It started off normally enough, if slightly uninspired. Maybe it was the vegetation choked cracks we were aiming for or the moss cloaked slabs we had to navigate to get there or the muddy swamp we crossed to reach the base or the nalca stemming and slippery slab smearing that combined to bring us above the swamp to the start. Or any number of other things, such as the cloud shrouded peaks pressing heavily into the valley or the imminent threat of moisture from above.
Our objective sprawled out before us, a 1000 meter wall, one guarded by 3-400 meters of wet slabs and jungle climbing. Above this small nuisance though spread impeccable dimpled slabs of fine grained igneous rock. Cracks and corners and roofs of unknown size and practicality sliced the grey faces, offering an array of choices. None though, gave us a straightforward line to the top. The base of these offered little inspiration however: wet and green for 100 meters. Pay dirt was above. It was there that lines connected that could take us to the summit.
Six pitches of meandering slab and jungle climbing topped off with 100 meters of scrambling brought us to large terraces at the base of the steepness. “Well, wanna continue up this jungle crack above or maybe scout more?” Josie asks, her eyes turned upward, scoping the wide, wet, vegetated-ness above.
I take a moment before responding, looking left then right, where the terrace looks to offer room for choices. “I am happy to look for other options.” We scamper right and see a few splitter cracks and corners, all leading to immaculate featured slabs; all that offer no chance for protectable, safe, upward progress. The ledge is large and long and we look around, peering upwards, pointing out features. It all leads back to our pile of gear though. Uninspired, we sit and look up at the initial slick, mossy slabs leading into a valdivian green overhang. I give a resigned sigh; “don’t even think we can stem around it.”
“It doesn’t bode well when you have to place a bolt on your first move, not on this size of wall” Josie adds. We continue to look up in silence. “We could look left and try to continue our slab exploring…that’s been kinda fun” she continues after a few moments. I look down and left where our terrace ends with some solid upward bushwhacking.
“Seems more likely than this.” And with that our fate is sealed as pollos de la selva.
We move left and scramble the fine line of jungle and rock, smearing stone, kicking mud and grabbing branches, giving plural meaning to our, at times, desperate stemming. We move through a few Vj boulder problems, with only the occasional machete hack before emerging into a clearing at the base of a diminutive, moss covered slab. “Well, I guess it is my lead” I say, looking up, studying the undulations, searching for dry, moss free spots, concocting a line.
“Yep” Josie says without much conviction.
The initial moves go well and gardening reveals OK cam placements, while small spots devoid of the green offer frictiony, white granite on which I can easily smear. “This is kinda fucked up” I say as I peel back a layer of moss, exposing a small edge on which to gain purchase. The mixed climbing steepens while the gardening becomes less forthcoming. A few soft green footholds though help propel me upward, inching ever higher above my last piece of protection. A root, a slung branch, some uttered curse words plus much scraping and digging put me onto a low angle, wet slab. I tip toe through the moisture, running it out to the full extent of the 70 meter rope only to find a perfectly located, though widely spaced, combination of a flared #4 Camalot and 2 shitty less than tips cams.
Soon enough Josie is cruising up the wet slab, a long loop of rope below her, as I frantically try to pull in the rope. “Well, that was kinda fucked up” she concurs as she joins me on the slab. She grabs a bit of gear, swaps the lead and meanders upward, eventually belaying me up into some solid ferns and brush. We unrope, and move through some steep J4 jungle, crossing hidden crevasses on thin layers of undulating, swaying dirt and root structure. We eventually emerge at a huge gully of clean slabs, ledges, and cracks; it is a perfect avenue for these pollos de selva.
The gully yields excellent stone with beautiful corners, fissures, slabs, and faces of white granite, which we turn into several hundred feet of boulder problems. “This is the best pitch of the route thus far” I yell down to Josie who is just below me. We are midway up a “clean” 5.6-5.7 corner with great hand jams, stemming and friction. We pick our way up to a giant ledge system on the mountain’s west face, where, after some deliberation we abandon most of our gear, take light packs and begin a scramble to the upper ridge.
Despite our taking the “mountaineer’s route” and going up the down route, the rock does not really disappoint. Solid white granite, clean splitter cracks, and superb friction amidst snowfields, glaciers and circling condors (the true pollo de selva) in a high alpine environment make for a fun and quick route to the summit ridge. We choose our own adventures (with Josie’s being much more direct and aesthetic than mine), reconnecting a time or two before eventually rendezvousing on the east summit of peak 1458 meters.
We have seen no signs of human travel. All around us the land falls away in some of the steepest, ruggedest defiles I have ever seen. Everywhere it is deep valleys, steep immense cliffs, jagged summits, protruding sharp ridges, unnamed mountains, dense jungle and endless possibilities. To the west the conical, volcán Corcovado remains a cloud cloaked enigma; the same is true with its glaciated sister Michimahuida to the northeast. The Pacific, with its numerous islands, inlets, and peninsulas stretches westward to New Zealand, while the snow and glacier capped Andes run the horizon to our east.
We nibble, sit, and ponder. I can tell Josie is disappointed. I too feel it. We are here, in Patagonia, on a mountain. I can’t help but feel we have sold ourselves short. We went up the down route. We took the easy way (despite what the following day’s aches, pains, and tiredness would indicate). We didn’t live up to our potential. We chickened out. And in that, we name our route: Pollos de Selva (IV V0 J6C1 J5 5.7 1300+m)*.
Before long there is inspiration to explore more; there is a cliff below and Josie wants a better view of it. We head westward along the broad ridge leading to the true summit. We scan and scout and before long end up sharing the summit with a small chinchilla. Around us the clouds are starting to lift and the sun to set. The top is only half way there though, so we drop off the northeast side on an endless search for quality stone and a way down. And that is another story…
* For those who are interested: J5=fifth class jungle climbing. It spans a spectrum of difficulty. J6C1=sixth class jungle climbing with aid; otherwise known as aid climbing through the jungle with easy clean aid. It too could span a spectrum of difficulties and techniques.
Featured Image: Looking westward from the east summit of Pk 1438 (Cerro Desnudo?).