Hey All -
First trip report for me - hard to condense 11 weeks into a brief post, but I'll try. I guess it makes sense to fill in a little bit of bio - I was raised in Haverhill, MA and started climbing in 2007-2008 while in college in Ohio. Weekend trips to the Red River Gorge let me cut my teeth, and a few outings and near-epics at Seneca Rocks let me refine the trade. I went to work in Watertown, MA shortly after I finished, and settled into a fairly typical weekend warrior routine for a few years, spending Saturdays and Sundays at Cathedral, Cannon, the Gunks, and Rumney, interspersed with occasional week-long trips to Yosemite and the Red. The job wasn't providing much in the way of satisfaction, and so, after putting away some extra money, I bit the bullet and announced my first "retirement" in December. While climbing destinations across the country and around the globe called to me, one dream in particular stood out - I wanted to go to Patagonia.
Fantasies aside, I knew I wasn't ready to tangle with the big peaks of the Chalten region. My first taste of 5.11a had only come in October, with a shaky but clean lead on Lichen Delight, and my aid climbing skills amounted to squat. Hours of lunch break internet searches turned up a intriguing possibility - a recently developed granite valley called Cochamó. A few hundred kilometers north of the Fitz Roy massif, on the Chilean side of the continent, Cocahmó seemed to offer exactly what I was looking for - better weather, fewer objective hazards, cheap camping, and an endless supply of immaculate granite to throw myself at for a few months. I was sold.Cochamó!
I was able to link up with Katie, a friend of a friend, to travel with for the first month. After that, my girlfriend (a climber as well) would be joining me for three weeks, and after that I'd be on my own. Katie had done some climbing and bouldering but wasn't ready to lead on gear - however, she did speak fluent Spanish. (I would describe my Spanish as considerably less than fluent.)Morning near my campsite:
Getting to the valley proved to be adventure in and of itself, but after four days of travel we were able to hire some horsepackers to bring our gear and a month worth of food up the old cattle trail. We arrived in a steady rain, which cleared within a day to yield an unprecedented 20+ days of sunshine. We started small - ticking off cragging routes around the valley. Katie progressed quickly, and while still not comfortable leading, she quickly learned the ins-and-outs of climbing on glacier-polished granite and crack systems. I was able to link with some other more experienced partners as well, ticking local classics like Camp Farm (7 pitches, 5.11a/b) and EZ Does It (9 pitches, 5.10d) with a French climber named Florian. Both of these proved to be gimmee's at the grade - short crux sections interrupting miles of much easier climbing, but we weren't complaining. Florian following a pitch on E.Z. Does It:
As the days rolled by, I kept pushing myself both at the crags and on the walls. My sport climbing limit rose from the mid 5.11's to the low 5.12's, and I ticked off several other 5.11 crack climbs with other various partners. Katie and I parted ways in February - she was off Bariloche, Argentina, and then home to the states. We were able to wrap up our time together by climbing No Hay Hoyes (6 pitches, 5.11-), a sustained and flawless climb with the bulk of the climbing at 5.9-5.10.The last move on No Hay Hoyes:
A few days later Rosemary arrived. We walked back into the valley, eager to get on a big climb and enjoy the isolation of this beautiful place. Unfortunately, mother nature wasn't interested in those plans, and we spent most of the next ten days tentbound, waiting for the unrelenting Patagonian rains to clear. When it became obvious that this was a lost cause, we left the valley and went north, eventually hitchhiking our way into the high desert and finding a wonderful basalt crag in Valle de los Cóndores. Rosemary scoping out a wall in Valle de los Cóndores:
Rosemary had to leave at the beginning of March, so I returned alone to Cochamó. Within a day I had linked up with Kevin and Dan, traveling dirtbag climbers who had hitchhiked from Las Vegas over the course of the last few months. With some encouragement, bolting lessons, and a borrowed hand drill from Daniel (the owner of the refugio in the valley) we hiked up to a hanging valley called Paloma and went to work on a new line Katie and I had eyed and begun to clean a month earlier. I gave myself a crash course in aid climbing (while on lead...) and launched up into the unknown. The next day our 2 pitch line went free at 5.10b or c (probably NH 5.9+...
)Photo topo of our route:Me leading the first pitch during our free ascent:
Upon returning to the main valley in a light rain, we were surprised to find none other than Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright playing chess in the refugio. They raved about a route they had just climbed in the Anfiteatro - a line recently opened by Daniel. Eventually they talked us into trying it.
The route was the hardest thing I'd ever even contemplating leading - four pitches clocked in at 5.11, and six at 5.10. Kevin was coming off of a knee injury, so the bulk of the crux pitches ended up being my job. We didn't send clean - I fell off the 5.11c arete and Kevin took a spill on a 5.10d finger crack, but we did free everything and never resorted to pulling through the hard moves, and I was very proud to onsight the 11b slot/bombay chimney/offwidth pitch. The view from the top was unforgettable.
So, now I'm back in Boston, slowly starting to look for work again while trying to figure out how to make these trips a more regular part of my lifestyle. I'm excited to get back out to Cathedral and Cannon again - with my growing abilities, they feel like brand new walls all over again. I did my first aid leads in Cochamó. I entered having led a single pitch of 5.11 - I left with at least 15 under my belt. I drilled my first bolts - on lead. Between a backcountry diet (read: rice. lots.) and the valley's mammoth approaches, I lost fourteen pounds over the course of eleven weeks. I even managed to eek out a first ascent, from the ground up. My respect for those that open huge, hard and scary routes like this is immense.
Anyways, despite its length, this still feels like a brief summary. I'll leave you with all a few more photos, and see you around the walls this summer. Cheers!
View from the top of Cerro Trinidad:
Cochamó at night:
Dan leading the second pitch of our new route, To Talca and Back:
The other new line we started, but didn't have time (or guts) to finish:
Ragged but happy!