Tag Archives: Chile

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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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.

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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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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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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…

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