The previous 16 days on horseback charged our souls. The group spirit was elated to a level bordering insanity. Unfortunately we had no channel to vent our energy though – We were stuck in Cochamo village with the arduous and emotional task of selling our horses; juggling a return on our investment and preventing a sale intended for the butchery.
The long days in Cochamo passed sluggishly with every attempt in the book to sell horses and many trips to the Mercado for empanadas and ice cream (which we viewed as horse selling fuel). Finally after six long days hustling and waiting, we sold each one of our beloved horse partners to either wonderful families or tourist businesses. It is a bittersweet emotion to sell a good friend to a good home.
Our climbing psych was bottled up during these six days, while we had to focus and work, but once the last horse was sold, it sprang back into the stratosphere. We had completed our mission of buying and selling horses and still had several days left to climb. Despite the equine loss of our group, we were nothing but laughs and fist pumps as we packed our gear to go back into the valley.
In a momentary strike of brilliance, Jakob and Paul worked a ‘pack horse for a day’ into one of the horse sales. So, with our heavy climbing gear and food carried by our trusty equine friend, the four of us charged up the trail with vigor, sans packs. After a week of sitting around and a crazy spark in our eyes, we shattered all speed records as we motored up the trail toward Cochamo Valley.
We had four good weather days, so we quickly formulated a plan: Go to Paloma Valley (a high basin flanking Cochamo Valley), bring only what we need (lots of climbing gear, not so much food) and look for new routes to put up. By 10 a.m. the following morning we were walking to our destination.
We arrived that afternoon after a grueling three hour uphill mud crawl using fixed lines as our assistance. The approach was demanding, but we were rewarded with a glorious basin: An amphitheater of granite walls ranging from 500 to 900 feet with a snowfield at the base providing water and cool air. Unlike the temperate rainforest of the Cochamo Valley floor, this basin had an alpine feel, with less vegetation and more rock. The setup was perfect and we were the only humans around.
Considering the 16 hours of daylight and tons of rock around us, we threw fatigue into the wind and immediately repacked to make for the back of the basin to look for climbs. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by this much granite in such close quarters.
Jakob and I spotted a beautiful sweeping corner that connected through the entire 500 foot face. Paul and Eli scoped a line several hundred feet next to us and without much of a plan, we attacked. Paul and Eli made good progress initially. Eli lead the first pitch and Paul easily followed it and was preparing for his lead, while Jakob and I were stuck only 25 feet off the ground. We were battling dirty, wet, vertical “seamville.” Jakob was working hard on lead, but he didn’t bring the aid rack. The terrain became too difficult for us to free and I lowered him down and gave it a shot, aid gear in hand. I hammered in a good knife blade and continued to make some progress. From the higher point, I got a better view of the terrain above and it was not promising: seams and buttcracks as far as I could see. It wasn’t worth it. I down aided to my knifeblade, hammered in a beak as backup and we bailed.
Eli and Paul were on top of the second pitch with nowhere to go, but into loose, dirty and steep nonsense. We tagged them up a second rope and they retreated too. First day: Rock wall one, team Laggner, team Simon and Mangasarian zero. Despite the shut downs, we were happy and our determination was fueled. After dinner (not enough) we crashed in our beautiful high camp. After being shut down the first day there, we were up at dawn the next morning, eager for more.
A short walk from the last line Jakob and I tried, we saw another system that had obvious deep cracks. We got ready to make our attempt on this, while Eli and Paul found a system of flakes that looked clean and steep. Once again, side by side in two teams of two we made our charge at putting up unclimbed routes.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of leading into terrain that has never been climbed before. With a combination of full commitment and 100% unknown, it is the purest form of adventure I have ever experienced. When the terrain is simple and the rock is solid it is one of the most thrilling and enjoyable processes I have done. Once the terrain gets difficult, the cracks disappear or the rock becomes rotten, it instantly morphs into the scariest thing I have ever done.
High up on the second pitch of the route Jakob and I were working on we encountered exactly such a scenario: Perfect rock and cracks in the 5.8 – 5.10 range that instantly turned into dirty, loose, steep and 5.11 terrain. Jakob was on lead when this transition happened. Running out was not an option, either the gear wouldn’t hold a fall and if it did, he’d fall onto a dangerous horn 20 feet below. He switched from hard and awkward climbing to aiding. After some upward progress and cleaning dirt and dried moss to uncover cracks, he found a small placement for a double zero TCU. He continued the aiding routine, but this time the double zero disagreed – “TINK!” It pulled on Jakob’s bodyweight, sending him flying into his first aid fall. I was calmly at the belay when I heard the scream and felt the tug. Luckily the piece below held. We realized that the small cam pulled because the rock shifted (yup it was that loose). “Ummm, you want to try this?” He asked. “Uh, hell no!” I replied. Jakob spent the next 45 minutes hand drilling a bolt and building an anchor to leave for our retreat. It was a disappointment, since the climbing up to this point was excellent. Alas, this wall only wanted a two pitch route.
Meanwhile Paul and Eli made their attempt on the flake system. Unfortunately, not too different from us, they ran into a dead end on top of the second pitch. Yet another retreat and it was late in the afternoon already. Jakob and I had had enough for the day, but Eli and Paul spotted another line on the other side of the basin while on their flake route. It was 3pm, but they went for it.
After four attempts at establishing a route, the fifth one finally connected through and with that, the five pitch, 5.10b route “Hasta La Pinky” was born. Their progress was slowed by cracks filled with vegetation and steep chimney climbing and they didn’t top out until near 9pm. They hand drilled three bolts and only had one rope for their descent, so they arrived in camp well after midnight.
Things moved a little slower on our second morning and third day in Paloma Valley, nonetheless, we were ascending for more climbing before the sun hit the basin floor. Eli and Paul’s plan was to take it a little easier (considering their previous nights’ epic) and climb some single pitch routes that were already established. Jakob and I gave one more frugal attempt at the last route we descended the previous day. Frugal it was. We worked and cursed, got scared and retreated again. Perhaps someday, someone with less fear and more climbing ability will finish this route. For now though, two short pitches of good climbing lead to our final bolted anchor. We drew a topo for it and decided to name it “Dos Huevos” (5.10b, 200 feet, unfinished).
On the fourth day, with the weather deteriorating, we tried two more projects. Jakob and I headed into a side gully, and Eli and Paul headed to the very back of the basin above the snowfield. Again, we entered shut down city. Jakob and I ended our venture 30 feet above the ground huddled together on a two piece anchor stuffed into mossy cracks. We were too tired and mentally drained to deal with anymore of this. We had enough and bailed.
Paul and Eli put up the first pitch and got stuck on the second. Paul, on lead, was doing some hard aiding, hooking and hammering into an overhanging, dirty and loose roof. A valiant attempt, but it just didn’t go; time to bail.
At this point we were pretty spent and also satisfied with our progress. Besides, we had left a small rack of nuts, slings and bolts on the surrounding walls. Sure, we attempted seven routes and only put up one and a half, but we didn’t come here to break new records of how many routes we could put up. We came to push our limits, see what we were capable of and put ourselves into new climbing scenarios. This, we accomplished.
We climbed a single pitch, superb finger crack and took lots of pictures and simply enjoyed our setting and shared the details of our own experiences. Just as I cleaned the final anchor and set up my rappel, the rain hit. It was Mother Nature’s way of telling us that it was time to go back down to base camp. And that we did, smiling the whole way down.
Arriving at the valley floor several hours later happy, hungry and exhausted, we heard that the weather will clear in two days. To our delight and against our expectations, there was more climbing in store for us still…