Monday, March 26, 2012

Torres Del Paine

Alright getting back to the correct chronological order of things.

In Puerto Natales i was reunited with Gabriele and Angelo - my two new Italiano amgios which i met on the side of the road while trying to hitch north out of Argentina through Tierra Del Fuego. Puerto Natales is the staging town for trips into the famous Torres Del Paine National Park, which happened to be the exact reason why we were there.

A breath taking entrance to the park on a beautiful afternoon, The towers poking up right in the center of the pic

I had defnitely grown used to remote wilderness experinces by now and other than 2 nights near Machu Piccu, i had yet to spend an evening in the backcountry over the entire privious 2 and a half months with anyone other than myself. My world was about to be rocked as we entered the Disney Land of Patagonia...walking aruond camp naked was no longer an option, well i guess its always an option, but not one i cared to exercise anymore.

A nice little dinner show on night one, we had no idea what was instore for breakfast!

TDP can be done in a 5 to 8 day loop or in a shorter 3 to 5 day tour known as the W where you take a ferry out from one end. 90% of the people ( tens of thousands) just do the W, as the circuit is held on a pedistal for only those hardy brandished trekkers who really know what they´re doing (crock o shit, its some solid trekking but if you´re gung ho its available to be had by anyone).
The scenary and landscape here is nothing short of spectacular but the attitude towards and management of the land and park is nothing short of a gong show. Camping can only be done at specified campsites which are run by private companies who have no investment in the environmental preservation of this amaznig land, a place where you can still drink the river waters untreated, but not for long - at one campsite the ranger closed the bathroom (pit toilet) from 7am to 11am leaving 150 campers wandering around with a douce on deck and no where to deliver it (the majority of which have no concept of burying their waste and would simply poop wherever they found cover leaving their steaming pile and accompanied TP out for show). Its deinfintely always easy to criticize and i should probably just keep this all to myself, but the hefty park entrance fee and the amazingly expensive buses to get into the park add up to a whopping 10 million dollars of revenue each year - to simply keep a pit toilet open and to invest in a bit of proper trail maintainence to prevent excesive errosion (which there was plenty of) doesn´t seem to be asking too much...anyways, stepping down from the soap box.

I was on a rushed schedule so only the W was mine to be had and even with the shortened trail sectioon i was pushing it to fit in everything with my limited time 5 days of trekking into 3? Sure, why not.

Angelo and Gabriele showing off their goods!

I started off with the Italians, had an epic sunrise show across the Cerro Torres and we spent the day playing 'how much ____ do you think we have?' (fill in the blank with some, any, kind of food). To start, the italians are well, italian, and second, when they went food shopping for the trip they were hungry and we all know how that works out. 5 pounds of caramel, a dozen eggs, olive oil, priscouto, 2 dozen sausages, 3 pounds of steak, pasta, sauces, 3 pounds of cheese, oats, nuts, 4 loafs of bread, 4 pounds of get the point. they were beyond excited with their food stash and mid way through any meal they were already planning out 2 meals ahead.

The towers coming alive in the early morning light

One second early on the timer shot and 10 minutes late on the sunrise

We lucked out with the weather and saw more or less complete sunshine for the entire time in the park - this place is renounded for its wicked weather and imposible to believe winds. I was really hoping for a bit of a wind show but alas i got a few gusts of 50k´s or so, but nothing more.

Today the weather will be partly cloudy with extreme amounts of vastness approaching from the West and a significant helping of Holy-shit-look-at-those-mountains piled up on the East

At 2nd camp we randomly met up with 3 swiss girls who the italians had randomly met during their last tour of hitching and little did i know i would soon be spending weeks with these amazing ladies (and will now be visiting them in Switzerland this coming summer). The italians had a few extra days to boot and were thus taking things slower, so i went ahead, fell into the same schedule as the ladies and over the next few days we all became friends.

He´s single ladies...

No cars coming through here, maybe we can hitch a ride on a donkey

There is no point in my trying to write about how beautiful this place was, even the pictures fall well short of capturing the imensity of the place...a tiny finger glacier of the southern ice field pourng 20 k´s into a torquise lake that flanks the near-sea-level base of 10,000 foot granite spires which tear apart clouds blowing in off the ice sheet. see, words dont even touch it, and the picture below is missing the spires which sit off to the really should just fly down here and come take a look for yourself :)

Lucky timing to catch the collapse of a large section of face ice tearing off the hanging glacier

I missed lunch with the Italians on day two when i was off running up a side trail but they made a sandwhich so rediculous that they took a picture of it, then took a picture of my reaction to the picture of their was nothing short of amazing.

Dinner time and All business for these guys!

Obviously you dont go into the back country without a full loaf of raison bread and extra large candle for presentation...after all, it is all about the presentation right?

A fire this year started by arsonists unhappy with the lang managment had temporarily closed parts of the part, she was all open once we showed up.

The direction that we did the trek put us in the vacinity of the Towers on day 1, then out and back up another valley for day 2 and then on day three we walked around to the flanks of Glacier Grey, its lake, and the larger ice field it pulls away from. Walking up along the valley produced moment after moment of 'you gotta be fucking kidding me' kinda views which started with the lake, then ice burgs, then the visual of their terminal source, and then finally the entire ice field in its enormity (well sorta - all these pictures only capture a few k´s of the glacier the actual southern cap ice sheet which sources all this lovely white stuff is just past the peaks and runs about 100 kilometers in width (humungous - god im a horrible speller)...let the show begin

the ocean

I rallied out of the park with the Swiss ladies, spent a night backyard camping in town and the next day shipped off with plans for a quick jaunt south then back north to Los Glaciers NP and Fitz Roy (the 6 day river trip that was the cause for me rushed trip through Torres NP had fallen apart while i was hiking - fuel strikes). I said goodbye to the Italians on the trail and we had left our futures pretty open to meet up again, and the same had gone with the Swiss girls who were also heading to Fitz Roy but on a slightly different schedule...

One of these days i will return for a more proper exploration of the lands within this region...a car, ice equipement, climbing gear and a solid crew could produce a life long list of endless adventures in this place. For now though, its northbound with thumb out on the side of the road.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


As it turns out, trying to start a description about Cochamo without the cliche "oh where to start with Cochamo" is more difficult than i thought it would be. The difficulty comes in the non-linear aspect of the place, the web it is built from makes it such that no single aspect can be fully described without also explaining some other aspects, and thus where to start and how to do this place proper justice is harder than imagining "a monkey wearing a tuxedo made from bacon riding a unicorn cyborg"...i need a degree in visual graphics to get this one right...or maybe just 60 pictures to ooogle at (which are below).

Traveling alone has produced its lonely points - this was to be expected - i just never knew how deeply i was missing a sense of community until i found one again in Cochamo. Shoulder and gear be damned, i showed up in Cochamo valley out of a very random set of events - a climbing trip in Ecuador and a closed Caraterra Austral (a region of chile) had pulled me out of the depths of Patagonia and north again to Santiago. The Ecuador climbing trip unexpectedly melted in front of me 24 hours before boarding an 85 hour bus north to the equator - a small blessing in disguise (my climbing gear was in Santiago and had i not been pulled north i never would have been reunited with it and i never would have returned south to Cochamo - with harness and shoes in hand - Cochamo being located 14 hours back south from Santiago). Tired of floating around and looking to just be in a cool spot for a while i fell back on a mantra that i have held on to for years and that has never done me wrong: GO ... and by that i mean, If you put yourself in an amazing place then amazing things will happen, regardless of your plan or lack of one, simply GO (build it and they will come - Go and it will happen)

I hit a grocery store, bought 20 days worth of food and with an 85 pound pack, wedged myself into the rush hour metro in Santiago and boarded a bus heading back to Patagonia...a quick 2 minute poach of internet just before i found my bus seat helped build the confirmation that i had made the right decision - A fellow ski racer who I raced with at Virginia Tech was down in Patagonia on a 5 month climbing trip with his girlfriend - i hadn't talked to him in 8 years, he would be arriving in Cochamo 1 day after me....Somewhere in between Faith, Luck, and Fate my future was lining up. To show up in Cochamo with just a harness and shoes would be like going on a epic skiing trip with just your boots, no skis; like showing up in Hood River with your paddle but no kayak...Cochamo is a valley laced with thousand foot granite walls, where big wall climbers from around the world congregate during the southern hemisphere's summer to jam their fingers into wet mossy cracks and walk, pull, and tug themselves 10 to 20 pitches above the canopy of old growth trees which fill the glacially carved U-shaped valleys below...What Cochamo is, is amazing.

At the high end of any sport you begin to peal yourself away from the regular public, from the rest of the throngs of people that do the "normal' things, that follow the 'standard' routes. Kayaking had instilled this separation in me for years. As a boater i never stood at a viewing platform to gaw at the pretty waterfall and have another tourist take a picture of me in front of it to show my friends i had SEEN a cool place, instead i walked my boat up past the gapers, put in upstream and EXPERIENCED the place...i know this view of things sounds arrogant, it probably is, but since i lost my shoulder and lost my life as i kayaker i have felt deflated, powerless to do anything but take my place in line next to the rest of the normal's and take pictures of amazing places but never actually touch them, never experience them. This, along with the loss of community from falling out of a sport that defined my life for almost a decade, has been a hard reality to swallow and although i am slowly accepting that those days as a boater are behind me, i still fail to let go of some aspects - they are who i am, and boating has been the only vessel to reach them.

As i sat on the bus and chatted with Alex Honnald and Cedar Wright, two of the worlds best climbers also coincidentally heading up to check out Cochamo at the same time (Still a relatively new place on the where's where of world climbing desitnations), a warm little feeling was growing in side of me that i hadn't felt in a long last 4 months as a trekker - simply looking at cool places - was swiftly changing and soon i would be tearing skin off my hands and jamming screaming toes into tiny cracks a thousand feet off the deck. I was going to EXPERIENCE Cochamo, first though, i needed a rope, gear and a climbing partner...Cue Dan and Kelly!

The following two weeks summed themselves up to be the highlight of the my entire south american trip so far. I was content. It was everything and more than i could have asked for, thanks not only to Cochamo itself, but to Dan and Kelly.

With no road into the valley, the virgin forest has remained firmly rooted. The approaches to the bases of the climbs are long and horrible, a climbers standard of WET is redefined as cracks on some routes provide not only your handholds but your drinking water for the day. Rain is the rule, sun the exception and from this your world is polarized into climbing and waiting to climb. Four hours up the valley lies a refugio and a camping area. The land was purchased by a climber from Reno a decade ago and has been slowly built into a climbing wonderland. The main valley runs east west and from this central spot 3 side valleys provide the majority of the climbs. We base camp down low at the campsite equipped with a Fugon (cooking shelter) and wait out rainy days, when the sun comes out every climber moves to a high camp a few thousand feet up and a few hours closer to the base of the major walls. From there you fan out each day to your objective.
Across the river from the Fugon is the Refugio, where Dan (the owner) lives when he's in the valley. The refugio is run like a high end mountain hut, set up for people who actually have money to find a comfortable bed, a hot meal and a cozy getaway - So pretty much not for climbers. The people who run the place are like a small family and once you get to know them you are considered family too. Fresh bread is baked everyday, the library is fully stocked and amazing, Wet smelly cilmbers are welcomed with no hesitation to spend rainy days inside soaking up the dry warmth from a wood stove and enjoying free hotwater to make endless cups of tea.
New routes are put up every year and new walls opened. The worlds best as well as the 'just-beginning' put up climbs and expend untold amounts of energy clearing trails, cleaning lines and bolting anchors and creating what they hope will become the next classic climb in the region. This place doesn't have much in the way of easy climbs - Essentially if you've come halfway across the world, lugged your shit hours up knee deep muddy trails and faced the relentless weather this place dishes out, its because you're dedicated and as with anything, when you're dedicated to it you naturally become good at it - this means most climbs range from 6 to 20 pitches (400 to 2000+ feet), require full trad gear, and are, well, hard.

Dan and Kelly took me in as a third wheel climber with no hesitation and graciously extended all their gear to me as well as accepted my enormous disabilities (that is, im just coming out of shoulder surgery, haven't climbed in years, dont climb that hard, dont know big wall climbing that well (its an art of rope management, technical rigging systems and a keen sense of 'what could go wrong' and how to prevent it before the dominoes begin to fall) and generally, im just not that ideal of a climbing partner (given all the above issues)). But we climbed regardless and we even climbed some of the hardest routes they had ever done, i always followed, sometimes prusiking myself up things i couldn't climb (meaning i climbed the rope and not the rock), nearly always swearing at each pitch, destroying my hands and feet, and occasionally amazing myself at what i was actually getting up cleanly (10b's, c's and d's). I was so happy to have an aching body, to have something to sacrifice physical discomfort for in the name of a larger prize - the experience. Each day i grew stronger, i took rest days to let my shoulders ease into their new burden, and over all they held up (although the work load did irritate my right shoulder and confirm that i do indeed need another surgery).

After 16 days i walked out. Behind me but still with me were thousands of amazing moments, both small and large, that combined into one unimaginable smile on my face. I had arrived as a stranger, i left with community ( and not to mention two new and awesome friends, Dan and Kelly)
There is no one particular thing that makes Cochamo amazing, or even one particular place from which to start its description, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Here are some of the pictures...

Looking up the Cochamo Valley from the Cochamo bridge, 0.5 k's from the ocean...10 k's up a cattle trail lies camp

The local tourism board...this place is small and out of the way, to say the least.

Showing up exactly at the same time as a sponsored North Face team had its advantages, they hired horses to pack up their 200+ pounds of big wall gear and offered me some space as well. Thank you North Face! (Really just thank you Alex and Cedar though)

First view of the walls after 3 hours of walking

Ahh the mud, you were thick and wonderful

Although Cochamo has no roads, the valley has been used for small scale cattle grazing for nearly 150 years, the constant foot traffic has eroded away a crazy slotted trail system

Beware the shoe eating mud! Kelly gets nailed by an unassuming puddle and had to go WAY more than wrist deep to wrangle her shoe back to the light of day.

Let the Climbing Begin!!!

Where's the soap and shampoo when you need it! - The walls and valleys are steep enough here that some see no sunlight during the day - we were graced with only 30 minutes of sun on this route. Not only does it keep things cold, it also keeps things WET (shower time wet). Dan led some amazing lines, including this crack/roof system (Kelly in the pic) which had a faucet running down it.

From the dry security of the refugio you can watch waterfalls form and fade on the faces as rain bands come and go. Weather is important to watch around here as both climbers and water are attracted to the crack systems on the walls. When storms move in quick you can find yourself fucked with no way out. A climber drowned last year when his route turned into a waterfall trapping him in its torrent 800 feet off the valley floor.
When the sun does come out though this place is nothing short of incredible...Looking down the Trinidad Valley, we did 6 different climbs up here. If you click on the picture you might just be able to make out a red tarp at the bottom center, this was our high camp and gives a good perspective for the size of this place.

From the camping area at the lower camp looking up at Trinidad and the Trinidad Valley which squeezes its way up through shear walls.

Its a jungle out seriously, its really a jungle.

Cochamo even has an overhanging dry crag for those wet days - which can be everyday for weeks when the weather really comes in. Alex Honnald resting on a 12.d (Resting, relaxing, takin'er easy - on something i couldn't begin to even hold on to - for those unfamiliar with Alex and some of his achievments have a quick view of this Nat Geo Vid - he's an awesome guy and somehow must have glued velcro onto his finger tips...

Where we go for everything from route topo's, warm fresh bread, books, dryness or even just a friendly chat.

A beautifully constructed little house and an amazing place to hang out in rain or shine

Crossing the river to get to the refugio and most of the climbing - cable cars NEVER get old!

Dan assisting Kelly - going fast makes everything more fun!


Low camp at the campamento Junta smack in the middle of the Cochamo valley with Trinidad looming over us in the back...i had taken my tent down by essentially it sat under that plastic for 2 weeks...plastic makes life so much easier when it rains here

The Fugon (our cooking shelter) at the low camp

You just kinda claimed a box and stashed all your food in it..there was also one cuby dedicated at the FREE BIN, where you left any extra food you didn{t want to pack out after your stay up there..if you were good you could effectively live out of the free bin. Every climber kept and eye on it and when anythign new showed up it was nabbed in less than a minute!

After 2 hours of walking through dense forests with no view you blast into a clearing at the base of Trinidad's North wall with an impressive view up the valley at Gorilla (the big wall on the right). 30 minutees further up an a house size boulder in the woods provided a bivy spot for high camp so climbers dont have to go all the way back down to the Refugio and campsite.

One of our high camps, essentially where the picture above was taken from

This is the wall that Kelly and Dan are leaning on - right on up 2500 feet. The rock actually collects so much warmth during the day from the sun and radiates it back at night that their is no dew if you camp next to it, while up the valley the dew is so thick you'd think it had rained each night.

2nd oldest trees in the world...these Old Growth Alcerces Trees are protected from logging and Cochamo remains one of the few places you can still find them in there true grandeur.

The bamboo is thick in these parts

Redefining can see the water streaks coming down off the left face

The faucet crack...Dan led, i prusiked my sorry ass up behind him

When your feet are used to hiking boots they dont take kindly to crammed cragging shoes - out of shear necesity i was removing my shoes after every pitch

Our main high camp right in the heart of the Trinidad Valley...Dan would rig up his tarp here and i would sleep in a bivy boulder 100 feet away. We had a stream near by for water and swims, climbs were close and the sunrise and sunsets glowing off the walls were never short of fantastic

I got the local info on the edible berries and veg of the valley and we struck gold often with some tasty bounty!

Berries AND flowers are edible from this one....delish!

The main Trinidad Block, central and south pillars...we pegged a nice climb right on the right edge of the south (right pillar) which went more or less straight up the arette (almost exactly where the vertical sun-shade line is)

One of the many was always much nicer looking at the walls bouncing off the pools then say, my own face, especially after 2 weeks without showering

This place never ceased to amaze me...a 3 minute walk from the lower camp was this beautiful slide which you could actually water-slide down on your ass on the far river right...amazing for rest days, massive rectal dueches and simply soaking it up!

After my first few days of bigger climbing i decided to take a rest day for the sore shoulder and make an attempt at summiting out on this guy...the approach was far right of the picture up loose rock, fixed ropes, nasty bush whacking and then clear and AMAZING 3rd class scrambling along that right ridgeline to the summit...and from there the views were nothing but 360 degrees of ridiculousness

Fixed ropes anchored to small trees...I strained to try and remember any articles that might have been appropriate to the situation 'Shear Stress of small alpine root systems' no such luck, but this little beaut did hold for both the up and down plunge

And a plunge it woulda been had the little guy given way

Looking back on the entire Trinidad valley from the saddle...the valley is more or less completely flat up top then drops 2 thousand feed just on the other side of that far pinch into the larger Cochamo valley (where low camp is)

The next set is essentially a 360 pano from the summit. East into Argentina only 20 miles away and the famous spires of Frey. West to the ocean only 10 miles away. North to Osorno - the perfect cone shape volcano and south looking down the Austral - a 500 mile long strech of remote fiords encasing the north and south ice fields, the largest ice fields outside greenland and antartica

Oh and look, a glacially carved lake with no one swimming in it...i can fix that

I tried to go for the classic mid dive picture but since my cloths remained on shore and my timing was always off you just get the default head shot

There is nothing like sticking your whole head into a lake like this and just taking massive gulps of fresh water

It turned out to be a swimming day for me and after coming back over the saddle, down into the Trinidad valley i opted for another swim here, grabbed my gear, rallied down 3 hours to the Cochamo valley and with the sun setting took a few rides down the waterslide from the previous of the better days in a while for sure!

A few days of rain passed and we were soon back up at high camp

And i was back under my bivy boulder

We ticked off a few harder climbs on our second weather window and overall everything was drier...amazing times!
Dan Leading strong as usual!

A morning shot hanging off the southern pillar of Trinidad looking back in the Cochamo Valley

Crumbly face climbing...eveyrones favorite!

We got really good at picking all the shady climbs...soaking up our 30 minutes of sunshine for the day!

Off width roof cracks...turns out im not very good at these

Kelly Leading away

Plenty of time for me to look around while kelly and dan did all the work on leading..i was a serious free loader!

me LEAD? you gotta be crazy!

What was supposed to be an easy offwidth 5.8 crack with protection in the back turned out to be NOT an easy off width and NO protection in the back...we bailed right as clouds took us over and the last i saw of dan and kelly was the next day as they attempted to walk up the walk-off and rap down to collect the gear we bailed on...after describing their plan to another climber who had done the route his only thought was...Shit, thats gonna really suck...more than likely they had another epic retrieving gear...ill hear form them in a few days when they come out of the valley and we{ll see how it went

Waiting for the bus back at the road, bored but so happy after 16 days in the valley

Im now in Santiago with a 60 hour bus ride coming up in 2 days to Lima...oof!

3 weeks left in the trip and im heading north to Ecuador to meet up with some friends from Oregon...first though a terramotto (the earthquake - one of chile{s national drinks) and on a side note, chile had a 7.2 earthquake yeaterday and i was hanging out on the 8th floor of an apartment building watching waves move up and down the skyscrapers around me...AMAZING!