Cochamo: Into the Forest


 

Cerro Trinidad (1720m), where Waddy and his friends put up some of Cochamo's first recorded climbs. Waddy's Ides of March (VI 5.11 A3+, 900m, Craine-Kendall-Waddy, 1998) is shown in red. Today, the well-macheted trail to Trinidad means that most visiting climbers have concentrated their attentions on this wall, rather than on the multitude of others that still lie behind trackless rainforest. [Photo] Daniel Seeliger

The thing was, our path had been hard and slow to cut, and the fire had burned away the bottom half. To cut around the perimeter and down would take days with a machete, which we no longer had with us. So we set off at four in the morning—so we wouldn't be caught in the heat of the day, which we thought might restart the fire—down the familiar path, until we arrived at the thigh-deep ash. Surprisingly, it was passable, and down we went, through the unrecognisable landscape.

A year later Noel, Simon and I were back, and again we were separated from our food by a flooded river. "Manana," the Chilean horsemen had promised, several days before. Also there were Dave "Diver" Kendall, Grant Farquhar and the American contingent, Steve Quinlan and Nathan Martin. Fortunately Steve, with whom both Noel and I had climbed in various places around the world, had the foresight to bring fishhooks, so we ate trout fresh from the river, caught on bamboo rods. Finally, manana arrived, along with our supplies, and the river dropped. Soon we were all at the base of the crag, having followed a much more direct path cut by Steve and Nathan. The start of ours had disappeared in the fire.

Diver joined Noel and I as we re-climbed to our high point. The team on our right, comprised of an ex-world-sport-climbing champion and a raving psychiatrist, made similar progress on a (mostly) new line, as did the American team on our left, on a completely new one. After a few days we were back on the ledge at our high point, with one difficult-looking pitch to go before the angle eased off. Night was falling, and the curious condors were no longer flying past. The other teams were camped on their routes at similar heights.

During the night the clouds thickened, and we became concerned that a storm was brewing. If it rained as I had seen it could, and without decent bivy gear, it could have been very dangerous to be stuck on the wall. So we three descended once again. The others watched us and wondered, unconcerned about the weather. Both teams topped out the next day, in reasonable weather, as we cursed from below.

The following day the weather was threatening, but we now knew that it was only one pitch to easier ground, as Simon and Grant's route had joined our line. So Noel and Diver went up first to start the next pitch while I followed behind, dropping the fixed ropes. But when I got to the stance there had been no progress, and there was debate about abandoning the route in the face of ever-worsening weather. With no fixed ropes, that would be that. I held my breath as Diver cast his deciding vote and so began the crux of the route. Scary aid up rounded cracks and runnels led to a safe belay at the limit of rope stretch. Thankfully I had been barely aware of the ever-darkening skies while inching upward. Now free climbing, Noel romped up the top respectably hard pitches, and we were up. Relief.

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It was the Ides of March 1998, so the name was easy. And the soothsayer, whose career was dependent on his prescience, had already warned Julius Caesar about it.

Condors are a frequent inspiration to climbers engaged in Cochamo's routes. Their ten-foot wingspan makes them the world's largest birds. [Photo] Courtesy of Daniel Seeliger

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