After over a month of radio silence, I’m back at ya with another southern hemisphere update.
The crew has been immersed in Patagonian backcountry, climbing granite walls, exploring rugged beauty on horseback and traveling back in time to the early days of farming. Before more details are shared, I must digress, for this story should be told from the beginning – getting ourselves to La Junta.
As you know we assembled the dream team of horses- a veritable crew of equine superstars (comparable to the 1992 US Olympic basketball team – except horses), the complete potential of which will slowly unfold as the story progresses. There were the two mares: Maggie (Sister Margaret when grumpy, Magpie when sweet) ridden by Paul, and Estrella (Estrella de la Cochamo) ridden by Daniel, and the four geldings: Ventu (Aventurero) ridden by Jakob, Cash (aka. Johnny Cash) to carry gear, George (Mr. George) to carry more gear and the smallest and most agile Pansito, ridden by Jakob’s girlfriend Nicole and later Eli.
The rumors about negotiating the complex terrain are true – ascending the La Junta trail is a formidable task for bi and quadropedal creatures alike. We were faced with deep, muddy trenches, steep, wet rock and dense, wooded forest. The vegetation is so dense in places the rider has to bury their face in the horse’s neck and trust they know the right steps to take next. Despite the superstar status of our horses, Maggie slipped and fell, catapulting Paul off her back while negotiating a particularly nasty section. Luckily nobody was injured, but it increased the weight of the challenges we were facing. For hours rider and horse have to stay focused together while one challenge after another must be overcome as the trail winds its way deeper into the dense Patagonian wilderness.
Suddenly, after hours of physically and mentally taxing riding, the forest simply gives way to a bright, open meadow with granite walls soaring above. Perhaps it’s a combination of this and the fatigue – riding into Cochamo Valley was a profound and surreal experience for all of us. Upon arrival and unloading our horses, we couldn’t help but stand agape and spin in circles as we took in the awe-inspiring beauty that surrounded us.
Once the horses were happily grazing, our homemade tipi erected and our calories replenished, the magnitude of our reality set in. Not unlike moments we experienced while sailing to Costa Rica, we realized we had stepped into our dream. The full weight of months of preparation for this moment was relieved. “Here we are, in this beautiful Patagonian valley with our herd of horses”, we thought out loud.
Our grand plan for the next few days was not to have a grand plan at all and enjoy the time before Nicole had to fly back home. We went cragging, hiking, deep water bouldering and swimming in the natural rock slides, all the while spending as much time as possible with our new herd of horse companions.
We climbed a couple routes as well. Namely ‘Apnea’, a two pitch 5.10b classic with laser cut finger cracks on a blank wall and ‘Campfarm’ a seven pitch route that starts with a 200 foot 5.11c slab as a first pitch and then follows perfect 5.10 dihedrals.
It felt like we were playing in paradise as we explored the wonders of Cochamo Valley during the first week. Nicole had to go back home in the beginning of January and her sad departure marked the first change we experienced on this adventure. Her leaving coincided with the welcoming of my good friend Eli Simon.
Eli has climbed Cochamo Valley before, when he put up two new routes in 2008. He owns Atlantic Climbing School in Bar Harbor Maine and his climbing resume explodes with difficult big wall and alpine ascents from eastern Canada to southern Patagonia.
Take a bowl; throw in four hairy dudes, six large mammals, and lots of shiny climbing equipment. Sprinkle in granite walls and lush valleys, let it marinate in campfire and smiles for five weeks and without a doubt the results will be interesting…