The two faces of Cochamo
Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
57Trip End May 2010
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Sunset on the huge granite walls of Cerro Elefante and Cerro Trinidad in Cochamo Valley
The awesome, shiny, wonderous face of Cochamo
On the local bus to the town of Cochamo, we met Gerry and Kevin, the only other gringos on the 3-hour bumpy ride to the town of Cochamo. A few grunts, nods and rough exchanges, we knew we'd get along and that weŽd all be climbing together! Before long, we'd set a plan to hike as a group into the Cochamo valley and share costs as much as we could along the way (ride to the trailhead, hire horses to pack our huge packs of gear and food, etc.).
Riding with Gerry and Kevin in the back of a pickup as we head up to the Cochamo valley trailhead
After getting our ride to the trailhead, we shared travel and climbing stories along the 8km or so hike into the Cochamo valley.
Yeah, we like hiking - starting the trek into the Cochamo valley
The hike into the Cochamo valley is a wonderous, muddy track that winds it's way over raging rivers, through muddy trenches between thickets of bamboo and groves of alecers trees! We'd heard rough things about this trail, but we didn't find it that bad. Probably because we'd found a way to get a local gaucho in town to hump in our gear on his horses the next day so we had relatively light packs. Later, we'd find out that it hadn't rained the days previous and as such the trail was in exceptionally good condition!
As we made our way into the Cochamo valley, we were awestruck by the red and gold sunset, which reflected back onto the massive granite domes, that this place is slowly becoming famous for. The backdrop is unbelievable: crystal clear streams, lush temperate rainforest and of course the huge granite monoliths that climbers and non-climbers alike can't help but gawk at!
A view of Cerro Milton Adams over the Cochamo River
We awoke the next day to sunshine and to our packs and gear arriving on horse as we had arranged the day before. The fact that this worked out so smoothly was amazing to me... I thought for sure there would be some hiccup in the whole deal! We were stoked. We pulled together our stuff together and rushed off to the climber's refugio to get a spare rope and get the beta we needed to climb as a group of three (Lindey, Kevin and Ben).
Gerry and Victor with our gear!
The weather was still holding, though clouding up a bit, as we got on the first pitch of Camp Farm (a 7-pitch, 5.11b climb) that makes it way up the first bit of the massive Cerro La Junta.
Cochamo rears its wicked face
By the time I made it up the first pitch, which is a full, sustained 63-meter, 5.11b slab (the longest, single pitch Lindsey and I have ever climbed), the sky had started to darken. The rain started as Lindsey was finishing the pitch and Kevin still had to climb. The rain started as a light trickle and then within 30 seconds, we were enduring likely the hardest rain storm we'd ever survived! Cerro Junta and all the big granite monoliths in the valley became raging torrents of water within minutes, literally collecting into waterfalls on all sides of us. Water was running down the rock slabs, dousing our helmets, harnesses, shoes and gortex outwear. We were literally sopping within a minute or two and the water was starting a raging river at the base of the climb. Would we rappel fast enough to be able to cross the rapids that had been a trickling stream when we started? Would be able to cross the river we forded on our way to the climb? Would we ever live to see another sunny day?
Rapping in the rain... looks better than it really was!
Hiking up and down the trails to return to camp became a test of mud sliding abilities with the trail turning into rivers of mud! It takes nerves of steel to stay focused while you sop around in wet boots with a waterlogged pack in the heart of the Cochamo jungles!
Lindsey staying focused! On many trails, you have to walk on narrow paths 5 feet above the actual trail to avoid ankle-deep mud!
It poured continuously that evening and all through the next day! I mean continuously! We were trapped in our tent with our only dry spare clothes on while our tent and all our wet stuff soaked up more of the rainstorm. That day, while trying to kill some time while the rain poured outside, Lindsey jotted down a few notes that really capture what life was like in our cramped, wet tent:
The smells - damp, sweaty socks, decaying bark and earth, the sweetness of an open packet of cookies in the corner, the deodorant of Old Spice we seemed to have lost the lid for, leftovers in the the pot from the meal we cooked...
The space - a delicate balance of being equitable of our tiny space, balancing our bodies and bags on top of the Thermarests as the only way to guarantee dryness. The necessity of always having one's ears alert so that when the pitter-patter on the rain-fly subsided a little, it was a mad dash of throwing on one's boots in the vestibule, inevitably encroaching on the other's space, to dive awekwardly outside the tent to relieve oneself. It was always a reward to the other person too, for they could now use the expanded space to stretch and relieve a few kinks in the body...
That day and a half reminded me of a time when climbing buddies Ralph, Dave O and I shared a two-person! tent in the Picketts Range in the North Cascades of Washington for two days waiting out a storm.
Lindsey and I were going stir crazy and the weather wouldn't cease. The next day the rain continued! But we were bound and determined to be dry! There is a a cave some 300 feet higher at the base of one of the granite domes that has some single pitch climbs that are steep enough that even in the most serious of downpours, and the climbs and the ground below them stay dry. So we took refuge in this cave and even got some climbing in-though most of the climbs were quite technical and hard. This climbing area is appropriately named Pared Secca (Dry Wall!).
Ben fighting his way up a 12a at Pared Secca - bolted granite routes can be so rad!
Lindsey redpointed the awesome layback 10b at Pared Secca
The rain continued on and off for the next two days with the odd sunny period. We found ways to entertain ourselves and even got on a few climbs when the sun was out, but it wasn't until the last day (day six) that we got our chance to head back to Camp Farm (the climb we started up on our first day). The day broke clear and Cerro La Junta looked prime for climbing!
Camp Farm is a classic climb on Cerro La Junta
Pensive Lindsey as morning light broke on the Cochamo valley
The weather held that day and we got some great pitches in! On the second pitch, Kevin almost climbed into the famous Cochamo death beetle that we'd seen on trails previously!
Kevin strolling up the second pitch happily, just before running into the awaiting death beetle!
Kevin following the famous wide crack and wet slab of pitch four!
Lindsey climbing a great 10b traverse pitch
We were sad to leave the adventurous paradise that is Cochamo, but we have a good feeling that we'll be back for more!
This was a favourite river crossing! No need to ford the river in bare feet!
The beautiful Cochamo valley
Damming in the Lakes District of Chile [further reading] may lead to this pristine area being severely flooded and potentially changed forever. Lindsey and I were deeply affected by this news and will post more details on what could happen to the Cochamo valley if water rights trumph local landowner and environomental rights of this region.
For the complete set of Cochamo photos, check these out!