Cochamo Delivers

April 09, 2014

by Chris Kalman

There we were, seven pitches up a new buttress in Cochamo’s Anfiteatro, with at least two more pitches left to open before the top, on probably the last day of the season, and it started to rain. It had been threatening all day, as if Cochamo were trying to do its best impression of El Chalten. Our route featured mostly clean cracks, some loose rock, big flakes, and impressive splitters. Now, we stood upon a high crest, big drops on both sides, and only the unknown ahead of us.

It was the kind of rain that is probably snow or ice just a couple pitches up. Cold, spitting, and faint.  Miranda and Marco were on the fence. I was on the ridge. Before they could really go into any sort of prolonged refusals, I wanted to go a little further and take a look at our next pitch. After a short scramble, and a little easy 5th class, I was at the base of a short finger crack, which pulled a small roof, and went into a perfect hand crack.  

“It’s splitter!” I yelled to them. Right then, looking back down the knife-edge ridge at them, I saw the clouds starting to lift. During my short pitch, the rain had stopped. Now, as if in response to my only wish at that moment in time, out came the sun. “The sun!” I called, and pointed. I swear I could feel them grumble at my stubborn insisting. After all, I was the only one who brought a rain jacket, and they were already rather wet.

Still, we all could feel the season closing on us, and we wanted to cap it off with a finished route. I brought over Marco, then Miranda - cursing myself for not bringing the camera with me. They delicately walked the narrow crest with 1000 foot drops on either side, the perfect light of the setting sun illuminating their passage. Since the next pitch was one of the only two I really wanted for the day, they gave me the rack, and up I went.

The climbing was out of this world. The finger crack thinned out through the roof, but good stemming made it 5.11-.  After a small ledge I was greeted by a 30 meter long crack that spread gradually from .75 to 3 camalots, dead vertical, and on perfect stone.  I pushed the pitch up into some broken terrain the full 70 meters, and brought up the others.  Though a little dirty, the pitch was inarguably classic - just like most of the route up to that point.

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By the time Miranda got to me, Marco was already starting up the next pitch with the rack. By now there was now more light than that of our headlamps, and visibility was limited. The angle eased off on this final pitch, and accordingly, the cracks became much dirtier, and more vegetated. I never heard a thing from Marco, except for at one moment, he said “I found a crack. It’s a little wide. I’m gonna go for it.”Coming up Marco’s pitch, I was impressed over and over again by the difficulty and awkwardness of the climbing.  At one point, I simply pulled on the rope for 3 meters to pass a section of dirty vertical offwidth that he had done with 55 meters of wandering rope drag and a ten meter runout beneath him.  When I got to the belay, I told him it was the most impressive lead I’d ever seen - and I think that may actually be true.  He said, “Huh.  Yeah, I think the pitch is honest 5.9”. I have no idea what that means, but I couldn’t have been happier not to have led that beast!

Miranda, who had unfortunately gotten stuck on the last two pitches hauling the drill and jugging finally came up, and we all strolled up to the summit ridge together. We hugged, ate a couple cookies, and then got right back to the task at hand. We still had 5 bolt holes to drill for anchors, and 10 pitches of raps to figure out before we’d be back in the steep gully and on terra-somewhat-firma.

A good four hours later, we were down, safe and sound in the bivy boulder.  The next day, after our nearly 20 hour push, we rested. The next three days I spent alone under the Anfiteatro bivy boulder, while Marco and Miranda went down to the campground. It rained all three days.  On the last night, I finally saw the moon. We had had to leave two ropes fixed on the route, and a couple of cams, as the drill had run out of battery. I knew this may be my last shot, so up I went.  The gully was covered in snow, and I had trouble finding our fixed lines, but in the end, all went according to plan. I hand-drilled a single bolt, grabbed the cams, and rapped into the night.  

Three days later, the sun finally came back out. With another week of rain in the forecast, we all hiked down together. In Puerto Varas, sharing beers and memories, everyone smiled knowing that that last beam of light through the clouds, right when things looked so bleak, was a gift from Cochamo. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the season.  Now, all that’s left to do is go back next year and send! Oh, and clean, and throw in a couple more rap bolts, and clean some more, and draw a topo. Well, I guess we’ll be going back then… Great!

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