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.
Tag Archives: rock climbing
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
More pictures can be found here.
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.
“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.
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) …
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.
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.
We climbed: Cerro Espejo/Anfiteatro (1700m), “Cinco estrellas”, 450m, 6b+
More pictures can be found here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
– 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Egon showed a big interest in creating a topo of the discovered routes and with our common effort we ended up with this proposition:
More pictures can be found here.