Updated: May 7
As any good blog should start, it has been a while since my last post. I have to admit I was a little burnt out after another epic trip up El Cap. I came short of the boulder problem, but I can put Freerider to rest for the time being.
Right after this, I sold my van and went on a trip to Italy with my family for Thanksgiving. I spent the first few days London with my sister, then went to Sicily with my immediate family (got a few awesome pitches in!), finally ending up in Venice and Tuscany with my entire extended family, 30+ people. Our wonderful hosts drowned us in Prosecco and 7 course meals, a far cry from anchovies and Tasty Bites on El Cap Spire. All in all, it was an incredible experience...
Upon return, I needed a new vehicle to get me back to Montana so I shopped used car lots the day after our flight. To my father's dismay, I settled on a sporty Audi; likely the fastest car I'll ever own.
I drove back to Bozeman the next morning and reunited with my girlfriend after almost a month away. Work began, along with lots of recreational climbing and skiing days. With Anju's visa expiring soon, we hatched a plan to go to South America for a few months... Next thing I knew, I was packing up a duffel for the flight south.
In the likely event that you're here just to look at the photos, remember that they're all in slideshow format- click the arrows to skip through.
Anju and I arrived in Santiago and fortunately met in the customs line. We grabbed our rental car, picked up supplies, and stayed in a Hostel in the Bellavista district. After some touring around, we left for Pichilemu, a coastal town on the way South. We swam in the ocean along the way and bivied in the woods somewhere near the town. Crowds were crazy as it was high season for summer vacation in Chile, so we continued on to Pucon, our jumping point for Cochamo. After resupplying in Puerto Varas, we broke off the main road and drove into Valle Cochamo just in time for our camping reservations.
We found some horse packers at the trailhead and they loaded up nearly 50 kilos of our equipment and food onto a horse that would soon meet us at camp, 8 miles away. We did the casual hike in with nearly no weight, arriving at camping La Junta in the middle of a amazing jungle beneath huge granite walls.
After the first night, we woke up early and packed our bags for two days of climbing. The steep hike up to Valle Trinidad took us almost four hours, but we got there in time to set up camp in the "honeymoon suite" before climbing the six pitch No Hay Hoyes. The route was a perfect introduction: lots of splitter cracks culminating at a steep and insecure crux pitch that literally deposits you on top of the formation. We got down late and read up on the old school Alendenaca route across the valley. The next morning we started up the climb, but after a few pitches the fatigue from the previous day was apparent and we rappelled down.
The days between our climbs were full of sunny rest on beautiful grassy meadows and in the crystal clear river that ran through camp. On the few days there was rain, we socialized with the other climbers in camp, many of which were American. We made bread to pass time and even sport climbed at some of the smaller crags nearby. It was truly a little paradise to pass the two weeks here.
The next route we tried was Positive Effect, a route that my friend Drew had established a few years prior. We hiked up and climbed the first 5 pitches to a bivy ledge, dragging my mom's duffel bag behind with supplies. The next morning we woke up to rain and bailed, only to cache our gear and return a few days later. This time we made it to the top of pitch ten, where Anju pulled the plug in the intense heat. The thin stemming and edging was foreign to her, so we bailed before it got too tough. I'll have to save the rest of this five star route for another time...
Shortly after this, we hiked back up to Valle Trinidad to eek out a few more climbs before the two weeks were over. Anju was psyched on the 1000 meter Bienvedidos a mi Insomnia up Trinidad, so we started up that the next morning. We cruised until about halfway up the route, where 90+F temps and no wind forced into an uncomfortable crack to hide in the shade. After a long rest, we blasted to the top in fading light. On the summit, we saw the sunset along with two other climbers who were bivying after doing a neighboring route. Foolishly, I gave them my puffy, our only extra layer.
On the descent, Anju hit a wall and we ended up taking a few "naps" in the 4th class gully down the formation. It was a long night shivering against the granite blocks, but eventually we got to our sleeping bags some 20 hours later. After this epic, our plans to climb Los Manos del Dia the next day were not reasonable so we hiked down to the cool river in camp for some well deserved rest.
The final few days consisted of some rest and cragging between periods of rain. We hiked out on a muddy trail with big bags, psyched for the next leg of of trip.
From Cochamo we cruised straight south along the Carratera Austral to the port of Hornopiren, where we spent the night. Planning on catching the ferry the next day, we were surprised when the ticket booth informed us that the next 4 days were booked out. Ouch... our best option was to wait in line and hope that they let us on in the afternoon. Fortunately, our tiny car was a desirable fit and we boarded the next ferry in a hurried rush.
The ferry dropped us off a few hours later in Parque Pumalin, a particularly untarnished national park donated by Doug Thompkins a few years back. This camping, although expensive, was some of the most beautiful we enjoyed along the trip. Driving through we stopped to see waterfalls and groves of ancient Alerce trees, the South American answer to the Giant Sequoia. Oddly enough, we were already familiar with them as they are common in the upper valleys of Cochamo. We made it past the town of Chaiten to a campground beneath the large Volcano Michimihuidia.
The next leg of the highway took us through Queulat, to Coyhaique and eventually Puerto Ibanez. We stopped at the hanging glacier in Queulat for some photos before driving the pass (the most rowdy part of Ruta 7) that evening, eventually stopping at a ranch on the South side of the pass. The next day we cruised into Coyhaique for a resupply and some turista activities. The town was great and it had been a while since we climbed, so we stayed two more days to climb the nearby Cerro McKay and Muiralla de China. It was cold and windy, so we went south to the warm micro climate that surrounds lago General in Puerto Ibanez.
We stayed here for a few days, climbing at the newly developed (literally less than a month old) Altamirano crag. This place was stacked with great 40m routes, all of which needed some serious cleaning. After picking enough dirt out of our eyes, we moved to the Maitenal area for a bit, climbing the some of the best sport routes we had done yet with an interesting global community in this tiny campground. After climbing nearly all of the small selection of routes at the Principal crag, we left with high hopes to check out Cerro Castillo.
We managed to find some locals and get beta on Cerro Castillo, but our time frame didn't line up with a week long rain streak in the South. We decided to make the most of the rain and continue to Puerto Tranquilo, where we got the chance to check out the marble caves between downpours. On top of this, we enjoyed some of the best beer yet at the local brewery. Shortly afterward we doubled back up all the way to Futaleufu before crossing the border into Argentina.
Our rental car company only allowed us two weeks in Argentina, so we planned to split our time between Piedra Parada and Bariloche, two incredible climbing destinations. Crossing over at Futa provided a stark contrast: dense green forests to high dry desert, wealthy foreign tourism to authentic Argentine city. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule so we stocked up in Esquel and went straight to Piedra Parada. After getting lost on a random uncompleted road, we pulled into the dirtbag camp across the river with a flat tire and set up camp for the next week.
The campground was awesome. We were in the middle of nowhere with hundreds of great sport climbs just a 20 minute walk away. On top of this, it was completely free and we were alongside a river with lots of other like-minded climbers. The weather was stable and there was even an electronic music festival a few kilometers away. We managed to climb at crags throughout the canyon, with the highlight route being on the Aguja de la Virgen, a 500 ft overhanging spire.
Once we got our tire back from the nice park service man who fixed it for us, we rolled out of Piedra Parada en route to Bariloche. We hiked right up to Frey the day after arriving and set up camp with a few days worth of food. Poor weather was in the forecast, but we managed to climb the Principal and check out some of the smaller stuff near camp. We spent our rainy day in the refugio playing poker with some other guests in hopes of winning a pizza. We never got the chance to check out Companile, however, so I guess I'll be back some day...
After coming down from Frey we still had a couple of days allowed in Argentina, so we camped a few kilometers outside of Bariloche. We ate a lot of ice cream, drank local beer and checked out a festival in the nearby swiss colony. The day before our time expired, we went up North back towards Pucon to camp right before the crossing into Chile. That night some queso azul gave us food poisoning and we spent the next 48 hours in "recovery".
Once we were back in Chile and recovered from out food poisoning epic, we made our way to Villarrica. Anju's brother lived here a few years ago and his host family was happy to have us for a few days while we enjoyed the less busy season of Pucon. After having a hard time obtaining permission, we also climbed the namesake of the town, Volcan Villarrica.
Our flights out were closing in and we still had to make our way up North, so we set off towards on the Valle de los Condores. After yet another long drive, we set up camp in the high desert. The next few days we climbed some fun sport routes, swam in the river, and gawked at the waterfalls.
After hiding from the sun for a few days, we were craving the coast and revisited Pichilemu. This time it was easy to find camping as the small coast town was free of tourists (besides us) in the off season. I ate some fresh seafood, Anju enjoyed some fresh juice and we both enjoyed a full day of surfing in the rain. Unfortunately, there were no photos of the town or surfing, but we did have some of the resident kitten in our campground...
After relaxing on the coast, we made our final stop on the way back to Santiago: Cajon de Maipo. This major valley starts at a nearly 6000m peak high in the Andes and winds all the way down to the southern end of Santiago. Its loaded with great climbing and even has some wonderful looking hotsprings. We decided to beat the heat and camp/climb at an abandoned mine high in the valley.
With our flights in a few days, we finished our trip in Santiago. We stayed in a cozy little airbnb and ate out for our last few meals. We even got a little bit of climbing in at a city park in the city with one of Anju's friends. Before returning our trusty rental car, we took it to China town and had it detailed for $10 while we shopped for cheap snacks. After nearly 10,000 km on South American roads, it was a little rough around the edges but the rental company didn't charge us a dime after they saw that we returned it with a full tank. I guess the China town clean up was worth the money!
Anju flew to Berlin and I to Sacramento a few hours later. It was a wild, spontaneous, and incredible trip like I've never experienced before and I'm still unpacking it as I write this nearly two months later. Obviously it was difficult for us to live on opposite sides of the world and I couldn't wait for the next adventure like this, so I flew out to Deutschland a month later to see Anju. Now, as my time in Germany wraps up and work season is looming, we are assessing our options as to what's coming next...