Posted from Puerto Varas, Los Lagos Region, Chile.
Big wall … it has entirely changed my perspective on mountain climbing. Before coming here and trying it out I was naive and ignorant enough to expect just a longer trad climbing trip up a taller than usual multi-pitch crag. How wrong had I been. Capicua, which is the mountain we climbed up here in Cochamo and which means palindrome, i.e. the word or a number that spells the same forwards and backwards, threw me about and spat me out like a ping pong ball. It has been nothing I expected and everything I did not expect. I was prepared for lots of climbing, trying out leading new pitches and seconding the ones that would prove too hard for me but could be tried out by my colleagues more experienced in trad climbing. In summary, I expected it to be all about climbing but on a larger scale and on higher grounds than e.g. Lake District or Wales. However big walls, especially when it comes to opening and freeing new lines, which is what we were helping our team leader Tom with, are first and foremost about the logistics of setting up camps, choosing right gear and taking all the supplies up the wall, and only later about climbing itself. And even when the team is climbing only the person who leads actually does the climbing while the others that follow just jummer up the wall using ascenders. There is not really that much time for climbing and testing things out, especially when one gets to deal with the wall as hard as this one. We estimated that this 23 pitch 1000 metre route called Picaflor (Hummingbird) has a crux pitch of about 7c/7c+ whilst 7 others are of 7b/7b+ difficulty – and it’s mostly trad. We could not manage to free climb it. My more experienced colleagues aided it and we will be looking forward to see who can free climb this route which is now prepared, bolted in places where gear placements is not possible and ready to be sent. For us it had been too hard and too long, considering not only our limited physical prowess but also the fact that we had limited time on the wall and had to haul all our stuff up. It has been indeed very arduous and heavy work. We had to bring all our climbing and camping gear, our clothes and 14 days worth of food nine 60-80 metre pitches up the wall, set up a camp and start trying out the remaining 14 pitches of similar length but of much higher difficulty than the previous ones. Then we needed to haul again all our gear, two portaledges, all our clothes and 4 days of food and water another 12 long pitches up the wall to the point where we could set up our portaledges before attempting the remaining three pitches that would take us to the very top. As soon as we reached our first camp site the time started running out together with our food supplies which had been rather restrictive from day one. We ate porridge in the mornings, one or two little snacks during the day and a bean or lentil based meal in the evenings. Me and my colleague Marek calculated that we were eating about 1,500 calories per day whilst we were burning about 4,500-5,000. I was slimming down and my waist was shrinking. I could feel it not only when I had to shorten a rubber tightener in my trousers every two or three days but also as I was getting progressively weaker. I came to my lowest point where I could hardly do on top rope the pitch that my friend Marek led and it was probably not even of a F6b difficulty. I started doubting whether I could actually climb anything at all. All those extra tasks or hauling, lifting things up combined with the difficulty of the climbs and the fact that I am neither experienced in trad climbing nor climbing in granite meant that I had a rather difficult time. Having said that, as the saying goes what does not kill you makes you stronger I believe I am now richer not only in new experience or new adventure but I am more knowledgeable about climbing long lines. I do not think I will ever take part in a similar big wall project but I would very much like to start trad climbing multi pitch routes in an alpine style. Although still a rookie I now know what can go wrong and what to look out for on the rock. I also now know how beautiful the mountains look when you look down the portaledge as you are waking up close to 1,000 metres above ground. If only my words could explain the beauty of the landscape as the mist covering an entire valley slowly kept rising below our feet as the first rays of the rising sun warmed up the mountainsides. Or how uneasy I felt at first when I first sat down on the portaledge facing out of the wall and into the void or when it started becoming worryingly natural and I began to think about not loosing concentration. I do not have any photos from the wall as I left my camera at the campsite to limit the total weight of my personal gear but our colleague David who was taking pictures reportedly took over 1,500 of them. As soon as they are selected and available I shall make a separate post dedicated to photography and place a good chunk of them to show you how our climbing endeavours looked like in pictures. In the meantime, albeit aware of the disappointment, I attached a few pictures from our walk into the campsite and from the campsite itself. I am now temporarily staying in the nearby touristy town of Puerto Varas situated on the shore of the second largest lake in Chile called Lago Llanquihue and overlooking two active volcanoes – Osorno and Calbuco. I am planning to eat and relax and perhaps work on my long overdue research paper before heading back to the valley for a long expected week of trad climbing. Today I purchased a map of Chile in order to plan my bicycle trip. I saw a few touring bicycles in town which made me want to hop on my bike and ride away into the sunset even more. I cannot wait to confront high mountain passes in the Andes, Bolivian Altiplano, The North Yungas Road aka. Road of Death, cycle across Salar de Atacama and Salar de Uyuni, or see Cuzco and Nazca. The adventure began three weeks ago but is now taking a different turn.
Posted from Puerto Varas, Los Lagos Region, Chile.