Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dispatch #6 March 11, 2006 Los Gigantes, Argentina

Dispatch #6 March 11, 2006 Los Gigantes, Argentina

Finally, stable weather. We have just returned from climbing the granite domes of Los Gigantes (the Giants), just outside Cordoba, Argentina. The weather was perfect; the granite was solid, and the climbing wonderful.

The trip started with the exodus from Mendoza. We climbed the night before leaving Mendoza at the CAM (Club Andenista de Mendoza) indoor climbing wall. The climbing there was fun and we ran into the same climbers that had helped us retrieve our climbing rope in Los Arenales a few days prior. It was great fun and although the wall itself was structurally not the highest quality, we climbed all the same and had fun. On the way back to the hotel, at the bus stop, we met a wonderful boy named Pablo. That night and the days surrounding, there was a national wine festival in Mendoza, the streets were empty, save the 3-mile radius of the town square. Taxis and buses were full of people heading to the festival. Pablo offered to walk with us and show us a back way to our hotel avoiding the massive crowds. Pablo befriended us, practiced his English, which was very good already, joined us for a late night pizza, and ended up inviting us to his family’s house for lunch the next day.

The next afternoon after making arrangements to leave the city, we met up once again with our new friend Pablo. Pablo and his father picked us up and took us to their home on the outskirts of Mendoza. It was a modest and warm home that kept a beautiful family safe and content. The family consisted of four wise and worldly brothers, hard working father and a proud and concerned mother, both having to deal with an empty nest soon! They made us Milanese de Soya (breaded soy, which is not too common in one of the biggest meat eating/producing countries in the world) we ate homemade tomato sauce, fruit, drank, soda, fresh squeezed OJ, and of course, wine. We all talked about politics (mainly all of our discontentment with President Bush), religion, music, and history. The conversation was refreshing and gave us a renewed hope in the intelligence of global humanity and the future relationship between North and South America; Bush has worked so hard to destroy. We felt like ambassadors of good will, trying desperately to repair burnt bridges. That afternoon Pablo’s entire family took us to the bus terminal and we bid our farewells as though Jess and I were distant cousins leaving after a visit cut too short. It was sad, but we were glad Pablo had befriended us, and we felt rejuvenated from our positive experience.

Our 9-hour over night bus took us from Mendoza to the second largest city in Argentina, Cordoba. It is a nice city, but as always, it was a stopping point for higher ground. Our destination was a rock climbing area called Los Gigantes some 2 hours by bus from Cordoba’s city center. We arrived Sunday morning at 7am. EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays so we had to wait until Monday before finding a guidebook to our destination at a local climbing shop, we quickly reorganized gear and figured out exactly where and when the one bus a day departs from Cordoba to Los Gigantes.

Monday morning 6:00 am we caught our collectivo (a small public bus, notorious for its unreliability) to Los Gigantes. After paying 16 pesos for the two of us (about $5) and enduring a very bumpy ride we were dropped some 4 miles from the rock. The mountains of “the Giants” consisted of huge granite domes and looked like a crocodiles back stretched over many kilometers. We began our walk. Within two hours we were in the thick of a rocky playground. It took us quite some time to find a flat and wind protected place to pitch our shelter. That evening we set out to explore our new found oasis.

I have to say that our camp, while not exactly level, was defiantly a most beautiful site. It perched on an outcropping of grass, surrounded by boulders, seconds from a postcard-esk stream and minutes from multi-pitch rock climbing, heaven. The weather that evening and into the next morning was stormy, but subsided around noon and we left our shelter in search of good long routes to climb. The first route we climbed was a moderate 5+, (5.10-) bolted route called Mirando al Sol. Although the route was a little dirty (moss and small plants that dotted the wall like a Bob Ross painting) the rock was solid and made for fun climbing. As we descended we heard voices not far up the valley. We ran into more brothers/sister, five Argentineans, “hippies” as they called themselves sat at the base of a beautiful gargoyle like formation. As we spoke my eye wandered up to an amazing two pitch 6a, (5.10b) hand crack refered to as Fisura del Tio/ Salamanca. I pulled Jess away from her conversation just long enough to run up this aesthetically appealing line. Our new friends hadn’t seen many people climb placing their own gear and they seemed amused. We descended and continued our conversation over matte (a South American drink, much like tea, that EVERYONE drinks, ALL the time). The boys of the group had been trying desperately to work a route to the left of our hand crack, but couldn’t get to the first bolt some 15’ off the ground. Being the sucker I am, I volunteered. The thin and sloping finger crack that led to the first bolt was delicate and a fall would have meant injury. My head stayed in check and I clipped the first bolt for them with minimal effort. Karma seemed to be creeping back to our corner. After several attempts it was decided that the route was too much for the rest of the group and they reluctantly handed me the reins. The route was a 6c and wandered all over the face, in and out of cracks, through overhangs, and slabs. It was a thoughtful puzzle and it brought amusement to our new friends.

That evening Jess and I again found ourselves in a compromising position as the Argentineans demanded explanations for our Presidents behavior, and why WE had not gotten rid of him. After mending bridges and delicately answering difficult questions we turned the conversation onto lighter topics. It turns out that our new comrades were almost all linked to circus work. They were acrobats, strong men, tight ropewalkers, silk dancers, and trapeze artists. A talented group of sojourners we had stumbled upon. That night we walked back to our base camp in the dark after some great “worldly conversations”. Of course getting sidetracked by a great granite wall with a few bolts, we climbed as the last light was squeezed from the sun. Making it back to camp headlights on and tummies growling.

When the sun arose the next morning it was intense and blinding. Sleeping in on this day would not be an option. We gathered our things, ate our oatmeal and once again headed up the valley. The destination this day would be the summit of Cerro de la Cruz. This giant granite dome loomed over all the other formations and immediately attracted our trained eyes. It was only an hour walk up the drainage to its lovely base. It was a magnificent wall decorated with fissures, cracks, roofs, small nubbins, and water streaks. It just so happened that our carnie friends had arrived at the base only minutes before us and were already roping up.
Jess was in the mood to climb something long and moderate to start, so we roped up for a 4 pitch 5+, (5.10-) on traditional gear named Variente diedro chico. It proved to be quite devious, protection not always being obvious, but we moved deliberately and smooth. Jess made quick work of the slabby (45 degree sections of rock with little or no visible holds, only friction against the rock provided upward progress) sections that I hate. The protection on the slabby portions being sometimes up to six meters apart. We enjoyed the climb and the view; we descended to the base and continued illuminating conversations with our friends. They had set up several top ropes and enjoyed ribbing and encouraging each other to try new things.

I had set my sights on something early in the day and it was time to get to work, a phenomenal looking roof laced with a 3 pitch (pitches are rope lengths, usually measuring up to 60 meters in length) route with an offset layback crack awaited, it was called Deapuchitos and linked up with Laja de Peterek. The first pitch was terribly difficult for me. It was only 6b, 5.10c/d, but it was literally featureless, a slab to say the least. Although I never physically fell, my mind endured many pit falls. When I reached the first belay ledge I had hesitations about continuing, but after Jess climbed it with minimal effort I felt motivated to move upward. The next pitch linked two different routes (we are not sure if this had ever been done before) and proved to be very exciting. More run out (long distances between protection) and featureless slab mixed with a few moves on a Lynn Hill sized finger crack. Again Jess moved over stone like the fog at Los Arenales. This inspired me once again. The roof/dihedral was not far, and it would be my turn to showcase my skill. We worked over the next pitch with ease and soon sat at the bottom of an intimidating section of rock. Jess at this point declared her reservations, but my perseverance served as her motivation and we continued. The opening sequence was demanding and thin, hesitation coursed through my veins as I looked up into an ominous shadow. Once I reached the crease under the roof I was greeted by a friendly and positive set of holds, although steep and intimidating it was not too difficult. Once I pulled the roof it suddenly shrank in my mind and my confidence grew. The left facing dihedral was next and was very strenuous. I grunted and pawed my way powerfully up the line. It was not easy and the frightful nature of a big fall some 150 meters from the ground sent my mind reeling. I pulled over the top and felt the world melt slowly behind me. I could see Jess looking up at me from under the roof. She didn’t look happy. She tended to the anchor and seconds later our eyes met again, this time she looked determined. She began her battle. She motored through the beginning and was only slowed by the dihedral where she fell; she shook her head, gave a brief laugh and began again. Moments later she was clipping into the anchor. Our friends below had cheered us both on, and said we were crazy. We were both glad to have stuck it out, the route proved to be one the best we have climbed the whole trip. Jess began to thread our climbing rope through the anchor to rappel when we began to hear an odd sound. Coming from somewhere above our heads we heard a sound like a jet airplane, which is what we rationalized it to be. Our friends yelling “mira” (look)!!! And the sound getting louder and less distinguishable, it appeared. A giant condor, with a wingspan that seemed 10 feet wide dove past us. It came disturbingly close to Jess and although it was mildly scary, it was thrilling. It circled some 20’ above us before it caught a rising warm air trough and left out sights. It was surreal and glorious. We rappelled to a cheering crowd having not only witnessed our climbing perseverance, but an amazing display of nature in the form of what had been the largest bird of prey we had ever seen.

Later that evening I tackled a steeper route, much harder than anything prior this trip. I couldn’t finish it, and gave the group a stab at it. After many attempts and many falls the group decided to call it quits.

That evening the group decided to meet the next morning to say good-bye. Jess and I were leaving Los Gigantes and Bolivia was calling. After a night of being woken by a cow grazing at our tent (about 3 inches from the wall) we went to say goodbye to our friends. In the night they had also decided to leave in search of another rock climbing area, so we all made the journey to the road together. Many good conversations ensued on the decent to the bus stop. Although Jess and I defiantly had reasons for being discontent with the US’s foreign policies we were over all proud to be Americans. We felt lucky in so many ways. Fortunate to have the freedoms that we have in the States, the ease at which we can travel to other countries, the strength (however much it is diminishing) of our dollar, and the means by which to be where we are, but disappointed by our over all trashed image in these countries. They said that we didn’t seem like “typical” Americans, unsure how many they have met, but an interesting perspective. We are interested to see how we are received in Bolivia, a country steeped in Anti-American sentiment. Our new brothers/sisters seemed accepting of us, and we of them, we were all taken aback by this positive experience.

As we traveled back to Cordoba Jess and I both felt warm. For once the weather had remained stable, the sun staying high in the sky. The warmth of the sun and the warmth of so many kind individuals we have met on this trip made us smile fondly. We sat back with the window of the lurching bus open allowing us to bask in the glow of the warm sun and cozy memories.

Tomorrow we leave Cordoba, Argentina for Salta, where we can change buses and enjoy the supposedly very colonial looking town before heading Uyni, Bolivia, where the largest salt flat in the world is, flamingos, and at good 5,000 meters in altitude (16,000 ft). The next and final leg of the trip is about to begin. Back to the high mountains, glaciers, and temperamental weather. We go to the mountains of Bolivia almost two months prior to the official start of the mountaineering season, so think thoughts of warm air masses!

Thanks for reading, there’s so much we want to share! Thanks as always for the support, keep checking the web site. More pictures and adventures to come!

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