Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
I am definitely happy to be home after three long and adventurous weeks in Argentina! This was a really great experience overall with some good challenging and adventurous aspects thrown in for fun too.
I was invited in February by my fantastic gear sponsor, Petzl, to head down to develop routes at a place I had never heard of at the time. I was planning on climbing in and around the Las Vegas area but why would I pass on a chance to visit a new climbing area in the Patagonia region in South America?! After a rush to book tickets, make plans, find my passport, and a crazy last-minute drive to southern Colorado to renew my license, I was off on a new adventure to visit the southern hemisphere!
Before I could actually fly out, I had to get from southern New Mexico to Houston, and this itself turned into quite the epic adventure. About half-way through our drive, we stopped to re-fuel in Fort Stockton, TX. Fortunately or unfortunately I noticed one of the back tires was suddenly threadbare and we attempted to find a tire shop to replace it. We found one, helped them break their own lock off because the dude’s brother had taken the key and then ended up waiting four hours for them to first work on a semi, only to finally tell us they didn’t actually have the tire they initially said they did… so… damn!
Waiting for a non-existent tire in Fort Stockton...
Four hours out the window and now it was dark and my flight was leaving Houston the next day. Staying overnight in Fort Crapton was not an option and Katherine and I decided to just go for it and try to make it on the bad tire anyway.
Well luckily it was raining which kept the road nice and cool so the tire would not heat up more and fall apart. We basically stopped every half hour for a while to make sure there was no new damage, driving top speeds of 55 or so to make sure it wouldn’t explode, or worse. Good grief! Finally made it to central Texas where we could stop at Katherine’s parents’ place at around 2am just in time for the daylight savings time change. And, just like that, it was 3am. Unpacked and repacked for the entire trip on one brief hour of sleep, then were off again.
After driving through some really awesome thunderstorms we arrived in Houston, TX with some time to spare. This was pretty useful, because of course my bag was heavier than the airline wanted. I did a quick switch-around of things at the flight counter, putting my rope (had to wait to confirm ropes were ok for carry-ons!) and heavier things in my backpack and lighter things in my checked bag, and finally it came down to just my 5 lb. bag of Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal. Without it, the big bag was just a couple pounds under the weight limit; with it, it was a couple over…! What to do…? I looked at the ticket counter guy and he waved his hand, saying “Go ahead! Put it in there,” and I was a happy camper. Little did this guy know he would also make about a half dozen other climbers happy too.
Now all I had to do for a while was to sit on a plane, get on another plane, and arrive in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
All went well with the travel except for a quick unscheduled touchdown and layover in Montevideo, Uruguay due to a massive thunderstorm over Buenos Aires. A short cab ride after arriving in Argentina finally and I was at a hotel hanging out, relaxing, and enjoying the rain and fresh air! Later that evening one of our Argentine contacts Santiago and his wife came by the hotel and picked up the bolting team, a mix of French, Swiss, and two American climbers, and took us out for a wonderful dinner. This was a real treat after some questionable airline cuisine. We had one more day in Buenos Aires to check out the city which was pretty cool but man, that city is huge! It was really hard to know where to start.
After wandering a bit we found some great places to explore including an old cemetery and a lovely park with statues and one of the coolest ficus trees I have seen in my life. This ficus was huge… close to the size of a city block, commanding respect and bringing a peaceful delight to the area. I guess that is what the monk who planted it intended as well.
After checking out the local climbing gym with Santiago and the rest of the group, we headed over to the traditional barbeque that was prepared for us as a welcoming from the Argentine climbers. The meal was essentially a massive pile of various meats. It was all delicious and the local park cats showed up to help with any scraps.
The very next day we began our trip across the country to our destination at Piedra Parada. This particular trip took over 24 hours and consisted of another plane ride, an 18 hour mini bus ride, sleep at a police station, getting lost, and almost no food. When we finally got to our destination, I think we were all really ready to be done with that experience.
Once we made it to Piedra Parada, we were pleasantly greeted by Erwan, the trip coordinator from France, who was also ready to show us around. We were definitely ready to stretch our legs and headed out for a hike and tour of the canyon which we would be exploring and bolting new routes in over the next three weeks. The hike to the back of the canyon was about 3 or so miles. A fairly deep canyon, its cliffs soared some 400ft off the canyon floor. We were all psyched to bolt some routes but needed to rest. ZZZzzzzz….. Cock a doodle doo!! That was the rooster awakening to the sun which also became my alarm clock for the next three weeks.
Our temporary ranch home
We stayed in a little house on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere. Every day, a gentleman named Romero, his wife Sophia and their little daughter were up and at it preparing food for us. I can’t say enough thanks to them and all others who helped prepare meals, etc., including the owner of the ranch Mario, who also took care of us and opened his land to us.
Besides the winding basalt canyon that we bolted some great routes in, the Piedra Parada literally “stood out” (haha) as a unique formation in the desert. While there is not much climbing on the Standing Rock itself yet, it made for some really amazing photos of the night sky and the area in general. From the house and the camping area, it was the first thing one would see in the morning.
La Piedra Parada and a rainbow
Jonathon Cardwell climbing in the Buitrera Canyon
The style of climbing in the canyon varied from short, bouldery pitches with 45 degree overhang to tall, 40 meter pitches involving technical and pumpy climbing. The routes ranged everywhere from 5.9 to 5.14, and there are some really fun ones!
One of my favorite parts of the trip, other than getting to bolt new routes of course, was meeting a bunch of the Argentine climbers. Tons of climbers came from all over the country it seemed to meet us and help us develop the new area that would not only provide the remote local economy with some support but will offer generations of current and future climbers some good sport climbing. There was a truly great energy from them and it was really fun to hang out with such a welcoming crowd. I enjoyed practicing my Spanish, learning lots of new words as Argentine Spanish was completely new to me, and learning about local customs from them.
On a trip up to Esquel, we all learned about a delicious mixture of oil and herbs called chimichurri that is used as a condiment for meat in Argentina and some other South American countries as well. In fact, we sought it out later while shopping to stock up in Esquel, which is a cool little town nestled up in the edge of the mountains west of Piedra Parada. At 200 km from Piedra Parada, it is the closest town of any significant size, outside the small local villages.
hanging out in the colorful streets of Esquel
neighborhood bar in Esquel
Despite having four of the drills for bolting and a whole slew of bolts held up in customs the entire time we were there, we still managed to work together to get a bunch of great routes put up in this new climbing area. One unnamed route, a 12b/c or so, was particularly exciting – significantly run-out on new and thin, slabby features – I dubbed this a vision-quest sport climbing experience. Once this line cleans up, it will be really spectacular, but either way I highly recommend it.
our mini-team of Americans and one Brazilian bolting a line
Marcos, Jon, me, and Ander
Our three weeks of amazing desert sunsets, stunning light changes in the canyon while hiking, belaying, rapping, and bolting, copious amounts of meat, dulce de leche and pan blanco, and mind-blowing Southern hemisphere night skies came to an end finally… There was a peaceful, serene energy in the desert and canyons there, and often time really did seem to slow down, but eventually we ran out of bolts, and it was time to begin the series of long travel days again to bring us all back to our homes.
flying out of Buenos Aires
I was struck by the endless city lights I saw as I flew out of Buenos Aires at night – 14 million of Argentina’s 20 million inhabitants live there – and how it looked a lot like the incredible night sky in Piedra Parada. I look forward to hopefully going back to see both again someday, but for now, I am happy to be back at home in the States, coming off my sugar addiction after all the dulce de leche…
Thanks so much to Petzl for organizing this fun and adventurous trip! Thanks also to Bob’s Red Mill for supporting me with their amazing grains, and Gramicci for keeping me clothed in comfort and style! This year’s Roc Trip should be a blast!
Tags: Argentina, Jon Cardwell, Petzl, Piedra Parada, route development | Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »