfing break we had watched a climbing movie taking place in El Chaltén. An American climber accompanied by two friends honoured the memory of his deceased girlfriend by opening a new route in the Fitz Roy range. Their plans were thwarted by persisting bad weather until they could realize a first ascent in the very last days of their trip. Some sequences of the movie endeavored to show the town and the climbers trapped by the storm: rain drops splashing against the windows of small, neat, wooden houses standing bravely in the high wind. My mind had shaped a picture of El Chaltén similar to the one of Hogsmeade, the small town next Harry Potter’s wizardry school (it is funny how imagination works…). Low houses overwhelmed by succeeding cold fronts or by the spirit of Voldemort and painted with bright colours as an act of defiance against the harsh climate or against dark magic. Grocery, bakery, coffee shop, hostal lined up along the main street and proposing services and goods to the visitor at the same time as they provide him with a temporary shelter. Our arrival in El Chaltén from Esquel along “Ruta 40” meant the expiry of my mental projection and its replacement with a more positive one.

The first glimpse of Monte Fitz Roy

The first glimpse of Cerro Fitz Roy

The Torre "Cordon"

The Torre massif

The rapid development of the town in the last years under the pressure of the tourists flow took place in a quite spontaneous way. Its grid pattern of streets stretches out in all directions and the transition from pavement to gravel indicates the distance to the center. The mixed construction styles are only dictated by the taste and the often modest resources of the owners. As a result El Chaltén reminds of any functional town in remote areas of Canada or Scandinavia. The 100 m high cliffs surrounding the town in the south-east could even mislead the uninformed visitor by making him think that he finds himself in a rock quarry.

Ten years ago El Chaltén was confined to one camping and one grocery. Climbers did not stay in town between two “brechas” (or good weather windows) but used to camp closer to the peaks at places like D’Agostini, Rio Blanco or Rio Eléctrico about two hours away from El Chaltén. Nowadays El Chaltén counts dozens of hostals, restaurants and shops. Phone and internet connections are available (satellite connections though, slow and dependent on weather and winds) and all climbers return to town after a “brecha”.

Aguja St-Exupéry, Aguja Poincenot, Monte Fitz Roy and diffraction pattern?!

Aguja St-Exupéry, Aguja Poincenot, Cerro Fitz Roy and diffraction pattern?!

Sunset on the Fitz Roy massif

Sunset on the Fitz Roy massif

In the winter El Chaltén leaps ten years into the past. It is deserted by most of its inhabitants/seasonal workers (the population not including tourists reduces from 5’000 to less than 500) and the economic activity of the town stops except for some construction work. First inhabitants came from the region around El Calafate 200 km away (which has also experienced an important development in the last years because of tourism). In the mid 90’s, during the economical crisis that struck Argentina, many people facing unemployement moved to touristic regions offering better job opportunities from all over the country .

The jug at the end really helps

The jug at the end really helps

Louis climbing the first pitch of "Rubio y Azul"

Louis climbing the first pitch of “Rubio y Azul”

On our first day in El Chaltén we raced around town to get information about accomodation (the hostal booked in advance per internet was crap), weather forecasting, route conditions and topos. We got a copy of the sport climbing topo for El Chaltén at Kalen restaurant. It is also Maria, its young boss and best cook in town, who gave us the adress of Refugio Chaltén or “La casa de Jesús”, the fantastic hostal where we would stay during our time in town. In the late afternoon, on the advice of a climber met in the street we ended up at Aires Patagónicos, a restaurant organizing private sales of mountain equipment and having the freshly printed alpine climbing topo by Rolando Garibotti (also founder of the very useful website PATAclimb.com) for consultation. Climbers progressively showed up in the restaurant and we rapidly found out that a two days “brecha” had just come to an end the day before. We learnt pretty much everything what we needed to know thanks to Belgian climbers and Juan, climber and cook at Aires Patagonico: how to generate the correct GFS meteogram, how to recognise a “brecha”, how to access the Niponino base camp, how to watch out for the hungry fox, … Another two days “brecha” was forecasted four days later and we planned to rock climb around Niponino on the not too high Agujas Media Luna or Mocho. It had been snowing a lot in December and there was still much snow in the cracks and ledges of the higher peaks. We also decided to make a roundtrip to Niponino before the “brecha” to scout the path and the rock faces and to carry equipment in advance. The models were forecasting winds up to 10 knots for the next day and up to 13 knots for the day after next. We had been told that no one climbs with 10 knots of wind but we did not think of 10 knots to be an issue to hike.

The impressive headwall of Aguja Media Luna

The impressive headwall of Aguja Media Luna

The hardest 6c pitch in our life

The hardest 6c pitch in our life

We walked 2.5 hours to Laguna Torre one of the most popular hikes around El Chaltén not noticing much wind thanks to the forests and morains lining the trail. At the lake we put on our harnests to cross the river over the tirolean and skirted the lake heading to the Torre glacier. The wind picked up as we left forested terrain. We lost our way on the descent to the glacier, scrambling down loose morains and thrown off by powerful wind gusts and by our heavy backpacks. Back on the footpath along the glacier the wind was so high that we often stopped and held on to the rocks not to be knocked down. At the time of stepping onto the glacier (still 1.5 hours away from Niponino, El Chaltén-Niponino takes 6 hours), arched over our walking poles, stunned by the power of the wind, wearing gore-tex and gloves and hat despite the warm air and very worried about our tent going through the night, we resolved to stash our equipment on the spot and to return to El Chaltén. It was our first face-to-face with the Patagonian wind and that afternoon we promessed ourselves not to underestimate it in the future.

Knife-cut walls

Knife-cut walls

Painful recovery of our boots with climbing shoes in the frozen snow

Painful recovery of our boots with climbing shoes in the frozen snow

The day before the “brecha” the wind had been replaced by a light rain. We left El Chaltén at 12 am, accompanied by “deux lucioles” until Laguna Torre. The more we were progressing into the valley the heavier the rain was becoming. We again lost our way on the glacier and arrived at Niponino at 7 pm. During the night the rain ceased and on the next morning the sky was blue and the air was still. We climbed “Rubia y Azul” on Aguja Media Luna, one beautiful (free climbing) route (there are not so many in comparison with aid climbing routes, which you are welcome to free by the way…). The lower pitches were wet and the top pitch icy and we had a party in front of us and the El Chaltén grades are what they are (read next post) and we are anyway pussies so that we turned back at Niponino at 11 pm quite exhausted (14 hours after having left). On the second day of the “brecha” we opted for more approach and less demanding climbing with the route “Austríaca” on Aguja de l’S. That second day was more relaxing and the next morning the wind was picking up again. At 9 am we left Niponino enjoying amazingly light backpacks (most of our gear hidden below 100 kg of rock to discourage “el zorro”, the fox). We would be back “cuando vendra la proxima brecha…”

A kind of thistle

A kind of thistle

The Torre "Cordon"

The Torre massif

During that “brecha” two accidents happened. One instable boulder rolled over a climber approaching the Noruego camp and broke her coccyx whereas another climber broke his ankle sliding on the snow with his crampons on… In both cases a “rescate” or rescue was organized by the rangers of the national park with no other means than a stretcher and volunteers among the climbers  (the closest helicopter is in El Calafate). In both cases it took around ten hours to carry the injured climber to El Chaltén and around 30 persons in total to take turns (the time between the accident and transport is not included).

Not really a beauty

Not really a beauty

Louis on the Aguja de l'S

Louis on the Aguja de l’ S

Someone standing at the edge of the Mocho

Someone standing at the edge of El Mocho

We climbed:

– Aguja Media Luna, “Rubia y Azul”, 350m, 6c

– Aguja de l’S, “Austríaca”, 180m, 6a

More pictures can be found here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rock

Camel Trophy Cochamo

Three years ago, very little time after Marius had left Europe for Valdivia, he had sent me a mail with pictures of high granit cliffs rising above lush forests. In his mail Marius was praising the climbing in Cochamó valley, a place with a name sounding like an North-American indian tribe and only a few hours away from his new hometown by car, and hoping that we could explore it together one day.

ehh... it's green

ehh… it’s green

“So much untouched rock, it’s so inspiring!” that was what a British guy met in Huaraz and intending to open new routes in Cochamó had once told us. During our trip, Cochamó was often a subject to discussion with other climbers : with Egon in Tuzgle; he had brought 80 spits with bolts from Switzerland to set a new route there, with Adrien and Gaël in Arenales; they were determined to avoid rainy Cochamó as much as windy Chalten.

Thus when we crossed the Chilean border and the rain drops started hitting the bus window, we were well informed about Cochamó: about its spectacular, multi-pitch routes, crack climbing routes that won it the comparison with Yosemite but also about its world record precipitation rate (it rains 20 days per month in average). We were aware that we would have to be patient in order to climb and to enjoy climbing in Cochamó. In Valdivia it was raining heavily every day. But even when Marius told us that the weather in Cochamo was always worse than in Valdivia and that no good weather window was in sight we did not discourage and enjoyed the life in Valdivia. At the university the semester was coming to an end and Marius was giving the last exams to his students. Since he was keen to accompany us to Cochamó we were not in a hurry. Five days after our arrival in Valdivia, a three days good weather window was forecasted. We bought plastic boots, printed topos and loaded up Marius Kangoo: we were ready.

Cloudy Cochamó valley

Cloudy Cochamó valley

An "alerce" tree that could be older than several thousand years

An “alerce” tree that could be older than several thousand years

The Anfiteatro bivy all for us

The Anfiteatro bivy all for us

We entered a new world as we hiked up the 20 km long valley to “Refugio Cochamó” through rain forest. The trail spanned over countless mud puddles, followed deep mossy trenches, crossed rivers over fords, slippery tree trunks or tyroleans. Even though the sun was shining we were walking in half-light, the canopy hung like a thick curtain above our heads.

We took a break at “Refugio Cochamó”, a charming wooden house on a small hill overlooking the “La Junta” camping grounds, and in the afternoon we hiked up another three hours to the “Selknam” camp at the foot of the Anfiteatro. The steep trail had been cut with machetes through dense bamboo woods, zigzagging between cliffs, waterfalls and centenary “alerces” (similar to redwood trees). The camp was set up around a massive boulder overhanging on one side and it had been newly fitted out with chairs, tables, fireplace and toilets by the “Club Andino” of Puerto Montt. On the next day and second day of good weather, we scrambled an hour and a half up an adventurous river bed and a steep gully to the start of the route. At 10am we were climbing the first pitch, at 8pm we were standing on the summit of the “Espejo”, at 1am we finished rappelling a neighbouring route and at 3am we were cooking risotto at the “Selknam” camp. We had a long day in the route “Cinco Estrellas” (also rated five stars in the topo…) for many reasons: many mossy and wet cracks when not completely clogged with earth and shrubs, difficult route finding (very few belays in place, minimalist topo), unprotectable slabs, sustained difficulties not reflected by the grading, unknown rappelling line at night (one stuck rope, two missed belays) …

Louis and Marius in the first and last crack that was without vegetation... but still wet

Louis and Marius in the first and last crack that was without vegetation… but still wet

Louis in the clouds trying to find the original route

Louis in the clouds trying to find the original route

Not really a comfortable belay for 3

Not really a comfortable belay for 3

Louis climbing a crack stuffed with vegetables

Louis climbing a crack stuffed with vegetables

Rappelling into the night, not really a pleasure

Rappelling into the night, not really a pleasure

On the third day and last day of good weather we slept late, walked down to the “Refugio Cochamó”, swam in the emerald green river, met the occupants of “La Junta” and watched dark grey clouds drawing close and gathering above the valley. The next morning it was raining. We were running out of food and white gas and Marius had to return to Valdivia. We left part of our equipment at “La Junta” expecting a two days good weather window later that week (the staff of the “Refugio” has a satellite internet connection and provides a daily weather forecast to climbers).

We walked down in pouring rain and high wind, the gusts dumping additional water from the trees foliage. We opted for different strategies with respect to clothing: Marius put on tights plus bathing suit as bottom and gore-tex jacket plus shirt as top whereas Stephan and I only wore underwear as bottom, not to forget the two vital bamboo sticks. As a result Stephan and I were emptying our plastic boots every half an hour. For the three of us the water retained by the backpack belt passed through the gore-tex barrier and slowly soaked in upwards. Worse, the repeated friction of the boots upper edges with our calves left bleeding wounds that have been imperishable reminders of that day up to now.

The red rad team

The red rad team

Louis in an upgraded muchacho style

Louis in a downgraded “muchacho” style

The small rivers have become wild

The small rivers have become wild

We spent two days in the touristic but cosy and lovely Puerto Varas on the Llanquihue lake side forgetting about weather issues in cafés and cake shops. The weather forecast indeed changed in the meantime, shortening the good weather window to one single day. The day before it, we took a bus to Cochamó village, hired a jeep to drive us to the end of the road 12 km away and hiked up to “La Junta” in stormy weather, speeding up in despair. It kept raining the whole night and on the good weather day the rock faces were all wet, draining the last days precipitations. We joined four beardy, long-haired American guys from Oregon (their precipitation rates compete with the ones of Cochamó)  to “Pared Seca”, the only sport and always dry climbing sector (the route bottoms are wet though). In the evening rain returned and on the next morning we escaped that liquid hell, wet from top to bottom, shivering from cold, putting one muddy foot in front of the other and thinking with envy of our next destination: Piedra Parada in the desert.

Rain: day-to-day business in Cochamó

Rain: day-to-day business in Cochamó

“Pared seca”: Moe learning to fly

A Cochamó indigenous, the "tabano" fly. This one has been anaesthetised for the picture

A Cochamó indigenous, the “tabano” fly. This one has been anaesthetised for the picture

A bunch of wet climbers on a truck, back to civilization

A bunch of wet climbers on a truck, back to civilization

We climbed: Cerro Espejo/Anfiteatro (1700m), “Cinco estrellas”, 450m, 6b+

More pictures can be found here.

Comments Off on Camel Trophy Cochamo

Filed under Rock

Bittersweet Frey

Frey sounds like Swiss chocolate and the truth is not so far away. It is a group of granit spires planted on a dome shaped and snow covered mountain up above Bariloche but from the city the famous climbing spot may very well look like a goblet of ice cream topped with Chantilly cream and sprinkled with chocolate chips.

The outline of Frey's spines

The outline of Frey’s spine

We had returned from Valle Encantado on Saturday and we spent Sunday afternoon at Esteban and Silvia’s lovely house situated on the heights of Bariloche. Esteban is the son of a cousin of my grandmother whose father emigrated to Argentina in the beginning of the 20th century… They had very kindly invited us for a “domingo asado” (Sunday barbecue), a traditional and popular activity very much part of the Argentinean culture. Their wooden house is nestled in a large and lush garden at that time of the south hemisphere spring: high dark pines framing the Nahuel Huapi lake, blooming fruit trees standing alongside dense bushes and beds of aromatic herbs lined up along house.

Even the trees are shivering in Bariloche ;-)

Even the trees are shivering in Bariloche

_DSC8484_1k

That afternoon we were introduced to the technology of self-built, portable solar ovens, we admired Silvia’s art of stained glass, we commented on the Higgs boson discovery and the “faster than light neutrinos” (they both worked at CERN), we tasted their home-made yoghurt and bread as well as mint tea and candied peaches from the garden and we were told about the story of an Austrian mad-doctor, friend of the president of Argentina who was working on atomic fusion on a uninhabited island of the Nahuel Hapi lake after World War II.

Magic forest on the way down to Bariloche

Magic forest on the way to Frey

Rivière spectre

Dead bamboo, living trees

Dead bamboo, living trees

On Monday morning we left Bariloche for the second time. We took a bus to Catedral, the town main ski resort and hiked up to “Refugio Frey” with food for five days. The Frey hut is very well located at a pass dropping on one side to a small lake (and our daily bathtube) and on the other side to the access valley covered by deep, enchanted forests. The bivy places set up with small stone walls against wind are spreaded over a gentle slope above the hut whereas on the opposite slope stands the “Aguja Frey”, the nearest spire with the largest number of routes. The Frey hut is well visited by backpackers undertaking the three days Jakob trek around Bariloche.

The weather is about to change

The weather is about to change

Louis in the "Diedro de Jim"

Louis in the “Diedro de Jim” on “Aguja Frey”

Stephan jamming on the Aguja Frey

Stephan jamming on the “Aguja Frey”

At the Frey hut we came across a swedish guy met ten days earlier in a bus and passionate about paleontology. We got to know Alan, the friendly hut warden and climber, willing to buy any climbing gear since imported goods are unaffordable in Argentina. We also met a bunch of climbers coming from the Petzl Rock Trip: two Brasilean boulderers not afraid of long approches, the famous Daniel du Lac and his girlfriend, a group of cheerful Argentinean climbers returning at night from their climbs (we are not yet generalizing…) convinced of having spotted Adam Ondra in Piedra Parada; after investigation it seems that they are the only ones (however it results that pro climbers in general are smaller and skinnier than expected by their fans and Daniel du Lac is the exception that proves the rule since he is taller than me).

Last days climb on the Aguja Frey, "Lost Fingers"

Louis climbs the “Aguja Frey”, “Lost Fingers”

Louis after the long traverse

Louis after the long traverse

The master of the place, a female condor

The master of the place, a female condor

Compensation for the hard climb of the day

Compensation for the hard climb of the day

Louis rappeling from the Campanile

Louis rappeling from the Campanile

Our climbs:
– Aguja Frey (1850m), “Diedro de Jim”, 50m, 5b
– Aguja Principal (2410m), “Ruta normal”, 150m, 6a
– Aguja El Abuelo (???), route mix: “Conflicto de generaciones” and “Anonimo Yankee”, 100m, 6b+
– Aguja M2 (2000m), route mix: “Llegando al cielo sin morir” and “El fin de los dias”, 45m, 6b
– Campanilo Esloveno (???), “Fonrouge-Bertoncelj”, 120m, 6b
– Aguja Frey (1920m), “Lost fingers”, 120m, 6b

More  pictures can be found here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rock

Tradclimbers Paradise – Arenales

Chile and Argentina are so long that we, geography idiots, had to simplify things a bit to orient ourselves. We assumed both countries to be one-dimensional and directed along a north-south axis. In addition we defined four reference cities (somewhat relevant to our climbing destinations) regularly spaced along that axis: Salta/Antofagasta, Mendoza/Santiago, Bariloche/Valdivia and El Chalten. The distances between the reference cities could be expressed in km (around 1500 km) or in bus hours (15 to 20 hours). But luckily you do not need to use this memorizing trick. From your computer or smart phone you can just take a look at the Google maps at the end of each post and scroll Argentina/Chile up and down.

The Arenales valley

The Arenales valley bordered by monumental fans

From Tuzgle to Los Arenales we first headed south-east to Salta (which evidenced the fact that our initial assumption was wrong since it took us almost 9 hours to get there). The road descending from the Altiplano crosses over beautiful landscapes. The valley sides reproduce endlessly the same erosion patterns and alternate variously coloured sediment layers whereas the valley bottoms are carpeted with lush vegetation. In Salta we experienced rain again after one month of draught before moving down a notch on our imaginary map to Mendoza and 150 km west of Mendoza to Tunuyan in the heart of Argentinean wineyards and orchards.

A condor very, very close to us

A condor very, very close to us

Stephan in the Fuga de Cabras

Stephan in the Fuga de Cabras

Rest day... too cold

Rest day… too cold

In Tunuyan we went round and round to find a grocery store open during the siesta time (2 pm to 5 pm) with little success. We drove the last 70 km to Los Arenales with Yagua, a “gaucho” and taxi driver for climbers from Manzano, a small village at the foothill of the Andes and for our sake with a shop open during the siesta time. Manzano changes its face on weekends when hundreds of “mendocinos” flock to Manzano and spend the day grilling next to their car, wandering in the streets, riding horses or eating ice creams.

First pitch of the Torecilla

First pitch of the Torecilla

We're getting higher on the Cohete

We’re getting higher on the Cohete

12 km away from Manzano on a gravel road the “refugio” of Los Arenales awaits the climber. It is set down on the valley bottom like a spatial module with its half-cylindrical roof and its patchwork construction of wood beams, concrete and metal sheets. In the background monumental fans rise on the valley sides. The “refugio” is not guarded but in spring and summer it hosts a joyful and always renewing troop of climbers. The occupants at the time of our arrival were: an American couple and two American guys, all staying in Los Arenales for more than one month and growing goodly beards, a fluctuating group of Argentinean guys, generally returning from their climbs at night, two Swiss from Massongex + three French guys from the Pyrenees, on their way to the Petzl Rock trip, an Argentinean couple of half-professional climbers, leaving for El Chalten and a good weather window and last but not least hordes of tiny birds and mice exploring the “refugio” in search of food.

Louis appearing from the fog

Louis appearing through the fog

Offwidth pleasures

Offwidth pleasures

Stephan on the Cohete

Stephan on the Cohete

The spring had not completely taken hold of the place since it had been snowed 40 cm in the preceding days. Nights were still cold and despite the strenuous approaches the first pitches in the morning often turned into local anaesthetics for the fingers. The wind was blowing hard over the tops of the massive granite spires bordering the valley. Whereas the cracks, dihedrals and ledges made up our playground, the clouds were putting on a show in the void next to us, billowing up the steep walls, tearing off on sharp ridges and swooping down deep gullies.

Our climbs:
– Aguja Charles Webis (3450m), “Fuga de cabras”, 230m, 6b
– Aguja Torrecilla (3250m), “Universo mental”, 120m, 6b
– El Cohete (3300m), “Mejor no hablar de ciertas cosas”, 300m, 6b
– Aguja Charles Webis (3450m), “Escorpión”, 230m, 6b+

More pictures can be found here.

The snow three days ago is still there... we're frozen

The snow three days ago is still there… we’re frozen

Forced stretching

Forced stretching

Louis lost in a chaos of stones

Louis lost in a chaos of stones

1 Comment

Filed under Rock

Tuzgle – No Country For Old Men

On our first night in San Pedro de Atacama, on the valuable advice of a local climber met at the tourist information, we had had the best meal since we were in Chile. At the “Estrella Negra”, a small vegetarian restaurant, we had been served a colourful and tasty menu (I do not remember what exactly) accompanied with home-made bread and lemon/ginger juice. As we had left the three half new age half rasta young people running the place, we were  made up with Chilean cooking. In the next two weeks we passed by the “Estrella Negra” every time that we were back in San Pedro de Atacama hoping for a good supper and a stock of home-made bread but we always found the door closed. Looking back it seems that in our memory the repeated disappointments got the better of the delightful experience on the first night.

The saving edge

The saving edge

Promising rock features near Susques

Promising rock features near Susques

However we overcame it and the day after returning from Socaire we took a bus to Salta (Argentina). We got off at mid-way in Susques, the first town on the Argentinean side of the Jama pass and the starting point to Tuzgle, a crown of red tuff cliffs overlooking a “quebrada” at the foot of the “Cerro Tuzgle” volcano. The climbing potential in Tuzgle was publicized some years ago by a Petzl team in this movie.

The Tuzgle volcano and the entrance to the quebrada

The Tuzgle volcano and the entrance to the quebrada

Offwidth pleasures

Offwidth pleasures

In the bus we came across Julia and Egon, a couple of climbers (and route setters) from Ticino who we had shortly met on our first day in Socaire. After talking with us about the access to Tuzgle, they decided to join us without passing by Salta as they had initially planed.

Our kitchen in the shade of the never ceasing wind

Our kitchen in the shade of the never ceasing wind

A sport route with nice structures

A sport route with nice structures

In Susques we were dropped in front of the modest tourist office whose only and squinting employee turned out to be exceptionally helpful, efficient and honest. He organized a car and driver for the next day to transport us to the 75 km away canyon and answered very professionally to the dozen of practical questions that we asked (in South America you almost always get an answer to a question but it is often either incomplete or false since people prefer to invent answers than not to give any). He also proposed to look after our luggage during our time in Tuzgle and to personally check that the driver would pick us up five days later. We spent the evening in Susques trying to make unfriendly grocers smile, drinking warm beer and discussing average speed and road gradient with a lonely french biker linking up Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. The next five days we were cut off from the human world (except for three or four cars or motorbikes per day passing on the road) climbing in the shade, burning up in the sun, freezing at night, looking at blazing stars, cooking sheltered by boulders, taping, jamming, panting for air, stumbling into chinchilla tunnels, listening to the slamming of our tents in the desert wind.

Every technique is allowed...

Every technique is allowed…

Egon in one of the sports route

Egon in one of the sport routes

Atletic crack

Athletic crack

Without any topo, the grade is given by the eye

Without any topo, the grade is estimated onsight

Dulfer in extermis

Dulfer in extermis

Since the water of the small river flowing down from the volcano was not drinkable, we had taken all our water with us. We drank or cooked our 18.5 l to the last straw whereas Julia and Egon survived with 16 l.

Our base camp, next to the diamonds

Our base camp, next to the diamonds

Egon showed a big interest in creating a topo of the discovered routes and with our common effort we ended up with this proposition:

ToposTuzgle_EN

More pictures can be found here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Rock

How to buy a car in Chile… and sell it back three days later

One day between two surfing sessions in Huanchaco we had a brilliant idea. We would buy a car, travel with it across Chile and Argentina and sell it before flying back to Switzerland. We could drive from one climbing spot to another without worrying about bus schedules or carrying our 90 kg luggage from bus terminals to hostals and back or organizing transfers from where public transportation stops to remote climbing spots. Since we had to pass by Antofagasta in the north of Chile to receive our gear we would buy the car there, on our way to the Atacama desert and its canyons of ocher, cracked sandstone.

We looked over a few websites listing cars for private sale in order to get an idea of the car market in Antofagasta, read that blog informing about the paperwork one has to go through when buying a car in Chile and leaving the country with it and that article explaining how to assess how roadworthy is a car when considering to buy it.

Once in Antofagasta (we arrived on a Wednesday) we visited a few garages selling second-hand cars and called several private person selling their cars on the internet. We soon figured out that relatively recent (less than ten years old), second-hand cars were expensive (starting at 5000 Sfr in a garage and at 3000 Sfr from a private person). Thus we had two options (1) buy a relatively recent but expensive car from a reliable car dealer and take the risk to loose time/money selling it back or (2) buy an old but cheap car from a private person and take the risk to break down and lose time/money to repair/sell it back. We chose the second option, answered to some more ads from the internet and arranged two appointments with private persons on the following day (Thursday).

Taking a number is a Chilean national sport

A long queue in front of the immigration office

On the same day (Wednesday) we went to the tax office to obtain a RUT number which identifies a tax payer and which is required by anyone who among other things buys a SIM card or a car in Chile. What happened next is a story inside the story that is worth telling since it illustrates all the bother that bureaucracy, laziness and incompetence put together can cause to individuals.
A clerk (let us name him clerk A) redirected us to the civil registry office. At the civil registry office clerk B explained to us that we first had to go to the immigration office to get a work permit. At the immigration office the waiting line in front of the building was so long that we returned to the tax office convinced that there had been a misunderstanding (the author of the blog was clear about obtaining the RUT number at the tax office).

Back at the tax office, after having explained again that we were travelers willing to buy a car, clerk C told us with a firm tone of voice to address ourselves to another office and helpfully indicated the way to us. Ten blocks away at that other office that was a kind of pension fund clerk D confirmed to us what we knew from the beginning namely that the right place to ask for a RUT number was the tax office. Back again at the tax office containing ourselves we were able to obtain the right form from clerk E which we filled out and handed to clerk F who again questioned us about who we were and why we needed a RUT number. He asked for our address at which the central tax office in Santiago would send the RUT card within three weeks (you get a provisory RUT number for the meantime). We provided the address of our friend Marius in Valdivia which was however refused by the system. It turned out only an address in Antofagasta could be accepted. When we proposed to provide the address of our hostal in Antofagasta clerk F hesitated and asked the chief clerk for help. The answer of the chief clerk was that we needed a written agreement from the hostal owner. The tax office was closing shortly after so that we resolved to come back the next day with the agreement before our two appointments.

At the hostal the manager had no objection and signed a business card with name and phone number. The next day (Thursday) at 8.30 am we were sitting in front of a clueless clerk G. He called the chief clerk for support who ignored the business card, refused to call the hostal manager and asked for a notarial agreement instead. At that point we bursted out and demanded to talk to the chief of the chief clerk directly. We were introduced to his secretary to whom we explained the situation from A to G. The chief of the chief clerk probably heard everything through the ajar door and when we entered his office accompanied by his secretary without even looking at us he nodded. Ten minutes later we were leaving the tax office with a provisory RUT number.

There it is, our Nissan, all innocent (The one on the right 😉 )

Half an hour later we were meeting Mr. X who was selling his 1992 Nissan Sony for 1500 Sfr. The ad had been online for one week. Our first feeling of both the car and the owner was good. We went carefully through the check-list of the article to become aware of the condition of the car. The answers of the owner to our questions were satisfactory and the car despite its age looked like one which had been taken care of over the years. We drove through the neighbourhood putting our forearms to work to turn the wheel with no power steering. Mr. X hinted that for the travel that we were planning it would be better to change the oil, the oil filter and the brake pads and that he would take care of these costs by reducing the price to 1300 Sfr. We thanked him, promised a soon answer and left for our second appointment.

The second car for sale was also a Nissan of similar age and price but the inspection was finished much more quickly. We had a short drive during which we almost caused a few accidents. The brakes did not work at all with the forward gear in (it was an automatic) and worked poorly in neutral. The automatic gearbox was defective since it required some manipulation of the gas pedal to shift gear. The engine was covered with dirt and it seemed that no one had opened the hood since the Chilean-Peruvian war.

Last inspections and oil change before the trip

That afternoon we spent some more time in the city center looking for cars with a “SE VENDE” sign behind the windscreen and calling the owners but they all turned out to be expensive. Finally we called Mr. X, offered 1100 Sfr cash for the car and fixed an appointment the next morning at the civil registry office to make the sale official.The half an hour at the civil registry office surrounded by couples getting married and happy relatives waiting in the line was wasted time since we had to address ourselves to a notary to issue the act of sale (only if the buyer is not Chilean). Moreover Mr. X had to sign a statement authorizing us to leave the country with the car since the official registration of the car under Stephan’s name would take three more weeks. Before midday on Friday three days after our arrival in Antofagasta the car was ours. Departure for San Pedro de Atacama was planned for the next morning. In the afternoon we had the oil, the oil filter and the brake pads changed for about 100 Sfr. Later we met a local climber who advised us a small climbing spot close to town. Thus the next morning (Saturday) we wasted two hours looking for the “Roca Roja” and not finding it after driving some 50 km back and forth along the coast.

On the road!

At midday we were back in Antofagasta, bought a road map and left the city feeling quite frustrated. We drove the few kilometers uphill to the pass connecting the coast strip from the desert inland and drove another 40 km until the car stopped… It felt like if we ran out of petrol. None of the indicators of the instrument panel were working but we had gased up in Antofagasta. Stephan asked for petrol at some mining barracks standing close to the road but they had only diesel. We decided that Stephan would hitch-hike to the next petrol station, bring some petrol back and find the phone number of a breakdown service. Two hours later he was back driving the car of two helpful guys with no driving license with 10L of petrol in PET bottles. We all pushed the car shifting up the second gear and… it started. We thanked the guys and drove 20 km more until the car stopped again. Luckily we were only 500 m away from the entrance of the small village of Baquedano. We pushed the car along the roadside with more than 30 degrees celsius and noticing the amused faces of drivers coming in the opposite direction. At the village another helpful guy inspected the engine and was able to start it by spilling fuel on the carburator. He also drew the anormally low level of the fuel filter to our attention. He accompanied us to the home of mechanic of the village and waited with us for him to come back from work (like everyone he worked for a mining company).

We also felt like exploding, our car broke down in the middle of the desert, near a copper mine

The mechanic checked the engine as well but could not diagnose any defect. It was 7 pm, almost night and Calama the next city was 140 km distance and 1000 m elevation away in the desert. We drove the 20 km to the petrol station where Stephan had been a few hours earlier, refueled and noticed that the top of the petrol tank was perforated. A helpful truck driver also had a look at the engine. By sucking through the fuel filter he found out that it was partly clogged maybe by some tiny pieces of the petrol tank. Even if the fuel filter would have been easy to replace it was 10.30 pm and we were only 80 km away from Antofagasta. We came to the conclusion that we did not want to travel with that car.

Late at night in a gas station… a truck driver revising our car

We had a late supper at the canteen next to the petrol station with sleepy truck drivers. I slept next to the car, Stephan in the trunk and the next morning (Sunday) we drove the 80 km back to Antofagasta, taking twice a break to let the fuel level in the filter rise. We called Mr. X and explained to him that we did not want to travel with the car and that we wanted our money back. After a hard bargain and a new car inspection with the roles being pathetically switched he agreed to take the car back for 900 Sfr. On Monday morning we met at the notary, canceled the act of sale and retrieved our money. We sent our mountaineering equipment to Valdivia by road freight and at 2 pm we took a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. We were heavily loaded pedestrians again but we were feeling somewhat lighter…

4 Comments

Filed under Others