Well, Andy & I have been slowly sidling closer to the towering peaks that separate Argentina from Chile but up until about a week ago we had managed to stay away. No mas. I fear for our trip’s continued variety. The mountains here are a lot like pringles, once you see them, live amongst them, breath their air it’s real hard not to keep going back for more.
Andy & I took a collectivo from the farm to a little town in the mountains called Manzano Historico (historic apple tree), 1200 m above sea level. It’s a 12k upward slog to the refugio where we planned to stay so we decided to heed the advice of our guide book and seek out a local named Jagua. The people at the tourism office told us that Jagua was not home but we should head to his house and wait for him there. After many affirmations that it was “no molesto!” we wandered that way. After creeping outside his house for a while Jagua’s son and daughter came out and offered to give us a ride. They rolled a VW sedan that looked like it was from the 70’s and had seen much better days and then proceeded to hop in and roll off down the hill and out of sight, presumably to push start the vehicle. After more minutes than one would expect the VW puttered up and around the corner and we all piled in to start the rocky journey up the dirt trail. I suppose we should have given the old VW more credit because we made it all the way to the refugio where we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere to fend for ourselves. It wasn’t too hard, especially when we saw that this would be our camping spot for the next week.
For the next 7 days we climbed every day, kicked it with a menagerie of folks from all over and even made pizza and pudding cake for a birthday. The refugio sits at around 10,000 ft, like living at Camp Muir for a week. It has no electricity but offers welcome shelter from the often screaming wind that comes down from the mountains and is a lovely spot for everyone to convene at after a day of climbing.
Arenales is an incredible place with towering spires of rock that rise 4000 metres into the sky. While this makes for incredible climbing it turns out it also requires 2 ropes for the rappelles. Andy and I, with just one measly 70, were therefore limited in our climbing choices. Luckily, one week in Arenales had more than enough to offer, even if some of the bigger climbs seemed to be taunting us. We also felt a bit as though this was a test piece for us both, the first time we had really climbed outside since our injuries. Rain, a nice chap from North Carolina, had been at Arenales for 6 weeks and was a source of knowledge, beta, lender rope and tales from near and far.
Every day was a new multi pitch. Some, high up on Campanillo Alto, were a solid 1000 vertical over scree to get to the base of the routes. After that it was beautiful, solid rock riddled with splitter cracks, chimneys, and beautiful dihedrals. We only had to bail early once when the weather decided to turn more rainy and then more snowy but other than that it was bluebird skies every day. The climbing was definitely of the adventure variety, “classico en terrano aventuro” was the go-to phrase in the book. Combine that with a somewhat poorly drawn guide book you could really make up any route you liked. That was the best part about Arenales, every corner you came around offered 3 different options for continuing to the summit.
2 Canadians were staying at the refugio as well, Martin & Fraser, and on Martin’s birthday we cooked up some delicious calzones on the wood stove and attempted to make the best 1-2-3-4 cake we could. Fire and time were not on our side so we ended up standing around stuffing our faces with molten dulce de leche pudding. Martin and Fraser also had an entertaining epic that could be watched from the refugio so one afternoon(the sun doesn’t set until 9) was spent watching them battle a roof while the rest of us munched popcorn.
The highlight of Andy and I’s week was a 500 m climb called Cohete. Rain let us borrow one of his ropes and we set off to climb “the most definitive summit in all of the Cajon.” We climbed ‘Mejor no hablar de ciertas cosas’ (better to not talk about certain things, love that name) which is 500 meters in 14 pitches. It was a perfect day, the climbing was beautiful, fun and unique and the summit was the tip of a needle you could stand on and look out over the valley. Incredible. One of my favorite climbs of all time and definitely the biggest. We made it to the top with no problems but the ride down was a different story. Our rope got stuck 4 separate times requiring Andy to climb back up to free it. In the end, even rapping for nearly as long as we climbed couldn’t keep the smiles off our tired faces and we left Arenales the next morning content, a bit sore and with a group of friends we’re excited to see again in Bariloche.