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Chile: The Crusade for Virgin Rock
We established a beachhead on the outwash plain below the Brujo glacier, and eager expectation began to set in. Weather conditions could not have been more idyllic; during our twelve days, we rarely saw the slightest hint of a cloud. The Brazilians made themselves at home on our little beach, and we hedged our bets on good weather—a safe wager in Brujo, unlike much of Patagonia. But the high pressure did not set us at ease, as our success would depend on the condition of the glacier and the accessibility of the walls.
David Trippett on the First Ascent of Prima Feia (Ugly Cousin: 5.11-), a one pitch route established during the trip. [Photo] Wagner Machado
On January 12th, we made plans to warm up on Uno Poco de Patagonia (IV 5.10d, 300m, Uhlig-Veit), a route on Aprendiz de Brujo. We also had planned to use this climb to scout the glacier. On the 13th we soloed through the icefall before the sun arrived, somehow safely navigating the maze of teetering seracs. It quickly became apparent, however, that any ideas we had of reaching the Brujo Falso, the 500-meter main wall, with significant loads would be hopeless with the glacier in such a rotten state.
Uno Poco de Patagonia, perhaps one the easiest routes in Brujo, turned out to be a route of Rostrum-like proportions and quality, and we climbed it team free in a long day. Because the rock is so steep, most of the climbing starts at 5.10—with stiff grades, long pitches and physical climbing. Brujo sports 5.13 bolted adventure fests like Clandestino, A3 nail-ups like the 5.11 A3+ route Gandalf and Sauron, and everything in between. But we were hunting for something new, something big.
The 65-meter first pitch of A Ultima Dama (IV 5.10+, 320m). [Photo] Wagner Machado
Carrying multiple loads through the icefall to get to Brujo Falso would have been too dangerous due to the instability of the ice, so we turned our attentions to establishing a route on the smaller, unnamed walls across the glacier in alpine style. That was when we realized we had lugged enough gear to outfit another expedition, or six.
A knee-wrecking approach the next day led us to our new goal, but we found the lines already climbed. Quickly running out of new-routing options, we were beginning to feel desperate. We descended to camp, leaving our gear at the wall, with hopes that somewhere above, on the last decent-looking wall, we could find a line when we returned the next day.
Joao Cassol near the end of the difficult climbing on A Ultima Dama (IV 5.10+, 320m). The car sized blocks from the icefall that threatened the start of the route are visible below. [Photo] Wagner Machado
We arrived at the base of the wall on the 17th, grabbed our stash and continued up the glacier. Where we had hoped to climb, we found yet more evidence of previous passage: bolts, pins, tat, various flotsam. Despite deteriorating rock quality, we pushed upward and found one last line—threatened by a serac-strewn hanging glacier. The start was still far enough out of harm's way that we were probably safe if we got off the glacier quickly, but more importantly and more enticing: there was no sign that the route had been climbed.
Cassol and Machado on the summit after completing A Ultima Dama (IV 5.10+, 320m). [Photo] David Trippett
The start was sandwiched between two waterfalls. From below, the pitch looked impassable, but soon we found ourselves on a stunning 65-meter hand and finger crack. We climbed several long pitches of quality cracks—of every size, from fingers to chimney—that led to a long, convoluted lower 5th class ridge with the occasional step of 5.9. Climbing on the lower portion of the wall was always in the 5.10 range, fun and never desperate, and belay ledges always appeared when we needed them. We managed to climb the route, as a group of three, all free in a long day, summiting under blue skies.
The same wall has two other routes. There's no reason to believe that our ascent was the first of the peak, but it follows an independent line that probably had never been climbed, save perhaps the final summit ledge system of 30 meters or so. We saw no previous sign of passage on-route. We established our modest route without any protection bolts, though we placed two single-bolt rappel anchors on the descent.
Sometime during the climb, when we knew it would go, Wagner said: "I felt like we were about to go home from the party alone, but we finally found our girl. She's a bit loose, but pretty classy."
—Joao Cassol and David Trippett (Portuguese translation by Cacau)
A Ultima Dama (The Last Lady: IV 5.10,+ 320m, Cassol-Machado-Trippett), Torres del Brujo, Chile. In addition, this party established several single-pitch routes from 5.10-5.11 in an area they dubbed "Gato de Brujo" (the Sorcerer's Cat).
A Ultima Dama (IV 5.10+, 320m). [Photo] David Trippett