Cochamo: Into the Forest


Numerous natural waterslides in the forests surrounding Cochamo's cliffs make for fun rest-day activities. After heavy rainfall, however, these same rivers can flood, and stories abound of climbers stranded on the approach or the return from a route. [Photo] Courtesy of Daniel Seeliger

In the afternoon of the third day, something strange happened: we saw the cliff. There, through the trees, nearby, finally reachable. I charged off to have a look. It appeared to be a couple hundred yards away, and I was sure that I could find my way back. Big mistake.

It was not a problem getting there, and my first impressions were positive. The rock was solid and clean; there were beautiful lines to try; it was all completely untouched. But time was ticking away. We had no bivy gear and didn’t fancy a night in the woods. Are there pumas around here? What else?

It took more and more worrying, wandering and shouting to get back to Nell and the end of the path. It still amazes me how hard that was, and as I look back I genuinely feel that I gained a better insight into the primal fears of being completely lost. Once reunited we were swiftly on our way back down and negotiated the lower, and fortunately easier, parts of the path just as night fell.

Both wrists knackered from all the cutting, we did not climb right away, despite more superb weather. We rested for a week and visited American friends rafting on the Fuetalefu further south. After a brilliant week of R-and-R we were back and psyched to climb.

Grant Farquhar on the first ascent of Sundance (VI 5.12a A2+, 900m), west face, north tower, Cerro Trinidad, the first big-wall ascent in the valley and the second ascent of the formation. Shortly after Farquhar and his partner Simon Nadin completed their route, Noel Craine, Dave Kendall and Crispin Waddy completed their Ides of March (VI 5.11 A3+, 900m), which is to the left of Sundance. Waddy brought Nadin to Cochamo, but it was difficult at first to persuade his friend that he had found a climbing El Dorado. [Photo] Simon Nadin


Our first goal was to have a decent look around. We could scurry along the base of the cliffs in both directions, allowing a good look at most of the main cliff, and there were gullies that appeared to lead to the top. These, as it turned out, were more deceptive than they looked. The first led, after about a thousand feet, to a frighteningly unstable boulder chocked in a narrowing. We tiptoed back down and set off up the next. This started as a casual scramble that got gradually harder and steeper all the way until, at the top, we were soloing up easy scree-covered slabs in a position of extreme exposure. The fear of knocking loose rocks onto Nell made it especially tense, and with some relief we gained easy ground. Unfortunately, a deep rift barred safe access to the slightly higher main summit, but it was a perfect day, and the view was amazing.

Neither of us fancied returning the way we had come, so we set off down what we now called "death gully 1." From below, the chock's obvious instability had been terrifying and disastrous, but from above all appeared safe. It was disarmingly easy to send tons of boulders crashing to the talus below, but the gamble paid off, and as shadows lengthened we found safe passage back to our tent.

By now we were taking it for granted that the sun would shine every day. The next day we woke to a flood. Water cascaded down the face and sprayed fans of water off ledges and into space. Everywhere we glimpsed waterfalls through the swirling clouds. After a day we gave up, abandoned our gear and set off on the long trek to Cochamo village.

The river, of course, was raging and totally impassable. With little hesitation and no difficulty we broke into a little hut, which was to be our home for three days. A stock count was necessarily brief because the grand total were some scrapings of rancid butter off a wrapper and a sachet of sweet chili sauce. Some sort of musty brown powder in a plastic bag in the roof timbers was teased into mysterious chapattis, but despite the array of condiments, little was edible. Tiny unripe crab apples growing outside weren't much better.

On the second day I plodded back up in the still-pissing rain to pick up the dregs of a lentil stew that had been scattered in the grass as we struck camp. One day's chore becomes another day's luxury. What a feast we had.

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