After taking a well deserved rest in Puerto Varas, Marek and me came back to La Junta for the last week of long awaited climbing. Equipped with 7 day worth of carefully selected food supplies having absolutely zero intersection with the menu we had on Capicua we hiked back to the campsite. Stronger, recuperated and on higher calorie diet full of nuts, chocolate and pasta we set out to climb some classic lines around the area of Anfiteatro and Trinidad mountains. We had good intentions and motivation but unfortunately Chilean mountains had a different plan for us. Instead of climbing we had to endure more hiking, illness and getting lost on the mountain. In the end, we were still newbies in there, we had to learn our lesson. It happened as follows.
On the first day we set out to reach Anfiteatro. As we were hiking up we came across a hiking running down the trail towards the campsite. ‘Are you climbers?’, he asked. ‘Yes, we are’. ‘There’s a climber on Trinidad with a broken femur, are you walking there?’. ‘We are walking to Anfiteatro’. ‘No worries then, I’m going to get some help in La Junta anyway’ he said and continued running down as fast as he could. Me and Marek looked at each other. ‘We should go up there’. We got to a junction of two routes, left our backpacks and walked to Anfiteatro in a rather fast pace. We didn’t know where the climber was, if he was alone or with friends, if he was still on the rock or at the base. It all went too fast to ask the right questions. We just took some water, our helmets and what Marek thought was painkillers but what turned out to be just anti-inflamatory medications and we came to Trinidad to see how we can help. There, we saw two American climbers trying to help the injured Chilean climber who, we later found out, was called Nico, walk down the slabby start of the route. We asked if they needed help and without waiting for an answer we walked up the slab to swap with them. Nico was bleeding, blood dripping down his leg. It was a compound fracture. We took Nico down and laid him on the ground. Then Marek proceeded with first aid while I just cut his trousers and cut off his shoe with my Leatherman multitool that I always carry around with me. It turned out that Nico broke his foot and the ankle, not his femur. A big relief. Nico was in pain and the only thing we could give him (or his friend could give him, actually) was some marijuana. We took off his shoe and Marek dressed his wound. Soon more people started arriving to the spot, local American climbers with a stretcher, a Chilean doctor, Canadians, an Italian, couple of Spaniards. After an hour most of the climbers staying in La Junta were there. The local people started calling for medical evac. The helicopter wouldn’t get there so the only way forward was to take him down the trail to La Junta. 30 people strong we started taking Nico down. By that time he was bit stoned after taking Marek’s Tramal which one of the guys brought from the campsite. At the beginning we didn’t know it would take us around 6 hours to get him down. It was a big endeavour and a nice thing to see people come together to help a fellow climber. We got down to La Junta, rested and got back to take our backpacks and set off to Anfiteatro. We were so wasted we got there after dark after long breaks and very slow paced hike. Me and Marek looked at one another: ‘F***ng climbing holiday…’.
Next morning we woke up late and the only route we could do was a short 4-pitch entry level route called ‘Sweet and Bitter Fruit’. It took us quite some time since I’m a newbie trad climber but with every climb I was getting better. On the next day we decided to get ambitious and climb a 12 pitch Al Centro y Adentro. It was such an amazing climb with cracks, offwidths, dihedrals, face climbing. I lead 3 out of 4 pitches as we bailed out of the route when we couldn’t see any protection and run out bolts on the crux pitch. Later we found out that it was well protected but at that time we were still learning to climb in Cochamo. Big wall climbing on Capicua was a different ball game and it didn’t allow us to learn the local rock. The route still got us tired. It was the first time I climbed offwidths and such long crack lines. We woke up quite late and instead of trying another long classic line we decided to do a shorter easier one. Marek sourced a hand drawn topo and we set off on the approach, but the path looked a bit dubious. Before we even started climbing the route we had to make a belay and climb quite an easy but bit ballsy to free-solo slab. The climb got us to some line with a visible anchor 15 metres off the ground. ‘You have all the gear, do you want to lead this short line?’ asked Marek. ‘sure’ I replied and started arranging my gear and putting the shoes on. We thought we were in the middle of the first 60 metre pitch of the route. We were looking for a double-bolted anchor point. The route started easy but the anchor point was not bolted. ‘It’s not the anchor point, you need to climb higher’. And so I were up to the next improvised anchor point, past it and into another improvised anchor point. By that time we ran out of our 60metre rope so we used the last anchor point for a belay station. Marek joined me and started leading another pitch which ended up to be quite short. Then we ran out of options. We were in the wrong place. Marek went on a recon mission to find the line but with no success, so we ended up traversing down the wall looking for bolted belays that we could use for abseiling. We ended up walking across almost half of Anfiteatro and it was getting late. Fortunately we found some bit dodgy belays which we used for abseiling. We got down before it got dark. We got lost on the wall with only half a day left for climbing… Cochamo is a great place for climbing but you need to learn how to go climb there first. On the last climbing day we climbed another shorter 4 pitch route and walked down to La Junta. The climbing trip got to an end.
On the last day we had to walk down the trail to Cochamo with all our climbing gear. Tom and Guy took Tom’s equipment and we took ours plus all the rubbish. Their bags looked heavy and despite of the fact that we left the campsite one our after them we caught up with them quite quickly. ‘Do you want to swap bags Tom?’ – both me and Marek asked a few times but Tom said he would manage. We walked down the trail in a normal pace but we could see that our time safety marging was getting dangrously low. We had to take the 4pm bus if Guy and Marek were going to safely make it to their 8.30pm coach from Puerto Montt to Santiago. We stopped for a hot dog and chips and began to wait for the other two guys. In the meantime we met our Scottish friends – Andy, Phil and Robbie. ‘How far are Tom and Guy?’, I asked. ‘They’re very far and they look nackered’, ‘Yeah, they look f***d, mate. When we saw them they were just taking rests and not going anywhere’. It was already past 4pm by that time so me and Marek left our luggage and ran up the trail. We met the guys probably near 1/3 of the way, i.e. 3.5/4.0 kms. ‘Tom, you look like you need some help, give me your bag’. I took his bag, Marek joined us and we repacked, we shared the load and walked down the trail rather fast. We were running very late. We wouldn’t make it to the bus if a local parking guy didn’t give us a lift and the bus wasn’t late. We saw the bus down the road. ‘Awesome’. We ran out of the truck, put our bags inside the luggage compartment and sat down relieved. In the meantime, Marek went to a shop and bought us cold beer, almost… It was a 0% shandy but we didn’t complain. It was cold and citrusy… We were on the bus heading towards Puerto Montt. Time was getting short but there was a chance we would make it to the bus, if the bus wasn’t going at a snail’s pace. What should take 2/2.5 hours took us 4 hours. We were very late… We arrived at the bus station and while we were unpacking and repacking our luggage, Tom ran out to the ticket offices to look for later buses to Santiago. He found two seats on a 10pm bus. Marek and Guy onto the bus, we bought some last minute supplies and they left. ‘ooooooph’ – we’ve made it.
Next day was spent in Puerto Montt waiting for the woman who had my bicycle. Then I got onto the bus to Santiago and here I am, at the hostel, ready to leave. The bike is packed, spare parts bought, satnav is set, local maps are ready to be used. I’m setting off into the Andes to the border crossing with Argentina, then going north to JuJuy and crossing back to Chile to San Pedro de Atacama. Good bye comfortable hostel life, welcome my simple life on the road. Let’s hope my legs manage with all the cycling.