Cochamo: Into the Forest


Pau Milla on the trail to Trinidad. Though Crispin Waddy macheted the trail into existence ten years ago, it is still a bit rougher than the trails in Yosemite. [Photo] Roger Molina

A few weeks later Nell and I were back in our little camp at the base of the wall. Though I was itching to try the main face of Trinidad, we decided that we should try something easier first, to get a feel for the rock. So we found ourselves at the base of Pared de Gorilla, looking up at a slabby crack. Two or three pitches later it was obvious that we had underestimated the line. The cracks were rounded, dirty and difficult. We gave up. But as it turned out, we were in good company: later Simon Nadin, a former World Cup climbing champion, failed to get up it too. In fact, he aided a section that I had freed. Without other easily accessible lines to try, we turned our attention back to the main prize. Cerro Trinidad has many brilliant lines, but none are as striking as the central corner system, which looked reasonably doable for a competent team.

The first few pitches we led relatively easily, on good, clean rock, to the top of an obvious pillar, from which a pendulum led to the base of the main corner system. This is highly reminiscent of the pitch below the roof on Salathe: just longer, more flared and more open. As a result, it ended up becoming known as the "Huber Corner," after the brothers who seem to wander casually on El Capitan. However, on this occasion Nell and I just had a brief look, as it was obviously not going to be possible in a day, and without fixed ropes, aid gear or portaledges, it was too much for us. We decided to abseil off, leaving the ropes in place, in the hope that the others would arrive soon. But there was a slight problem. We had 400 feet of rope and were around 600 feet up. A little lateral thinking, involving all our gear clipped into a scary daisy chain and a huge pendulum, led to rising ground and we were down. But now, of course, we had no gear at all, and no way of knowing when to expect our reinforcements.

Back in Patagonia, the A-team still had failed to placate the wind gods. They got within one pitch of easy climbing and retreated for another lengthy thumb-twiddling session. Meanwhile the constant flapping wore through their highest fixed rope, leaving them unable to reach their high point, where all their gear was hanging. Coincidentally, we had the exact opposite: perfect weather and insufficient gear. Beaten by the wind, they came to see what we had been raving about, bringing a few assorted pieces of gear and tales of woe.

Simon and Tim Dolan ferreted around and, among other things, were the first on the summit of Cerro Trinidad via a two-pitch HVS from the top of a gully on the left. Noel and I set off up our route, armed with some polypro hawserlaid rope that we had acquired from a local store, for fixing. Luckily there was an easier crack system on the right wall of the "Huber Corner," so we could avoid scaring ourselves hanging from its flared cracks. But it's still there for anyone with the ability, and it would be superb. Noel initially led into a wide chimney, which closed at its top. After this, steep cracks took us, in three long pitches, back into the corner. We moved to a ledge, where I was trying to work out which way to go and Noel was deciding whether to go on at all. He had been in Patagonia for many weeks, and he was running low on enthusiasm. So we went back down.

Meanwhile, someone was playing with matches in the woods.


Noel decided that he wanted to go home, and the next afternoon he set off, following the others who had to leave a few days earlier. Nell and I were once again alone at our private big wall, but not for long. Noel reappeared, wide eyed, and, pausing only long enough to tell us that we were about to be engulfed by fire, disappeared up a treeless gully. He had walked within a short distance of a forest fire before seeing it through the trees, and he hightailed it back to us, knowing most natural phenomena travel at the speed of galloping horses. Nell and I climbed a little way up some slabs to check the progress of the fire. It was still far away, though spectacular even at long range. As the fire approached, whole trees would heat up and explode, before joining the general blaze.

We spent the night in the gully, working our options and eating the remains of our food. This meant we didn't have enough for another attempt, and, with our distant home lives beckoning, we had no option but to leave it for a year. Home, though, was 12,000 miles away and on the other side of a large fire.

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