Soooo, Dolly suggested I could write about my time studying and climbing in Argentina. Here goes:
Before getting here I was really worried that I wouldn’t do any climbing at all. A quick google search showed no climbing gyms in Mendoza and some crags, but I had virtually zero experience outside and no equipment, so I was basically going to have to meet climbers. With this potential climbing drought looming, I made plans to do extreme amounts of Honnold core and to “hangboard” on whatever ledges I could find. Luckily for me, it hasn’t come to that. In fact, a miracle occurred the day of my arrival. I got to the hotel after 18 hours of travel, put my bags on the bed sat down exhausted. I watched John, one of two other guys in the program settle his bags. Then—before my unbelieving eyes—John pulled out a set of quickdraws. It took a moment to settle in. Incredulously I exclaimed: “John, you climb?!” “Yeah, wait, you too?!” “Yaaaa!!” And suddenly things were looking up for my semester
That’s John on the left as we’re resting at the top of my first multipitch
It turns out John is quite an experienced sport and trad climber hailing from Minnesota (currently studying in Denver, where else?). His plans for after graduation are: dirtbagging. In true Midwestern style, he was very willing to teach me the ins and outs of sport climbing. We quickly found two walls. One outdoor bouldering area in the park and a bouldering and sport wall in the Club Andinista Mendoza. However, it was tough to get outside because we had no rope. We did meet lots of local climbers and started making friends. But even with local friends it was hard. After a couple weeks, I decided to invest in a climbing rope. John found a contact who made regular trips to Chile to buy climbing equipment. (The import taxes make climbing stuff and almost any other specialized gear really expensive in Argentina). So, I handed this guy some cash and a week later he appeared with a rope.
Posing for a photo with the new rope
Now that we had a rope, we decided to skip class on Thursday and bus out to a crag. It was the comfiest $2 bus ride I have ever experienced. The seats were basically massive pillows that could be fully reclined and we had sooo much legroom. After a short nap, we woke up to the sight of mountains enclosing us and shortly thereafter the bus pulled onto the dirt shoulder and John was like, “I think this is our stop. Wait, yeah, let’s go let’s go.” The “bus stop” was a single sign that was rusted almost beyond recognition. We trekked up to the cliffs and started climbing on some interesting granite. That day I lead my first climb outdoors, cleaned a route, and took a fall. The fall wasn’t very pretty cuz I was up around a corner and kinda fell onto a ledge. Nothing serious though. Our first climbs were on this cool granite face that combined slab, crimps, some crack climbing with a couple really powerful moves on an arête. Finally, we climbed some really fun, bouldery 5.10s that were basically slab, slab and then these amazing round holes that were perfect jugs from any angle. Once we packed up, we headed back to the bus stop. As we were walking, John put out his thumb and we didn’t even make it to the stop before a pickup truck pulled over. The guy wasn’t really interested in conversation, but he did drive us within walking distance of our houses, which was amazing.
John looking pensive in the canyon
Some great rock in the “Escarabajo” canyon (featuring a climber from Barcelona)
That night, our best climbing friend Jocha messaged us saying he was going to Arenales Saturday and had 2 spots. We were ecstatic! Saturday morning, I shouldered my pack and wandered through the city to find Jocha. His apartment was simple (Clearly, he and his wife Maca have more important things to spend their money on), but did feature a set of hand-made rings with crimps cut into them for rudimentary hangboarding. We then met Mariano and drove in his petite car up questionable gravel roads to reach Arenales. There was a lonely army outpost where they checked our passports, since there was technically a hiking trail to cross over into Chile. Conveniently, I forgot my passport, but somehow, they let me bluff my way past with a student ID and a picture of my passport on my phone. Once we got to the parking lot Jocha and Mariano packed up their trad gear, pointed us a vaguely in a direction, and then set off to conquer a tower. Unsure if there was a real path towards our crag, John and I embarked on a very painful, completely unnecessary bushwhack through a sea of thorn bushes (the only vegetation native to Mendoza). Once we encountered an actual footpath we quickly found our way to the crag. Looking up, we suddenly saw a group of juvenile condors circling and dive-bombing each other just overhead! At the base of the crag we took off our packs and took stock. Around this time, John pulled out the guidebook Jocha lent us and said: “So, I want to start here with this 5.10, the next pitch is 5.9 and it’ll take us to this ledge where we can…” “Wait, we’re doing a multi pitch?” “Yeah” “Oh…can you explain to me how that works please?”
The beautiful, secluded crags of the Arenales (altitude ~3000m)
So, two days after leading outside for the first time, I was 25m off the ground and belaying John up the second pitch while hanging off the anchor bolt on a sheer face. I really did not like the fact that my entire weight was pushing off the wall towards the void below. But, my harness didn’t snap, I didn’t fall and before I knew it, it became not terrifying and just odd. The climbing was awesome. It was bulletproof granite alternating between awesome jugs and tricky slab. What’s more, our only company was a small herd of horses in the valley below and 4 adult condors circling the crag. It was incredible. We climbed with the condors. At first, they were circling above, but as we climbed some of their circles went right by us or even below. I will never forget the sight of these huge, ugly, but majestic birds gliding past maybe 15 feet away. We ended up making it over 100m in 4 pitches before realizing the guidebook was outdated and we had no idea where we were and whether the next anchor was close enough to rappel from. We decided it was best to stick to what we knew for sure and call it. That’s about the time where John said: “Ok, so here is how you rappel, I’ll go first.” And very soon, I was alone hanging 100m off the ground. Then, I rappelled for the first time ever. On the comfiest ledge we could find, John and I unpacked our luxurious feast of crackers, cheese, and avocado. We’d bailed on a tour of a vineyard with the program including a 5-star lunch, so we had to at least kid ourselves into believing we were living in luxury. It ended up being a good thing that we called it when we did because when we arrived back on solid ground the sun was creeping towards the mountains and we had just enough time to play around on a boulder before heading back to meet Jocha and Mariano.
It was a scramble up to the foot of the cliffs
Lots of slabby granite
This next weekend we had our very own pack of feral dogs. They followed us loyally from the bus stop to the crag and back. All 6 miles in total! It was a sad day though. We lost one of our pack when she tried to attack a bus on the highway. It was a horrifying moment. Somehow, she survived the impact and ran off into the hills to lick her wounds…. But the climbing was fun! We were on some conglomerate cliffs looking over the glacial river. I’d never climbed conglomerate before and was quite thrown off. The rock looked like compacted mud with pebbles and I thought every hold would break off on me, but somehow, they held. This was a doubly sad day though because John is flying back to the US tomorrow. I made sure to see him off in good fashion with a full day of climbing and some good refreshing drinks after.
The views were stunning and the sun was hot
Once John left I got less climbing in outdoors. However, I got closer with a lot of the gym climbers and we had lots of fun making up boulders for each other. I definitely am looking forward to marked routes though. Jocha has been doing sport climbing endurance training with me and absolutely schooling me. I am so weak, while he climbs up and down these overhangs like it’s nothing. There is a slightly off-width crack that gets more and more overhanging and Jocha can just do laps on it.
Jocha flowing up the crack
The gym atmosphere
All in all, Mendoza has really gotten me excited to climb outdoors more. I am already planning to come back to Argentina in the near-ish future for a climbing trip along the Andes.
I found a slack-lining community in the park
This valley is famous as the place young condors learn to fly
My last climbing trip with some friends from Mendoza
I went on a fantastic backpacking trip over Easter with John, Jocha and his wife, Maca. We went deep into the Andes and hiked up to a glacier:
The first morning was spent crossing a glacial river at 6:30am with the air (and water) temperature hovering just above freezing