Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cochamo baby!

So Dan and I once again started sticking out our thumbs, we crossed the Chilean border. February is a college break for the locals, and that mean that college age hitchhikers were everywhere. We saw another group or two at every town that we stopped in. Sometimes this meant long waits as politeness meant that we let other people go first. For us however we always got picked up quick, the novelty of seeing gringos hitching was too much for most people to pass up. We made a sign that said "Visiting from the United States." Sometimes this meant that people tried to engage us in their choppy English, not realizing that Dan was totally fluent in Spanish. My knee was still fucked, and I was still drinking heavily.

Look close!

I thought that the approach to Frey was long, but Cochamo was far worse. Where as Frey was four hours of uphill, Cochamo was a 5 hour slog through mud on mediocre to shitty trails. It was impossible to go fast, if you tried you'd go off trail or find yourself covered in Mud. Going in and out in a day to resupply would be a serious challenge. Impossible with my knee as it was, by the end of the hike I was limping fairly badly and Dan had taken almost all of the weight from my pack. What started to come into view however was incredible. Endless Granite walls. Discussing Cochamo with friends in North America they have said things like "I hear that place is the Yosemite of South America."

To which I reply "No, not really.......... Cochamo has much more rock."

One of tenish 2000 feet or taller formations.
 On our first day there, we couldn't help but wonder, why isn't this place flooded with climbers all the time? On our second day there we found out why, because it's normally flooded with water. It started raining. Rain that even a Seattle boy like me has never experienced in his life. It rained for two weeks without stopping. I mean without stopping...at all. It didn't stop raining for 5 seconds in those two weeks. A constant downpour. I wondered when people were going to start building an Ark.

None of this really mattered to me though! I just limped to the cabin on my bad knee, huddled and traded climbing stories. Cochamo was also a great place to live for free because it was at the end of a 5 day trek and the trekkers would dump all their excess food before heading down the rest of the way. The real climbing dirtbags lived off of this for weeks or even months. I realized that I could both wait for my knee to heal and live for free at the same time. I sat in the rain. The rain cleared in small segments and people started climbing a little. Dan had started climbing with a young energetic New York kid named Chris. Then the rain started again and March rolled around. The season was about to close shut on Cochamo and I had yet to climb anything. The climbers started to bail including Dan who decided to live in Chile, maybe for as much as another year. There were only 8 or so of us left and suddenly the weather forecast started to look good.

Lo and behold who showed up? None other than the worlds most famous rock climber, Alex Honnold. Now I had met Alex in Yosemite and Squamish so we struck up a friendly conversation. He asked me if I had any recommendations for 'Hard Routes.' I told him that I didn't really know as my knee was all fucked up and I had been trying to not pay attention to routes. Then in front of just about every climber currently in Cochamo he singled me out and told me I should climb Al Centro y Al Dentro.

"It's just as good as Astroman or the Rostrum, you can totally do it." He said, with no real knowledge of my climbing ability

"Yeah maybe." I said, very doubtful. I was now walking without a limp, but the idea of going up something as hard as Astroman with so much time off of climbing and a bum knee didn't seem feasible.

"Sounds great!" Said Chris, the young kid Dan had been climbing with exclaimed. "Lets give it a try."

My enthusiasm was not so great, but I was desperate to climb after spending so long injured. I just needed to know one thing.

"Is it easy to bail off of?"

That day we packed out gear, borrowed a number 5 for the first three pitches. One of these pitches was deemed by Cedar Wright to be 'a little harder than the Harding Slot' on Astroman. In addition Chris was not a great offwidth climber so the responsibility of these would be on me. He was young and strong and confident, but for him this would be his hardest multi-pitch. The 4 hour trudge from the campground to the wall left my knee aching and we fell asleep at new basecamp, surrounded by the beauty of Cochamo. We woke up early and walked up to the wall. I sat for a moment and contemplated the 1800 foot climb in front of me.

No choice of backing off now I started leading up the first pitch. My body felt unaccustomed to the movement of climbing and offwidthing is not the easiest way to start your day. I huffed and finished the pitch, Chris easily cruised up behind me. I started leading up the second pitch. The 10a section felt easy, but then it whittled down to a beautiful 10.d finger crack. I moved up  shakily, messing up pretty much everything but staying on. I hit the crux and tried to move through it. Fucking up something I slipped and took a big whip onto a small cam. I sat there for a second then let out my normal expletive when I fell.

"Fuck. Fuck! FUCK!"

Not only was I pissed at falling, but I knew there was so much more difficult climbing ahead. Angrily I got back onto the rock. The second go at it and it felt easy. Chris followed up, having no trouble with anything. He remarked on how I looked kind of shaky. After two pitches I already felt tired. I had basically climbed a month in the last five. The second hardest pitch of the day was hovering right over our head. A blank steep intimidating slot. Chris sensed my frustration.

"Man I can try the slot." He said, even though I had previously agreed to lead it.

"Cool." I agreed.

Chris traversed out and hesitated underneath it, contemplating it's blankness. Eventually he just hucked himself into it and with tremendous effort wormed upwards. The wicked thing then narrowed down to a beautiful hand crack and he easily finished off the pitch. I followed. Suddenly things started clicking into place. I found a small foot and threw up a chicken wing. Oh yeah, I remember how to climb. Things flowed and I instantly regretted not leading the thing. I cursed myself but enjoyed the rest of the pitch.

Next Chris led the crux of the whole day, a very insecure bolted arete. Later on we would learn that Honnold had on-sight soloed up to here and backed off at this arete. He then down soloed the first three pitches, including the 11.b slot pitch to rejoin his roped party. The idea of going out onto this arete without a rope made me ill.

Following on the arete.

I fell twice on the crux of the thing, but then unlocked the complicated sequence of moves and suddenly we were through the two hardest pitches of the day. I felt great. We took a swig of the one liter of water that we brought on the climb and looked upwards. I was struck by the beauty of the dihedral above us and for reasons I can't contemplate decided to declare:

"I'll lead it."

Climbing started to flow again and the 10.d pitch cruised by. Chris remarked how solid I looked and we were making good time. We started swapping leads, Chris took the slab pitches and we found ourselves only 4 pitches from the top. It was at this point that something unexpected happened. I realized that Chris was getting tired. He looked up at the next pitch, appropriately labeled the 'microstopper dihedral' and then over at me hopefully.

"You like dihedrals right?" He asked.

I smiled and started leading up. What I got into was the most harrowing pitch of the day. I put in a small RP and clipped it. It fell out under the weight of the rope. For some reason I laughed as he tumbled down.

"I don't think that one was very good." I said, putting in a couple more.

I stayed in a stem right before the committing crux for quite a while. If the small stoppers blew, there was a good chance I would hit a ledge below, 1000 feet up and 9 hours from help. But that good finger crack was just out of reach. I breathed deep, made one more stem and grabbed it. Phew. We looked at out topo. The next pitch was labeled the Duck Beak Chimney.

Can you figure out why?
Chris took the lead and we were two pitches from the top. We had also been out of water for quite some time. Even though the original plan was for him to lead almost all of the climb, I found myself on lead number 7. Never had 5.10 felt so hard, but I sent. One more pitch found us at the top and bagging the 4th ascent. We both celebrated what we declared to be the best climb of our lives. If anyone finds their way down to Cochamo it comes with highest recommendations.

Al Centro y Al Dentro

After camping one more night up there, we went back down to the Valley. I thought to myself that even if I didn't climb that much in South America, I had this one climb. The next day my knee hurt like hell, but I wasn't limping. That was better than expected. The weather was also phenomenal. Chris though had to leave that day. I considered leaving when Jaro, a Czech dirtbag and one of the 6 remaining people in Cochamo asked me about Al Centro. I told him it was awesome.

"Is good. What are you climbing tomorrow?" He asked.

"I was thinking of leaving." I said.

"No." He stated, matter of factly. "Is weather window! You can't leave. Lets go climb."

"What were you thinking of?" I asked me.

"We do Bienvienidos." He said.

Just like that I committed myself to the longest route in Cochamo. 3000 feet of vertical gain. Almost the size of El Cap. We went to the Refugio and talked a strategy. Climbing with Jaro was a different experience. Everything was good in his book.

"We solo some pitches, no?" He said. "Will make go faster."

Waking up with 3000 feet ahead of us.
He had all the confident goofiness of your typical eastern European. He also had a huge supply of candy bars that he had hiked in. Climbing with him was not dull. We soloed the first three easy pitches and he started climbing the next before I was even caught up. I put him on belay and we went up quite quickly. Nothing was a big deal to Jaro. He was impressed with my lead of the crux trad pitch and 10 pitches later when I wasn't sure where the route went suggested that I simul-behind him as he did impromptu route finding.

"Is no big deal. Neither of us fall on this."

He climbed fast, placed little gear and we slammed to the top with daylight to spare. We strolled an extra 200 feet of 3rd class to the summit. It was only then that I realized he timed all his climbs.

"9 hours!" He said. "Is good! We good team!"

As we scrambled around to the long long walk off he talked about our plans for the next day. The weather window which started that day didn't break for two weeks. In that time we knocked out more routes than most people did in the previous month. We also went back to Al Centro, which Jaro onsighted and I sent, including leading the slot which I had wussed out on with Chris.

Revenge on the slot.
With the first sign of rain I limped out of Cochamo. Thanks to Jaro and Chris my South American climbing was saved. Now I just had to get myself home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My South America Story: Being a gimp

So I had hitchhiked all the way to South America, on the way down my buddy Dan and I had done a little sport climbing in Peru, but we had a larger destination in mind, Frey, on the northern edge of Patagonia. Beyond that we weren't sure where we were going to travel or what we were going to do. We didn't even know when we were going to return home. Frey is a rad land of impeccable, well developed Granite towers.

Things were going awesome, I was climbing really well. Just as I was hitting my grove climbing wise I decided to check out some offwidth climbing on the back of the largest most impressive tower. The offwidths were okay. On the way back down I remarked to my climbing partner that my knee felt funny. I didn't really think much of it. Just a case of offwidth knee. 

In the morning my knee continued to feel 'funny' Despite that I decided to team up with a new partner and go repeat some awesome classics that I had done earlier in the week. Everything started to feel wrong. I fell on a route that I had cruised with ease. Something was not right, I came down from that route and the funny feeling had turned into pain.

Despite this I did what any climbing idiot would do. I kept climbing. Dan and I had previously made plans to climb the longest route up the tallest face. Supposedly 8 pitches of awesome. On the hike up to the principal, my knee seized up. Under the weight of my pack I buckled and pain shot up my leg. I realized I was fucked, something was terribly wrong. Later in the states a doctor would tell me that I had put a tear in my meniscus. Feeling that something was horribly wrong, I did the rational thing...climb the tower anyway. We just decided to go up the four pitch 5.7 instead. Even this was a struggle, as anytime I put pressure on my left leg I felt pain.

In pain, on the summit.
The walk down took me two hours longer than it took Dan and the next morning I was limping. My good luck continued as all of this coincided with an approaching Patagonian Storm. I had two options, an excruciating hike into town that would probably take me all day and likely make my knee even worse, or hunkering down in my three season tent. I hunkered down and Dan, being a true friend, stayed up with me to keep me company. Let me tell you, one of the seasons of my tent is not Patagonian summer. Oh by the way, it was my birthday.

Getting blasted by weather. This is the equivalent of late July.
After this climbing was off the table, so I started doing what I really do best, drink. The one saving grace of being in Argentina and just wanting to climb is that alcohol is really cheap there. I was depressed, once a day in private I screamed to myself "I hitchhiked all the way down here!" I drank and cursed my bad luck. I stared at the rock and wanted to go up. I wondered if my whole trip was pointless and I should just head back to North America, or if was worth waiting to see if I'd start to heal. I drank. Then fatefully, Dan decided he wanted to go check out a nearby climbing area in Chile called Cochamo that we had been hearing rumors about. I didn't care. I could be a gimp here or be a gimp there. So we decided to move and I hoped things would get better, I had no idea what I was in store for........

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Great Trip South-Prologue

It all started in Canada. I guess it always does. It was my second summer in rock climbing mecca and dirtbag paradise Squamish, British Columbia. With an assortment of various homeless rock climbers, aka dirtbags, I was living in an unofficial campground by the river dubbed ´hippy camp´. We were a motley group that summer, there was Brad, the hard-climbing, pastry-eating, broken-footed friend who I had come up with. Kristen a health nut who ran the 1500 foot tall chief trail every morning, so gorgeous that she looked out of place. There were also a pair of mystery women living in a 40 ft tall teepee they had erected months earlier, a French Canadian fire dancer who went by the name of Axel and a smattering of others coming and going.

Showing up mid-summer was travel buddy Dan Petty. Dan and I had met in Mexico that winter and had traveled around the southwest together before meeting up again in Squamish. Dan was an interesting fellow, although American he had grown up in Caracus, Venezuala. When he turned 18 he inexplicably joined the US army and spent the next 7 years there. After getting out, he took a full swing in the other dirrection, bought a mini-van and went on the road, living out of it.

Then there was me, King of Dirtbags, I had come to Squamish with only a few hundred dollars in my pocket and the intent to live off of it for the entire summer. I had vague plans for the fall that involved climbing in Yosemite and Smith Rock, and no plans for the winter. One thing I knew, it's too fucking cold in the US in winter.

Trying to stay warm, winter 2010.
One night Dan posited the question to me, ¨Do you think it would be possible to hitchhike to Argentina?¨
Without really thinking about it I replied, ¨Sure I think it would be easy.¨
There was a moments pause, ¨Well, do you want to do it with me this winter?¨
My mind cleared for a moment as I actually considered the question. What would such a trip take? Where would we be going? How much time would it take? What hazzards were there? After a few moments I could only come up with one objection.
¨Man, I only have like 200 dollars, but if I can get some sort of work, I´d definitely go.¨

What started out as that simple conversation pretty soon evolved into a full fledged plan. How would we get around the dense roadless jungle that lies between Panama and Columbia, the infamous Darian Gap? What was the safest way through drug-war riddled Mexico? Would Columbia be safe to hitch through?

¨When I lived in Venzuala, Columbia was the kidnapping capital of the world.¨ Dan mentioned.
 I nodded and shrugged, giving my stock answer. ¨It´ll probably be fine¨

Real photo of me on the Titanic!

September rolled around and the Squamish hippy camp started to disperse when the rain started to fall. Dan, Brad and I all retreated south to the Oregon desert sanctuary of Smith Rock. At Smith Rock we met up with uber-motivated hardman Scott. Scott is as motivated a climber as has ever been, he had also been to Patagonia and was planning on going again. He had the beta for all things down there, including our decided destination of Frey, supposedly filled with granite towers in an alpine environment.

As Dan, Scott and I talked politics and South America, my already meager money supply continued to dwindle and I eventually had to resort to one of my least favorite activities: Work. Calling in a favor I secured some work for October, that left me time to road trip with Dan down to Yosemite, Bishop and Lake Tahoe in rapid succession before we split ways, me hitching to California to work, and him driving to his sisters in Colorado to stash his belongings and van and prepare for the trip.

As I launched myself into work, the same doubts started resurfacing. With my cash reserves increasing I realized I could comfortably dirtbag in the states for the whole winter season, knowing the familiar climbing haunts like I knew the gobies on the back of my hand. Hitching south was a different animal and the conflict between security and adventure battled in my mind. Fuck it though, if I wanted security I could work a 9 to 5 and watch reruns on TV all day. I finished work and hitched to Las Vegas.

After a week of climbing in freezing Red Rocks, two friends (who ironically had driven me out of Mexico last year.) showed up with plans to go into Mexico  down the western coast to pick up a sailboat.This was the start of exact route Dan and I planned on taking. They offered us a ride if we were willing to leave that day. Off we went.

I admit that I was probably not the best of company during those two days of travel and climbing through Arizona to the Mexico border. Internal anxiety flared up and I became moody and short tempered. Part of me wanted out of a long and committing trip. These anxieties were increased because I had been paid in cash for my job, and our rapid departure had not left me time to open a bank account in Las Vegas or secure a debit card. This meant that I would carry all the money I had in the world with me through the whole Latin American Odyssey. (Hidden carefully in the sole of my shoe.)

Nevertheless my mood increased substantially as the next day we found ourselves in Mexico......

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Climbing Ecuador

So what's the point of hitchhiking all the way to South America if you aren't going to climb anything? The same as doing anything else in life without climbing: pointless!

So hitchhiking companion Dan Petty and I have hitchhiked over 5000 miles in persuit of our final destination, Patagonia, Argentina. So far we have seen lots and lots of crazy shit. Too much to cover here, but one thing that we hadn't done until last week was climb. So we got a line on a little sport climbing crag in Columbia. There we stayed with a couple of locals for three days until it started raining, at which point they gave us some information on a little supposed climbing in Ecuador. What we found once we got there was this:
Potero Chico, the Mexican climbing mecca that is partially known for the overgrowth on some of the routes has nothing on this. People say that Squamish gets vegetated during their rainy season? Ha, eat shit Squamish.

Keep in mind that this route is rated 5.7. Here is a partial list of the crazy ass stuff that we had to do to climb it.

Go 20+ feet without touching actual rock.
Tear away cactus just to clip the bolts. 
Several mantels onto pure dirt. 
Trust footholds that crumbled underbodyweight.
Finally mantel right over a the most prickily cactus on the planet just to finish the route. 

Well I'm glad that we took a day off our trip to Patagonia in order to climb this! Actually all and all everything is worth it, mostly because of the chicks. Chicks man!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Columbia: Coffee, Coke, Craziness

Actually none of those things have particularly applied to Columbia yet, but I like the alliteration so it stays as a title. Dan and I have made our way past the Darian Gap, which is a torrid jungle filled with narcotrafficos and man-eating panthers. To go around we took a boat through the San Blas Islands. The San Blas Islands look something like this.
Which is pretty cool if they weren't populated by a group of Xenophobes called the Kona who think they are God's chosen people.  I'm not saying that facetiously, they literally think they are God's chosen people. The website tropicaldiscover.com describes the Kona thus:
"self-governing Kunas are zealously protective of their environment and way of life, one of the few pure races existing in the world."
Actually they have let their beautiful Islands become covered in garbage and they have rediculous rules and fines that only apply to outsiders. For an outsider to sleep with a Kona woman is a 30,000 dollar fine. Sorry beautiful Kona girl who is staring at me, your people are Xenophobes, enjoy your inbreeding.

After that we arrived at Columbia. Dan and I have been hitchhiking for 95% of the trip, and were hesitant about whether or not to hitch through Columbia. Dan, who grew up in Venezuela during the 90's was used to Columbia being the 'kidnapping capital of the world' With this information in hand we did the natural thing, decided to hitchike through it anyway.

This had turned out to be the right decision. Columbian's are some of the friendliest people that you'll every meet. Hitching is really easy and it seems fairly safe. Hell even the cops none of whom look like they are out of their 20's are always waving, smiling and flashing peace signs. Also they love gringos here. On our second day we were mobbed by a group of 30 or so children ages 4-10. They had infinite questions, most of them involving us translating their names into English. If you want to feel like a rockstar and eat as much as you want for 2.50, come to Columbia.

Quote of the day: "A 70 year old woman carrying home furniture on her head, not something you are going to see in the US."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ultimate Dirtbag Trip

Actually I'm not sure that this is the ultimate dirtbag trip. For those of you who don't know, I decided to go to Argentina to climb for the winter. This isn't that exceptional, except that I am hitchhiking the whole trip. Right now my friend Dan Petty and I have crossed the Darian Gap in Panama and have just arrived in Columbia. When I was planning this trip this summer, it felt like it might be the finish to my time on the road, but at the moment I feel like it is only the start to crazier and crazier things in my life to come.

Dan and I on a Beach in El Salvador
 We've seen almost too much crazy shit to write about now, plus one day people will be fighting for the book rights to this stuff. So I've just made a list of crazy things I've seen or done so far, enjoy.

Crazy List!
We bivyed on top of a building in Mexico that turned out to be the town jail.

An American Mother/Son combo that picked us up tried to cook with our camp fuel, and she ended up lighting her son on fire.

In Panama pretty girls would drive by as we were hitching and blow us kisses.

The richest man in El Salvador picked us up and drove us quite a ways, while buying us expensive dinners and alcohol he explained his belief that cancer was caused by shell fish and the US government had the cure.

In Panama I got fined 10 dollars for taking a crap on an Island that the natives consider sacred, the island was covered in garbage and crap already.

Nicaragua, known for it's violent civil war, is the safest country in Latin America. We saw small children walking the streets alone at 10 pm.

We went through Nicaragua at the cost of 1 US dollar.

We saw a small village below an active smoking volcano.

I thought that I had an iron gut, but we watched a man taking swig after swig of water from a city fountain filled with garbage.

Finally I have our quote of the week, it comes from a drunk Czech who was traveling with us for a little while. After getting  very intoxicated he said, "I am a hippy/pirate! I am lost in the Caribean! Respect me!" Oh we do my friend, we do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My plan for America: Less Jobs.

So election season is rolling around again, which means that you are likely to hear some douchey guys with really expensive haircuts say some really stupid shit. Every year you will hear two things from all of them, the first being that "America is the greatest country on earth." The second being that they "I plan to fix America". Really assholes? You can easily see what's wrong with that if you combine the two into one sentence. Lets try it. "America is the greatest country on earth, I have a plan to fix that."

There is however one thing stupider than all of that, and that is that every politician what's to create more jobs. Put America back to work! Why is it that anybody thinks this is a good idea? If you had your choice: A. Work in a shitty office to enrich some CEO with a 200 dollar tie or B. Don't work at all and have fun all the time. Which would it be? (Hint: Not a trick question.)

The same dickwad politicians (all of them) who want to create more jobs are the people who are paid off by big business that tells you that you need a 60" plasma TV, rotating rims and Calvin Cline cologne in order to be happy. If you figure out you don't need any of that shit, you can figure out that you need to work a lot less every year. If I ran for office that would be my slogan, less jobs for America and less work for every American. Vote Dirtbag Party, 2012.