Chile: The Crusade for Virgin Rock

Posted on: March 19, 2008

The Brujo team, from left to right, Joao Cassol, Wagner Machado and David Trippett. [Photo] Wagner Machado

In my short time climbing, I have learned that The Alpine has a way of making you pay your dues, regardless of your intricate schemes to circumvent what you know is coming. I have rarely, if ever, gotten what I wanted; in time, though, I have learned to appreciate what I get. My experience in Torres del Brujo was no different, although the suffer-learning came in new flavors.

Wagner Machado leading high on A Ultima Dama (The Last Lady: IV 5.10+, 320m) with Joao Casol Belaying. [Photo] David Trippett

Climbing expeditions materialize slowly; the desire is always there, but then there are always details: who, where, when... The "who" part is easy, particularly when your good friends are Brazilian. Someone once said that "Brazilians are the kind of people who can make a party from nothing; they have an uncanny ability to show up anywhere, and within minutes, there you are, having the time of your life."

I met Joao Cassol on a trip to Frey and Wagner Machado in Yosemite, where we managed to convince his friend, another Brazilian, who had never climbed in his life, that joining us for three days on Lost Arrow Spire was a good idea. Soon after, we were plotting our next party.


But the "where" is more difficult. We carefully considered Paine and Chalten, but as Wagner had only fifteen days away from his job on the oil platforms, the thought of blowing it all in a tent lacked appeal and, to be honest, those towers in southern Patagonia are sorta scary, and certainly cold. Joao mentioned a place in Chile that neither Wagner nor I had heard of: Torres del Brujo (The Sorcerer's Towers). As soon as Joao sent a few photos, I started packing.

Sorcery indeed: long periods of high pressure, steep granite, moderate glaciers, "short" approaches from base camp and 500-meter virgin walls seemed the norm in Brujo. And since the towers were only 120 kilometers south of Santiago, I was looking at a direct flight from North America and a short drive to the trailhead. The more research we did, the more we convinced ourselves we had found El Dorado.

Wagner Machado crossing the Rio Azufre by horseback. [Photo] David Trippett

Joao, Wagner and I met up in Santiago at the beginning of January. We had the good fortune to meet Julio, an itinerant Argentine auto mechanic, in the hostel where we were staying. Julio immediately took interest in our adventure and agreed to deliver us to the Azufre Valley in his 1968 VW Kombi. On the morning of the 9th we set out, or tried to: the transmission disconnected from the engine, so we drove the last 30 miles in first gear. We eventually met with the muleiro (mule guy) and sorted our plans for the next day.

On the approach to the towers. [Photo] Wagner Machado

That next morning we left for Brujo, mules heavily laden. Several blisters later (the next day), the muleiro deposited us at the base of a giant moraine that appeared to have several false summits. After assuring us that the base of the towers was a short twenty-minute hike away, the muleiro took off. Carrying four massive loads took the entire day; by the end we were calling for blood. My partners managed to accept our condition in the carefree way typical of Brazilians. I, on the other hand, was wondering where I had put my receipt.

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