Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Easy does it

The final installation for Chile 2014.  Hot tip, if you ever want a lot of email responses while traveling, try telling a story involving someone hurting your feelings :)  Thanks to everyone that reads these funny little notes. I love writing them so I hope you get a kick out of them.



I ask, hesitating.  I am at the bottom of a rope that hasn't moved in over five minutes.  Lost in day dreaming, 1000 meters above the valley floor, my partner hasn't made a move closer to the summit as the light begins to fade and I have been shivering in the shade of a protruding rock for over an hour.

"Its the hard part! Uugh."  

Pato, my Chilean climbing partner, gives another of his manly whines.  We are on the sixth of 10 pitches in a 550 meter route up Cerro Trinidad in Cochamó Valley in central Chile.  This place is called the Yosemite of Chile but comparisons are for the uncreative: it is valley upon valley of huge (2000 meter) granite rocks; surrounded by rainforest, watched over by condors.

Climbing in Cochamó was the only thing I had really set intentions on and aimed my rutters for from the beginning of my trip.  I didnt know what to expect out of the arduous mission of even getting to the valley, besides my uncertainty if I could keep up in such a world class 'climbing destination.'  Nevertheless,  I waited 5 days for a storm to pass, hitchhiked to the pueblo, chartered a horse and started up with the hopes of smiling my way into a climbing partner. 

Turn out, I missed the other million climbers in the valley this summer and only caught the last three as they were packing to leave after three months of rain forest climbing/waiting for dry weather. Cochamó is so vast and relatively new that development of new routes is constant and difficult.  Cracks are dirty and often, once cleaned for inspection, found to be flaring and/or unclimbable. Heaps of climbers invest the whole summer of time and money just to establish new lines for the sake of exploration.   The only promise that IF a guide book is ever published, their name will be printed along with their route. 

Tactical smiles from both sides were no use, I would not leave to climb in Argentina and they would not stay for another week of expected sunshine in the valley.  And then walked up Patricio...

Handsome, in a city boy sort of way.  English speaking, in the general sense.  Pato wanted to climb Cerro Trinidad and needed a belay.  Well, perfect because I'll climb anything and you could say I'm kind of a professional belayer- 100 lbs of guaranteed soft catch.  It wasn't until we were packed to hike to the base of the mountain that I actually got to see for myself the route map and details: I had been sandbagged.

"Uh. You're going to have to lead all 10 pitches,  Pato." I'm pretty new to crack climbing and was about to climb 550 meters of pretty sustained intermediate crack.

"Ah, yes, okay, I think its fine."

I've never climbed with a stranger before and was working hard to trust my instincts as well as my own abilities to take care of myself and others on a wall.  What's the worse that can happen?

Don't worry, this isn't when I launch into a tale of terror at 1500 meters.  The climbing was beautiful, if not very very slow.  Turns out, Pato bit off more than he was truly capable of and used a lot of cheap, slow technique to get up the wall.  Besides that, I wont even tell you about the 2 hour scramble up a crumbling gully to the base of the route or reaching the summit at dark and then taking 3 hours to find our rappels and scramble back down the gully in the rain to get to camp at midnight in the rain.

I will, however, tell you that a condor visited us several times as we climbed.  It came as low as about 20 meters overhead, just gliding with a condor's curious expression.  As I sat on belay, it would return every hour or so, casting its humongous shadow on the granite. I will also tell you that it's hard to find words for what it was like to be up there, high above such an incredibly beautiful and vast valley of granite formations.  Pictures don't cut it,  long passionate storytelling would only scratch the surface.  The best I can do is tell you how it felt.  The whole 17 hour day felt more physically difficult than anything I have ever completed.  It felt like living three days in one.  It felt like the bliss of single pointed focus, of meditation and stimulation all at once.  It felt like work and, dammit, I really like working hard for things I love and feeling, deep in my tired muscles and bones that I am strong and capable.  Maybe that's what love feels like, at once beautiful and challenging till you're so spent you can only laugh because any other response is just going to smother the experience. Yes, it felt a bit like all of that.

It is the humble opinion of this very self opinionated writer that climbing has the propensity towards some figurative dick measuring.  Some talk big about ascents, scoff at 'gumbies' in a quiet patronizing way, and generally can link identity and worth to climbing resumes.  To some Climbers, this summit was cool but not incredible.   

Oh, that's cute, you top roped a whole mountain. High five.  

And to others, this is almost unimaginable, complicated and scary.  The only thing I know is that I loved it, was inspired and humbled by it.  I loved every hand jamming, freezing, laughing, thirsty, hiking through rain, exhausting, lost in translating, breathtaking minute.  Now, when I flex my scrappy little muscles, there will be tiny little fibers straight out of that day in Valle de Cochamó and that's pretty awesome, in the true sense of the word.  

I don't know how all that converts into genital comparisons, though.

But really, who cares about any of it; Chile, Cochamo, or otherwise. In the end, its just an elaborate ruse.  The geography of travel across borders, or resume of routes ascended is merely a catalyst and outlet for our own internal travel, its outcome judged by where we start and end up within ourselves.  

So, there's that.

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